Herning – Denmark, August 26, 2013: Olympic double gold medallists, Charlotte Dujardin and the wonderful gelding Valegro, produced another magical performance to win Freestyle gold at the Blue Hors FEI European Dressage Championships 2013 in Herning, Denmark today. It has been quite a week for the 28-year-old rider who began by breaking the world record Grand Prix score to help the British to team bronze on Thursday, before coming out the following day to clinch the individual Grand Prix Special title.
The build up to this afternoon’s Freestyle was an emotional one, and expectation was at an all-time high. It certainly didn’t disappoint, with quality work from all 15 of the qualified riders and a breath-taking winning ride from Dujardin during which she and her wonderful horse held everyone under their spell.
Holding the Lead
Dujardin’s trainer and mentor, Carl Hester, was holding the lead before the final group took their turn. His score of 81.696 with his London 2012 Olympic team gold medal winning ride, Uthopia, reflected a test that lacked some of its usual sparkle, but the horse’s amazing trot extensions were still very much in place as he overtook Denmark’s Anna Kasprzak and Donnperignon.
It wasn’t only Danish supporters who had a tear in their eye a little earlier when, during the first break, the horse that has brought so much success to Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, the 16-year-old Digby, was officially retired.
This pair set the target as the first group of riders took their turn when posting a score of 79.554, and would eventually finish in ninth place. Looking as fresh and well as ever, Digby got a standing ovation from the crowd who waved him and his rider out of the arena for the very last time. But before they left, zu Sayn-Wittgenstein pointed out, “I’ll be back even though Digby won’t!” And the rider’s mother, Princess Benedikte of Denmark who bred this wonderful horse, was as tearful as everyone else.
The Netherlands‘ Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival were first to go of the final five, and the defending European Freestyle champion, and her horse whose life has been more than a little interesting this year, set a big new target when putting 86.393 on the board. All Parzival’s trademark bounce and energy seems to be back following his fantastic recovery from treatment for a heart condition, and, earning 9.5 for piaffe amongst his many high scores, he ensured the rest would have to be on their toes.
Edward Gal’s Glock’s Undercover was much more relaxed today than he was in Friday’s Grand Prix Special, and this Dutch duo produced more of their seamless transitions and strong piaffe and passage which earned a mark of 9.1. But their score of 84.911 left Cornelissen still out in front until Dujardin entered the arena.
The softness of Valegro’s slow and deliberate piaffe, the power of the trot extensions, the athletic quality of the lateral movements and the wonderful passage had everyone enthralled. Dujardin co-ordinated every movement with the stirring musical score she used at last summer’s Olympic Games in London. The precision with which she arrived on queue for each of the pirouettes that were executed to the sound of the ringing of London’s Big Ben was awe-inspiring. Today’s performance was possibly just as spine-chilling as the one that earned them Freestyle Olympic gold 12 months ago. There was just one significant glitch. “In the last pirouette I caught him with the spur and it made him jump. Other than that it was brilliant!” as Dujardin said afterwards.
Germany’s Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH were second-last into the ring and posted 81.875 for an impressive test, but the last threat to Dujardin’s dominance lay with reigning Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage champions Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill from Germany. Their performance wasn’t perfect and they lost their rhythm toward the very end, but there was some fine work shown for a mark of 87.286 which would be more than good enough for silver, ahead of Cornelissen in bronze.
“I had a fantastic ride today. A lot was down to the fact that Grandad (Dujardin’s friend and mentor Carl Hester) told me to give Valegro a day off yesterday because it would be good for him so that he would be fresh to day – and he was right! He (Valegro) felt really great when he came out today” Dujardin said.
Langehanenberg was very happy to be on the podium, having missed out by the narrowest of margins at last summer’s Olympic Games. “In London I was so close to a medal, and here I have succeeded twice” she said with a big smile. “I had a great feeling again today, and I’m proud of him (Damon Hill). I made a slight mistake but it is as it is. It has been a brilliant week and so full of fun!” she added.
