Dressage, Para-Dressage Medals Awarded at 2014 WEG
Great Britain’s Lee Pearson (center) celebrates clinching the Grade Ib individual title with Austria’s Pepo Puch (left) taking silver and The Netherlands’ Nicole Den Dulk scoring bronze.
Photo: Jon Stroud/FEI
The competition and festivities continued today at the 2014 Alltech Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Equestrian Games, underway in Normandy, France. Dressage riders took to the arena for the Grand Prix Special, while the para-dressage riders began their individual championship tests.
Para-Dressage: Pearson Successfully Defends World Individual Grade Ib Title
Four years of waiting for another individual gold medal to add to his already record-breaking tally came to an end for an emotional Lee Pearson (GBR), who took the Grade Ib individual title today.
Pearson has won 32 Paralympic, world, and European titles in his career so far, but his last individual gold was four years ago at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010 in Kentucky. At London 2012 he took silver and bronze in the individual tests, something of a shock result at the time, and gold in the team competition, and then missed the cut for selection for the British team at last year’s European Championships.
Pearson, riding Zion, scored 77.310, ahead of his London 2012 rival and freestyle gold medalist Pepo Puch of Austria. Riding Fine Feeling S, Puch scored 74.793 to take silver, while the bronze went to Nicole Den Dulk of The Netherlands, riding Wallace to score 71.621.
Clearly moved by his victory, Pearson said, “I just love that horse. He gives me everything. He was still a bit aware of his surroundings within the arena, which is quite novel because normally he’s totally focused on me, but he stayed really relaxed.
“It’s been a tough journey, what with London and not getting selected for the Europeans and a tough five years personally as well," he continued. "It’s also been tough with this horse. A lot of people didn’t have faith in him, but I always have from day one. We’ve had our problems—he broke my back in four places—but I adore riding him. I ride him outdoors on my own and we’re just two naughty beans that have fun together. We make the perfect pair.
“I don’t love too many horses—they are all treated equally in my yard—but I do love him and we have proved quite a few people wrong and it means a lot.”
London 2012 individual bronze medalist and current European champion Puch said of his silver, “At the beginning I was quite afraid about my score. I had to wait and wait as I rode at the beginning, so I had the whole day waiting but I’m really happy with the silver. I was sitting and watching my colleagues and watching the Austrian rider in the dressage arena. That’s the good thing about these games, we have a lot of disciplines taking place.”
Puch, who competed at previous games as an able bodied rider before an accident caused his disability, added “I know them all and this is my third discipline at a World Equestrian Games.”
In taking the bronze, The Netherlands’ Den Dulk won her first major international medal and had a smile that looked as if she had won gold.
“I have no words,” she said. “This was out of this world. I have so much emotion. My whole goal was just to come high enough to ride in the freestyle and now I am standing here with a medal. It’s unbelievable.”
Earlier in the day, Germany’s Hannelore Brenner had claimed the first gold medal of the Grade III para-dressage competition. Brenner, riding Women of the World, successfully defended her 2010 world individual title against Sanne Voets of The Netherlands, and Susanne Jensby Sunesen of Denmark.
The double London 2012 gold medallist scored 73.610% to Voets’ 73.146%, riding Vedet PB. Sunesen, on Thy’s Que Faire, scored 71.976%.
After receiving her medal, Brenner said, “I am really happy. The ride was wonderful and I am so happy that it was enough for the first place. You don’t know till the end of the competition and I didn’t stay to watch as I don’t have the nerves for that, but I looked at the live score when Sanne was riding. I think it took a year off my life!
“It could be the last time with my horse because she is 19 years old so I am very emotional, more than the other years.”
The first and second place results in the Grade III echo those of last year’s European Championships. Reflecting on that, Voets said, “Last year in Herning I won the same medal in the same test and the difference between me and Hannelore was quite big, but now we are getting closer every time. It’s going to be exciting in the freestyle.”
Voets won the freestyle competition at the Europeans, with Brenner taking the silver.
Sunesen’s bronze is her first major international medal, having come fifth at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. “It is wonderful,” she said. “I nearly cried when I got to the podium and I am just so happy. It means a lot to break through.”
Tomorrow sees the final individual tests decided as Grades Ia, II, and IV riders take to the arena. Crucially tomorrow, the team competition will also be decided with the top three teams earning the first places at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Dressage: The Horse with a Heart of Gold Wins Grand Prix Special for Britain’s Dujardin
In a competition that buzzed with excitement from start to finish, Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro claimed the Grand Prix Special gold. It wasn’t a flawless performance from the dynamic British duo, with mistakes that Dujardin afterwards described as “silly,” but such was the quality of the rest of the work she produced with her extraordinary gelding that she still topped the scores of silver medalists Helen Langehanenberg (GER) and Damon Hill NRW, and bronze medalists Kristina Sprehe (GER) and Desperados FRH.
