Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro did it again. A superb performance in the freestyle in Rio earned them their second consecutive individual title, their second medal at this year’s Olympics, and their third gold altogether. To celebrate this combination’s extraordinary achievement, we look back at their history of success.
The early days
Dujardin was born in Enfield, in 1985 and grew up in Hertfordshire. She started riding when she was just two years old and began doing dressage at 13. Success came early for her: by the time she turned 16, Dujardin had won at Hickstead three times. In 2007, she joined Carl Hester’s yard as a groom and the move quickly propelled her to equestrian superstardom — despite a bad fall in 2009 that fractured her skull. Put in charge of a young Valegro, she found her perfect partner: the combination (pictured below at Hickstead in the summer of 2011) first competed together in a grand prix in January 2011, scoring 74%. Soon, they went on to smash all records.
The London Olympics
The pair began by setting a new grand prix special world record when they scored 88.022% at the Hagen CDI4* in April 2012. Selected for the London Olympics, they won the individual gold with a staggering 90.089% (below, left), as well as claiming team gold alongside Carl Hester and Laura Tomlinson. Dujardin was appointed OBE for services to equestrianism (below, right) in the New Year Honours of 2013.
Superlatives quickly became inadequate to describe Dujardin and Valegro’s performance. They took both the grand prix special and the freestyle titles at the FEI European Dressage Championships in Herning, Denmark, in August 2013 with 85.699% and 91.250% respectively (below, left). Named Reem Acra Best Athlete at the FEI Awards in November 2013 (pictured below, right), Dujardin then proceeded to set new standards at the London International Horse Show in Olympia, where she and Valegro posted an exceptional 93.975% in the freestyle in December 2013.
Not resting on their laurels, the two won the Dressage World Cup final in Lyon in April 2014 with a then-record-breaking 87.129% in the grand prix (and 92.179% in the freestyle, below, left) and both individual gold medals at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Caen, Normandy, in August 2014, with 86.120% in the grand prix special and 92.161% in the freestyle (below, right).
Dujardin, who was named Sunday Times & Sky Sports Sportswoman of the Year in November 2014, then went on to break her previous world records by scoring 87.46% in the grand prix and 94.300% in the freestyle at Olympia in December 2014 (pictured below).
Watch Charlotte Dujardin break her own freestyle record at Olympia in December 2014
In September 2015, Dujardin added one more title to her roster of accomplishments when she became National Champion. The thirty-one-year-old took both the grand prix and freestyle titles, this time aboard Barolo, at the National Dressage Championships at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire, in late September (pictured below).
Olympic champions for the second time
With the National titles also under her belt, Dujardin looked poised set to defend her Olympic title in Rio—and she did. First she and Valegro gave their all to ensure Britain won team silver, then the combination put in a foot-perfect performance in the freestyle, where a superb score of 93.857% saw off competition from Germany’s Isabell Werth and Kristina Bröring-Sprehe to win the individual gold. With Valegro now possibly heading towards retirement, this second Olympic gold is the perfect way for Dujardin to celebrate the partnership with her horse of a lifetime.
German dressage legend Dr Reiner Klimke had been on the individual dressage podium at Olympic Games twice before 1984, but never on the top step. A horse called Ahlerich would change all that by earning his rider the most sought-after medal in Los Angeles, as well as team gold. They helped Germany win the same accolade four years later in Seoul.
Ahlerich had cost his rider the not insignificant sum of €21,000 at auction in 1975. However, although particularly difficult to train, he returned this investment many times over in terms of the prizes he brought home, including a World Championship gold in 1982.
Jennie Loriston-Clarke’s great stallion claimed Britain’s first medal in pure dressage — at the 1978 Goodwood World Championships. He had been purchased in Holland and proved to be incredibly bright and talented.
Dutch Courage was only six when he competed at his first prix st george contest, seven when he formed part of the British team at the 1977 European Championships and eight when he won World Championship bronze.
He combined competing with covering mares and produced a dynasty of future dressage horses. Had Dutch Courage not suffered a virus in the lead up to the 1984 Olympics, he would have joined Wily Trout on the British team.
“If he had gone, Britain would have won a team medal there,” says Loriston-Clarke, who kept her great horse following retirement until his death in 1991.
Almost three decades before Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester put Britain on the map in pure dressage, Christopher Bartle and Wily Trout managed a similar feat when finishing sixth at the Los Angeles Olympics. Their success would not be equalled until Valegro took gold at London 2012.
However, the moments Bartle rode into the atmospheric ring were tense. “It could have gone either way,” he says. “But Wily Trout rose to the occasion and he produced a personal best in that stadium. He did the most perfect one-time changes down the back straight.”
Bartle never found another Wily Trout for pure dressage, but more than a decade later he won Badminton with Word Perfect II.
The first true superstars of modern dressage, Nicole Uphoff and the spooky and sensitive Westphalian Rembrandt were the stuff of dreams, but also, towards the end of their time together, nightmares.
Together they won back-to-back dual Olympic gold medals in Seoul and Barcelona. A year later Rembrandt was kicked during a prize-giving ceremony, but his fractured hock was repaired by surgery and, amazingly, he returned to capture 1994 World Games silver.
Uphoff’s decision to compete at the Atlanta Games as an individual — based on her right as reigning champion — caused consternation in dressage circles, for Rembrandt was 20 and past his best. To add insult to injury, he was held by vets at the trot-up before the individual final and Uphoff withdrew him — a sad end to a glittering career.
Teammates but also rivals, Gigolo could only finish second to Rembrandt at the Barcelona Olympics, but Isabell Werth received compensation four years later by taking the two top prizes in Atlanta, two out of the four Olympic gold medals the Hanoverian gelding would ultimately win.
In a world largely dominated by male equines, the grey mare Blue Hors Matine stood out not only because of her gender but for her fluid and emotional performances, not least when she danced her way to individual silver at the 2006 World Equestrian Games under Danish number-one rider Andreas Helgstrand.
Many people believed that the medal should have been gold.
However, in a life beset by injury, she was retired only three years later, and then died tragically in 2010 after breaking her leg in her field.
As the first decade of the new millennium drew to a close, Edward Gal and Totilas sprung to prominence and took dressage to new heights. They set world records and went on to win a clutch of gold medals for Holland for their extraordinarily elegant and powerful performances that caused as much buzz among watching crowds as they did in the media.
The beautiful black stallion, by Gribaldi, famously issed the London Olympics and when sold he failed to gel with new rider, Matthias Rath. He was retired from competition in 2015.
Will there ever be another Valegro? Possibly not, at least not for Charlotte Dujardin. The highly trainable KWPN gelding not only raised the bar for British dressage, but for pure dressage on a global stage, breaking records as he went, for grand prix (87.460%), grand prix special (88.022%) and grand prix freestyle (94.30%).
He was the first horse competing under the Union Flag to claim Olympic gold — team and individual — which he did at Greenwich in front of a London skyline in 2012. This was followed by individual gold at the 2014 World Equestrian Games. Too many superlatives have been written about this horse — to date he simply is the best the sport has ever seen.
Young rider Charlotte Fry has competed at four European Championships, finishing best of the Brits at three. She is the winner of two national titles at advanced medium and Prix St George. She was previously trained by her late mother, Laura Fry, and then by Carl Hester, who helped to secure her a place at her current base, Van Olst Horses in Holland.
1. Find a good dressage trainer
Finding the right trainer to help you is a really important step in progressing up the grades in dressage. It can be tough to know what to do when working alone, but with a good trainer to help you on a regular basis you will find that you will quickly improve.
2. Have patience
Dressage is a long, slow process. You can achieve lots in a short time, but you have to remember that it’s difficult for both horse and rider to achieve success overnight. Always remember that your horse is trying for you and it may take him a while to perfectly perform what you’re asking of him.
3. Plan ahead
Make small short-term goals to help you get to where you want to be in the future. Booking in for local competitions, for example, can give you something to aim for — whether it’s a prelim test or advanced medium, the idea is the same. After local shows maybe aim for regional championship qualification. You will find yourself progressing quickly once you have a sense of where you want to go.
4. Remember the basics
Always remember the basic scales of training when working your horse in the dressage arena. He may not be Valegro or Totilas, but he can be straight, rhythmic and balanced. This will help both with short and long-term progression.
5. Get the right mindset
With dressage, there are often setbacks and great highs and lows. Be prepared to deal with these and find ways of doing so that work for you. Don’t let others affect your confidence and enjoy every minute of training with your horse. You may find it useful to chat to a sports psychologist to help you on your journey.
6. Be inspired
Go and watch events where the pros compete, such as the BD National Championships. It can be really inspiring to watch riders at the top level, but don’t discount the competitions closer to the level at which you are aiming. Visit clinics and demos with trainers and riders. You never stop learning with dressage, so it’s always worth checking what’s on in your area.
7. Work together
Dressage can be great when you work in a team with other people. Whether you observe each other in training and offer tips, or compete together (check out BD Team Quest), help from others is always a useful thing. Eyes on the ground are really important to help you improve as a rider and trainer.
8. Have the right kit
Finding the right saddle or bit can make a huge difference to your dressage career. Take the time to research and gain professional advice to find the equipment that works for you and your horse.
9. Praise your horse
It’s important to always praise and reward your horse in his work. Whether that’s a pat on the neck or short walk breaks in between exercise, knowing that he’s doing well will encourage him to become better and remember what it is he’s supposed to be doing. Always try and end a schooling session on a positive note, even if you’re having a bad day. Finishing on a negative note is not any good for you or your horse.
10. Enjoy the experience
Dressage is supposed to be enjoyable, so even when it seems tough, think why you’re doing it and what you have achieved so far. It can seem like a never-ending journey, but it is one that can be rewarding when you work hard. Enjoy your achievements, no matter how big or small they are.
Excellent news from Carl Hester: Uthopia will be able to remain at his yard.
“I can now confirm that Uthopia has been secured and will stay at home where he’s much loved,” Hester wrote earlier today on his Facebook page. “those involved wish to remain anonymous and I hope everyone will respect that. Suffice to say that I am enormously grateful to them.”
The Dutch warmblood stallion, by Metall out of Odelia, was sold by auction on May 27 by Wilsons Auctioneers on behalf of the trustees of two bankrupt estates.
When the sale was announced at the end of April, dressage fans rallied around Hester, who worked tirelessly to secure funding to buy his London Olympics partner. At the auction, however, the Olympic team-gold medallist was outbid and Uthopia was sold to an anonymous buyer for £165,000.
Hester vowed to keep trying to secure the stallion’s future at his yard—and has now succeeded.
The Gloucestershire-based champion had words of praise for the fans that supported him throughout this difficult time. “It has been overwhelming to know so many people care.” He called today “a very happy ending to a stressful time and will make my birthday celebrations tomorrow extra-special.”
The future of Uthopia, Carl Hester’s London Olympic partner, is still uncertain. The Dutch warmblood stallion, by Metall out of Odelia, was sold for £165,000 on May 27 by Wilsons Auctioneers on behalf of the trustees of two bankrupt estates.
News that Uthopia would be auctioned off first emerged at the end of April, dismaying dressage fans, who wanted the stallion to remain with Hester.
Hester himself worked tirelessly to secure funding and, in early May, he seemed optimistic about his chances of keeping Uthopia at his yard.
However, last week’s auction, which also included super cars, jewellery, luxury watches, a Banksy piece and a Cessna T206H aircraft, was a heated affair, with two bidders in particular vying for the stallion. Eventually, one of the two — who had been bidding anonymously — bought Uthopia for £165,000.
On May 29, Hester announced both on Facebook and on his website that he had been unable to secure the stallion himself. “Sorry for the silence, I am so grateful for all the support from all over the world,” he said in a statement. “Sadly, we couldn’t secure him with our investors.”
Rumours also emerged that Uthopia may have been purchased by Paul Schockemöhle and his Gestut Lewitz stud but these were firmly quashed by the stud manager in a statement to Horse & Hound, and the identity of the stallion’s new owner remains shrouded in secrecy.
There’s still hope that Uthopia may stay at Hester’s yard, though, as the Olympic team-gold medallist mentioned in his statement that he is “hoping and working on a positive outcome.”
