Team Gold for Show Jumping!
Team GBR are celebrating after clinching their first European gold show jumping medal in 25 years.
The team was in the lead from day two of the P.S.I. FEI European Championship – but the fight for medals was captivating and it was not decided until the last rider had jumped the last fence.
Before the start of the competition the British team (Ben Maher (Cella), William Funnel (Billy Congo), Michael Whitaker (Viking), and Scott Brash (Hello Sanctos) was in the lead with 8.18 faults. Switzerland was second with 8.45 faults and the French team had claimed third place with 11.14 faults. Right behind the leading three followed Germany and Sweden.
The last time Britain won a European gold medal was in Rotterdam in 1989.
“I was very fortunate to have a cushion today so I thought I'd make it exciting and have one down,” joked Scott Brash afterwards.
“They all did a fantastic job today, Ben’s horse jumps fantastic, Michael was a bit unlucky but William’s was fantastic.”
Individually, Ben Maher and Cella are still in front with a clean score sheet, Frenchman Roger Yves Bost and Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois is second with 0.58 faults and Swedish Rolf-Göran Bentgsson and Casall Ask is third with 1.63 faults.
On being the individual leader, Ben said: “I'll tell you on Saturday [24 August] if I felt more comfortable or not being in the lead here or at the Olympics, it is a long way to go still. The Europeans is a lot more difficult than the Olympics as all rounds count here, it makes a huge difference.
“I am lucky in the fact that I have an unbelievable horse, and she really is a dream to ride, she has her own style. A lot of riders are good and closing in, there are two more big rounds, I can only try and do my best - if I do two clear rounds I can win, but we will see.
The showjumpers will compete for the individual honours on Saturday 24 August. The action kicks off at 12.15pm BST. It should be nailbiting stuff – that is if you have any left after this afternoon’s individual dressage final!
Charlotte and Valegro go for Gold - again!
Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro have kept up their stunning form with yet another gold medal - this time in Friday's Grand Prix with a score of 85.69%. Carl Hester with Uthopia and Michael Eilberg with Half Moon Delphi claimed 6th and 14th places respectively, with scores of 78.497 percent and 72.857 percent.
There was also an exciting end to the dressage team competition on Wednesday (21 August). After the third rider for each nation had gone, there was a change in the standings and Britain moved up the leader board into medal contention following an expert performance by Carl Hester with his and Sasha Stewart’s Uthopia to score 75.334 percent.
With a medal in our grasp, Charlotte Dujardin entered into the MCH Arena on the indefatigable Valegro brimming with confidence.
The crowd were captivated for seven minutes of harmonious genius which the judges rewarded with 85.942 percent, a new world record score for grand prix.
The final Danish rider, Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, couldn’t quite match Charlotte with her final Championship ride on Digby and their 76.003 percent ensured Britain had a medal. It was then down to the final Dutch and German riders to battle it out with Britain breathing down their necks. Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival scored 80.851 percent – enough to relegate Britain. Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW knew they needed a big score to ensure gold and they answered with a beautiful flowing test for 84.377 percent to give gold to Germany, silver to the Netherlands and a bronze for Great Britain.
It hasn’t been an ideal Championship build-up for the Metall-sired stallion Uthopia as Carl Hester only took the ride back six weeks ago, having let Charlotte campaign him for much of the summer. A single competitive run at Hickstead CDIO in early August and two weeks of fine tuning were their only preparation but Carl knows him well having produced him from just four years old.
‘Uti’ is renowned for his exuberant extended trot and the test featured it twice early on. Most judges awarded nines; there was even one ten. A few piaffe issues followed and then an error in the two time canter changes proved costly.
Carl commented: “He was a bit clever in there. As a stallion he knows and he just switched off on me in the piaffe and normally his twos are a highlight but not today.
“His pirouettes felt brilliant and they are double marks so I’m pleased with that. I’ve had six weeks with him and we’ve done one show together; he’s not a horse you ‘sort out’ and he never feels in the warm up how he feels in the test.
“I rode confidently and did the best I could with the amount of time I had.”
Charlotte’s performance with Carl Hester and Roly Luard’s Valegro left the crowd spellbound; some claimed it was the best grand prix performance they’d ever witnessed. Some 17 perfect 10s were dished out, including two for Charlotte’s riding.
It was hard to pick out a mistake, but there was one moment up the final centre line when there was a slight waiver in the passage due to an overwhelming emotional wave felt by Charlotte when the reality of a truly special performance began to hit.
“When I was getting on, Carl said ‘you’d better ride for everything’ and so I did,” said the gold medallist.
“Hickstead did me the world of good; the mistakes gave me just the wake-up call I needed. The last two weeks have been hell as Carl has done nothing but shout at me which has been brilliant. I was in my comfort zone which is not good enough; I have to push for better marks.
“I felt (after Hickstead) that I couldn’t do it anymore, I had no confidence but Carl got us back. Plus he’s been fantastic since he arrived and I had a great ride yesterday which gave me the confidence to go for it today,” said Charlotte.
She continued: “He’s such an amazing horse, it’s only our third show together this year and he can still go and produce that. It was an emotional performance; I started crying half way down the final centre line which almost cost me as I nearly stopped! He tries his hardest and always wants to do his best – I’m so lucky to ride him.”
