Stardust Rains on Harry Charles and Charlotte Dujardin Streets Ahead in London
We know that Christmas is just around the corner when the London International Horse Show puts on its festive World Cup Qualifying 5 star events. As usual, there were competitions for showjumping, dressage and driving. This year, however, the show was hosted by a new venue in London. In 1907, the show was held at Olympia Grand Hall in London and was the brainchild of Reginald Gardener Heaton. The show has always been patronised by members of the Royal family, a tradition started with King Edward VII. During the two World Wars the show did not take place. It was restarted in 1947 by Reginald Gardiner Heaton and Raymond Brooks Ward, father of the present director, Simon, at a new home at The White City. Finally, it was moved back to Olympia in 1972 by Brooks Ward and it made its home there until it was decided to move the venue once again, to the ExCel Centre for the first time this year.
A World Cup qualifier for dressage is a relatively new addition to the show, and since dressage came to London, it has started the proceedings off. At ExCel, that remained the same and the Grand Prix CDI 5 star was held on the opening morning. There were 15 combinations from eight different nations in the starting line up before the five judges; Susanne Baarup (DEN), Peter Storr (GBR), Raphael Saleh (FRA), Eduard de Wolf van Westerrode (NED) and Stephen Clarke (GBR). The class was sponsored by Horse and Hound.
The first in representing Greece with was Theodora Livanos riding Donno di Maggio to tackle the ‘short Grand Prix’ first piloted at Olympia in 2019. At the break, Great Britain’s Gareth Hughes riding KK Dominant was in the lead with 69.605%. After the break, the scores for each rider improved with veteran rider Richard Davidson riding his 15 year old Bubblingh collecting the first over 70% at 71.526%. He was followed in by Charlotte Dujardin riding Gio where she swept away all her rivals, both those who came before her and those afterwards with 82.553%. She collected a plethora of 9s and one 10 for her half pass to the right in collected trot and ended on a personal best score for a Grand Prix. Her nearest rival was German rider Frederick Wandres riding Duke of Britain, leaving the arena with 75.158%. The third home was from Denmark, Nanna Skodborg Merrald riding Atterupgaards Orthilia with 75.105%.
After the Grand Prix, where Charlotte Dujardin won by quite a big margin of 7%, it was likely that she and Gio would prove to be unbeatable again in the Grand Prix Freestyle, and so it was to be. This was the last time we expect to see Dujardin riding her little ‘pocket rocket’ horse in international competition as Gio was recently sold to British Young Rider Annabel Pidgley. The pair took the class with 89.090%, again well ahead of her nearest rival, this time Charlotte Fry riding her lovely black13 year old gelding Dark Legend who finished on a score of 81.945%. Third was German rider Frederick Wandres riding Duke of Britain with 80.260%. Those three were the only ones of the 15 coming forward to gain a mark of 80% or more. Dujardin scored very highly again with her trot half pass, getting 4 tens from the judges as well as collecting several more tens for her riding and her interpretation of the music. Afterwards she was keen to praise her horse and to thank the spectators for coming and giving her such a thrill. “I’ve just finished off the most incredible year in the best way possible, he truly is a very special horse, his very first Olympics, his very first Europeans and now he’s just finished the year off winning the World Cup here at The London International Horse Show, what a legend. There’s nothing like riding in front of your home crowd, having them cheering you on, I’ve really missed everyone and I would like to thank everyone for coming and supporting.”
Carl Hester, who was not riding at this show, was as always in support of Dujardin and he was given his own award from the British Equestrian Writers Association – A Lifetime Achievement Award. He too was asked about the brilliance of Charlotte and Gio after the pair’s performance, and said “It’s an amazing score and he’s an amazing horse who gives his all, they thoroughly deserve it. The programme is extremely difficult as you could see. It’s a little bit disturbing when you watch somebody so good and a horse that’s so good that you don’t realise how difficult the movements that she’s doing are, because she spins together these incredible movements and the horse just responds so beautifully, so I’m not surprised at the score.”
Nine riders came forward to the first of the major showjumping classes at the show, The Puissance. The competition allowed for five rounds, but only four were required to establish an out-right winner – Guy Williams on his Mr Blue Sky UK who was the only one of three to jump the wall at 2.10m. The two runners up were both from France, Mathieu Billot and Daniel Delsart who both collected 4 faults in the fourth round.