Cornelissen said she was “extremely happy. We came for the team, and to go home with two individual medals is just great!”. Her delight stems as much from the knowledge that her gelding is feeling happy and well again after his ill-heath earlier in the year. “I’m still building him (Jerich Parzival) up, and I have such a fantastic team around me – I owe these medals to them” she insisted.
Dujardin was asked why she doesn’t wear a top hat like many of the other riders. “I wear a crash hat – I don’t wear a top hat because I had a really bad fall and fractured my skull. I was knocked out for about ten minutes and I would never take the risk again. I don’t feel safe in a top hat, and I don’t think it’s an issue that I don’t wear one” she said.
She did have a top-hat on when coming into the ring for the prize-giving however, because she borrowed the one that had been sported throughout the day by flamboyant and hugely popular ringmaster, Pedro Cebulka, whose colourful attire makes him something of a legend on the international equestrian circuit. It was all in the way of fun, something that has permeated the top-class competition enjoyed in all three equestrian disciplines in Herning over the past week.
Talked about Test
The newly-crowned gold medallist talked about her test today. “I’m very, very happy, I didn’t want to risk too much and make a mistake, you don’t want to be frightening your horse, I felt he was with me all the way and that he enjoyed it and we danced our way through it”. She said she had initially decided to do a new Freestyle for the European Championships but changed her mind about that. “People at home were wondering why I wasn’t using the Olympic Games music. I only ever did it three times and everyone loved it so much. I didn’t want to use it again because I felt it belonged to London 2012, but everyone likes it, including the judges, and it is technically difficult, so I thought I’d do it again” she explained.
Ground Jury member, Leif Tornblad, said that the progressive excellence of the sport of Dressage has created challenges not only for the competitors, but also for the judges. “Now the challenge is to know that you may see the best you can ever imagine! It’s not easy for the judges, and we are as excited as the public and the riders! We don’t know the marks that the other judges give, it’s not so easy to be always in unison. Maybe Charlotte didn’t break a record today but she broke my record – I’ve never given marks as high as that!”, he pointed out.
Relief and Satisfaction
There was a sense of relief and satisfaction as this great week of Championship competition drew to a close, and there was a bit of silliness in the air as well. British rider, Richard Davison, took the opportunity during this evening’s press conference to tease Adelinde Cornelissen about bursting into tears when asked about Jerich Parzival’s health scare following Friday’s Grand Prix Special. “I have a question for Adelinde” Davison said, “can you talk us through how emotional it has been?” But the rider was ready for him, and told the press conference “he has a bet that I’m going to cry again, but I’m not going to cry!” to which Davison replied, “well than that’s just cost me ten euro so!”
Langehanenberg was happy too. “The most emotional moment for me was after the Grand Prix (team competition won by Germany) when i just rode in and everyone was clapping and crying – that was perfect and the most emotional moment – it was really special”.
Frank Kempermann, Chairman FEI Dressage Committee, put the ECCO FEI European Championships into perspective. The entire event was like a piece of carefully-crafted theatre with plenty of drama alongside the best of good sport. “On behalf of the FEI I’d like to thank the artists – the riders and the horses – and also a big thanks to the organiser and sponsors for giving us all a fantastic time in Denmark” he said.
Facts and Figures:
Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin became the first British rider to win European Freestyle gold when victorious on the final day of the Blue Hors European Dressage Championship 2013 today.
It has been a spectacular week for the 28-year-old who took double-gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games. This week she once again broke the world record in the Grand Prix to help earn team bronze for her country, before clinching individual gold in both Friday’s Grand Prix Special and today’s Freestyle.
A total of 15 riders lined out in today’s Freestyle in which Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW took silver ahead of The Netherlands’ Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival in bronze medal position.
Digby, the 16-year-old gelding ridden to great success by Denmark’s Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, was officially retired after competing for the very last time in today’s Freestyle at the Blue Hors FEI European Dressage Championships in Herning. —- By Louise Parkes/Photo: FEI/Kit Houghton