Thursday, August 18, 2011

Historic first Championship Gold medal for British Dressage

18 August, 2011

Spectacular rides from each of the British quartet sealed an historic victory for Team GBR at the FEI European Dressage Championships 2011, Rotterdam, 18 August 2011.  Each rider gave their all to secure the first gold medal ever won in dressage on the World stage and in doing so, fulfilled the hopes of a dressage nation that has risen to meteoric success in three short years. Their final team score of 238.678 set a new European record and sealed an emphatic win over Germany and the Netherlands.

Gloucestershire-based Charlotte Dujardin first ignited British hopes, setting alight day one of the competition with the 9 year old Valegro, who is co-owned by her mentor Carl Hester and Roly Luard.  Riding only their sixth International Grand Prix test together the pair produced a sparkling test to score a PB of 78.30% that was also good enough for fourth. Alongside Emile Faurie’s trailblazing score of 70.426% that he banked with Joanne Vaughan’s Elmegardens Marquis, the Brits had laid down the gauntlet for the competition.

Excitement rose as Carl Hester produced a breathtakingly beautiful test with the 10 year old Uthopia, causing the crowd to gasp and murmur, as he put the horse he co-owns with Sasha Stewart through its paces. Their score of 82.568%, another personal best, confirmed it, catapulting the team into the lead and leaving Carl top of the scoreboard.  “This is a dream” he commented “and even more fantastic because we’ve had the horse since he was a 4 year old; he’s a family pet who’s turned into a superstar.”

Even without Laura’s score, Germany would have needed 85.165% to knock Team GBR off the gold medal position after expensive mistakes from each of their first three riders. In the cauldron of pressure of the Kralingse Bos arena Alexander Matthias Rath and Totilas made uncharacteristic errors in the onetime changes and final passage for 79.453% to seal the win for Britain.

Meanwhile, Laura Bechtolsheimer rode superbly to guide a hot Mistral Horjis home for 77.280%, to finish in fifth place, and help Britain break the European record for a team test. “He was very flighty in there and too bothered by the noise which pushed him over the edge. I felt like a small blonde girl on a big ginger horse, rather than the harmonious picture we usually go for!” she joked. “Still I don’t think I can be too upset, this is still fairly indescribable.”

Charlotte summed up saying: “We came here all hoping to win gold, so it’s kind of crazy that we have!”

The British victory left the Dutch and Germans to fight it out for silver. After a heroic performance from Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival (NED) the Netherlands finished in third place with a total of 222.645, behind the Germans on 226.110.

All British riders will compete the Grand Prix Special on Saturday, after Emile finished in eighteenth place.

Dressage: FEI European Championships: BRITISH CLINCH HISTORIC TEAM VICTORY by Louise Parkes

The British team of (L to R) Emile Faurie, Charlotte Dujardin, Carl Hester and Laura Bechtolsheimer won the team title at the FEI European Dressage Championships 2011 in Rotterdam (NED) today.  Photo: FEI/Peter Nixon.
Rotterdam (NED), 18 August 2011

Britain claimed team gold for the first time in the 25-year history of the FEI European Dressage Championships when Carl Hester and the fabulous stallion, Uthopia, produced a dream performance at the Kralingsbos stadium in Rotterdam, The Netherlands today.  With his country already in front at the halfway stage following yesterday's good results from first-line rider Emile Faurie and Elmegardens Marquis and the new British star partnership of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, 44-year-old Hester racked up a score of 82.568 which left him with the leading individual mark of the competition and took the pressure off anchor Laura Bechtolsheimer with Mistral Hojris.

The result is a triumph for British Dressage which, over the last three years, has risen up the ranks and now looks like the most threatening force in the sport ahead of next year's Olympic Games on their home turf.

"Some of us have seen Great Britain through the dark days - 20 years ago this would never have seemed possible - so it's a truly historic moment for us, and London should be a sell-out now!" Hester said proudly this evening.

Germany pipped The Netherlands by just over three points in the battle for the silver medals, Isabell Werth's test with El Santo NRW slotting her temporarily into individual second place with a score of 75.213.  "I was unhappy with the piaffe, but the rest was very good", she commented afterwards. And she laughed when adding that "his piaffe was really good during the prize-giving this evening!".