Carl Hester believes he has “arranged enough money through owners to keep Uthopia’s future secure.”
Last week, Wilsons Auctioneers announced that the stallion, who was Hester’s partner at the London 2012 Olympics, would be sold at auction without reserve by the trustees of two bankrupt estates. The news shocked dressage fans around the world, who took to social media to voice their dismay and try to find a solution to help keep Uthopia at Hester’s yard.
Hester posted an update on his Facebook page explaining that he thought he had secured sufficient funding to keep the stallion at his yard, and praising the enthusiasm of the equestrian community: “I would just like to say how amazing it is that so many people have been in support for helping us keep Uthopia.”
With a happy ending on the horizon, the dressage supremo has also asked people to close the many crowdfunding initiatives that had been launched in an attempt to help him raise money to keep Uthopia. “Although everyone’s generosity is hugely appreciated, I would like to ask that all Go Fund Me and other fundraising pages are put on hold,” he said in a statement. “Please do not donate.”
Hester has promised to keep fans updated on any progress: “Your support, kind words and love for Uti have truly amazed me.”
Oh dear. What a tangled web we (humans) weave. If we can make something complicated we will, especially when it comes to money and ownership.
After three years of ongoing ownership issues, the former British Olympic, history-making, gold-medal-team horse and breeding stallion Uthopia is now to be sold at auction — with no reserve.
The auction is linked to a bankruptcy and the resulting sale of assets to raise funds. And, sadly, in the business world Uthopia is an asset.
Once, he was a very valuable asset indeed, although after not a lot to show for four years in terms of competition and breeding – both of which may have been affected by the legal dispute – he is most certainly nothing like as valuable as he once was.
It would also seem that his ridden and competing days are over. Uthopia is now 15 and, reading between the lines, it would appear that he currently has a soundness problem. Plus, we are at the bottom of the Olympic cycle and he would be too old for the next, so, in a sensible world, it is unlikely he will be snapped up for silly money by one of the wealthy nations.
He does, however, have a value as a breeding stallion, which is more difficult to equate. On the one hand, his pedigree is not fashionable, he has few offspring to prove him as a sire and few stallions have more than 20 mares a year anyway; on the other, he did win an Olympic gold medal and he does have a nice young stallion son. This case, which has attracted much media attention, might give him a boost in popularity. He looks affordable.
Already money has been pledged, some people have recommended setting up a syndicate and, in a popular modern initiative, a crowdfunding project has also been suggested. Five hundred people giving £200 would raise £100,000 or every member of British Dressage giving £10 would raise £150,000 for example. Another supporter put forward a plan to ensure that Carl Hester was the only bidder.Sadly, in an auction situation there is absolutely no guarantee that any of these initiatives would work. It only takes one.
To those of us in the horse world, however, Uthopia is a horse. And not just a horse but a stallion with personality, habits, routines and peculiarities, all of which have been accommodated at Hester’s yard, where Uthopia has lived for 11 years, and this is the reason why the announcement of the auction has created such an emotive response from around the world.
“Uthopia is not the first equine ‘asset’ to be sold due to bankruptcy, but perhaps we ought to make sure he is one of the last”
Which is why, ultimately, common sense really should prevail. Is it right that the welfare of an animal be potentially compromised? Moving home, to a different stable with different smells, handlers and companions — a different country, even — after such a long time in one place and for a stallion especially, can be damaging to health and well-being — they can become depressed and even infertile.
Uthopia is not the first equine ‘asset’ to be sold due to bankruptcy – it happens quite often. But perhaps we ought to make sure he is one of the last.
Last year, New Zealand passed an amendment to their welfare act stating that animals are ‘sentient beings’ — that is, they can experience positive and negative emotions, including pain and distress. At the time, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stated that “a declaration of sentience was required considering most New Zealand law treats animals as things and objects rather than living creatures”.
At the moment, most UK law also treats animals as things and objects. So we really should be following the example of New Zealand and driving for the law that would ensure a horse — or any other animal — is not simply an asset or object to be sold off to the highest bidder.
In the meantime, I really hope that, through mediation, a solution can be found to ensure that Uti stays in the home he knows, to be looked after by people he knows, for the rest of his life.
According to a statement on the Wilsons Auctions’ website, Uthopia is being sold by Tom Keenan of Keenan Corporate Finance and James Neill of HNH Group “who hold joint ownership of the horse by virtue of their respective roles as Trustee in Bankruptcy over two separate bankruptcy estates.”
“Fans suggested launching a crowdfunding initiative to buy the stallion”
The Dutch warmblood stallion, by Metall out of Odelia, will go under the hammer on May 27, alongside jewellery, supercars and designer products. The auction has no reserve and is open to online bidding.
The news caused an outcry, with many people declaring on Twitter that Uthopia should stay with Hester and the people who love him. Carl Hester himself announced on his Facebook page that he is looking for backers to help him keep the stallion: “Many of you will have read the sad news that Uthopia will go to auction due to the unresolved dispute over his ownership. We are working hard to find a solution so he can spend his retirement here at home.”
Although the FEI showed the horse as belonging to Stewart, with a minority stake owned by Hester, Stewart’s father, Derek Harrison denied this. A legal dispute over Uthopia’s ownership ensued, leading to the horse being auctioned off.
Valegro (pictured above) has a full brother. Lelegro was born at 3.15am on the night of 21 April at breeders Joop and Maartje Hanse’s yard in Burgh Haamstede, The Netherlands.
According to a statement published on the Studbook of the Royal Dutch Sport Horse KWPN Zeeland‘s website, the foal is healthy, big and strong and “very good and sweet.”
Unlike Valegro, who is dark bay, Lelegro is chestnut like his dam, Maifleur (by Gershwin out of Weidyfleur).
Valegro and Lelegro could easily never have been bred. The Hanse family had been breeding the line for many yeats but when Valegro’s dam, Maifleur, was born, they sold their equestrian business and all the foal’s siblings.
According to an interview they gave to KPWN’s Spotlight magazine, they only kept on Weidyfleur because she was a great riding horse and Maifleur because she had beautiful conformation and good movement, and she was a chestnut.
As Maifleur grew older, they thought it would be a good idea to breed a dressage horse out of her — and they were proven right beyond all expectations!
As a sire, the Hanse chose Anne and Gertjan van Olst’s stunning Negro, the offspring of Dutch dressage powerhouse Ferro, and Valegro was born in 2002. The Van Olsts bought Valegro as a newborn, then sold him to Carl Hester when he was three — and the rest is history.
Since then, Maifleur has also had two fillies by Negro — Weidyfleur II and Jalegro Fleur — before Lelegro.
As the first full brother to one of dressage’s most successful horses, Lelegro has already caused a stir and is undoubtedly going to receive a huge amount of interest from across the world.
The European team-gold and individual-bronze medallist put in an excellent performance aboard Glock’s Flirt to score 82.357 in the freestyle and claim the title. He edged out the local favourite, Swedish rider Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfen, who finished just 0.928 per cent behind Minderhoud with Don Auriello. Third was Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl aboard Unee B — the same combination that had finished third at last year’s World Cup in Las Vegas.
With only five riders to go, Vilhelmson-Silfven and Don Auriello were the first to break the 80% barrier with a brilliant performance that included some complex transitions and earned them 81.429. Von Bredow-Werndl followed with a strong 80.350% despite two mistakes, but it was third-last rider Mindrhoud that wowed the judges. He and 15-year-old Glock’s Flirt posted a 82.357% and claimed the title.
Minderhoud, who also won Friday’s Grand Prix, was delighted: “It was really special for me”, he said. “This was my sixth final and I’ve never been on the podium, although I was twice really close. I started off as a groom and it was always my dream to win it, so it’s very emotional.
He admitted feeling the pressure in the ring: “Normally I’m not really nervous but today I thought I really want this! So I’m really happy that I won!” he continued before heaping praise on his horse. “I have him now for two years and when I got him he was a nice Grand Prix horse — I didn’t expect him to be a winner but he’s just getting better and better.
“He’s such a great honest horse in the ring, he doesn’t want to make any mistakes – you really feel that he gives just everything to you! I’ve also been riding around with not-so-easy mares and not-so-easy stallions, so it’s so much fun to have a horse like him. You can really rely on him, and that’s an amazing feeling. My horse is almost like a dog, you can take him everywhere. He’s very sweet and always tries for you, he’s a really good boy!”
But Ground Jury President, Sweden’s Gustav Svalling, also pointed out how attuned Minderhoud and Glock’s Firt seemed to be. “This is a very obedient horse, but it is also the combination between the rider and horse – you can see they really like each other,” he said.
Minderhoud had another special reason to be happy about his victory — his life-partner, Edward Gal. Gal won the World Cup aboard Totilas in 2010. Asked how he felt about taking the same title that his partner had landed six years ago, Minderhoud replied: “I think it will be very good for our relationship that I have also won it now!”
Images: top, Hans Peter Minderhoud kisses Glock’s Flirt after winning the Reem Acra FEI Dressage World Cup 2016 Final in Gothenburg, courtesy of FEI/Arnd Bronkhorst/Pool Pic; bottom: Hans Peter Minderhoud and Glock’s Firt, courtesy of FEI/Arnd Bronkhorst via Reuters
The reign of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro is (hopefully only temporarily) over. Germany’s Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and 15-year-old Hannoverian stallion Desperados FRH (pictured above) have taken the top spot in the FEI rankings, relegating the British combination to second place.
The German pair were team-silver medallists at the London 2012 Olympic Games, team-gold and individual-bronze winners at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2014 and silver medallists at last year’s the European dressage freestyle final in Aachen, when they gave Dujardin and Valegro a run for their money.
“It looks like Valegro suddenly has a new rival,” Dujardin’s mentor, Carl Hester, said at the time.
His words couldn’t have been truer. Dujardin and Valegro had been the undisputed leaders of the FEI rankings for almost three years but the German combination now has a 68-point lead over them, with 2729 points to 2661. Four-time team-gold Olympic medallist Isabell Werth, also from Germany, lies in third place with Don Johnson FRH on 2,428 points.
Carl Hester added one of the dressage titles missing from his enviable collection when he won the Reem Acra FEI World Cup freestyle class at Olympia.
Hester, a mainstay of British teams for several years, has collected several major championship medals, highlighted by team gold at London 2012.
He has also won more national competitions than any other British rider, but the London International Horse Show’s headline dressage class had always eluded him.
It had also become the property of his Great Britain team-mate Charlotte Dujardin and the brilliant Valegro in recent times, but that all changed as Hester collected a £10,000 winner’s purse on his likely 2016 Rio Olympics horse Nip Tuck.
Hester’s score of 83.750 per cent aboard Nip Tuck was enough to pip Dujardin and the stallion Uthopia into second place on 82.550 per cent, while Holland’s Hans Peter Minderhoud and Glock’s Flirt finished third and young British prospect Lara Griffith fourth.
It meant that Hester avenged Tuesday night’s grand prix result, when he finished second behind Dujardin, whose Olympic, world and European champion Valegro is being prepared for Rio — where he will defend the Olympic individual title — and was rested from Olympia this year.
Showjumping action now takes centre-stage at Olympia, with Britain’s world number one Scott Brash leading a star-studded field that also features fellow star names like Ben Maher, Michael Whitaker, Jessica Mendoza, Bertram Allen, Simon Delstre, Ludger Beerbaum. Kevin Staut and Marcus Ehning.
Image: Carl Hester riding Nip Tuck at Olympia, by Kit Houghton, courtesy of the Olympia horse show
‘Challenging the Status Quo’ was the theme of this year’s World Horse Welfare conference held in London on Tuesday (November 10).
And challenge was certainly what dressage trainer David Hunt did as member of the panel debating ‘traditional horse management and training practices are best’.
Clearly in his opinion the answer is: they are not. He stated that the use of ‘round and deep’ – a method of training used since around the beginning of the millennium – has “enhanced the performance” of British dressage horses and “brought the sport a long way forward”.
The term ‘round and deep’ is — rightly or wrongly — associated with rollkur, the position a horse is put into whereby the horse’s neck is hyperflexed and his chin is pulled into the chest. Hunt admitted that rollkur, which has caused global and emotive controversy, is at the extreme of round and deep and acknowledged the problems it has caused.
