A mighty British dressage team picked up the gold at the 2023 European Dressage Championships in Riesenbeck on Thursday 7 September 2023. Beating home heroes Germany in a thrilling battle between dressage legends, Great Britain collected its second European team gold since making history in Rotterdam in 2011.
Team GB is back in golden shape after an eleven year break from the highest step of the podium in the nations' competition. Their last team gold was their legendary Olympic team gold medal in London in 2012, even though Dujardin carried on to win individual gold medals on Valegro in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
With one year to go until the 2024 Paris Olympics, it seems like Great Britain is ready to repeat its strategy of London, even though Germany will certainly put up a good fight. Today, the Germans got silver on home turf, while Denmark - the winners of team gold at last year's World Championships - now had to settle for bronze.
Toasty Team Final
Also on the second day of competition at the 2023 European Championships, the show grounds were blessed with toasty 30 ° C temperatures. After an exciting first day in which British six-time Olympian Carl Hester knocked everyone out of their socks with a demonstration of true classical dressage riding -- I'm still on the fence whether I found his Grand Prix Special ride on En Vogue at the 2021 Europeans more impressive than his ride on Fame here in Riesebeck -- the second day had everyone bopping with excitement because of the big duel between Dalera vs Glamourdale and "outsiders" Blue Hors Zepter and Imhotep giving them a run for their money.
While it was clear from the start that there were just three teams playing for the medals this year - Great Britain, Germany, and Denmark - the Grand Prix class had more challenging moments to offer as the last three Olympic team slots were up for grabs here in Riesenbeck. Initially Austria, Spain and Portugal seemed the be the contenders, but the game played out differently and it was not Portugal but underdog Belgium running off with a slot, alongside Austria and lucky lasts, Spain.
Mighty Great Britain
With Dalera, Blue Hors Zepter and Glamourdale going last in the final block of riders, the spectators (and judges) remained on the edge of their seat until the very end. After a thrilling ride by Hester on Wednesday, double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin set the tone for mighty Great Britain on Thursday morning with a second spectacular team ride on the 10-year old KWPN gelding Imhotep (by Everdale x Vivaldi).
Dujardin rode the liver chestnut with such control and accuracy through all the movements. They began with good halts, big trot extensions, sweeping half passes and passage work that was incredibly regular and exact, albeit not always covering that much ground. The piaffes had a rhythm that was truly impeccable, even though I'm personally not that convinced they are balanced, with the front legs opening wide and not landing straight/vertically under the shoulder. Especially the left front leg goes far under the body (see photo). A piaffe is the movement that represents ultimate collection and historically trained as preparation for the levade. The horse should drop in the hindquarters (which Imhotep does) but lift in front and rise in the withers (which is not the case). No levade would come from how Imhotep executes the movement, but one can certainly understand that it all looks very impressive as the rhythm is flawless and the transitions oh so fluent. The extended walk had good relaxation but not the greatest overtrack nor marching over the back. The canter work was ridden extremely collected, especially on the centerline for the small pirouettes. The two tempi changes were good, the extended canter ridden stride by stride. Overall it was a very impressive test in which "control" was the key word. Imhotep was often tight in the neck and every movement was ridden with a lot of control in the hands/fists. With a bit more lightness in the bridle contact in the future, the scores will certainly climb.
The judges' panel, consisting of Kurt Christensen, Ulrike Nivelle, Michael Osinski, Maria Colliander, Isobel Wessels, Raphaël Saleh, Eduard de Wolff van Westerrode, were totally in love with the test and rewarded it a personal best score of 82.422%, which at the end of the day would turn out to be the second high score of the day. The individual judges had marks between 80.761% (3rd) and 84.565% (1st).
Reigning World Champion Charlotte Fry and Gert-Jan van Olst's 12-year old KWPN stallion Glamourdale (by Lord Leatherdale x Negro) contributed heavily in winning team gold, but did not succeed in beating Jessica von Bredow-Wernd and Dalera today. Instead they landed third place with a personal best of 81.258%. The powerhouse black stallion was ridden full throttle to show off his massive gaits and scope in trot and canter, but it all appeared a bit too rushed today. Where was the collected trot and canter? The trot extensions were huge (although the first one took a wobbly start), the half passes covered so much ground. The rein back was crooked but the steps were good. The first piaffe travelled forwards although it showed good improvement in taking more weight behind. Glamourdale stretched well into the extended walk. The second passage had a bobble and in the second piaffe he became wide in front. The canter work was massive: huge two tempi changes, huge (too explosive) extended canter, straight one tempi changes. There was a difficult exit from the left pirouette and the rider and horse lost impulsion in the final piaffe at X as well as the passage before the end halt. So plenty of mega highlights, but also some small issues and the horse's mouth and trembling lip reveal body tension throughout the test. The judges were lenient and rewarded them the third 80+ score of the day. Individually they went from 79.348% as "low" score to 84.022% as high score.
With Hester's 78.540% added to those two scores, their team total was 242.220 points and good for Britain's second ever team gold at a European Championships. It was a very impressive team total, but it did not best Team Germany's golden score at the 2019 Europeans of 244.969 points (Bella rose 85.652%, Showtime 80.233%, Cosmo 79.084%). Britain's scratch score this year was Gareth Hughes' still very impressive 74.565% which would make any country envious.
The home team Germany finished on a very convincing second place for silver with 239.674 points, leaving Denmark more than 10% in its wake.
The current Olympic and European champion Jessica von Bredow-Werndl must have felt the weight of the world on her shoulders from the pressure the much anticipated duel with world champion Glamourdale had generated over the past few months. Displaying nerves of steel, von Bredow-Werndl turned these gigantic expectations in her favour and won the Grand Prix today with a stellar ride.