Team-mate Matthias Alexander Rath was pleased with his score of 79.453 with Totilas, the horse that set the world of Dressage alight with spectacular performances for Holland's Edward Gal during the FEI European Championships at Windsor (GBR) two years ago. The 27-year-old German has the unenviable task of following in Gal's record-breaking footsteps, but he showed that his relationship with the great stallion is growing stronger and more secure.

He admitted this evening that he feels under plenty of pressure every time he goes in the ring, but said that being at these championships is no different to anywhere else. "There is always pressure riding Totilas, but he always tries his best for me and he tries not to make mistakes. I have a lot of fun with him every day I ride him", Rath pointed out.

Fun and great sport have been the theme of these championships so far, and Gal, the hero of the 2009 Championships but this time around the man who provided the drop-score for the defending champions from The Netherlands after a tense test with Sisther de Jeu, said "in the warm-up I won, but when I came into the ring it was all gone!".  Like the Germans, the Dutch admitted that the British were always the favourites to take the 2011 team title. "It wasn't a surprise to be honest", said Isabell Werth. "We all expected them to be very strong."

Hester and Uthopia were amongst the first group in action this morning and produced a breath-taking test. The crowd gasped with delight as the stallion sprang off the ground in his first extended trot which earned an average score of 9.6, and that set the tone for the rest of the performance which included lovely piaffe, pirouette and tempi changes. The final extended trot was so extravagant that it drew gasps and giggles from the sidelines and 10s from the judges.  Hester admitted that he wasn't sure what was happening when he heard people laughing - "I thought maybe there was a dog in the ring or something!" he said afterwards.

But it was just the sheer enjoyment of witnessing a horse and rider working in perfect harmony, and there were many tear-filled eyes, and faces wearing foolish grins, as the British partnership drew to a final halt to rapturous applause. Hester dropped the reins and Uthopia seemed to be smiling himself as he left the arena with an air of total relaxation.

"He felt more controlled that he did at Hickstead where he was almost wildly flamboyant", commented the rider afterwards. "He felt really light in my hand today. He's a 10-year-old but he behaves more like an old man! He used to be the opposite, big and bouncy, but he's settling - this is only his sixth Grand Prix in his life and I'm still finding out about warming him up.  I rode him twice today - you see everyone else doing it so you think, yeh I better go back out there and do the same!" he added.

By the time last-line British rider, Bechtolsheimer, went into action the fate of the 2011 gold medals was already decided so she was only riding for an individual finishing spot that would earn her a place amongst the top-30 who will line out in Saturday's Grand Prix Special for the Individual medals. That didn't take the edge off her desire to do well however.

"I wanted to do a great performance, to show that Alf and I are in good form, but he was tense, the noise and the atmosphere got to him and he was really strong today. He was stronger than he has ever been actually, and at one stage I was just holding on for dear life!" Bechtolsheimer said.  Her score of 77.280 was good enough for individual fifth place however behind team-mate Dujardin who kicked off the British success yesterday.

Rath was pushed down the order by The Netherlands' Adelinde Cornelissen, last to go in the entire competition with Jerich Parzival and delayed for over 30 minutes after a thunderstorm and lightning strike on the showgrounds led to a temporary halt to the competition. Cornelissen is a cool customer however, and with 81.155 slotted into individual second spot ahead of the German rider. With so many wonderful individual performances over the last few days, it seems spectators are in for a real treat when the action resumes on Saturday and again in Sunday's Freestyle.

Hester must now be hot favourite to head the Special, but this evening he was just savouring the delight of what he, and his team-mates, have achieved so far.  "Every now and then you have a dream ride and I had it today, it was very smooth, especially for a horse so young.  I've never had one like this before - I'm so glad he came into my life before my retirement.  I'm so very lucky to have him.  Today was a great day for us, and for our sport at home," he concluded.

