- Text and Photos © Astrid Appels (this article expresses Appels' eye-witness account and opinion about the competition).
Charlotte Fry snatched away the gold medal from homeside hero Cathrine Dufour in a thriller Grand Prix Special at the 2022 World Championships in Herning (DEN) on Monday 8 August 2022.
The bronze medal went to Dutch Dinja van Liere and the all-female podium of young stars seem to celebrate a new generation of dressage stars writing history in the sport.
The Ghost of Herning
For the first time this week, the weather had changed to more pleasant temperatures and some wonderful afternoon sunshine to set a glorious stage for a more than suspenseful Grand Prix Special individual medal deciding class.
The "ghost of Herning" showed its face again. Nine years ago at the 2013 European Dressage Championships in the same stadium, three super stars went off course one after another: Helen Langehanenberg, Charlotte Dujardin and Adelinde Cornelissen took the wrong turn in their programme and the mistake made by the three ended up having no effect on the score board.
This year it were Emma Kanerva and Nanna Skodborg Merrald who lost their way in the test and had a significant amount of points gnawed off their total. Kanerva impressed with the classical and correct training of Gert Saborowski's 11-year old Greek Air (by Gribaldi x Florestan).
Nanna Skodborg Merrald gave it her all on the fit and fresh looking 18-year old Blue Hors Zack (by Rousseau x Jazz) in pursuit of a personal best score. After she made two mistakes, it seemingly threw her off guard and then she rode onto the diagonal for the final extended trot instead of staying on the track. A big disappointment for the Danish rider who wanted to make it into the freestyle finals like she did at the Olympics in Tokyo.
The stadium was filled two thirds (total capacity 11,400) with an enthusiastic, mainly Scandinavian identified crowd that rooted with vigour for the Danes and Swedes. The audience, however, was deeply empathic with all thirty riders in the Special and clapped along on the final centerline with their favourites.
It must be said that Spanish team debutants Alejandro Sanchez del Barco and Quincallo de Indalo particularly got spirited acclamation for their exceptional ride. The grey PRE stallion just warmed everyone's hearts with his obedient, soft and easy going presentation of all the Grand Prix moves. Especially the one tempi changes were touching. The horse was steady and elastic in the contact and his tall rider Alejandro, who is trained by Isidro Maldonado, did a wonderful job presenting the new number one for Spanish dressage.
Cathrine Dufour was the hot favourite for the individual gold medal on home turf in Herning, but it was Charlotte Fry who stole the show and snatched away the title right in front of Dufour's nose. Cathrine had set the bar high with an 81.322% and everyone moved to the edge of their seats to witness if Fry would navigate Glamourdale faultfree through the Special.
Lottie and Gert-Jan van Olst's 11-year old KWPN stallion Glamourdale (by Lord Leatherdale x Negro) showed in the Grand Prix that they were ready and in shape for the ultimate achievement, the World Champion's title, and they were breathing down Dufour's neck with their second-place finish. In the Special they overtook the Danish pair by tiding up a few of the issues that were still there in the Grand Prix. The trot extensions were massive, the passage work was active and regular, the half passes ground covering and so beautifully cadenced. The extended walk was hurried though and there was a small pause in the rhythm in the first piaffe, while in the second piaffe he got wide in front and did not display the desired/required self carriage and lowering of the haunches.
The only blip in the test was the failed canter strike-off from passage. The canter half passes were huge with incredible striding, the two tempi changes were massive (9.7 score), the ones huge as well, the extended canter like an airplane taking off (9.9). The pirouettes were where the big improvement took place and were much more polished. When you put on your classical dressage glasses, it's the piaffe that still needs work and overall the horse needs to stay more up in the poll in several of the movement (passage at times, canter half pass, one tempi changes). Also, despite all that power and leg flash in the extensions, the frame (not talking about the stride length) could lengthen a bit more with the nose more out in both trot and canter. Nevertheless it was a mega impressive test with Fry being exceptional at presenting this macho man with her nerves of steel.
The judges' panel, consisting of Elke Ebert (GER), Raphaël Saleh (FRA), Anne Gribbons (USA), Mariette Sanders-Van Gansewinkel (NED), Christof Umbach (LUX), Peter Storr (GBR), and Susanne Baarup (DEN), rewarded the brilliant test with 82.508%. Six judges had the young Brit first, one judge second. The low score was 81.064% from German judge Elbe Ebert, the high score was 84.149% from British judge Peter Storr.