Whether the audience was asleep, had no idea what he was talking about or simply didn’t want to go there, who knows, but while he threw down the proverbial gauntlet, seemingly nobody really wanted to challenge the President of the International Dressage Trainers Club on the subject of ‘round and deep’. Fat horses, urban horses, worming and evidence based science were seemingly more important topics. I would forgive Hunt for feeling rather deflated at the lack of response.
His reasoning was that in England we have always been taught that “having the horse’s nose in front of the vertical is the done thing”. In his opinion, this can hamper the horse’s progression “because it trains the horse to go against the contact”. David believes that “round and deep, as it should be, is where the horse is in a better balance, very submissive to the contact and actually is not forced into a shape”.
He claimed that; “since round and deep has come in, horses are in a better balance, and have more energy,” and went on to say that “I think you will agree that the scores have shot up from the middle 70s to the 80s and 90s now and I believe this is all part and parcel of the same thing”.
There is no denying that in the last decade our riders have achieved higher scores. But I confess my eyebrows went up as I considered Hunt’s argument. Is the success of British dressage in the last ten years really due to ‘round and deep’? It is a big hypothesis. But who am I to argue with a former international rider and renowned trainer?
In any warm up arena now you see riders – of all levels – encouraging horses into a long and low outline. You even see it in eventing. Event rider Ruth Edge (who also rides pure dressage) will always start her horses this way while others struggle to get their horses ‘on the bit’. And her horses usually produce leading scores.
The long, low outline is a more natural position for a horse that is designed to spend its days walking and eating grass off the floor. It stretches and relaxes the back muscles — in order to hold a head high a horses back muscles have to be contracted, which, if held for a long time, is very tiring. No wonder horses lacking correct training (and trained riders) that end up ‘hollow’ start fighting the contact. It is painful. And we also see horses in that position anywhere and everywhere.
I also remember, what was to me an influential talk from the famed German vet Dr Gerd Heuschmann who attributed many modern back problems to the fact that young horses no longer spend their formative years walking fields with their heads down eating. Instead they are stabled, barned or kept in small patches, eat intermittently and often from hay nets or racks which put the horse in a totally unnatural position.
So working long and low, which, as the horse becomes stronger and more advanced, becomes round and deep, has to be beneficial — it strengthens and relaxes back muscles which in turn makes them more supple and comfortable. And we can see for ourselves that all our grand prix riders train their horses like this now.
However, I am not sure that the recent success is due to this one thing alone. We now have more riders than ever interested in the sport, which has led to an increased interest in training and methods and a greater understanding. We also have some fantastically talented riders who ride with empathy and work with their horses. And, importantly, riders have much better quality horses; horses that have been bred and designed for the job of dressage — which we most certainly didn’t have until quite recently. And this I think has made a huge difference — although one could argue they still have to be trained.
Yes, Hunt’s argument has merit and I thank him for making me think longer and harder about this: in part, I agree with him— but I don’t believe round and deep is the only reason behind the newfound success of British dressage.
It is one of the oldest equestrian sports and undoubtedly one of the most artistic. Dressage requires precision and beauty of movement. The Olympic Games is the peak of the sport, but if you failed to ‘win’ in the London 2012 ballot and couldn’t sit in the stands to see Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro win individual and team gold, don’t despair because there are myriad other competitions that offer a great spectacle and the chance to see the sport’s stars in action.
Dressage competition levels
Look for any CDI fixture (CDI stands for Concours Dressage International) on the British Dressage website and you will be able to find dates for 3* competitions (Keysoe, Somerford, Hartpury, Bury Farm), as well as the prestigious CDI5* at Hickstead in July.
Any CDI of 3* level and above will showcase horses contesting the grand prix test, plus the grand prix freestyle to music, or ‘kür’, which is a favourite with dressage aficionados and newcomers alike. The spectator-pleasing aspect of the kür are the horse’s dance-like routines — riders can make up their own programme to various pieces of music, provided they meet all the technical requirements. However, don’t expect a raft of competitors performing the kür, first hosted at the Goodwood CDI back in 1979. Generally, just the 15 with the top scores from the grand prix test will progress into the final freestyle stage.
Grand prix is the highest level of dressage, which sees horses performing advanced movements including piaffe (trot on the spot), passage (elevated trot) and pirouette (where the horse turns on its haunches), but there are countless other levels, from introductory through to preliminary, novice, elementary, medium, advanced medium, advanced, prix st georges, intermediare I and intermediare II and there are a huge range of fixtures in the affiliated calendar to cater for all levels.
The British dressage calendar
A heads-up for those who are interested in following superstar Charlotte Dujardin and her mentor Carl Hester, who was also on the winning British London Olympic team: look no further than Hartpury. This is their local venue, as well as a magnet for a number of other leading dressage lights who live in Gloucestershire, and you will either see them out on their top rides or coaxing their younger horses through their paces on the way up the dressage ladder.
Hartpury hosts several fixtures during the year, not least the Winter Area Championships, held in April, which fields around 800 horses over five days of competition. Classes here go up to intermediare I.
A September highlight is the four-day Summer National Championships at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire, a competition for both amateur and professional riders. As a spectator here, things are great from the word go — good signposting, easy access from main roads and a permanent infrastructure, which is what you will find nowadays at all the leading shows. At Stoneleigh, for example, there is a good variety of food stands, plus around 80 mainly equestrian trade stands.
October brings the Mount St John Dressage Future Elite Championship for potential Olympic superstars at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), held at the easily accessible NEC near Birmingham. Here, too, there are trade stands — around 250 of them to be precise — along with myriad food outlets, rider signings and an interactive area for family fun, plus much more.
December brings the atmospheric indoor London International Horse Show at Olympia. This is a CDIW4*, where the ‘W’ means that this is a World Cup dressage qualifier — yes, Olympia isn’t just about show jumping — and for any dressage lover, the combination of British and overseas stars in action, plus festive displays for adults and children alike, not to mention some of the best shopping at any competitive equestrian fixture, and you have a winning formula.
What to wear as a dressage spectator
At most dressage competitions, there doesn’t tend to be a dress code for spectators, but you should plan for smart casual — jeans and a country-style jacket would fit the bill. Comfortable footwear is also a good idea, although most things, from the catering to the action, are all within striking distance, the longest walk often being to and from the car.
What unaffiliated dressage has to offer
If the raft of affiliated competitions do not float your boat — and many, bar the championships, offer free entry to encourage spectators — at the other end of the spectrum there are many unaffiliated dressage competitions throughout the country.
These can vary widely from events hosted in equestrian centres with plenty of infrastructure to those held in an isolated quiet field. For the latter, there can be little signposting so allow plenty of time to locate the venue. Parking will be on grass — so remember your wellies if it’s wet — and forget the infrastructure. The best you might be offered at some is a mobile tack shop and someone selling tea.
Audience numbers are generally low at unaffiliated competitions, with those in attendance tending to be competitors’ family and friends. However these are excellent, friendly venues to attend if you are thinking of taking the step into dressage yourself, or if you are seeking a day out in the fresh air to see horses and riders of varying standards.
The dressage spectator’s dos and don’ts
Whatever level of competition you plump for, you are sure to have a fabulous time, but there are a few ground rules to remember.
1. No clicking or flashing cameras close to competitors performing their tests. Do respect the fact that they need to concentrate
2. Keep as quiet as possible and turn off your mobile phone
3. Be aware when walking around the venue that you are not straying into the path of a horse. Also, while loose horses are fairly rare, they are a hazard to bear in mind
Keen to have a go at dressage, but don’t know where to start? International rider Harriette Williams tells Julie Harding all you need to know to get you off to a flying start.
1) Choose your dressage horse wisely
When you are starting out in dressage, it’s important that you are paired with the right horse. Reliability is the key here. You need a horse that isn’t going to be too nervous, sharp or fizzy in the warm up or in the arena — after all, you want your first experience to be a happy, confidence-boosting occasion.
In terms of size, you want a horse that is compact and not too big — he should fit you. He also needs three correct paces — a good walk where you can pick up a lot of easy marks, a correct and rhythmical trot and a rhythmical canter that doesn’t turn into an irregular four-time gait.
2) Plan your dressage lessons
You definitely don’t need to spend thousands of pounds on training when you are starting out in dressage, although you do need to have a basic understanding of what the judge will be looking for. That way, you can set your own personal goals.
Your current instructor will no doubt be able to help you here. Once you have become hooked on dressage, you may then need to think about investing in lessons with a flatwork professional, but it all depends on what you are trying to achieve.
3) Start with unaffiliated dressage
Unaffiliated competitions are a great place to start if you are new to dressage. Such fixtures are generally low key and friendly and having a positive experience will boost your confidence. However, all venues are different and to familiarize your horse beforehand, especially if he lacks experience, it may be best to attend a clinic there or hire the arena for an hour or so.
If you do well in the basic tests at unaffiliated level, that will give you an idea whether you are ready to progress to affiliated competitions. However, don’t have unrealistic goals for that, as the judging will be harsher.
4) Choose quality dressage clothing
If your horse is comfortable and can use itself in your current general purpose or jumping saddle then it may not be worth investing a lot of money in a dressage saddle for the time being. As you progress and do more flatwork, though, a dressage saddle will put you in a better position and will also give the horse more freedom to move through his shoulder.
Another important item of tack is a well-fitting bridle, which, like everything else, should always be clean for the competition. I also use white brushing boots while my horses work in, but if your horse isn’t used to these, avoid putting them on for the first time at a competition.
Buy the best-quality riding clothing for yourself that you can afford. A smart navy or black show jacket or a showing jacket that is neat and fits well will do the job nicely. Personally, I prefer white breeches, but others favour cream or beige. Gloves, plus a tie or a stock with a pin, finish off the look nicely. Your own personal presentation says a lot about the time and care you have invested in getting ready for this fixture. First impressions do count.
5) Follow the British dressage rules
There are several things that you aren’t allowed to have at a dressage competition, such as a martingale. Brushing boots, which can be used for warming up, should be removed once you have finished working in. You can ride your horse in a fly veil if the tests are held outside, but ensure that he has no ear plugs underneath.
Bitting is a complex issue, so check BD’s rules if you are heading for an affiliated competition, or the show’s own rules for unaffiliated competitions. For a horse with no issues, my preferred bit is a thin, plain loose ring snaffle with a lozenge, which is kind on the mouth and well within the rules of any show.
Be courteous at all times — even if you don’t agree with your dressage mark, the judge’s decision is final — and ensure that you are on time. If you arrive very late, you will probably be eliminated.
6) Focus on three key aims
Nerves at your first dressage competition are only natural, but a good way to alleviate these is to concentrate on a three-point plan — that’s three things you want to achieve in the warm up and three things you are aiming for in your test. If you have someone with you, get them to remind you about your three aims, which will help to keep your mind focused on yourself. It is all too easy to be distracted by horses around you who look to be going better than yours.
7) Be prepared
I pack my lorry the night before a competition. This gives me time to cope with the unexpected. I tick things off from a checklist as I put them in and I always pack spares, especially reins and stirrup leathers, which have a habit of breaking.
I also make myself a timetable for the day itself so that I have a rough idea of when to feed my horse, plait him, what time to leave for the show, what time to get on at the venue and I even factor in a little quiet time for myself.
8) Feed your horse for dressage success
If your horse is used to a hard feed in the morning, make the effort to get up early and stick to this routine — he needs the fuel like you do — but allow enough time for him to digest the feed prior to the competition.
Always use a hay-net while travelling. It helps to keep the horse calm. And on a hot day remember the electrolytes to rehydrate him if necessary.
After the competition, I unload and unpack the lorry and then feed my horse. I will only wait a little longer if he’s a stressy traveller.
9) How fit is your horse?
A horse that is fit enough for a 30-minute schooling session has adequate fitness for a lower level dressage competition. Competing at the lower levels isn’t too strenuous for the horse and you certainly don’t want one that is so fit that he needs working in for at least an hour before he starts listening to you.
10) How to warm up and cope in the arena
• Focus on yourself not those around you.
• If there are a lot of people in the warm up remember to pass left to left.
