Germany's Allegra Schmitz-Morkramer danced to kur gold at the 2023 European Junior Riders Championships in Kronberg on Sunday afternoon 23 July 2023. She was joined on the podium by team mate Lana-Pinou Baumgürtel and British sensation Myles Graham.
Hospitality and Team Spirt
The 2023 European Children and Junior Riders Championships came to a conclusion that Sunday afternoon and spirits were high as all week the competitors and their team members were treated to the finest hospitality and conditions by the Linsenhof-Rath family at Gestüt Schafhof.
The Junior Championshipships will go down in the books as memorable one thanks to its outstanding atmosphere at the opening ceremony, nations' evening and just generally throughout the week, but also because of the highly controversial team medal podium (four teams on the podium with unequal scores), as well as the top level riding shown in the individual test with Rose Oatley as gold medal winner.
The Kur to Music did not disappoint either as a thrilling finale of the week, bringing surprise and disappointment to the game.
Gold for Schmitz-Morkramer
Allegra Schmitz-Morkramer had open range to ride herself to gold in the freestyle. With the best starting spot drawn as last to go and with individual test gold medal winner Rose Oatley performing slightly less than on previous days, Allegra "simply" needed to stay fault free and harmonious for the highest score of the day.
What she didn't succeed in last year at the Europeans in Hartpury (gold in the individual, but fourth in the kur), she succeeded at this year: winning the freestyle. Aboard her 11-year old Hanoverian Libertad (by Londontime x San Remo) she produced an immaculate test in a very stable frame. She rode flowing trot work on the voltes and in the traversal movements, a very correct right shoulder in on the centerline (an absolute highlight) and extended trot with two hooves overtrack, even though Libertad is not show the strongest pushing hindlegs. He stayed very cadenced. The horse's weakest point, the collected walk, was generously scored by the judges (5, 6 and three 7s), the extended walk was better, but did not really have the greatest overtrack nor marching (6.5 - 7.5). Aside from one short flying change to the right, the other changes were ground covering. The final halt was a bit of a sliding stop and Libertad did not stand completely immobile when his rider saluted (8.0).
Riding to John Dreamer's End of My Journey, Schmitz-Morkramer received a personal best mark of 82.665% from the panel of judges, which included Alice Schwab, Agnieszka Majewska, Katrina Wüst, Marietta Almasy, and Hans Voser. They unanimously placed her first.
"In the team test we had a few uncertainties, in the individual task Libertad already went super and we got the silver medal. Now gold in the freestyle - I don't have words," said the 17-year old Allegra. "I was really nervous because I was the last rider going into the freestyle. I felt pressure, just because I wanted to do well. And then I came out and heard the scores - wow, I was just overwhelmed."
Allegra's coach of ten years, Sonja Ellerbrock, had tears of joy running down her face, "Everything fit today from start to finish. It was such a great harmonious round and that Allegra now kept her nerves at the end - it's terrific."
Baumgürtel Rises to Silver
German Lana-Pinou Baumgürtel improved from an individual bronze medal to silver in the freestyle.
The 18-year old Pinou and her 9-year old Westfalian mare Emma (by Escolar x Laurentianer) rode to hit songs such as Take on Me and Africa, the music fitting the gaits and movements of her horse well. There were two nice short diagonals with medium and extended tot and good collection in between. The collected walk was well ridden. The mare was anticipating her rider's aids and broke into canter in a trot section and she also started to double beat behind when being collected from extended canter. There was a powerful canter extension with a big flying change, but the walk pirouette to the left was a bit big.
Lana-Pinou scored 79.165%, a mark that kept her in the gold medal position until Allegra's ride. Four judges had her second, one third with a considerably lower score (76.400%) compared to the 78.425 - 81.325% marks of the other four panellists.
"I had an amazing feeling today. And Emma is just nine. Before we bought her, she was a broodmare, but she is still developing. She's an absolute dream horse," said Pinou. The hours before her ride she spent focusing on her ride. "I think I listened to my freestyle music about 100 times. Last night, too. It was the first time we showed the freestyle at a competition, and I wanted to prepare as much as possible."
And then there was the British sensation of the day, Myles Graham and Caroline Bell's 16-year old AES mare Nibeley Union Hit (by Union Jack x Sandro Hit). After winning team bronze on Thursday and finishing fifth individually on Saturday, Graham thought he had reached the pinnacle of his partnership with this horse, that was previously shown on the British Young Riders team by Rebecca Bell (2019).