Through the System
The 26-year old Charlotte "Lottie" Fry became the new World Champion, the second Brit to do so since Charlotte Dujardin captured the title with Valegro at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Caen, France. Lottie is a prime example of a rider who has come up "through the system."
She first built up Championship experience by representing Great Britain as a pony, junior and young rider. She never won a medal as a youth rider though, but by riding on the team she gained important competition experience and learnt to ride under pressure. She placed 36th in 2010 on pony Andexer, 8th in the Kur as a junior rider on Flemming in 2013, 10th in the kur as a junior on Z Flemmenco in 2014, 18th in the kur as a young rider on Z Flemmenco in 2015, and 6th in the Kur as a young rider on Dark Legend in 2016.
It wasn't until she was firmly settled as a professional rider in The Netherlands at Van Olst and rode at Grand Prix level as an Under 25 that the first medals came in her career: Team bronze, tndividual test silver and kur gold on Dark Legend at the 2018 European Under 25 Championships and gold on the 7-year old Glamourdale at the 2018 World Young Horse Championships in the same year. And since then her career took flight and has been a fixture on the senior British team. She placed fourth with the team at the 2019 European Championships. She won team bronze medal and placed 13th individually at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, and team silver and fifth individually at the 2021 European Championships.
Back to Silver for Dufour
Although the team gold medal certainly is already the icing on the cake of a spectacular week in Herning, Dufour had the bright dream and ambition to claim her first individual gold medal as a senior. After earning team silver and double bronze at the 2017 Europeans and Special bronze at the 2019 Europeans on Atterupgaards Cassidy, there was Special bronze and kur silver at the 2021 Europeans with Bohemian. Dufour's last FEI gold medal dates back to the 2013 European Young Riders Championships (on Cassidy). She has been eying new gold for a long time and bagged the team gold on Sunday. It seems she will have to wait a little longer for that individual gold at Grand Prix level, but maybe tomorrow is her day?
Dufour rode Sarah Pidgley's 10-year old Westfalian Vamos Amigos (by Vitalis x Hotline) to an 81.322% score and was less than a percentage short of the title. The pair produced an improved test from the Grand Prix with a slightly better connection in the bridle (the horse was seeking the contact a bit more instead of curling himself) and also the trot extensions now had proper overtrack. The half pass left could have flowed a bit more, but the passage was very engaged and regular.
You could hear a pin drop in the big stadium when Cathrine was riding her test. The extended walk had good marching, but in the first piaffe Vamos had a bit of backward tendency, while in the second he was wide in the front legs which shows an imperfect balance and self carriage in the movement. The transitions in and out of piaffe were seamless and stunning. Unfortunately a mistake in the two tempi changes followed and the ones were correct but need to be more ground covering, especially compared to those of bulldozer Glamourdale. While the black stallion is all power, the bay gelding is elegance and class. The pirouettes were small, but could have more lift in the forehand. The final centerline was superb, despite the flailing frontlegs in the piaffe at X. The end halt was square and immobile. Vamos stood like a statue, at peace with himself as the stadium erupted in applause. You could see Dufour exhale and catch her breath at the end of another career-making ride.
The judges scored it 81.322%. Five judges had her second, one first (84.255 - Sanders NED) and one fourth (78.085 - Umbach LUX). There was a 6.17% difference between the high and low score. They got silver.
Bronze for Hermes
The year that Glamourdale won the World Champion's title as a 7-year old in Ermelo, the 10-year old KWPN stallion Hermes (by Easy Game x Flemmingh) also stood on the podium in Ermelo for bronze as a 6-year old. Four years later both horses returned to the podium, now at the World Championships at Grand Prix level, both with gold and bronze.
The soon to be 32-year old Dinja van Liere does not come through the system. She made her career by riding young horses in The Netherlands and had her first big break in 2012 when she made her international show debut at the World Young horse Championships on Capri Sonne JR and claimed bronze. Her CDI small tour debut was in 2013 on Adonie and she rode her first Grand Prix level test as an Under 25 in 2014 (Hexagon's Roumanda). Her first CDI Grand Prix test was little over a year ago, in April 2021, and since then her career skyrocketed, making it to the Olympics as the Dutch team reserve and finishing 10th at the 2021 European Championships on Haute Couture. With Hermes she won the 2021 CDIO Aachen Grand Prix.