• When walking around, always walk on the inside track to let others work their horse.
• Think ahead — be aware of others around you, but don’t constantly stop your horse for them or your warm up will be badly affected.
• If you school at home for 30 minutes, don’t do the same at the competition. By then, you will have a tired horse who will have peaked in the warm up and not in the arena.
• Take your time. Too many people rush their test as though they are in a hurry to be somewhere else. Make the most of your time in the arena and show off. Don’t give marks away by rushing because of nervousness.
• Relax and keep breathing.
• Go in with a personal aim. It may simply be to get a great walk from your horse. Make your aim simple and then you won’t be disappointed.
• Don’t panic when things go wrong. They will, but there is always the next movement — and another day.
• Be proud that you are there and don’t feel outclassed. You have as much right to be there as anyone else.
• Don’t let a disappointing mark affect your judgment if you felt that your horse performed well — marks are always subjective so go with your gut feeling.
It’s official: Totilas has been retired from competitive dressage. The Dutch warmblood stallion has been diagnosed with edema to the bone and this latest injury has prompted the decision to retire him.
“As already known from various sources, the examination last weekend showed that Totilas has an edema in the bone,” the owners wrote in an official statement published on the Totilas Facebook page. “This is being treated in the best possible way by a superb team of veterinarians.
“Resulting from this new injury, we collectively came to the decision against the active sport. Totilas will not come back into the competitive dressage sport in the future. His injury is going to heal on his home yard Schafhof, given all the time it needs. This will also give him a gentle transition into his athletic retirement.”
Totilas, who won gold at the 2010 World Equestrian Games and at the 2009 European Championships with Edward Gal, has suffered several injuries in recent years, which have resulted in him missing many important championships, including the 2014 World Equestrian Games.
His return at Aachen’s European Dressage Championships with Matthias Rath was much awaited but the pair’s performance, at 75.971%, appeared well below the stallion’s previous, dazzling heights. After analysing videos of the test, which revealed “an irregularity in the movements” of the horse’ s left hind-leg, the owners announced that Totilas would be withdrawn from the Championships. News of his retirement came four days later.
Now the owners hope that, if his health recovers enough, “Totilas will continue being available for breeding via the service station of Paul Schockemöhle.
We really hope for the understanding of all those people that are moved by this horse as much as we are. Also, we would like to take the opportunity to thank all the admirers and fans for their support during all this time.”
Image: Totilas with Matthias Rath at the Aachen leg of the FEI Nation’s Cup in 2014, by FEI/Dirk Caremans
Their dominance of the dressage world has proved to be unprecedented – but has a major championship rival to Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro finally come forward?
Dujardin will arrive home from the FEI European Championships in Aachen with another two individual gold medals added to her enviable collection. The 30-year-old can now be called a double-double European champion, in addition to world champion, Olympic gold medallist and triple world-record holder.
No-one has seriously threatened Dujardin’s reign since those unforgettable scenes at Greenwich Park three years ago, but events in Aachen over the past few days provided more than their fair share of interest.
Dressage history books will forever show that Germany’s Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados FRH finished second in the 2015 European freestyle final — but that does not tell anywhere near the full story of an occasion when Dujardin’s remarkable gold medal sequence almost came to an end.
Ultimately, they were separated by just 0.25% as Dujardin and Valegro prevailed on a score of 89.054 per cent. Bröring-Sprehe did not so much send a warning signal 12 months before the Rio Olympics — she practically wrote a letter of intent and hand-delivered it.
Speaking on television, British Olympian and world-renowned dressage coach Richard Davison said he felt it was good for the sport that the freestyle title race had been so closely-fought, and many will agree with him after seeing Dujardin challenged like never before when stakes were at their highest.
It was the opening chapter in what could prove to be a dressage best-seller, and there were many in Aachen’s main stadium who felt that home favourite Bröring-Sprehe had done enough for gold. While it was not to be this time around, one wonders whether it might be a different story in Brazil next August?
Dujardin’s brilliance was showcased during Saturday’s grand prix special, which she won by an emphatic margin, but performances in the team grand prix test and freestyle contained uncharacteristic mistakes, although it says everything about the combination’s brilliance that they still topped all three sections in Aachen.
What Bröring-Sprehe did on an overcast Sunday afternoon in Aachen was to plant the tiniest seed of doubt that Dujardin will continue to reign into next year, at Rio and then beyond the 2016 Olympics, and there are not many followers of equestrian sport who genuinely believed that was possible.
“They (Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados) have gone within a minute percentage of actually being able to beat Valegro,” Dujardin’s mentor, trainer and Valegro co-owner Carl Hester said. “Desperados is not an old horse either, so it looks like Valegro suddenly has a new rival.
Olympia in December — a happy hunting ground for Dujardin and — is likely to be the next port of call on their Rio journey, and no-one should be in the least bit surprised if world records are once again threatened or surpassed.
Now, though, it might just be a two-horse race.
Image: Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados look set to rival Charlotte Dujardin and Desperados, by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, courtesy of FEI
Then, on the eve of the grand prix special, Totilas was unexpectedly withdrawn due to health concerns. UPDATE: Totilas has now been retired from competitive dressage after having been diagnosed with bone edema. Read the owners’ official statement.
It was a tense moment for Dujardin but, in a nail-biting finale, she and Valegro managed to score 89.054%, beating Broering-Sprehe and Desperados by a minuscule 0.25%, with Spain’s Beatriz Ferrer Salat in third.
Charlotte Dujardin added another major championship gold medal to her stunning collection on Sunday — but only after being pushed all the way in a gripping European dressage freestyle final.
Germany’s Kristina Broring-Sprehe went within less than 0.3% of inflicting a first major championship defeat on Dujardin since 2011, but the British star — as she has done so many times in the past — came up trumps on Valegro amid intense pressure to edge home on 89.054%.
Broring-Sprehe’s freestyle personal best on Desperados FRH of 88.804%, though, gave Dujardin plenty of food for thought just 12 months out from the Rio Olympics.
“I knew what was going to come,” said Dujardin, who was drawn last to go immediately after Sprehe’s electric performance created an incredible buzz in Aachen’s main stadium. “Being in Aachen with Kristina being with her home crowd, I was expecting it, just like I had in London three years ago. Following Kristina, you could feel how much the crowd were behind her.
“When I walked in, there was a huge atmosphere and they were applauding her score. There was a lot to deal with at the very beginning, but overall, I am thrilled.
“I was really happy with the start of the test, then there was a mistake in my one-time changes. I knew it was going to be a tough call here, but I am not going to moan. I am going away with two gold medals and a silver, and I am really happy with that.”
Spanish rider Beatriz Ferrer-Salat took the bronze medal on Delgado, scoring 82.714%, with Carl Hester and Nip Tuck finishing eighth. Fiona Bigwood, an integral part of Britain’s team silver medal success on Thursday, withdrew Atterupgaards Orthilia before the freestyle because of a reaction in its back following the grand prix special 24 hours earlier.
Reflecting on a dramatic conclusion to the European dressage schedule, Dujardin’s mentor Hester said: “He (Valegro) was a little bit tired today and a little bit empty, and I felt it would be difficult to get the ones.
“They (Broring-Sprehe and Desperados) have gone within a minute percentage today of actually being able to beat Valegro. Desperados is not an old horse either, so it looks like Valegro suddenly has a new rival.
“Valegro set the standard a while ago of high percentage scores, and people are creeping closer. It is five years now that he has been winning gold medals, and this has been a great week again.”
The British quartet of Dujardin, Hester, Bigwood and Michael Eilberg will head home from Germany after finishing just 1.4% away from team gold, with Dujardin now a double-double European champion, in addition to holding Olympic and World gold, plus the sport’s three world records.
Attention in Aachen now turns to the FEI European Showjumping Championships, which begin on Wednesday, with the British team of Ben Maher, Michael Whitaker, Joe Clee and Jessica Mendoza, not only defending the title won in Denmark two years ago, but also striving for one of three Olympic qualification places on offer alongside rivals like Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain.
Image: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, courtesy of the FEI
Charlotte Dujardin put her Aachen demons behind her to retain the European grand prix special title on Saturday after an emphatic gold-medal performance.
The world number one suffered a rare defeat in Aachen last year, and her display on Valegro in Thursday’s team competition was slightly below-par — but they made amends spectacularly.
Their score of 87.577% was just short of the grand-prix-special world record they set in Hagen more than three years ago, but it set much too hot a pace for the rest to handle.
Germany’s Kristina Broring-Sprehe, riding Desperados FRH, took the silver medal on 83.067%, while Holland’s Hans Peter Minderhoud claimed bronze aboard Glock’s Johnson. His team-mate Edward Gal was eliminated with Glock’s Undercover and Swedish star Patrik Kittel retired, meaning both riders are out of Sunday’s freestyle final, when Dujardin will be joined by her British colleagues Carl Hester and Fiona Bigwood.
Hester, riding the richly-promising Nip Tuck, finished fifth, while Bigwood filled ninth spot on Atterupgaards Orthilia, but Michael Eilberg and Marakov bowed out in 19th spot.
There will, though, be no European showdown between Valegro and former world record-breaking stallion Totilas after the ride of Germany’s Matthias Rath was withdrawn prior to the grand prix special.
Dujardin said: “On Thursday, I think I was maybe a little too laid-back and just rode for a clear round. But today, because of my mistakes, I thought ‘right, I’m sick of this,’ and I wanted to go in and better my performance as I know Valegro can do much better than that.
“Last year, coming here wasn’t that great. It’s not a place I get the nicest vibes from, should I say. Today he felt on great form, and I knew I just had to go in and ride him. I had a good ride from start to finish.
“It’s tough with a German crowd. They really get behind their riders — a bit like we had in London. Coming here and doing it is amazing. The crowd are fantastic and know what they’re watching, and it’s such a great feeling to come out and know that they appreciate what they are seeing and applauding what I’ve done.
“It’s tough, but I have to remember that this is my passion and what I love, and that’s how I keep the nerves from kicking in. I know I have to go in there, nail it and do my best, but today I really did enjoy it.”
While 30-year-old Dujardin added another title to her enviable collection, Hester’s score of 77.003% on Nip Tuck served further notice that this is a combination with serious designs on next year’s Rio Olympics, and Hester was suitably thrilled.
“That’s my gold medal in the bag for me,” he said, reflecting on Nip Tuck’s fine showing. “If someone could make me a little one out of plastic, I would feel like I had the real thing!
“He was brilliant. For such a big horse, I have to be able to make quite a lot of adjustments to keep him balanced. He absolutely did everything I asked. I love riding him. He has the perfect balance that you want in a dressage horse, and he wants to go, he really wants to work, he is a little bit nervous and he’s on my side. I have such a great relationship with him, and it just keeps growing.
“I am smiling from ear to ear — it’s like having a pack of fruit pastilles all in one go! For me, it was amazing. I mean, he’s never going to beat Valegro, but he’s ended up fifth in a European Championships, which is just great. I am so proud to bring it out of him, and he offers it. It’s a great moment for me today.”
Hester, meanwhile, also paid tribute to Dujardin, whose imperious major championship record features Olympic, World and European crowns, plus all three dressage world records — grand prix, grand prix special and freestyle — currently being in her possession.
“I am really happy for Charlotte,” he added. “I want people to love the horse (Valegro) as we love him at home. Today, he was back at his best. The weather suited him more, as it was a bit cooler. He loves the atmosphere, and today he was back to full power.
“Charlotte is happy, and I am relieved that she has put her Aachen demons to bed.”
Watch an interview with Charlotte Dujardin:
Main image: Charlotte Dujardin by FEI / Arnd Bronkhorst / Pool Pic
Fiona Bigwood produced a sparkling performance in Aachen on Wednesday as Great Britain’s dressage team made a strong start to their medal quest at the FEI European Championships.
Bigwood marked her first major championship appearance since 2010 by posting a score of 75.800 per cent on the 10-year-old mare Atterupgaards Othilia as Britain held third place overnight behind leaders and gold-medal favourites Germany, with Holland second.
With Michael Eilberg having scored 69.943 per cent on Marakov, Britain’s total of 145.743 means they are in decent shape ahead of Thursday’s action, when reigning Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin and her London 2012 gold-medal-winning colleague Carl Hester perform their tests.