The main competition for showjumping was the World Cup Qualifier round in which there were 35 lined up to try to take the prestigious prize. The course was set in a bigger area than in previous years due to there being far more space at ExCel than there ever was at Olympia with another 6 meters to play with in width. There were thirteen obstacles and seventeen jumping efforts required in the class with course designer Guilherme Jorge from Brazil asking the riders some awkward questions. The first of which and the fence which caused the biggest problem was fence 6, the one following the treble as it was quite close to the final part of the treble and the edge of the arena. After the effort for the horses to jump all the parts of the treble, the riders needed to put the brakes on and keep their steeds well balanced to be able to jump the fence. Several riders came croppers at this one.
Lillie Keenan from the United States was the trail blazer and she collected 9 faults with Skyhorse including the bogy fence and a time fault to boot as she was over the time allowed of 73 seconds. It was only the third horse in, however, Anthony Condon from Ireland riding SFS Vimcomt gaining the first of eleven clear first rounds. The biggest shouts in the house were for the veterans in the class, John Whitaker and Guir Gulliksen, both well in their sixties and both getting clear rounds. Others clear were Martin Fuchs, has recently had a tremendous run and Ben Maher, on a new ride for him – Faltix HB. He has only been riding this horse for four weeks and this was the first time the pair were seen out. Clearly Ben is wanting other top horses for Grand Prix, if only to take the pressure off his wonderful and Olympic winning horse Explosion W. If this performance is anything to go by, he certainly has found one here? The final clear round, certainly worthy of a mention was the last in the class, Young Rider Mathew Sampson riding Geneve R. As he left the arena with his clear, to look at him, anyone would have thought he had won the whole class. That is what the sport should be all about, success in the arena followed by ecstatic delight, and Mathew had this in bucketful’s!
In the jump off round, although the last in, Mathew Sampson’s wheels rather fell off as his mount, who was not easy to ride in the first round, allowed the occasion get to him and he had a refusal at the planks followed by several time faults. There were six who completed a double clear, and as each one came in, they just got faster and faster. The fastest of them all was Harry Charles, son of the 2012 Olympic team Gold medallist for Great Britain Peter. He was riding an 11 year old mare, aptly named Stardust. He went round in 35.91 seconds. Just behind him in the line-up was Harrie Smolders of the Netherlands, riding Monaco, a 12 year old gelding who came second again in Geneva last weekend. The third home was 66 year old John Whitaker riding Unick du Francport, again with a clear and in 37.50 seconds. It was an exciting jump off round and the horses and riders just seemed to get better and better as each one came in – rather a change to the first round which frankly was rather ordinary.
The final class of the week was the London Grand Prix and this was an absolute corker. There were 29 lining up for this full sized 1.6m course and for a while in the first round, none were able to get a clear round. Then suddenly, the clears started to come with the thirteenth combination, Harry Charles riding Borsato, a different horse to his winner in the World Cup qualifier. He was followed by another eight clear rounds for the jump off. In the jump off, Harry Charles was the first in, and he was going to take no prisoners.
He went clear in an unbeatable time of 33.53 seconds. Although only 22 years of age, Harry had taken the scalps of all those more experienced riders and won both the Grand Prix classes. Ben Maher, also on a different horse from the World Cup class, Ginger-Blue, a young and inexperienced horse, was second. Everyone expected Ben to take it easy in the jump off as his steed was there to gain experience, but no, he ran Harry to a very close second with a clear and in 33.94 seconds. In third was Edward Levy from France riding Rebeca LS, again with a double clear. The only other double clear was from Harrie Smolders from the Netherlands. It was a pulsating class and although probably shouldn’t have been, ended up being the most exciting class of the week. Harry Charles went home with so many trophies, surely he will need a new mantel piece to carry them all. Not only did he win three classes in the week, including the two Grand Prix, but he won the young rider of the week as well as the overall top rider of the week, The Peter Walwyn Cup. Congratulations to him.
In conclusion, the ExCel Centre made a good replacement for the Olympia venue as there is far more space around the complex for the horse boxes and warm up areas, which is a good thing. However, the atmosphere was not the same. The main difference is with all the extra space, the spectators are further away from the arena, At Olympia, they were right on top of the arena and the competitions seemed much more intimate, but with the extra space and the spectators further back from the action, the intimacy of Olympia was lost with no doubt. However, as expected, the organisers put on a great event with efficiency and professionalism and no doubt the new venue will be home to the London International Horse Show for many years to come.
Images courtesy L.I.H.S. facebook