In Herning, Dinja and the Trakehner crossblood Hermes placed third in the Grand Prix and were instrumental in leading the Dutch team to a fifth place in the ranking, taking over the baton as Holland's number one rider from Edward Gal, who is on a show break. The bay stallion, who is owned by Joop van Uytert and Jan Anker, reproduced a similar ride in the Special and got generously rewarded with 79.407% although the judges were not in unison. The high score was 81.064% from Dutch judge Mariette Sanders, the low score was 76.809% (!!) from Luxembourg judge Christof Umbach.
Hermes is a fun horse to watch and the fact that he is by the same Trakehner sire as Olympic champion Dalera makes it even cooler. The trot tour was clean with active extensions and very quick and engaged passage work. There was a spook in the transition from the right extended trot to passage. The walk was well regulated but the transition from collected walk into the piaffe went via a halt. The passage on the serpentine was very regular and the piaffes were good. A hectic strike off into canter followed, but the tempi changes were well ridden. The exit in the pirouette left was shuffling, but the ones on the centerline were beautiful. The last trot extensions was rushed and running (8.0). The final centerline was really pretty with smooth transitions in and out of piaffe. The end halt was not square. Although Dinja keeps a steady contact, on a rather long rein, at times the stallion opens the mouth on the right. Van Liere produced a very nice ride with many highlights but the transitions were sometimes off point.
Werth Fights Back
Never, ever, rule out Isabell Werth. The most decorated dressage rider in the world still has an appetite for more and is stellar at putting up a good fight!
With Victoria Max-Theurer's 12-year old Brandenburg stallion Quantaz (by Quaterback x Hohenstein) she had a roller coaster season of up and down scores, but has never stopped chiselling and in Herning she placed fifth in the Grand Prix with 77.127%. With no longer a team spot at risk, Isabell had nothing to lose in the Special and rode with the knife between her teeth.
The pair showed very good differentiation between collected, medium and extended trot as well as transitions in and out of passage. The left extended trot had good ground cover but there could still be more swing through the body. Werth was constantly softly working in her horse's mouth to keep him supple and through in the poll. It showed that he was not 100% accepting of the contact, but Werth subtly worked at a compromise. The extended walk got a bit stiff as the horse had to poo, but the overtrack was there. The collected walk was cleverly ridden. In the first piaffe, Werth wiggled a bit in the saddle to keep the impulsion going, the second piaffe was much more autonomous. Also in the tempi changes the rider swing in the saddle with each aid, but she was able to ride big changes out of the horse, especially the ones on the centerline were ground covering but rather croup high. She went full risk in the canter extension and rode small pirouettes, the right one a little hesitant.
Most judges liked the risk taking and rewarded the test with 79.073%. The high score was 80.316% (3rd place - Susanne Baarup), while the low score was 76.702% (11th - Peter Storr).
Benjamin Werndl and Famoso produced a fabulous ride that easily could have put them on the bronze step of the podium.
Smooth and consistent in the contact, the pair showed lovely trot extensions with true lengthening of stride and frame. Flora Keller's 13-year Oldenburg gelding by Farewell II x Welt Hit II is not the quickest behind and the left trot half pass could have been fresher in the rhythm. The passage was not always entirely even behind, but the horse works so willingly. The extended walk had good overtrack and a nice V-moment in the rhythm. The piaffes were on the spot and soft-footed. The tempi changes were straight, the extended canter was executed correctly, but could have been a bit more uphill. The centerline with pirouettes and one tempi changes went effortlessly.
From the perspective of harmony and to use the FEI's favoured expression, the "Happy Athlete", Werndl and Famoso ticked all the boxes. The judges scored the ride 78.237% with marks going from 75.745% (9th - Gribbons) to 80.638% (3rd - Saleh).
The 2022 World Championships Dressage in Herning come to a conclusion on Wednesday 10 August 2022 with the freestyle finals under floodlight. On Tuesday the entire show got a break with no competition happening. The venue saw the show jumpers and para dressage riders have their familiarisation moment in their respective show rings.