Bigwood’s display was all the more remarkable given that she suffered a hairline fracture of her skull in a riding accident last year. She now wears an eye patch to ride because she’s experiencing double vision.
“I am on cloud nine. She was amazing to ride in there,” Bigwood said. “I knew I had to pull out a mark to be in with a chance of getting a medal. I knew I had to produce something. The pressure is not on from them (the rest of the team), but it is on from myself.
“It is her sixth international, so she isn’t that experienced. Obviously, she is talented enough, but it is how much you ask. The goal was not to make mistakes, and then at the end I could ask for the extended trot and just let her go.
“To go in there and do what she did, everyone in the yard is over the moon. You do not get much bigger than Aachen.”
Eilberg kicked off Britain’s campaign earlier in the day, and although there were a couple of obvious mistakes in his test on 15-year-old major championship debutant Marakov, the Worcestershire-based rider could feel satisfied with a solid effort.
“I am really pleased with him. It was a daunting atmosphere,” he said. “Perhaps I could have let go of him a bit more, but that can go either way, so, overall, I am happy.
“I still feel like I have to go in and hold his hand, but it is pleasing that, even having to help him out, he can still score like that.
“When he was new to Grand Prix, he was nervous and spooky and we would get 59 per cent, but now he copes with his nerves.”
Thursday’s action will undoubtedly be highlighted not only by Dujardin’s entry on Valegro, but also the return of iconic stallion Totilas, previously ridden in brilliant world-record-breaking and major medal-winning fashion by Holland’s Edward Gal, and now in the hands of German rider Matthias Rath.
Saturday’s Grand Prix special final and the Grand Prix freestyle on Sunday also look set to be close calls. Hester, for one, is relishing seeing Valegro and Totilas at the same major championship.
“Everyone has been waiting for it,” he said. “They are both on form, and it looks like they will have a good head to head.”
Image: Fiona Bigwood and Atterupgaards Orthilia by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, courtesy of FEI.
Dressage rider and former National Champion Spencer Wilton is the first reserve for the British team contesting the European Dressage Championships in Aachen (August 12-16).
National Champion with Dolendo in 2007, he made a successful return to international grand prix this year with Jen Goodman’s Supernova II, his reserve partner.
Spencer is based in Berkshire where he runs his own yard with partner Darren Hicks.
How does it feel to be team reserve?
Good — although I did compete in a Nations Cup team with Dolendo in 2006, this is my first inclusion on the squad for a major championship. I was rather hoping they might have taken a risk on us in that fourth slot as it would have been a great experience but I totally understand why they didn’t. But Supernova is still on his way up and still has time yet. I am a non-travelling reserve so at the moment we are just doing the logistics as to what will be the absolute latest I leave the UK — although the situation at Calais is not making that easy — in order to get to Aachen, bearing in mind that the last minute time allowed for a reserve to come in is two hours before the trot up.
Tell me a bit about where you are based and your daily routine.
I have been based at Headley Stud, near Newbury, for the last two years. I rent 11 boxes so I have a small and manageable yard and spend the rest of the time teaching and travelling to teach, although teaching has been limited this year, as I have been away competing so much. I have two full-time staff and Darren works with me too.
This has been my first international season since 2007 and I have recently done four competitions on the trot. I intend to concentrate on that now and it’s good to be back at the level. The downside, however, is that I have much less time for teaching and therefore less income.
I have another two shows lined up after Aachen, which takes me up to the National Championships — it’s been a big commitment. But I want to get the outdoor shows under our belt, as I don’t think Supernova is going to suit indoor shows — he likes to spend a lot of time just walking and hacking about at a show so don’t expect to see us at Olympia.
How did you come to get the ride on Supernova?
I was at Badminton and Carl [Hester] was doing his dressage demonstration — I looked at the screen and saw this great big horse about to do the most amazing piaffe. Then, a bit later, Carl said he had to sell him so I rang Jen Goodman and got her to google up the YouTube clip of him at Badminton and we went to see him.
At that time he was a seven-year-old. He is actually British-bred and was bred by Mrs Kirby, who was a great breeder and Hanoverian supporter. He is by the lovely De Niro out of her mare Walpurgis (champion of the British Hanoverian Horse Society show for three consecutive years) who was by Weltmeyer. He has a full brother who is competing at small tour with Rosie Moreton-Deakin. He was originally produced by Melanie Phillips of Ruxton Horses who sold him to Carl as a five-year-old and has the stable name of Neville.
How many other horses do you have?
Well, there is a bit of a gap between Neville and the rest; I still have Sambucca who is now castrated and has also been side-lined with a few irritating issues, Doogie who has also been out with a few problems and Alfons (Inter I national champion last year), who is also coming back and they are all competing at small tour. Then there is a huge gap………
What do you do outside of horses?
We have been fairly busy this year, as we recently bought a house nearby and it turned into much more of a project than I thought, which has taken a lot of energy and time. However, I am about to start on the garden, which is the bit I like, and that is going to be my autumn and winter project — although I have a lot of ground elder to get rid of first.
Do you breed horses?
Well, I have but it wasn’t totally intentional. I have a mare that I bought as a two-year-old. She had a bone chip in the hock that needed removing, which was fine, then she needed another operation and needed a year off so I put her in foal. Just before she was due, she colicked, which transpired it was because the foal was stuck, so she needed another operation to free the foal. She was cut open and put back together and gave birth naturally 12 days later. Then she had to be operated on again to fully repair and mesh the cut, as it was thought it wouldn’t be strong enough to withstand breeding or work. I finally brought her into work and she got problems with the original hock… We now have two foals out of her, one by Sambucca and the other by Glamourdale.
Who does the cooking?
We both cook but we got really lazy this year as there is a lovely M&S food outlet close by. However, we realised it was costing us far too much, so we now have an Abel & Cole veg delivery every week. It’s like a surprise box of veg and it has been really good for our culinary skills — we’ve even had to look up some of the veg on the internet.
What was your last meal?
A vegetable lasagne, as I was using up all the veg before the new weekly delivery. I did it all myself — I never use a made sauce now.
Who is your horse hero?
Isabelle Werth just fascinates me. I could watch her ride for hours — she is extraordinary. Her timing is immaculate and her system very clever. She is so horse aware and can create a huge amount of propulsion from not very much. Her horse Bella Rose is not the most talented but what she has done with her is amazing and she has huge belief in her horses. I have watched the Bonfire versus Gigolo video many times.
Which horse taught you the most?
It’s a toss-up beween Escapado and Dolendo… Escapado because he gave me the feeling of what riding dressage should feel like when it is right and easy. If you don’t get that you never know what you are aiming for and he gave me the ideal to strive for. Dolendo because he took me further than I had been before. He had to be taught to enjoy work but you couldn’t dominate him. I had to learn to work with him and make him believe it was all his idea — and I loved him dearly.
Which is your favourite venue?
Having never been there before and having just shortly got back, I would have to say it’s Hagen. It is a beautiful and pretty setting, very horse friendly, with plenty of arena space and lovely hacking track, which is pretty important when you have a Neville, and also great hospitality and good organisation.
Just two weeks before the European Dressage Championships in Aachen — the last major championship for British contenders before the Olympic Games in Rio next year. How the time has flown by since London 2012!
London marked a major milestone in dressage history when the British team won gold — an extraordinary feat that, just a few years previously, seemed the stuff of dreams. That high was followed by team bronze at the 2013 European Championships in Herning and team silver at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Caen last year. How things change; within the space of a few years the Brits have become major players on the World dressage stage and now there is a high expectation of the team, although at least the pressure is off as qualification for Rio 2016 was achieved last year.
Only one combination, our ace in the pack Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro — the reigning Olympic, World and European Champions and World record holders — remains the constant throughout the past three successes. And they are the World’s highest scoring combination this year — scoring over 85% in each of their grand prix tests. At Aachen, Dujardin will be joined by three experienced players: Carl Hester, Fiona Bigwood and Michael Eilberg.
British dressage stalwart and team prop Hester, who rode in his first major championship — the very first WEG in Stockholm — 25 years ago, this year rides Nip Tuck, who, despite helping to win team silver last year, is still relatively inexperienced. His scores, however, are improving all the time.
Bigwood, who first rode for the British senior team in 1996, this year rides the mare Atterupguaards Orthilia at her championship debut. She is the least experienced of the horse quartet, with just five international grand prix on her CV, but is an eye-catching mover with a seemingly level head and is more than capable of a good score.
Eilberg, a member of the team for the last two championships, this year rides Marakov. The eldest of the four horses is also a championship debutant, although the pair has five seasons of grand prix experience together and Eilberg is a cool customer.
Who is the opposition?
Germany are the major contenders are far as team gold is concerned, even despite losing the lovely Helen Langehanenberg and the equally lovely stallion Damon Hill, winners of individual silver at WEG.
Kristina Sprehe is their current leader of the pack with the stallion Desperados. The pair, winners of all their international starts this year, also looks to be the biggest threat to Dujardin and Valegro for individual honours.
The former world record holder Totilas, who lost the crown to Valegro, is back with Matthias Rath — their last team appearance was the 2011 European Championships in Rotterdam. The pair scored marginally over 80% in Hagen recently but that is the only show on their card this year.
Isabell Werth, Germany’s skilled team veteran, rides Don Johnson, as her WEG team gold medal mare Bella Rose has not been fit to compete this year, but Don Johnson is more than capable of decent scores.
Meanwhile, Jessica Bredow-Werndl, a former Young Rider European Champion, makes her senior team debut with the stallion Unee BB (like Totilas by Gribaldi) with whom she recently was just a few marks off 80% in the grand prix special in Hagen.
The Dutch have also lost their major player of recent times, Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival, who have been the backbone and high-scorers of the team for the last six years. They do, however, still have Edward Gal, Hans Peter Minderhoud (and the breeding stallion Glocks Johnson) and Diederik van Silfhout (Arlando), who were all members of the team that won World team bronze last year. Gal now rides Glocks Undercover, with whom he won his seventh national championship recently — the pair are likely to be their high scorers. Patrick van de Meer and Uzzo have the fourth place.
Sweden also looks to have a strong team. Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven (Don Aureillo) Patrik Kittel (Deja) and Minne Telde (Santana) are all experienced championship riders who have been putting in good consistent grand prix scores recently and they are joined by team rookie Emilie Nyrerod (Miata) who has impressed this season.
And the winners are?….
One thing is for certain: it will be a closely contested championship that in all likelihood will be determined by the final riders. Based on grand prix personal best this year, the gold medal will be an extremely close battle between Germany and Britain. On paper, the Brits have it but we will need a high-scoring, team boosting test from Dujardin and Valegro, with good back-up from Hester and Bigwood. No pressure then. A team silver is the alternative but even if not all goes to plan — and with horses, who knows — team bronze is well within reach.
On current form, Dujardin and Valegro should retain their European title. The silver looks set to be won by Sprehe and Desperados and the bronze will be a close tussle between Rath and Totilas and and Undercover, although Hester and Nip Tuck could surprise and give them a run for their money.
Image: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro by Judy Sharrock on FlickR.
For the second year running, Denmark won the team competition at the Hickstead CDIO (July 16-19), which was the last in this year’s FEI Nations Cup series.
It was, however, an extremely close competition and went to the wire — the second placed British team was just a few points behind — although the Danes, Anders Dahl (Wie Atlantico de Ymas), Sune Hansen (Charmeur) and Sidsel Johansen (Alibi D) also had a handicap of just three riders and therefore no drop score. Team Sweden was a close third.
While British dressage darling Carl Hester and Coral Ingram’s chestnut Wanadoo, competing in his first international, headed the grand prix, they were not team members so locally-based Dahl, who is married to British rider Fiona Bigwood, set the team up with a good second place on Bigwood’s former ride, Wie Atlantico de Ymas. Johansen, his compatriot, and Alibi D, who competed in their first international grand prix at Hartpury just last week, were third, and this up-and-coming international combination then went on to win the grand prix special.
Dahl also went home with another blue rosette for second place in the grand prix freestyle, which recorded yet another victory for Hester and Wanadoo.