“We made three expensive mistakes and I thought ‘Oh it’s cost me the medal,’ so I knew after each one that I had to go for a bit more to try and catch up on what I had already lost,” she said afterwards. “But he's such a fantastic horse, he's got a heart of gold. If I need to go for a bit more he tries to go for a bit more, he never says 'no I can't do it.' ”
The pair almost fell victim to their own enormous popularity, however: “It was really hard with the crowd,” Dujardin said afterwards. “When you're trying to ride you're trying to think where to go and to think of what you're doing, and all you can hear is the crowd talking and gasping, it's very, very tough. Obviously you don't experience that very often. I know I had it in Herning (FEI European Dressage Championships 2013 in Denmark) last year and a bit in Aachen this year, but otherwise you can normally only hear the music or it's silent, so I found it really difficult out there today.”
It was Dujardin's fellow countryman, Michael Eilberg, who held the lead in the early stages of the competition after showing much better form with his grey mare, Half Moon Delphi, when seventh of the 30 starters this morning. On the first day of the team competition on Monday their performance was below par, but today they produced their best ever Grand Prix Special mark and Eilberg was pleased.
"I had to set up every movement to get her up a bit more,” he explained. “I knew what to expect after yesterday, and how to adjust my riding. She was more on her hind legs, more up and positive, especially in the passage and piaffe. I could get her more balanced, and also got more extension in the trot. Half Moon is only 12 years old, and getting better every year.”
He was overtaken for the lead by fellow Briton Carl Hester who was also a member of yesterday’s team silver medal winning side, whose gelding, Nip Tuck, is growing in confidence every time he comes into the ring.
“He was nervous after the prize-giving yesterday so it just shows the genuine side of this horse," Hester explained. "He is so desperately trying to please me all the time and today I had a personal best with him so I’d nearly like to stop now and not do anymore!” Hester and Nip Tuck scored a 75.532 and finished the competition in 12th place.
The scores subsequently kept growing however, with America’s Laura Graves continuing her spectacular run to head the leaderboard on a score of 77.157 before the final tranche of riders took their turn. The 27-year-old rider and her lovely 12-year-old gelding Verdades seemed to be in a world of their own as they executed each movement with quiet precision. Graves’ stillness in the saddle and Verdades’ attention to her every instruction suggests an unusually powerful bond in this partnership that has lasted almost the entire length of the horse’s lifetime.
"I do a lot of homework,” Graves said. “I spend a lot of time studying the top riders and I picture in my mind's eye what I'm trying to do when I'm in the saddle. I shut out what's going on around us and just concentrate on trying to reflect what I've seen them do."
The pair finished the Grand Prix Special in eighth place. Graves' teammate Steffan Peters finished the day in 10th place with Legolas.
The excitement built to a crescendo as the final group took their turn, with Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven and Don Auriello resetting the target at 78.235 only for Germany’s Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH to go further ahead when posting 79.762 two horses later.
The crowd went wild as Dujardin and Valegro followed them into the ring. Big scores for extended trot and half-pass were followed by a distracted moment however when a call of nature meant Valegro was unable to immediately respond to his rider’s aids in the first piaffe. But not even a mistake in the two-tempi changes could prevent the judges from awarding them 86.120 which proved an unbeatable score despite a super effort from Langehanenberg and Damon Hill.
“I won’t give up (trying to beat Dujardin and Valegro),” Langehanenberg said afterwards. “I believe in Dami and I’m very pleased with him today.”
There was tension in the Dutch camp as the scores for Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival, last to go in today’s competition, were finally calculated. It seemed quite possible that they might take the bronze, but in the end their mark of 79.328 left them less than 0.5 behind Sprehe to miss a podium placing.
After the competition, Dujardin admitted she had big plans when going into the arena today with Valegro: “I was going out there for a world record, that's what I was aiming to do. I knew it was possible because he felt so good, it was just a pity because without those mistakes it could have been a world record”.
She said Valegro was “probably the best he's ever felt. I know I made those mistakes but they were just silly ones. It felt like when you’re driving a Ferrari and you put your foot down. To have that much power underneath you, especially after doing the Grand Prix yesterday, I'm just delighted for him, I'm so happy!"
She’s been working hard on the fitness of both herself and her horse over the last month. “At (a recent competition in) Aachen (Germany) it was so hot and I really struggled with it, and he really struggled with it. Obviously we weren't at full fitness because we wanted to peak here. That's what we were aiming for and to get him as fit as we could for here, so we went there a bit under-fitness and it affected us greatly when we hit the heat. In normal temperatures we would have got away with it.
“Now I have a personal trainer; I train four or five times a week," she continued. "She's fantastic and I do a lot of core work and a lot of cardio work. I felt physically exhausted after Aachen because of the heat so I thought I cannot have that if I'm coming here and it's hot, I wanted to be ready for it this time.”
Now she’s looking forward to Friday’s Freestyle, and there’s no doubting the color of the medal she wants to take home from that: “I love my music. I've ridden it at the World Cup Final and in Aachen so I want to go out there and try and nail it, get it to my absolute maximum. I'm not going to give anything away. I'm going to ride for everything. That's the problem when you ride for everything, you can make mistakes but you know I'm going to risk it because there's only one chance of the gold!”