WEG Dressage, Para-Dressage Concludes; Eventing Continues
On the podium for the Grand Prix Freestyle at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy, L to R: Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg (silver), Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin (gold) and The Netherlands’ Adelinde Cornelissen (bronze).
Photo: Dirk Caremans/FEI
The dressage and para-dressage competitions at the Alltech Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) 2014 World Equestrian Games (WEG) wrapped up today, while the eventing riders concluded the dressage portion of their event.
Dressage: Dujardin and Valegro Weave their Magic to win Freestyle Gold
Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro were the stars of the show once again today when collecting their second gold medal of the week in the dressage freestyle. The pair now holds the full complement of world dressage titles, having already strutted to glory at Olympic, European, and Reem Acra FEI World Cup level during their extraordinary three-year-career together.
Mirroring Wednesday’s Grand Prix Special result, it was Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg who claimed silver with Damon Hill NRW, but this time around, the Netherlands’ Adelinde Cornelissen nudged Germany’s Kristina Sprehe off the podium to take the bronze.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” said Dujardin this evening. “After London (2012 Olympic Games) I didn’t think it could get much better, but I took two gold medals at the European Championships last summer and to do this at my first World Equestrian Games is amazing. Any medal is a great achievement, but two gold and team silver here this week, I couldn’t ask for anything more!”
Morgan Barbancon was first to go of the 15 qualified for today’s Freestyle, and the 22-year-old produced a lovely test to set the pace with Painted Black, one of three 17-year-old horses in the field. The black stallion, formerly competed by Dutch superstar Anky van Grunsven, has established a nice partnership with the young Spanish rider, and the pair looked relaxed and happy as they racked up the first target mark of 74.393.
Hans Peter Minderhoud bettered that when posting 75.554, but the Dutch rider wasn’t so happy. “The horse was confused and thought the test was finished halfway through,” he said afterwards. “It was hard to get him to concentrate but he is still young and needs to develop more power and gain more experience. And we mustn’t forget he made it into the final 15.”
Carl Hester was next in with Nip Tuck, and once again the British veteran produced some wonderful work from the 10-year-old bay gelding who is clearly still on an upward learning curve. "There are still a few technical things that need adjusting, obviously, but he is going to grow up and he is such a big hope,” Hester said after his test. “He doesn't really mind the different situations, the noise and all that. I have a confident horse now. The three extended trots were great, even though they are not his usual highlights. We'll have a tip-top program for next year.” The pair temporarily took the lead on 76.589.
But his silver medal winning team-mate, Michael Eilberg, quickly took over at the top of the leaderboard when posting 79.696 with Half Moon Delphi. The charming grey mare showed lovely, rhythmical work and increased in confidence every time she entered the arena this week.
The lead continued to change hands and the scores continued to rocket upwards as the second half of the competition evolved. Austria’s Victoria Max-Theurer and Augustin posted the first score over 80% at 81.036 only for that to be improved upon by one of the most exciting new partnerships in action at these dressage championships.
America’s Laura Graves has appeared almost out of nowhere to place herself amongst the elite of the sport this summer, and her success is all the more heart-warming for the fact that she is riding a horse that cost her just €1,000. Hers is a story of deep dedication and a lot of hard work, and once again today the 27-year-old rider and her 12-year-old Dutch gelding were completely at one when throwing down a great mark of 82.036 in just the third freestyle of their career.
That would prove good enough for fifth place amongst a field of champions. Graves said this evening that her recipe for success is to keep things methodical, and that her result proves “that just being patient and doing what you know is right can get you to where you want to go.”
Grand Prix Special bronze medalist, Germany’s Kristina Sprehe, followed with a superb performance from Desperados FRH who simply sparkled to bring the target mark to 83.125. But two horses later, and with just three left to go, Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW raised the stakes even higher with a test that was smooth as silk.
The target was now standing at 88.286, but that was never going to faze Dujardin and Valegro, who arrived into the arena to yet another primeval roar from the crowd before setting off to weave their magical spell once more and put the result beyond doubt when posting 92.196.
It wasn’t easy for The Netherlands’ Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival to follow. But as the Dutch rider said afterwards her wonderful chestnut horse “feels like he’s seven years old, not 17. He’s amazing and he just keeps doing his best over and over again”. Posting 85.714 the pair easily slotted into bronze behind Langehanenberg, and Cornelissen was filled with emotion because her gelding has returned from ill-health to place himself amongst the best of the best once again at this late stage in his career.
“A lot of people said his best days were over, but a bronze medal in the World Championships proves that they were wrong,” said Cornelissen this evening. “It's not easy to ride after Charlotte, there was a lot of noise but I thought ‘take it easy and just do your own thing.’ Now it is just about keeping him fit and happy and he will still be there for the Olympics (Rio 2016). As long as he still loves the games, we won’t be stopping.”
And Langehanenberg was also delighted with her result: “This is my first world championships and I’m going home with team gold and two individual silver medals. I’m so proud of Dami, I enjoy him every time I go in the arena and he always does his very best for me. Dami can speak and read. He’s more than any other horse. He’s just perfect. He had the best character you could have.”
Dujardin meanwhile joked that retirement may now be her only option now after taking all the top titles available in the sport: “I have such a fantastic horse and this week I had some of my very best rides I’ve ever had in the Grand Prix and the Special. Today I went out there to have fun, it’s only the third time we’ve used this music and I just couldn’t be happier.”