Hickstead marked the end of the 2015 FEI Nations Cup series of six competitions and Germany, winner in Vidauban and Hagen, finishes this year’s league at the top of table, with The Netherlands and Sweden second and third.
Hickstead was another good show for Bedfordshire-based Alice Oppenheimer, who will have caught the selectors’ eyes, if not for this year, for the future: she was fourth in the grand prix and second in the special with the British-bred Headmore Delegate. Henriette Andersen and Warlocks Charm were just a few points behind. They continue to up their game and will be another combination to watch.
Oppenheimer also won the prix st georges (PSG) with Georgina Pole Carew’s homebred Tantoni Sir Soccrates, whose number of wins this year now runs into double figures.
This pair headed off Maria Eilberg and Royal Concert (second) and Paralympic rider Sophie Wells who was third with Valerius — these three being the only ones to score over 70%.
The trio also claimed the top three places in the freestyle, but here Eilberg got her own back with a win. Although only lightly competed this year, the good looking grey Royal Concert, owned by Hermione Black, Penny Pollard and rider, has always been in the top three.
The Inter I was another top slot for Hartpury small tour victors Becky Moody and Carinsio, another who is on flying form this year, having posted more than a dozen wins.
Hickstead is also home to its own young horse championships for five and six-year-olds. The talk of the town was the chestnut Hanoverian stallion Brandon, the winner of both national and international five-year-old classes with Berkshire-based producer and event rider Darren Hicks.
The pair stormed to victory in the national classes with a massive 89.8 % — ten percentage points ahead of anyone else —then took the international class with 81% and a 7% margin. Brandon, a licensed stallion by Bellisimo M out of a mare by Donnerhall, owned by Noora Alkhalisa, was acquired from Gert van Olst in The Netherlands last year. He came to the UK in November and is based with Spencer Wilton at Headley Stud. Brandon and Hicks now go to the Badminton Young Horse Championships next week.
The six-year-old championship was a much closer affair; the winner’s sash was presented to Sadie Smith and River Rise Escarla ahead of Kate Rowland and Erasmus I, with Dan Greenwood and Exige M in third.
Rowland and Erasmus, co-owned by his trainer, Irish international Roland Tong, then won the international class ahead of Dan Greenwood and Exige M, with former Olympic rider Vicki Thompson-Winfield third on Botero.
International Pony, Junior and Young Rider classes are also a feature of Hickstead.
British winners were Amy Schiessl and her British-bred Mr Mercury, who won both the Young Rider team and individual tests; Charlotte Dicker and Ian McRobbie’s mare Sabatini, members of this year’s British Junior team, and winners of the Junior team test; and Emily Bradshaw and her own Remarkable who headed the Junior freestyle.
The pony classes were dominated by the young Dutch riders, although the individual test resulted in a good win for Wiltshire-based Angus Corrie-Deane and the Dutch-bred Welsh part-bred Hagelkruis Vanentijns.
British team announced
The British team for the FEI European Championships to be held in Aachen (August 12-16) has been announced.
As expected, Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester spearhead the team challenge in Germany. Hester will be riding his and Jane de la Mare’s Nip Tuck while Dujardin will be riding her Olympic, World and European champion Valegro, owned by Roly Luard, Anne Barrott and Carl Hester. Dujardin and Valegro will also be defending their European Champions title they won in Herning in 2013.
Fiona Bigwood makes a return to the team with Atterupguaards Orthilia, owned by Penny Bigwood. Bigwood last competed in a British team in 2010 at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington with Wie Atlantico and came home with team silver.
The fourth place has gone to Michael Eilberg and Marakov, owned by Ferdi Eilberg. While Marakov is new to the team, Eilberg has been a team member for the last two years with Half Moon Delphi, who was sold to America a few months ago.
Spencer Wilton and Supernova II, owned by Jen Goodman and Spencer, are the first reserves, while Anna Ross and Jane Sewell’s mare, Die Callas, is the second reserve combination.
At the last European Championships in Herning (Denmark) in 2013, Britain won team bronze before nabbing the team silver at the 2014 World Equestrian Games.
Image: the Danish team at Hickstead, courtesy of the FEI.
It was one busy weekend in the dressage world with two important CDIO competitions, as far as the forthcoming European Championships are concerned, at Hagen (Germany) and Falsterbo (Sweden), plus the Pan American Games in Toronto, while much closer to home, Hartpury College hosted the five-day Festival of Dressage, incorporating international, Paralympic international and premier league (PL) classes, as well as the Shearwater Young Horse finals. A huge organisational feat resulted in a great show that was live-streamed for the first time.
The Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin show rolled into Hartpury for their final competitive outing before the European Championships in Aachen next month. The pair thrilled with winning performances; Dujardin took the international grand prix with a huge 85% plus score on Valegro, relegating her trainer and Nip Tuck to second place.It was, however, a personal best international grand prix score for the latter combination, which hopefully bodes well for Aachen.
Dujardin then won the grand prix special with 87.765—an even better score than the gold-medal winning test at the WEG last year. She also had a convincing win in the PL grand prix with her up and coming ride Barolo, while second place in this class went to Sharon Baldwin’s veteran international stallion Pro-Set, now under Amy Woodhead.
The selectors now have to decide on the rest of the team. Fiona Bigwood’s performance with Atterupgaards Orthillia, third in the grand prix and second in the special, means that a team return for Bigwood looks likely. But who will be the fourth member? Michael Eilberg and Marakov have put in good scores this year, Henriette Anderson is knocking on the door with Warlocks Charm, who had a good second place in the gala night international grand prix freestyle, and, while this year is too early, Gareth Hughes looks like a team member in waiting with Classic Briolinca, who scored over 71% in his first international tests.
The international small tour classes — PSG, Inter I and Inter I freestyle — provided Yorkshire-based Becky Moody with three assured wins on Carinsio. It was a first international for the Painted Black gelding since his seventh place in the World Young Horse five-year-old Championships in 2012.
Talking of which, that was the year Woodlander Farouche won the six-year-old World title. She, too, came to Hartpury, where the UK’s favourite chestnut mare continued her winning ways, strolling to the £1,000 first prize in the Elite Stallions young horse championship PSG.
The win was just one of several for her rider, Eilberg; he added to his spoils with a win in the PL Inter II with former small tour winner Half Moon Dynasty, which, like his former team horse, Half Moon Delphi, is by Dimaggio and bred and owned by Jon and Julie Deverill. Eilberg also won a premier league PSG with the former jumper and small tour champion the Corland sired Torino.
His sister, Maria, was not to be outdone; she won the PL Inter I with Royal Concert. The pair was then a marginal second in the first PL Inter II, which was won on collectives by Gareth Hughes and the breeding stallion Samba Hit III, who is one of four full brother stallions by Sandro Hit and a full brother to the ill-fated former world young horse champion Poetin.
Lucy Cartwright, a former apprentice of Hester’s now set up on her own, also had a good show, winning two PL PSG sections; one with Carole Felton’s Fergana and the other with her own Waterloo V.
The show ran three days of international Paralympic competition, which was a final selection trial ahead of the European Championships in Deauville in September and we now await an announcement from the selectors. Sophie Wells (Grade IV) who rode her first senior international grand prix, Nicky Greenhill (Grade III), Natasha Baker (Grade II) and Sophie Christiansen (Grade I) all had multiple wins and look strong contenders. The British team (Baker, Anne Dunham, Lee Pearson and Wells) had a convincing win over Canada in the team competition at Hartpury.
Over in Germany, Hagen — the final selection trial for Germany’s European team — was hosting the German leg of the FEI CDIO international team competition. However, there was an extra big attraction to Hagen as Totilas, dressage super-star before Valegro, was making his second major comeback to competing with Matthias Rath. The black stallion last competed in Aachen last year.
This time, their return was less controversial and the pair had a comfortable win in the CDI4* grand prix with an 80% plus score, subsequently headed the special and was selected for the German European team that was announced before the end of the show. Thus Valegro and Totilas will compete head-to-head in Aachen for the first time at a major championship since the 2011 Europeans in Rotterdam, where the British won team gold although Totilas (and Rath) beat Valegro and Dujardin, then making their team debut.
The CDIO proved a big win for the home-side and team member Kristina Sprehe and the stallion Desperados who scored 81.16, almost 4% more than second placed Isabell Werth with Don Johnson and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, third with the stallion Unee BB. These three will join Rath and Totilas at the European Championships in an attempt to defend the European team title that Germany won back in Herning in 2013. The special and the freestyle also proved easy victories for Sprehe and Desperados, who achieved three unanimous wins in Hagen and look to be another big threat to Dujardin and Valegro when they defend their European individual title next month.
The British all-girl team of Anna Ross (Die Callas) Lara Griffith (Rubin Al Asad), Hannah Biggs (Weltzin) and Emily Kate Cousins (Solo Bachelorette) was eighth of eight teams, but there is a big difference between a country fielding some of the best in the world and one that sends up-and-coming combinations for experience. Biggs and her stallion Weltzin were the highest placed of the British quartet in the special in 18th place and thus went through to the freestyle where they happily finished with 72.45% and 12th place.
Spencer Wilton (Super Nova II) and Laura Tomlinson (Unique) were the British representatives in the CDI4* grand prix, taking 15th and 27th respectively. Wilton and Super Nova II upped their game in the grand prix special and claimed the best placing possible — fourth behind Germans Rath (Totilas), Annabel Balkenhol (Dablino) and Fabienne Lutkemeier (D’Agostino). Wilton and Jennifer Goodman’s British bred Hanoverian (De Niro-Weltmeyer) scored 73.33, their best international score yet which will give British team selectors some more food for thought.
The Under-25 grand prix was another Rothenberger victory, this time for Sanneke, the eldest of the three Rotherberger offspring, and Wolke Seiben, with whom she won Young Rider European team gold and individual bronze in 2012. The 23-year-old Rotherberger, purportedly the most medalled under-25 rider in the world, was also fourth in the CDI4* grand prix with Deveraux Old, her former team horse, with whom she won Junior and two Young Rider European team gold medals, as well as several individual medals (2009, 2010 and 2011).
Rath also had two small tour wins, with the eight-year-old Danonchen (by Danone), ahead of Tomlinson and her relatively new ride, the stallion Duvals Capri Sonne Jr, who gave his rider second place in both classes, although the Gloucestershire-based 2012 team gold medallist will have been pleased with the Inter I judge that placed her first — thus denying Rath another unanimous win.
Falsterbo and Toronto
In Sweden, team veterans Tinne Vlmhelmson-Silfven (Don Auriello) and Patrik Kittel (Deja) led the Swedish team to victory in the CDIO in Falsterbo, Sweden’s biggest outdoor show, while across the Atlantic, at the Toronto Pan American Games, the American team secured gold and direct qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The team of Sabine Schut-Kery (Sanceo) and Kimberly Herslow (LLC’s Rosmarin) in the small tour and Laura Graves (Verdades) and Steffen Peters (Legolas 92) in the big tour, claimed top step of the podium ahead of Canada and Brazil.
The 2013 European Pony Champion Phoebe Peters celebrated her 16th birthday last Friday (12 June), also her final exam and school day of the year.
The previous week, with her pony SL Lucci, she won the classes at the international (CDIP) in Compiegne and the pair has now won 31 of the 53 international classes they have contested.
They are also the current National record holders for the team, individual and freestyle tests as well as holding international World records in the FEI Pony team test (80.21%) and the FEI Pony freestyle test (84.00%).
So were there big celebrations?
Well I had my school prom at the end of the week which was a bit of a party. I have done 24 exams since May so it was very exciting to be doing my last one.
Do you have a plan for when you leave school?
I am going back to do history, French and German A-Levels then I will definitely be pursuing riding. At the moment I think I would like to go abroad for a year to train then come back and set up a yard at home.
What is your aim for the rest of this year?
I shall spend the summer riding and helping out at the yard where we keep the ponies.
The next aim is to qualify Lucci for the regional finals at medium and then the Europeans in Malmo in August. I know what I’d like to do there but don’t want to say…My original aim for the year was to score 80% in all three tests which I did in the freestyle in Compiegne but I’ve now only got the Europeans left….