Myles and Nibeley Union Hit were quite a controversial team selection in 2022 but they proved their worth in Hartpury and finished 16th in the freestyle on home turf. This year they were Britain's spearhead and a testimony to true dressage riding. His performance was reminiscent of British pony rider Phoebe Peters great achievement on SL Lucci, the 2013 and 2015 European Pony Champion. The pony was certainly not the biggest mover in the field, nor the most expensive pony competing at the Euros, but it was high class riding that made them rise to the top and Graham has achieved a similar feat.
Riding to music of the movie Johnny English as well as to the Formula 1 theme, Graham and his "Una" showed very cadenced trot work, with nice bending and flexion in the left half passes. There was good overtrack in the trot extension with the nose properly coming out. Overall it was very balanced trot work, also in the traversal movements with lots of crossing in the half passes, the horse never skipped a beat. There was a super correct extended walk with 4-beat rhythm but there could have ben a bit more activity in the left walk pirourette. There were two super correct halts at entry and in the end. The flying changes were secure although at one point the hindquarters swung out after the left canter half passes. At all times, Union Hit was pleasantly working for his rider and never fidgety in the mouth. Such a joy to watch and what true dressage is all about!
"I've been riding this freestyle since April of this year and I think it suits both my horse and me," said a dumbstruck Myles with a hand on his forehead. "I've probably watched it a thousand times at home. I picked the music with her former rider, Rebecca Bell, and I designed the choreography with my mom and our team trainer, Peter Storr."
Myles' mother is also his coach, Caron Roberts: "I'm just overwhelmed. He's been riding great all week and I don't think he can realize the whole thing yet, it's unbelievable. The last European Championships were his debut. Back then he was the rider who started at the beginning. This year, he went into the arena as the last rider in the team test and was supported so great by the whole team. The cohesion was just super."
Rose and Sommernacht Fourth
Germany's individual gold medal winner Rose Oatley and her 8-year old Oldenburg mare Sommernacht (by Rocco Granata x San Remo) entered the arena as the hot favourites for freestyle gold but the pair didn't bring the same precision to the arena as they showed in their phenomenal individual test.
Riding to music from the movie Robin Hood, Oatley began with a square halt at entry, but the hindquarters slightly turned to the left. The collected walk before left walk pirouette was not so pure, and neither was the rhythm in the first, big bouncy trot extension, but then several highlights followed: big shoulder-in, a very ground covering extended walk, and the extended canter had clear uphill tendency. At times the trot work got too passagey and that caused difficulties in the half pass to the right. Those were all smaller points, but a missed flying change on the short side led to Rose having to bring back her horse to walk to fix the canter. And that's the point where the podium place was probably lost. Oatley and the young Sommernacht are certainly a very promising pair for the future, but today they finished fourth with 77.185%. The judges were clearly divided as some had her on 75-76% and two at 79%.
"What my kid and this mare have done this week - it's been off the charts," emphasized mother and trainer Kristy Oatley. "The gold medal yesterday was the cream of the crop and the freestyle was the icing on the cake for us. You could see that they didn't know their way around yet, but it doesn't matter, they'll get it right next time."
"The Level Improved Enormously"
The head judge of the freestyle, Katrina Wüst, summed up enthusiastically: "After this week here at the Schafhof, we can see that the level of Europe's juniors has improved enormously. I judged the first European Junior Championships many years ago, when our current host Matthias was still competing in the Young Riders. Even then, there were already juniors who rode well, but not as many as there are now. We also saw a lot of really good pairs, even from countries that are not usually the focus of dressage sport. And what we have seen today: This was the top of the top!"
A total of 16 European Championship medals were awarded during the five days of the European Championships at the Schafhof in Kronberg. Nine out of eleven possible medals were won by the German team around national coach Hans-Heinrich Meyer zu Strohen and team manager Cornelia Albrecht: two team gold, two individual gold, one freestyle gold, two individual silver, one bronze and freestyle silver. A definitely remarkable yield. In total, seven different nations took home medals.
"Twenty-eight nations at the start - is a record. And so many who won medals - that's fantastic!" summed up show director Matthias Alexander Rath with a highly satisfied smile. "And I hope that we will see many of them again at the Schafhof in two years time. From 10 to 13 July 2025, we will host the European Championships for the Young Riders (U21) and the U25 riders here. We are already looking forward to that today."
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Eurodressage Coverage of the 2023 European Children / Junior Riders Championships