Von Bredow-Werndl and Beatrice Burchler-Keller's 16-year old Trakehner mare Dalera BB (by Easy Game x Handryk) began with a halt that was not immobile (the score board didn't show the score of the judges, what a surprise!) but then Jessica continued with much confidence and rode big trot extensions and ground covering half passes, although she was not as elastic in them as Glamourdale, for instance.
The passage work, however, was totally fabulous and so regular. She very easily moved into the first piaffe and made flawless transitions. The extended walk had good relaxation and marching, the collected was slow but clear in the rhythm. The second piaffe was absolutely perfect in the first few steps, then she dropped in the poll a bit and made a tiny step forward but stayed rhythmical. The two tempi changes looked so easy, the ones were like a kid joyfully skipping on the street, the extended canter was beautifully ridden with the flying change exactly on the marker. The zig zag had lots of ground cover, the pirouettes were tiny. The last trot extension was ridden on edge, the final centerline flawless with a superb end halt. Wow! They got the winning score of the day: 84.612%, placing first with six out of seven judges, only the ... drumroll...British judge had her second. The individual marks were between 82.065% and 85.978%
Germany's second best score for the team was achieved by Frederic Wandres on the 13-year old Oldenburg Bluetooth OLD (by Bordeaux x Riccione). They finished sixth with a personal best of 77.888%. The pair produced very solid work, with good trot extensions, a clean zig zag although the ground cover was a bit limited, straight two tempi changes, nice ones and extended canter. The passage was regular and the piaffes in general of good quality although the second one could have been more in rhythm. Overall it would be nice to see the horse with the nose a bit more out and a lighter curb contact.
Isabell Werth and the 13-year old Quantaz (by Quaterback x Hohenstein) followed in 7th place with 77.174%. They provisionally stood second on Wednesday and moved five places down the leader board at the end of the Grand Prix. Germany's scratch score was 74.845% ridden by team substitutes Matthias Rath on Thiago GS (by Totilas x Warkant).
Bronze to Denmark
After golden glory on home turf for Team Denmark at the 2022 World Championships, it was back to bronze this year with a team total of 228.727 points. Denmark's long-time team anchor Cathrine Dufour is temporarily without a Grand Prix horse (although Vividus QED is on the verge of his debut) and Daniel Bachmann has replaced Marshall Bell with the inexperienced Vayron.
At the 2023 World Cup Finals Nanna Skodborg Merrald had proven can ride herself onto the podium with Blue Hors Zepter as she finished second in Omaha behind Dalera BB. Today in Riesenbeck, there were just a few too many issues to crack that 80% marker. The 15-year old Oldenburg gelding by Zack x Wolkentanz II is certainly fit and ready for the task. He showcased big trot extensions, sweeping half passes and strong passage work. His piaffes have all the ingredients to be classically correct, but he cannot always produce them with a metronome rhythm (yet). The canter work was very solid until the centerline with pirouettes. The exit of the left one was difficult and tension crept into the canter. They lost the stride before the right pirouette and dropped out of canter. The final centerline was lovely though, even though there was a gain a little tension before the end halt. They posted 78.556% for fourth place. Zepter certainly has the quality to be a medal contender, but no mistakes can be made, and I personally wish to see the horse ridden less on the curb rein so that his mouth stays more closed.
Denmark's second best score was 75.761% ridden by Carina Cassoe Kruth on the Thogersen's Heiline's Danciera (by Furstenball x De Niro). They were 8th. The black mare has three exceptional basic gaits, is elastic and bouncy, has great overtrack in walk. However in piaffe she continues to get narrow behind and lean on the shoulders, not really achieving suspension. The canter work was lovely though with a balanced zig zag and good, straight tempi changes. Overall the mare's body postures reveals tension with her trembling lip and she is presented in a very up-tempo fashion. A bit more lightness and easy would do her good in order for her to move to the higher end of the seventy percentage scale.
Denmark's third score was Andreas Helgstrand's 74.410%, while the drop score was 74.146% ridden by Bachmann.
Some More Words
Team Sweden landed off the podium in fourth place, seven percentage points lower than Denmark (221.522). Sweden's team high score was achieved by Therese Nilshagen on the Wespe family's sympathetic 16-year old Oldenburg stallion Dante Weltino (by Danone I x Welt Hit II). She got a 75.621% to finish 9th in the Grand Prix. The black stallion is always soft and elastic in the bridle, which makes him a pleasure to watch. He has fabulous tempi changes and such an uphill extended canter. The piaffe shows good lowering of the haunches but could be more rhythmical.
The Netherlands placed fifth with Emmelie Scholtens being the anchor aboard Ad Valk's 10-year old KWPN stallion Indian Rock (by Apache x Vivaldi). The tall dark bay stallion is drop dead gorgeous: what a face, a big neck, and so much knee action in his movement. He has a lovely silhouette in piaffe and passage but is not truly in self carriage yet. The half pass right could have flowed more and there were mistakes in both the one and two tempi change lines. They got away with 74.457% and 13th place although the judges had them between 72.283% and 76.522%.
Today's Grand Prix was such a long anticipated match between the greats in dressage sport. The Grand Prix Special for individual medals on Friday 8 September 2023 will certainly be fireworks with a handful of very ambitious riders on a warrior's path for glory.
- Text and Photos © Eurodressage (this article expresses Eurodressage's' eye-witness account and opinion about the competition)
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Eurodressage Coverage of the 2023 European Dressage Championships