Then as it is my final year in ponies we will have to sell Lucci to buy a horse.
What makes Lucci so good?
He has an amazing brain – he is so trainable and loves to work. He gets a bit grumpy if he hasn’t been out for a few weeks. He also has three good paces. When we got him they were not flashy but because he is so trainable they improved so much. He also makes us laugh as he is a bit of a comedian in the stable – he is too clever for his own good.
How did you get Lucci?
We had been looking for seven months and done five trips abroad and tried 20 ponies when Peter (Storr) my trainer sent us a video of Lucci. We thought he was boring but then a bit later we saw another video and he looked different so we went to Denmark.
I fell in love with him and we bought him. We have done four seasons together and he is now 13.
What do you do outside of horses?
Horses are everything although I play hockey once a week for the local Blockley ladies team.
I also love watching films – my favourites are The Grand Budapest Hotel and Men in Black 3. Otherwise its horses all the way. I have been riding since I was four and doing dressage since I was seven – I just love dressage.
How did you get into dressage
Through Jenny Smith, who was the manager of the first yard we kept our ponies at. She did dressage and taught me on my first pony Beau, a New Forest.
Who is your dressage hero?
Anky (Van Grunsven). I started watching the ‘Thrills and Spills’ videos when I was five which is where I first saw Anky perform her Westside Story freestyle with Bonfire – I was totally gripped. I love music and how the freestyle brings out the personality of a horse and I spend a lot of time looking for freestyles on Youtube.
Has to be Compiegne. We have been there for the last four years. It is such a beautiful setting in the woodland, it has always been sunny and the people are so nice and friendly.
Who has been your biggest influence on your career so far?
My parents. My Mum (Tracey) is the nicest person you’ll ever meet and you can totally rely on her. My Dad (Andy) who works so hard to help me in my sport – I think I got my determination from and like me, he is competitive.
What are your strengths
I am self-motivated and a bit of a perfectionist and am always finding ways to improve. I have to put 100% into everything I do.
Wanting everything to be perfect. And chilli Doritos – I love them.
What has been your best moment so far?
Winning double gold at the European Championships in 2013 in Italy. We went there as underdogs and didn’t expect it. I also got a World record in the freestyle. It still seems surreal.
What do you hope to achieve?
My aim is to progress up the levels. Obviously everyone says the Olympics and that would be nice but I want to achieve the best I can and help keep British dressage in the public eye.
I would like to set up a yard and have a plan with my sister Camille who is into the breeding side and very clued up on breeding and bloodlines. I just love doing dressage – I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
British Pony rider Phoebe Peters (above) once again proved the queen of the Compiegne CDI (June 4-7).
With her trusty pony partner SL Lucci she dominated the international pony competition winning all three sections with a convincing margin. It was the fourth successful visit to Compiegne for Phoebe.
Last year at the venue she set a new international world record score in the pony team test while this year the hat-trick of wins meant Phoebe notched up her 30th international win. A place on the British pony team to contest the European Pony Championships in Malmo in August should now be in the bag. It is the final year in pony competition for the 15-year-old from Moreton in the Marsh, who was the 2013 European champion and last year’s vice-champion. Phoebe was particularly thrilled with their freestyle win in Compiegne which scored the pair over 82% putting them in a league of their own and over 7% ahead of the rest of the field.
British pony rider Clare Hole also had a successful foray on Compiegne – which is 100k North East of Paris – winning two fourth places and a second in the pony individual test with the pony stallion Rembrandt DDH.
Spencer Wilton was the sole British representative in the CDI three-star section and Hannah Biggs in the four-star – the first event of the level in France.
Spencer and Jennifer Goodman’s De Niro gelding Supernova II had to settle for second place in both the grand prix and special being headed each time by French rider Marc Boblet. Spencer was also seventh in the grand prix with Numberto and opted for the freestyle with Julian Cournane’s Negro gelding which they happily won – the only combination to score over 70%.
Hannah Biggs and her 16-year-old Hanoverian stallion Weltzin were sixth in the CDI 4* grand prix with a score just short of the magic 70% – the class won by Swedish Olympic rider Patrick Kittel with Deja on a good score of 77.5. Hannah was also sixth in the special which was also won by Kittel.
In the CDI2* small tour British riders Nicola Jane Lickley (Zaire LH) and Alex Hardwick (Royal Chester) gained third and fifth in the freestyle. Cambridgeshire based Alex also contested the U-25 classes coming fifth in the Inter II and sixth in the grand prix with Donauwein while the long-stading partnership of Emily Harris, and Don Diabolo, an Oldenburg stallion first ridden by her father Andrew, came eighth. Emily, who is based in the New Forest and Don have now travelled on to compete at the CDIU-25 at Prangins in Switzerland.
Wellington Premier league
The brand new clubhouse at Wellington Riding (Hampshire) and its facilities, which feature viewing galleries with electronic scoring and a new café, was well received and put to use during the Wellington Premier League (June 4-7). There were 425 entries over three days of competition.
Alice Oppenheimer and Georgina Pole-Carew’s Tantoni Sir Soccrates continued their winning form in small tour adding two more wins – following those from Vidauban and Windsor – and a second place to this season’s impressive tally as well as gaining a ticket for this year’s National Championships. The pair headed off the strong combinations of Matt Frost (AMD Don Rosso II) and Michael Eilberg (Der Designer) in the Inter I and was second to Pippa Hutton and Duela who won the PSG freestyle. Hayley Watson-Greaves received the best birthday present possible from Rubins Nite – two big tour wins. The 11-year-old British-bred Hanoverian headed both grand prix and special for Hayley, A BD registered trainer based near Bristol, whose birthday it was the following day.
Bobby Hayler and Aldborough Hall Rubinhall were the winners of the Inter II beating Laura Tomlinson and the licensed stallion Duval’s Capri Sonne Jnr. The latter pair had some consolation with a convincing win in the second division of the Inter I, well ahead of the rest of the field. Another convincing winner was the combination of Laura Kuropatwa and Le Chiffre who headed the pony test with a 73% plus score. The British-bred pony stallion, who is graded with the SPSS, is a son of the former British dressage team pony stallion Caesar.
Aachen CDI was the big international of the week although it was not anything like as big as usual.
Usually a 10-day German horsefest, it was reduced to just three days due to the preparation for the FEI European Championships (in the five disciplines of show jumping, dressage, driving, vaulting and reining) that take place there in a few weeks (August 11-23rd).
There were therefore just the two international dressage classes; a grand prix and grand prix freestyle and no team competition. Aachen and German team veteran Isabell Werth claimed the grand prix with Don Johnson, her 2013 European team gold medal partner with Swede Tinne Vilhlemson and Don Auriello second – the two then swapped places in the freestyle.
Sonke Rotherberger, aged 20 and the youngest in the field, made an impression on the judges to come third. The young Dutchman, (the son of former international riders Sven Rothenberger and Gonnelien Gordijn), who recently came back to dressage after several years in showjumping was competing in his first Aachen.
British team member Michael Eilberg and 15-year-old Marakov, with who he won last year’s National Championship, was seventh of the 19 starters in the grand prix and eighth in the freestyle.
Villach CDI in Treffen
Anna Ross was the sole British representative at the Villach CDI in Treffen Austria. One suspects she won’t be a lone traveller in the future. The show held at the Glock Horse Performance Centre, owned by Austrian millionaire Gaston Glock, not only featured some dressage but also a lot of big entertainment and yes it was big. As big as Mariah Carey and Robbie Williams even!
It wasn’t just the evening cabaret that knocked the socks off riders, judges and spectators as the whole place, which is pretty exceptional any day of the week, was done up to the nines. Special cocktails, cakes, chocolates, coffees, canapes and even bespoke curries were served throughout the day and the horses walked to the arena on a red carpet.
Back to dressage; Anna was riding Jane Sewells 14-year-old De Niro mare Die Callas, to be fifth in the CDI3* grand prix won by German Isabelle Steidle with Long Drink 2.
Anna was then third in the grand prix special headed by Matthias Bouten and the approved stallion Ehrengold MJ. Dutch team rider Hans Peter Minderhoud won the CDI4* grand prix and special with the KWPN licensed stallion Glock’s Johnson while fellow team member Edward Gal was the runaway winner of the freestyle and its 13,240euro prize, with KWPN licensed stallion Glock’s Voice.
British Paralympic riders were also in action in The Netherlands at the CPEDI3* Roosendaal. Nottinghamshire-based British team rider and World and European gold medallist Sophie Wells dominated the Grade IV classes gaining two wins and second with C Fatal Attraction as well as three personal bests for the combination. The show also marked two first international wins for the eight-year-old Dutch-bred gelding.
Surrey-based Nicky Greenhill and Gregorian Chant, another horse at his first international abroad, took third in both the Grade III individual test and freestyle while Buckinghamshire based Amanda Shirtcliffe and the grey mare Ruby Rose II gained two sixth places.
Heather Bennett from Goole and her 11-year-old Rhodium mare Zavailantika, Erin Orford also from Buckinghamshire and the Dimaggio mare Dior UKH and Sophie Wells were fourth in the team competition won by the home team of The Netherlands.
Vale View EC in Leicestershire
Back in the UK Paralympic dressage for up and coming combinations took place at the BD Para Home International held at Vale View EC in Leicestershire. At the end of two days of competition Natasha Adkinson, and Sweet Caledonia from the Northern Stars team was awarded the prize for the highest percentage in the senior classes. The 21-year-old who is based in Bawtry in East Yorkshire competes in Grade Ib classes and has won 9 of the 11 classes she has contested this year with Sweet Caledonia, a British-bred seven-year-old Hanoverian mare by San Remo.
Izzy Palmer also of the Northern Stars, with the Welsh part-bred Gregonne Coco Chanel received the equivalent junior award. In February Izzy (14) from Rawdon near Leeds who competes in Grade III classes, was named ‘young disability sportsperson of the year’ at the Leeds Sports Awards for her achievements in a sport not associated with Yorkshire’s biggest city.
She is also one of the youngest members of Team GBR lottery funded World Class Development programme having gained a place last December following success in national competitions.
The Wales Snowdonia team of Lorna Lee (Newlands Sando Hit), Julia Horton (Premier Joyful Moon) Denise Smith (Sheepcote Catkin) and Georgia Wilson (Caraca) were the best of nine to win the team prize.
Defending champions, Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, lived up to expectations winning the Grand Prix on the opening day of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2014/2015 Final at the Thomas & Mack Centre in Las Vegas, USA yesterday.
The reigning Olympic, World and European title-holders produced a brilliant test to finish over six marks ahead of The Netherlands’ Edward Gal and Glock’s Undercover, but the big hero of the day was America’s Steffen Peters who lined up third with Legolas just over two marks further adrift.
The arena itself is a challenge at the Thomas & Mack Centre, providing only just enough space to fit the dressage boards inside, and the proximity to the crowd tested concentration and nerve. Graves‘ 13-year-old gelding, who has been on fire on the outdoor Florida circuit over the last few months, found it intimidating as her rider pointed out after posting a score of 74.314.
“He was at 80% in the warm-up, but he was nervous going in (to the arena) and he was really hot down the first centreline. Luckily we have that extension to get out some of it, but then it just turned into some of our turns – he would get something in his eye, a flash or whatnot – and he just backed-up a little. But he was really obedient, he really tried to be brave, so I couldn’t ask for any more” she explained.
One contender whose nerves definitely didn’t show was the oldest horse in the competition, the 18-year-old Painted Black who was previously ridden by nine-time FEI World Cup™ Dressage champion Anky van Grunsven from The Netherlands, and who is continuing to thrive for new partner, Morgan Barbancon Mestre. The 23-year-old Spaniard produced an extraordinary test, with the stallion apparently on springs through lovely passage and piaffe and giving it his all through extended trot for a score of 73.786.
But once Dujardin and Valegro set sail the bar was raised to a whole new level. The British rider had been concerned about her multiple-record-breaking gelding who she said had been “a bit flat” over the last few days. But when the lights went on the curtain came up he turned into the showman the world has come to know and love. Pounding out his trademark passage and piaffe, strutting his stuff through extravagant extended trot, and producing the most exquisite of pirouettes he soared to the top of the leaderboard with a mark of 85.414, and none of the rest would come near that.