Para-Dressage: Para-Equestrians Hit High Notes
The sun shone, the crowds came, and the horses dazzled at La Prairie Racecourse in Caen today, as the para-dressage riders took to the arena for individual freestyle medals.
The Grade Ia title was won by Italy’s Sara Morganti with Royal Delight. She scored 78.800% to beat the reigning European and paralympic Champion Sophie Christiansen (GBR) on Janeiro 6, who finished with silver on 77.550%. Germany’s Elke Philipp was overjoyed with her bronze medal with Regaliz on 76.750%.
Morganti said, “This is a dream come true. Royal Delight was beautiful today. She was on the music and did everything she could. I hoped and worked for a medal, and I dreamed of gold.”
Christiansen’s Normandy experience has been poignant, as this was her last ride with her trainer, Clive Milkins (GBR), who has worked with her throughout her incredibly successful career. After a few tears, she said: “I rode the best test I could. It shows how much the standard has gone up since London 2012, which is great for the sport. I’m looking forward to the next two years and digging deep. It’s good that this happens now, instead of at Rio.”
Great Britain’s Lee Pearson sealed his stunning return to international competition with Zion, claiming his third gold medal of the games with 80.050%. Austria’s Pepo Puch on Fine Feelings S claimed his second silver at the games with 78.000% and Nicole Den Dulk of The Netherlands was again delighted with bronze on Wallace with 75.150%.
“It's been an amazing competition for me,” said Pearson. “I’ve trusted this horse for years and this week he has proven me right. He’s been through a lot over the last five years and I’m over the moon. I don’t think he could have gone any better today.”
There was more joy for The Netherlands in Grade II individual freestyle, when games first-timer Rixt van der Horst on Uniek sealed her Normandy freestyle gold with 76.350%. “It’s what I’ve dreamed of,” she said. “I tried to relax and enjoy it because I had nothing to lose. Maybe tomorrow I will realize I am double world champion!”
Canada’s Lauren Barwick on Off to Paris took silver with 76.250% and Den Dulk’s team mate Demi Vermeulen claimed bronze with 71.900%.
Sanne Voets, runner up to Germany’s Hannelore Brenner in the individual competition, took the Grade III freestyle title. On Vedet PB, Voets scored 77.450% to Brenner’s 76.200% on Women of the World. Denmark’s Annika Lykke Risum won bronze, watched by her 7-month-old baby Alexander, on Aros A Fenris with 73.050%.
“It’s amazing,” said Voets. “I can’t believe it yet - this is big! It’s the reward for a lot of hard work. The partnership me and my horse have is very special. He gave it everything and was there for me. We did this together.”
In the Grade IV, Belgium’s Michèle George rode FBW Rainman to an impressive 78.650%, claiming gold over Sophie Wells with Valerius who secured silver on 78.050%, and Netherlands’ Frank Hosmar on Alphaville N.O.P. finishing on bronze with 75.950%.
At the end of a week of surprises, emerging stars and sublime performances in the heart of Normandy, Great Britain topped the medal table again, this time with four gold and four silver medals.
The para-dressage at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 will be remembered for new faces, who are now challenging the champions. The clear winner overall however is undoubtedly the sport itself, which has bathed in the limelight in Normandy.
Eventing: Sandra Auffarth Seals the German Lead
Germany’s cool-headed anchorwoman Sandra Auffarth and her long-time partner Opgun Louvo produced the dressage test everyone was anticipating to bring the first phase of the eventing competition to a magical close.
By the time Auffarth entered the arena the atmosphere was electric. She scored a 10 for her halt from Ground Jury President Gillian Rolton (AUS) and three nines for her riding. She now has a 2.5-penalty advantage over the first-day dressage leader William Fox-Pitt (GBR) on Chilli Morning.
Auffarth, who already has Olympic and European team gold medals to her name plus individual silver and bronze, has extended her team’s lead over New Zealand and fully justified her status as the rider many people have tipped for the individual title here in Normandy.
“It wasn’t the easiest atmosphere but we managed okay,” said Auffarth. “At the start my horse was a little bit nervous but then he got better and better and really enjoyed it.”
New Zealander Jock Paget had Clifton Promise looking beautifully light and supple and they scored the only other sub-40 mark of the day—38.0—to slot into individual third place. In a first for the New Zealand team, all riders have scored under 50, with Andrew Nicholson and Nereo, dual bronze medalists in Kentucky in 2010, 15th on 45.5.
Germany has more than 20 penalties in hand over the third-placed U.S. team and the fourth-placed French. Defending champions Great Britain are now in fifth place after counting a score of 50.0 from third rider Kristina Cook on her home-bred De Novo News.
The Italian team has suffered huge disappointment with the withdrawal just before their dressage test of Vittoria Panizzon and Borough Pennyz. The popular grey mare was found to have a slight injury and, to the approval of the crowd, Panizzon said she did not want to risk her horse.
Although the picturesque site of Haras du Pin has enjoyed balmy, sunny drying conditions today, the cross-country course is still expected to be influential. In view of the wet weather this week, the ground jury has removed fences 20 and 23 which removes a galloping loop of the track and reduces the optimum time by one minute.
It is the first time Auffarth has gone last for the German team and she admitted her relief at the arrival of sunshine: “The course is difficult enough but really well built and horse friendly. I’m looking forward to it.”
Paget added, “It’s a big track but if you ride it the way (course designer) Pierre Michelet asks you to, that will help you because it’s forward and attacking.”
The cross-country phase has been brought forward by 30 minutes to 10:00 a.m. local time.