Bittersweet Triumph for Dressage Queen and Her Departing Pumpkin

Friday, December 17, 2021
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Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain won Leg 4 of 8 in FEI Dressage World Cup™ action at the London International Horse Show on Friday, earning a Grand Prix Freestyle personal best of 89.040 percent with the diminutive Dutch Warmblood Gio. Dujardin’s victory was tinged with sadness, as it was her final ride with the 10-year-old gelding, who has been sold to Sarah Pidgley, whose daughter Annabella will take over the ride.

Charlotte Fry, also of Great Britain, won second place at the event aboard another Dutch Warmblood, Dark Legend. Third place was awarded to Frederic Wandres, the sole representative of Germany at London, who rode Duke of Britain FRH and leads the Western European League in overall qualifying points for the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Finals at Leipzig next April.

It was a full house at ExCel London, where the annual holiday show had been relocated during renovation of the traditional Olympia venue. Although it was a switch for the athletes and fans, the new host offered a larger warm-up ring and more spacious arena, still festively decorated, which was less intimidating for the horses.

With points on offer for Leipzig and only four legs remaining after London, the competition was stiff. The constantly changing leaderboard was a testament to the high quality of artistry and athleticism brought to the show and provided an exceptional treat for the audience hungry Dressage excitement.

Eight nations were represented, with 15 horse and rider combos, six of which came from Great Britain to thrill the home crowd. At the end of the interim break, British rider Lara Butler and Kristjan were in the lead, with a score of 76.305 percent from the five European judges.

Butler’s compatriot Gareth Hughes was in second place with KK Dominant (75.845 percent), followed by Alejandro Asencio Mendez of Spain and Focus (73.775 percent).

However, there were some Dressage powerhouses still to ride, and the second half of the programme saw even higher marks from a slew of superb performances.

Haley Watson-Greaves of Great Britain opened up the show after the intermission with a gorgeous ride that showed off the remarkable floating quality of Rubins Nite’s extended trot. Watson-Greaves, who took time off recently to become a new mother, has been missed on the World Cup circuit. The pair’s score of 75.875 percent propelled them into second place for the moment and showed they’re back with a vengeance to compete for a berth to Germany.

After a lovely programme by Agusti Elias Lara of Spain with Altaneiro (71.725 percent), Frederic Wandres took over the lead with the Duke. His ride perfectly showcased the Hanoverian’s elegant walk and smooth transitions. Wandres kept the 14-year-old gelding in a textbook uphill frame throughout, but would it be enough at 80.260 percent to hang onto the lead?

Nanna Skodborg Merrald of Denmark was sadly eliminated, after the judges noticed a tiny amount of blood around the mouth of Atterupgaards Orthilia. This can occur with a nick from the bit or even when a horse bites its own tongue in concentration, but it meant Merrald’s test wouldn’t be counted.

So, it was up to Charlotte Fry next to see if she could go home with the top honours. Fry, whose late mother was also a Dressage competitor, rides for Great Britain but trains on the mainland as a co-owner of Van Olst Horses.

With a team bronze at Tokyo and a team silver at the Hagen European Championships under her belt, Fry is now ranked number 20 in the world.

Fry’s programme with Dark Legend earned 87s for artistic scores and a total of 81.945 percent. Their transition from the two tempi to the ones on a curve was simply stunning, and they took over the lead with only two riders yet to go.

Britain’s Richard Davison gave it his all aboard Bubblingh, whom he handles with great calmness and consistency. But their marks of 76.910 percent weren’t quite enough to send the 66-year-old athlete to the podium.

That left only Charlotte Dujardin and “Pumpkin,” as the little chestnut is affectionately known around the stables. With London being their last hurrah together, the former Olympic champion wanted to go out on a high note.

It was mission accomplished for the pair, who gave an extraordinary performance, even better than their win the night before in the Short Grand Prix. With scores over 94 for artistic merit, the two picked up 89.040 percent from the judges, giving them the gold and a new but bittersweet personal best.

Charlotte Fry
Charlotte Fry

Said Dujardin’s mentor, Dressage legend Carl Hester, “He’s an amazing horse who gives his all.” Hester can relax when Dujardin is in the ring because he knows how utterly competent and reliable she is. She makes her extremely difficult programmes look easy, “and the horse responds so beautifully.”

Hester remarked that it’s hard to believe they’ve been working together for 15 years now. “We coach each other,” he laughed. To prepare for London, the two met every day to work on the programme and smooth out each movement for the highest possible scores.

Hester received his own accolades on Friday night, in the form of a surprise Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the discipline. “It doesn’t feel like I’ve been in it that long,” he said. “It’s just wonderful to receive an award like that. I’m very, very happy.”

As for Dujardin, she was elated with her swan song performance aboard Gio. “I’ve just finished the most incredible year,” she commented of her Team and Individual bronze medals at the Olympics and Individual bronze and Team silver at Hagen. “He truly is the most amazing horse. What a legend.”

It was the ideal place to reach her peak achievement with Gio too. “There’s nothing like riding at home and having the home crowd cheering you on!” Dujardin added.

The British riders had a banner night when all the scores were tallied. Richard Davison ended in fourth place, followed by Butler, Watson-Greaves, and Hughes. Mendez ended in eighth place, with Great Britain’s Louise Bell (Into the Blue) in ninth and Tommie Visser of the Netherlands (Genesis Begijnhoeve) rounding out the top 10.

Frederic Wandres indeed held his lead in the Western European League standings, which he led heading into ExCel London, now on 65 points. Dutch rider Thamar Zweistra is in second place for qualifying points, and Morgan Barbançon of France is in third.

With the cancellation of the Mechelen show at the end of this month due to covid, Amsterdam is next on the schedule in January. See who will make it to the Leipzig Finals April 6-10, 2022, and catch all the exhilaration and fun on FEI TV.