It was a great competition for the sport with the medals being separated by just over a single percent. Britain won a medal with two debutantes in the team and a great deal of pressure as reigning European and Olympic champions, plus the unsettling experience of Laura Tomlinson and Mistral Hojris, stalwarts of the team, withdrawing just 24 hours before the horses set off for Denmark.
Day one was a day of mixed emotions, with Gareth Hughes and Jane Brewin’s DV Stenkjers Nadonna having a difficult time, followed by a great debut by Michael Eilberg with Jon and Julie Deverill’s Half Moon Delphi. The achievement is testament to the strength and quality of riders and horses we have in Britain now.
British team Chef de Mission, Will Connell, summed the competition up: “We are absolutely thrilled with how the team as a whole have performed.
“Gareth did a fabulous job to contain a hot horse; Michael has demonstrated yet again that he’s cool under pressure at the very highest levels of the sport. Carl, who’s only competed once this year on Uthopia, produced a masterclass throughout his test, whilst Charlotte has again raised the bar in dressage.
“We are very aware that there are discussions online regarding the marking of Michael Eilberg’s test; we fully accept the view of all the judges and dressage is a judged sport. Our focus now is the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle tests.
“We are extremely appreciative of the time and dedication that top level dressage judges give to the sport.”
Final dressage team scores:
Gold – Germany 234.651
Silver – Netherlands 233.967
Bronze – Great Britain 233.540
Final dressage individual Grand Prix Special scores:
Gold - Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro (Great Britain), 85.699 percent
Silver - Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW (Germany), 84.330 percent
Bronze - Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival (Netherlands), 81.548 percent
First half of Britain’s Paradressage mission: complete!
Meanwhile, in the paradressage, Ricky Balshaw and LJT Enggaards Solitaire's silver medal in Friday's grade Ib test kept standards and spirits high with his superb score of 73.586 percent.
Britain’s grade Ia riders had continued the standard set by Wednesday’s combinations (in the grade Ib and IV classes) as they took the top two spots in the Team test at the ECCO FEI European Championships on Thursday 22 August.
Sophie Christiansen got the Brits off to a great start, posting a massive 76.391 percent to take the win ahead of her teammate Anne Dunham, who finished a close second on a superb score of 75.435 percent.
Sophie produced a fluid test aboard her London 2012 Paralympic Games partner Janeiro 6, scoring particularly highly in her medium walk and transitions. She commented after her test: “The test felt good, not quite as good as my London standard as I played it a little bit safe but I’m really pleased with how he did and I felt that I rode the best I could on the day.
“I love that we’re competing here with dressage and jumping; there’s a lot more of an atmosphere and the camaraderie with the support from the other teams is great. I bought Rio from the Eilberg’s two years ago, so it really shows how good their training is – with a horse in the dressage and para-equestrian dressage teams.”
Anne, with the Lady Joseph Trust’s LJT Lucas Normark, who made his Championship debut today on home soil (Anne’s horse is Danish-born), was delighted with her performance, commenting: “I had a really good time out there and he enjoyed being there and was very attentive throughout his test. The arena rode well and there was a very good buzz in the air. Once I’m in there all I think about is me and the horse but there was so much support it was fantastic.
“The whole show has a really good atmosphere and I’m enjoying the size of the event; I think he’s responding really well to it and I’m looking forward to the next few days.”
Britain’s final team rider, Natasha Baker, had a tough time in the Grade II competition with her and Christian Landolt’s Cabral. The JYSK Arena had become quite ‘buzzy’; the crowds were assembling for the evening’s pivotal team showjumping final competition and the Arena is situated in the bustling tradestand area. This made preparing for the test tricky and some horses reacted strongly, including Dutch and Danish rides and Natasha’s ‘JP’.
They started the test well but then the atmosphere got the better of Cabral and his normal cool manner abandoned him. Natasha, in her first ever Team ride, managed to get him back after the walk but then movement in the crowd set him off again.
The final score of 69.765 percent was a respectable one and enough for second spot.
A disappointed Natasha said afterwards: “The Dutch horse really set ‘JP’ off and put him on edge. I managed to get him back in the walk and he felt good – he took a breath and relaxed.
“But then people got up and walked out of the stands which set him off again, which I’m a bit angry about; yesterday there were stewards controlling it but not today. All the hard work you put in is undone. I think in the main stadium, he’d have coped easily but our stadium is very spooky and there’s a walkway along behind the judges boxes.
“It’s amazing to be included here (with the other disciplines) but safety has to be top of the list!”
As ever, the bubbly rider from Uxbridge is always focused on improving and added: “I’ll be changing my warm up for Saturday. The last few competitions I felt I’d overcooked him in the warm up so he went in [the arena] a bit tired but not today!
“Now we know there’s a big atmosphere in there, we can change it. My other team members have put three amazing scores up so it’s all to play for still.”
All three riders have a rest day today before competing in their respective Individual Championship tests on Saturday; after which the Individual Championship and Team medals will be decided.
Today Grade IV rider Sophie Wells returns to the arena to contest her first Individual medal.
Pictured: The British team making history when adding the PSI FEI European Team Jumping Championship 2013 title to last summer’s Olympic team gold. Left to right: Scott Brash, Will Funnell, Chef d’Equipe Rob Hoekstra, Michael Whitaker and Ben Maher. Photo: FEI/Kit Houghton.