Thrills and Spills at The Dressage World Equestrian Games in 2022

The once in four year Ecco FEI World Equestrian Games was staged in Herning in Denmark for the dressage, showjumping and vaulting during the last week or so. In the dressage part of these games, there were plenty of thrills and spills with some surprising results.

Richard Davison, the senior competitor at these games

There is forty four years between the oldest competitor in this year’s dressage World Equestrian Games and the youngest. Great Britain’s Richard Davison was the oldest at 66 years of age with Anush Agarwalla from India riding as an individual at 22. This competition dispelled any doubts that dressage is still a sport in which riders of any age can compete!! The Dressage competition as usual kicked off the WEG’s latest staging. It was first run in Germany in 1966. The FEI Ecco Grand Prix saw no less than 93 combinations, among them twenty national teams vying for golden glory. Running for two days, the first day had five sessions lasting over nine hours with four 20 minute breaks and an hour for lunch. The numbers in this competition was probably enough to see the seven judges seeing double! The judges for this year’s WEG Grand Prix was a C for Luxembourg, Christof Umbach with assistance from at E: Susanne Baarup from the home nation Denmark, at H: Peter Storr from Great Britain, at M: Elka Elbert from Germany, at B: Mariette Sanders-Gansewinkel from The Netherlands, at F: Rapheal Saleh from France and finally judge number 7 from the United states at K:Anne Gribbons. In this competition, the Grand Prix alone would decide the results for the team competition while the Grand Prix Special would decide the individual medals. As with most FEI competitions, the weakest score of the four team member would be discarded and if there were only three members to a team which applied to New Zealand, Norway and Brazil, all their team members’ scores would count.

The Team Competition

The first twenty to go on day one were generally thought to be the weaker combinations from the teams, therefore likely to be the discard scores. There were four riders who were already from the favourite teams, who the first and only four in the sessions to go over the 70% mark and produced lovely tests in their own rights. The first of the quartet was from the home nation – Denmark – Nanna Merrald Rasmussen, who got a resounding standing ovation as she departed the arena riding a lovely test on the 18 year old Blue Hors Zack. The second for the Netherlands was Thamar Zweistra riding Hexagon’s Ich Weiss in her first WEG produced a personal best in international competition – 76.000% The third was Ingrid Klimke – more noted for her horse trial eventing success for Germany, was this time following in her father’s footsteps and representing Germany in dressage riding Franzikus. It was not the first time Ingrid has represented Germany in international dressage, but was her first WEG. She also scored a personal best at international dressage level with 75.000%. Her father won the first gold medal ever awarded for WEG dressage in 1966. The fourth of note was the last to go just before lunch, representing The United States of America, Katie Duerrhammer riding Quartett – finishing with a score of 73.000%.

Dinja Van Liere lead after the first day

After lunch, the judges sat down to view the next 26 combinations of the 93 entered. The first session was comprised mainly of individual riders and which threw up no particular surprises except perhaps the personal best score for the South African rider Greta Ferreira riding Zidane and who wowed the judges to give her exactly 70%. Others who went well were Gareth Hughes from Great Britain riding Classic Brolinca, normally a combination to produce very correct tests but with little flare and ending up with 70 to 73%. This time though, Gareth produced another very correct test and got a decent 75.978%. The lunch time leader was overhauled by two, one was German rider Benjamin Werndl – sister of former number one Jessica – gaining 77.003% putting him in second place so far. The best of the day came from Dinja Van Liere riding Hermes for The Netherlands. Dinja has been posting really top class scores recently, so it was a surprise not to find her in the second day – or even as the anchor for the Dutch team. However, it was decided that as Hermes could be very sensitive to crowd and therefore sometimes very difficult, the pair went in day one. She ended with a score of 78.835%.

Day Two – Dressage team and individual Grand Prix.

The second day looked as though the 80% barrier could be breached with the top riders from each team taking their turn. The first few went much as expected. Half way through the second session, Charlotte Dujardin from Great Britain came in riding Imhotep, the first time this young nine year old horse competed in an international event. Last year Imhotep was only doing Prix St Georges. Charlotte did another extraordinarily competent test with just a couple of mistakes. She left the arena in second place overall with 77.407%. She was followed in by Isabel Werth of Germany riding Quantaz who also provided a proficient test, but not quite good enough to take second from Dujardin. She left with 77.127% – just filling third individual spot for the time. Danish rider, Daniel Bachmann Anderson followed with Marshall-Bell, and despite his good test, was still not enough to take the second place.

