It was double-gold for Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro when the British superstars added the Freestyle title to yesterday’s Grand Prix Special honours at the FEI European Dressage Championships in Aachen (GER) this evening. But today’s medal was particularly hard-won, with Germany’s Kristina Bröring-Sprehe only 0.25 percent off Dujardin’s winning score when taking silver with Desperados FRH, while Spain’s Beatriz Ferrer-Salat produced another sensation when claiming the bronze with Delgado.
Continuing the week-long theme of expecting the unexpected, the day began with the news that Britain’s Fiona Bigwood was withdrawn because her mare, Atterupgaards Orthilia, had a “slight skin reaction causing sensitivity”. And then, just before the competition began, it was announced that Anna Kaskpkrzak had also pulled out. The Danish rider is no shrinking violet and had climbed into the saddle to prepare for her early-afternoon start with Donnperignon. But the pain she has been suffering since she was kicked in the chest by her horse after the horse inspection six days ago was just too intense today.
Newly-crowned European team champion, Patrick van der Meer from the The Netherlands, got the competition underway with a nice test from Uzzo who set the standard at 74.375, and this was followed by the farewell performance of Morgan Barbancon Mestre’s 18-year-old stallion Painted Black who posted 73.375.
However it was Karen Tebar from France who led the way into the first competition break. It is rare to see a rider smiling as they enter the arena, especially one as intimidating as the Soers in Aachen, but the 50-year-old who fits her competitive career around managing her own German-based company, looked equally as happy as her 10-year-old gelding Don Luis who, in his first year at international level, took over the lead with a score of 74.964.
The target rocketed up to 80.214 when German team bronze medallist, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, took her turn with Unee BB, their performance concluding with a dare-devil extended trot up the centre-line. And then Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven went out in front, the six-time Olympian and her 13-year-old gelding demonstrating their unique partnership based on a mutual understanding that allows them to ebb and flow with the rhythm of their test for a mark of 80.643.
This was a day to savour, with many young horses suggesting great future potential, including the nine-year-old Batuta ridden by Portugal’s Goncalo Carvalho (72.768) and Carl Hester’s 10-year-old Nip Tuck (79.571) for Great Britain. But it was the 82.482 produced by Germany’s Isabell Werth and Don Johnson FRH that was the score to beat as the final four took their turn.
Werth is both a natural-born entertainer as well as an edge-of-the-seat competitor, and she had the home crowd right behind her as she swung her way through her musical score that included a newly-introduced excerpt from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” - the late, great Freddie Mercury singing “nothing really matters” - but of course it did. And the crowd went wild when the judges awarded 82.482. Still the excitement was far from over.
Only a chosen few knew that Beatriz Ferrer-Salat would shine this week. First, like Frenchwoman Tebar, she would steer her country into an Olympic qualifying spot and then go on to finish just off the podium in yesterday’s Grand Prix Special. As she started into her routine today it was clear the Spanish rider was upping her game even further, her chestnut gelding Delgado presenting a beautifully balanced, forward-going picture as they cruised through seamless transitions and presented a picture of lightness and harmony for a new leading score of 82.714. Quite an achievement for a horse that has struggled with unsoundness since he was a six-year-old and who, at 14 years of age, is only now getting the opportunity to show his true ability.
But while that was lovely to watch, the penultimate performance of Bröring-Sprehe and her fabulous black stallion was close to perfection. The 28-year-old rider came to Aachen this week with a weight of expectation on her shoulders, and although she didn’t get the result she wanted in the team competition she was very impressive when taking silver in yesterday’s Grand Prix Special. Today however the horse-and-rider combination were in a different league altogether, lighting up the ring with spectacular passage and piaffe, the tiniest of pirouettes and breath-taking extended trot. The defending champions were chasing a big score of 88.804 as they set off, and it was difficult to know if they would beat that score.
Dujardin found the one-tempi changes something of a bug-bear this week and once again they let the pair down this afternoon, but even though her 13-year-old gelding was much less animated than in yesterday’s test, the quality of their work was such that they overtook their German rivals by a narrow 0.25 percent to round up their week with both of the individual titles.
Talking afterwards, the record-breaking rider said, “it was only the ones (one-tempi changes) that let the performance down. I think he’s got a thing with them now, he’s done it all week. Yesterday in the last one he made a mistake, outside he’s been really good with them. It’s only one movement at the end of the day and it has cost me, but I was really happy with the rest of it.
“The toughest part of being here is having to deal with the crowd, you know they are rooting for their nation, and when I walked in there was a huge atmosphere. Then her (Kristina’s) score came up just as I went in, and I had to deal with that as well. And then we had a shot of Isabell (Werth) stuffing her face with something, so as I went to start the crowd were laughing! So there was a lot in my mind to deal with at the very beginning. I think I handled it quite well”, she said.
Ferrer-Salat said of her bronze medal finish today, “when we came here I was expecting to qualify the team for Rio and I hoped to get into the Kur, but a medal? Never! I’m very happy for my horse, I’ve had him for years and he’s always been injured, but now we have rehabilitated him. It has taken a long, long time, but it’s been worth it!”
At the post-competition press conference, Freestyle silver medallist Bröring-Sprehe said, “Desperados was so fantastic, so good to ride today, he felt great in the atmosphere and we did our best Freestyle ever. Next year I hope”, she added, and then looked across at Dujardin and hesitated, “next year - I want to do even better!”
It sounded like a warning to Dujardin who admitted these Championships were tough. “Yeah, I knew it would be coming here. But in the end I’m going home with two golds and a silver medal, so I’m happy!” she replied. Asked about the narrow margin between herself and Bröring-Sprehe she said, “that’s sport and it makes it more and more exciting...it would be really boring if I was winning by miles all the time. So the fact that Kristina is catching me up - everyone, even Edward in the Grand Prix - I think for me here I just had mistakes in my tests. I haven’t had one test which I haven’t had mistakes in, and that’s obviously expensive, but I know when I have a mistake-free test it’s a very good test. He’s (Valegro) going to have a holiday now for three weeks and I’ll work on it and hopefully get my changes back and go to Olympia...get ready for Rio. I’m not giving up easily!" she concluded.
For more information on the FEI European Championships 2015 in Aachen visit www.aachen2015.de.
Result Grand Prix Freestyle: Gold: Valegro (Charlotte Dujardin) GBR 88.982; Sllver: Desperados FRH (Kristina Bröring-Sprehe) 88.804; Bronze: Delgado (Beatriz Ferrer-Salat) ESP 82.714.
Full results of FEI European Championships Aachen 2015 here
Kristina Broring-Sprehe Germany 2nd German Audio
Kristina Broring-Sprehe Germany 2nd English Audio
Beatriz Ferrer-Salat Spain 3rd Spanish Audio
Beatriz Ferrer-Salat Spain 3rd English Audio