Germany’s Isabell Werth has competed in 14 FEI World Cup™ Dressage Finals and the double-champion can always be relied upon to be competitive, but with a mark of 72.843 with El Santo she had to settle for eighth place today. The main challenge came from the final three, Peters demonstrating his craft by coaxing some wonderful work from the 13-year-old Legolas whose trot-tour was copybook. Posting 76.843 the American was in runner-up spot before Edward Gal and Glock’s Undercover set off.
No-one knew what to expect of this edgy black gelding in this electrifying environment, and he broke into canter in the movement requiring walk to passage. But the quality of the rest of his test was good enough for a mark of 79.057, and once Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and Unee BB made some mistakes including fluffing their two-tempis, then they had to settle for fourth place ahead of Graves in fifth and Barbancon Mestre in sixth.
Dujardin was delighted that Valegro bounced back today. “He had a massive journey and it hit him as well as the temperature change, but I got on him today and he was all ready to go. I think he just knew what he had to do and that’s what I mean – he just never lets me down!” she said.
Peters was on a high, because he knew his third-place result was unexpected. “It’s a big surprise to a lot of people and myself too!” he said. He competed Legolas in Florida in January “and it didn’t go so well”. The horse had a break following last year’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy, and had only just come back to work. His poor result was a shock. “We got barely 70%, so I knew if we wanted to qualify for Las Vegas we needed to change things drastically” Peters explained, and it seems he left nothing to chance.
“He’s had lots of outings and we even went to an event three hours north where there were about 100 people and a lot of noise and atmosphere. We recorded cheering and music, and put it on a five-minute sound-file and played it over the audio system. We prepared a lot, and I’m thrilled because it has worked out beautifully!” he said, and no-one could argue with that.
Gal said that the trip from Europe was difficult for horses, and not being able to ride for three days while they were in quarantine was also a strain. “But he felt actually quite ok” he said of Glock’s Undercover.. “He was good in training, but today in the walk to passage we made a mistake. Sometimes I find the tension flows away and then comes back up again when I’m riding him, but he did good. A year ago I couldn’t have done what we did today” he said, knowing that his horse is still improving, even at 14 years of age.
With everyone scoring well over the required 60%, all 18 now go through to the Freestyle which will decide the new champion, and with Dujardin and Valegro in sparkling form it seems a back-to-back double is very much on the cards for the wonder-horse and his super-talented rider. But Laura Graves hasn’t given up hope of making a big impression when the Freestyle gets underway at 12 noon on Saturday.
The American who rocketed to centre stage with a fifth-place individual finish in Normandy last summer said this afternoon, “that’s where we’re going to pull out the big guns hopefully! Now having this one (the Grand Prix) under out belt, we’ll have a little school tomorrow, and I know my horse will be more confident on Saturday and then we’ll push the envelope!”
They include the Cazenove Capital Point to Point and Country Day at Lockinge, near Lambourn, Oxfordshire, which is held on Easter Monday (6 April). Last year almost 8,000 people attended this popular event that is run by the Old Berks Hunt. The entertainment includes pony racing, terrier racing, a hound parade and a Farmers Market. http://www.oldberkshunt.co.uk/point-to-point/
Watch the best of pony showing at the British Show Pony Society (BSPS) Winter Championships at Arena UK near Grantham in Lincolnshire NG32 2EF (2-5 April). Ponies of all types, sizes and breeds including many mountain and moorland breeds will be taking part http://www.bsps.com/championship-show-dates
The SHB(GB) in the North West Annual Show (6 April) takes place at Myerscough International Arena, Lancashire PR3 0RY. Classes include in-hand and ridden hunters, hacks, riding horses, sport horses, cobs, working hunters and Irish Draughts http://www.sporthorsegbnw.co.uk/
Spring Horizons (6 April) show takes place at Quainton Stud, Buckinghamshire HP22 4AG classes include a working hunter derby, hunters, hacks cobs and riding horses
Many leading riders will be heading East to compete in the Bacon.co.uk Burnham Market International (2-4 April) in the north-west of Norfolk, PE31 8AG
As well as novice and under 18 classes there will be international two and three-star classes taking place over the three days. Alongside the top class competition, there will be over 50 shops and for children, bungee trampolines, bouncy castles and a climbing wall. On Friday and Saturday (3-4 April) Razz and Pearl will be performing circus workshops http://www.musketeer.co.uk/
Several racecourses are putting on special family Easter Festivals including;
The Totepool Easter Festival (3 April) at Musselburgh, East Lothian EH21 7RG
Good Friday Racing features the £50,000 Royal Mile Handicap, which will bring trainers and jockeys north of the border for Musselburgh’s first flat fixture of the season. Children 17 years and under are admitted free (when accompanied by an adult) https://www.musselburgh-racecourse.co.uk/
Three days of dressage (2-4 April) takes place at Sheepgate, Lincolnshire, PE21 0AS There is a variety of classes taking from prelim to advanced and prix st georges freestyle on all-weather surfaces http://www.sheepgate.co.uk/
Allens Hill, Worcestershire WR10 2DU are running two days (3-4 April) of classes including, on the Saturday, advanced to grand prix. http://www.allenshill.co.uk/
Weston Lawns, Warwickshire, CV12 9JA is running four days of jumping in their Senior Easter Extravaganza (2-6 April). The 51 classes include a Horse & Hound senior Foxhunter, a 1.30m Open and several championship qualifiers http://westonlawns.co.uk/
International FEI3*endurance will be taking place in Nottinghamshire over Easter weekend at Haywood Oaks, Blidworth EC, NG15 9AL. International FEI classes from 90-160k take place on Saturday alongside national classes of 80-160k in distance. Novice riders are catered for on the Sunday with shorter rides of 20-60k. The rides take place over forest and private estate tracks, sand tracks and bridlepaths with minimal roadwork http://www.ponies.me.uk/haywoodoaks/
Support British Riding Clubs
The British Riding Clubs KBIS National novice indoor Winter Championships for teams and individuals take place at Hartpury College EC in Gloucestershire GL19 3BE. Senior competitions for show jumping and dressage will take place on Saturday (4 April) and junior competitions on Sunday (5 April). http://www.bhs.org.uk/enjoy-riding/british-riding-clubs/brc-championships.
Dressage rider Alice Oppenheimer, 25, hit the international headlines last week with wins at the two-week international show in Vidauban in the South of France.
With Tantoni Sir Soccrates, an eight-year-old British-bred gelding by Sir Donnerhall owned by Tantoni Warmbloods, she won four small tour classes; two prix st georges and two intermediaire I for 7-9 year-old horses and with the homebred Headmore Delegate, a 12-year-old by Dimaggio, won a second in the grand prix.The pair was fifth in last year’s National Championship.
Alice is from Four Marks, Hampshire where she and her mother Sarah, a former rider in the show ring, run a breeding and training yard.
When did you first compete?
I was taught to ride by Suzanne Davies (now Lavandera) and then joined the Pony Club. I was put off jumping by a naughty pony and I don’t think I was any good at it anyway, so I got more into flatwork. Our PC trainer was (dressage rider) Sarah Dwyer-Coles and my aim was to get into the PC team. I got to the PC championships two years in a row and into the ride-off.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Up until the past couple of weeks it would have been competing in the European Young Rider Championships as part of the British team in 2009 with Wurlitzer and that same year winning three titles at the Winter Championships – one with Wurlitzer and two with Headmore Delegate. Winning three in one year is a bit special. However the last two weeks have been amazing with Sir Soccrates winning four classes and Delegate coming second in a grand prix which is probably my biggest and best yet. It is fabulous doing well at home but getting good results internationally is really special.
Do you have foals expected this year?
Yes we have three mares to foal this year including our great mare Rubinsteena (formerly with Half Moon stud and the dam of Half Moon Frizzante). She is in foal to the young stallion Flawless. Two of her foals have already won national titles and her two older offspring, Headmore Wrubinstar and Headmore Wimaweh are going to this year’s winter Championships. She’s a really good mare and we will probably do embryo transfer with her this year.
What do you do on a day off?
I’m not that good at days off and as we tend to be full on with horses if there is time for some time off I simply tend to have a day relaxing and chilling out or reading a book. I don’t really have time for anything outside horses.
What is your greatest strength?
Some might see it otherwise but my stubbornness – I never give up and keep going till I get there
Which is your favourite event?
The National Championships simply because it is the National Championships. It’s the aim every year to get there and it is always special.
What’s your ambition?
To be the best I can and hopefully one day make it onto the British senior team.
Who do you admire?
That would have to be Charlotte (Dujardin) who I have known since before she was famous. It has been inspiring to watch her progress to become the international medal winning rider and celebrity she now is.
What would be your perfect day?
A day on the yard spending time with the horses, when it all goes right and none of them have any problems or issues and you can feel it’s a job well done.
The next big competition will be the NAF Five Star Winter Championships at Hartpury (15-19 April) for which I have three qualified and then back to France for the Saumur CDI.
On Thursday this week (19 Feb) the FEI Dressage Committee is meeting in Warendorf (the national equestrian centre in Germany) to assess whether the grand prix test should be shortened.
They’ll be assessing five new shortened versions in a bid to make the sport more user-friendly and attract more spectators. But is shortening the test really going to make a scrap of difference to spectator appeal?
German grand prix rider and trainer Michael Klimke, has made public his views, saying that it is wrong for the sport. He believes that at 5min 45 sec (shortened from the 2002 version which was 6 min 30 sec) the grand prix is already too short.
He says the test currently does not have enough movements to ‘ensure the submission and throughness of the horse’. Interestingly in 1980 a grand prix took 12 minutes! Klimke would like a minimum length of 6min 30sec and points out that the aim of dressage is to ‘stick to the classical principles of the sport’.
Whether he speaks for the majority of riders is unknown however after London 2012, which used a specially shortened grand prix, riders opted to return to the longer version.
Putting classical principles aside for a moment, I still can’t see how a shortened test is really going to bring in more spectators. In order to appreciate dressage a potential spectator has to have some understanding. Truth be told, watching a grand prix or grand prix special is not a fun way for anyone outside of the sport to spend six hours. Would those people watch if it only took four instead? I think not.
By shortening the grand prix the next logical stage is for the horse and rider to simply perform the ‘tricks’ – a bit like they do in ice skating – where strangely enough no one watches (let alone televises) the ‘compulsory figures’ either, although spectators flock to watch the freestyle ice dancing.
And the dressage freestyle has done much to raise the profile of dressage and attract spectators, television and possibly sponsors. There are many, not even necessarily horsey folk, who will happily sit through 15 freestyle tests and can, through the music, appreciate the difference between a good and an indifferent test, witness the success of the freestyle night at Olympia.
Those same spectators would probably run a mile rather than sit through a grand prix, which takes an understanding to recognise the difference between one test and another let alone 30 regardless of whether they take four minutes or six.
World champions Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro not only won the Reem Acra FEI World CupTM Freestyle at Olympia last night but broke their own world record score set here last year.
The pair pulled off a practically foot-perfect programme to music from the soundtrack to the film ‘How to Train your Dragon’, the same music that was playing when they won the world championship title at the World Equestrian Games in August. It was the best freestyle test ever ridden: their piaffe- pirouettes, passage half passes and bold daring extensions looked unbelievably easy and earned them a standing ovation from the crowd and a mark of 94.3% from thejudges.
“He is the most incredible horse, he just keeps giving and giving,” says Charlotte. “I was absolutely thrilled with my ride – the last piaffe pirouette I was nearly in tears, he was with me all the way.”
Copyright Kit Houghton
As last year, leading Dutch rider Edward Gal and Glocks Undercover came in second, with a test performed to Undercover’s rhythmic passage and piaffe.
Olympia debutante Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, a former European Young Rider Champion, took third place with Beatrice Burchler-Keller’s Unee BB – an elegant black stallion by Gribaldi.
Olympia will broadcast live on BBC2 on Sunday 21 December and is available to view on Eurosport, the BBC Red Button, online and connected TV on Wednesday 17, Thursday 18 and Monday 22 December. In addition a special highlights program will be aired on BBC2 on Tuesday 23 December at 13:45.