GOLD - Great Britain 238.678  : Elmegardens Marquis (Emile Faurie) 70.426, Valegro (Charlotte Dujardin) 78.830, Uthopia (Carl Hester) 82.568, Mistral Hojris (Laura Bechtolsheimer) 77.280.
SILVER - Germany 226.110: Damon Hill NRW (Helen Langehanenberg) 71.079, Donnperignon (Christoph Koschel) 71.444, El Santo NRW (Isabell Werth) 75.213, Totilas (Matthias Alexander Rath) 79.453.
BRONZE - The Netherlands 222.645: Moedwill (Sander Marijnissen) 70.578, Exquis Nadine (Hans Peter Minderhoud) 70.912, Sisther de Jeu (Edward Gal) 70.912, Jerich Parzival (Adelinde Cornelissen) 81.155.
4. Sweden 214.437:  Bocelli 1044 (Rose Mathisen) 68.024, Lennix (Cecilia Dorselius) 66.763, Favourit (Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven) 69.939, Watermill Scandic HBC (Patrik Kittel) 76.474..
5. Spain 211.580 : Faberge (Beatriz Ferrer-Salat) 67.842, Jade De MV (Claudio Castilla Ruiz) 66.900, Fuego de Cardenas (Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz) 73.404, Prestige (Jordi Domingo Coll) 70.334.
6. Denmark 209.985:  Jonstrupgaardens Raneue (Lisbeth Seierskilde) 69.970, Exquis Clearwater (Anne Van Olst) 68.632, Blue Hors Romanov (Sune Hansen) 67.660, Digby (Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein) 71.383.
Full results at

Facts and Figures:
This was Great Britain's first ever gold medal in the 25-year history of the FEI European Dressage Championships.
Their total score of 238.678 set a new European record.
The defending champions from The Netherlands took bronze behind Germany in silver medal position.
Three teams qualified for the London 2012 Olympic Games as a result of their placings in the FEI European Championships 2011 team event - Sweden, Spain and Denmark who finished fourth, fifth and sixth.  The three leading nations - the British gold medallists, the silver medallists from Germany and the bronze medallists from The Netherlands previously achieved Olympic qualification at last year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky.
The top individual score of the team championships was registered today by Great Britain's Carl Hester riding the 10 year old Uthopia - 82.568.
This horse is jointly-owned by the rider and former Irish international event rider Sasha Stewart.
The Netherlands' Adelinde Cornelissen was last to go with Jerich Parzival and came closest to Hester's leading score when earning a mark of 81.155.
Germany's Matthias Alexander Rath and the black stallion Totilas which broke many records during his short but remarkable career with Holland's Edward Gal slotted finished individuall third with a mark of 79.453.
The competition was temporarily suspended with just three riders left to go due to a lightning strike on the showgrounds at Rotterdam.  Switzerlan'ds Hans Staub and Warbeau had completed some of the early movements when the thunder-storm struck and the judges decided, for safety reasons, to stop the competition.  It restarted 30 minutes later.
The Judges Supervisory Panel (JSP) changed 40 marks out of a total of 16,000.  These 40 marks were spread over 24 horse/rider combinations.

Carl Hester (GBR) - "I've got a wonder-horse, but I was nearly more emotional about Charlotte and Valegro yesterday - they are so good and so young, it was just so pleasant". Carl Hester, talking about Uthopia - "he is owned by Sascha (Harrison) and myself and her father, I bought him for her when he was a four year old. He was the first horse I looked at for her and although he's not big he feels like a huge horse, he's massive to sit on, she found him a bit too much as a 5 year old.  I called her and told her I'd found a small one for her, and that the next one would be a big one for me but there never was a next one!  Hopefully we will keep him until the Olympic Games - people are ringing every week for that horse but he's not for sale until after the Olympic Games.  He's a lovely horse, you could put your grandmother on him, and yet when he goes in the arena his movement is so expressive!"

Isabell Werth (GER) - "All of our riders made mistakes today, some unforced errors as they say in tennis, so we have to do better to come closer and be more competitive".

Matthias Alexander Rath (GER) - "In the one-tempi we had a little mistake and in the end also, but I was really happy with my horse".

Adelinde Cornelissen (NED), when asked how she coped while being held before her test due to the thunderstorm "you have to cope and stay concentrated, it wasn't the perfect preparation, you don't plan on a half-hour of walking, but you have to deal with it.  I went to the indoor arena".