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.