The final session was for the final riders for the teams and with them still to come, Germany were in the top spot after their discard scores with Great Britain in second and Denmark third. There were only 4 points between the top three teams. Finally, the last session of the competition arrived with the perceived best riders in the class. The United States of America were already out of the medals as their first rider had a horrible day at the office, and also Stephen Peters riding Suppenkasper also had a disappointing test. The four left for glory were Germany, Denmark, Great Britain and The Netherlands.

Cathrine Laudrop Dufour takes the top score in the Grand Prix to give home nation Denmark the Team Gold.

The first rider for these four countries was from Great Britain – Charlotte Fry riding Glamourdale – and she rode a magnificent test. She was getting 9s and 10s throughout. She ended in the top spot – whether she would stay there was a matter of time. She was the first to beat the 80% barrier ending with a score of 81.838% The ride put Great Britain in a position where they may well win a medal against all the odds!! The next danger was from the Netherlands with Emmelie Scholtens riding  Indian Rock. She had a couple of mistakes which gave her a final score of 74.410% which would not dis-lodge Great Britain. Then, the danger for GB rode into the arena for the home nation – Cathrine Dufour  riding Vamos Amigos. They have been at the top of their game all year. The combination took the lead with 81.864% and secured Denmark the Gold medal for the team event. Only the German rider Frederic Wandres could spoil the British silver medal hopes. He was riding Duke of Britain (a rather unfortunate name, considering the circumstances). He did not produce his best test, leaving the arena with 76.661%. In the end, only two riders actually broke the 80% barrier – Charlotte Fry and Cathrine Dufour.

Denmark take Gold at their home games with Great Britain in silver and Germany on bronze.

This was an exciting World Equestrian Games round for dressage as the final result was never a foregone conclusion right up till the very end. Denmark – rather as expected as the home nation took team Gold, followed by Great Britain with Silver and Germany taking the Bronze. The final scores were Denmark with 235.451 points followed by Great Britain – just behind by 1 point on 234.223 and Germany finished on 230.791 points.

The Individual Medals

With the team medals done and dusted – it was now time to see who would end up as individual top rider. The class to establish this was the Grand Prix Special sponsored by Helgstrand in which only the top thirty riders from the Grand Prix qualified. The judges changed seats with Mariette Sanders Van Gansewinkel from the Netherlands sitting in at C and therefore chairman of the seven judges.

The best of the first sixteen combinations was Adrienne Lyle riding Salvino for the USA scoring 75.699%.She came in quite early and remained at the head of the leader board until fourth in, in the penultimate session when Gareth Hughes from GB rode a an excellent test – nearly breaking his personal best. He scored 76.192% He kept the lead until second from the end of this session, Frederic Werndl did a really good test and took the lead – like Gareth, nearly obtaining a new personal best for him. He left with a score of 76.192%. After the final break, the best top fourteen combinations in the Grand Prix took to the arena. The final eight to complete the final session read like the whose who of dressage riders. Three were from Denmark, two from Great Britain and from Germany with one from The Netherlands.

Charlotte Dujardin, not far away in her first international with her latest ride –  Imhotep

The first of note we thought was Carina Cassoe Kruth from Denmark. She and her beautiful black 11 year old mare Heilina’s Danciera did what we thought was a really good test, but the judges felt otherwise and gave her, we thought, a harsh 75.462%. To us, it looked as if it should have been nearer 78%! After Charlotte Dujardin came in and rode an improved test on her Grand Prix effort gaining 77.523%, it was the turn of Dinja Van Liere, on her quirky bay 11 year old stallion, Hermes. She rode a fabulous test and just missed out on an 80%, leaving with 79.407%. The favourite, Cathrine Dufour, (now Laudrop-Dufour following her recent marriage) was next, and she did break the 80% barrier to take the lead with 81.322%. With two more to go, Charlotte Fry was in next and she rode another absolutely breathe taking test – one of the best we have ever seen. She also broke the 80% barrier on Glamourdale, one of only two to do so. She left in the lead with one to go on a score of 82.508%. The final rider was Isabel Werth, no stranger to this situation, but things did not go as well as she would have hoped and ended up with a score of 79.073% – therefore just putting her out of the medals.

Lottie Fry wins Individual Gold Medal. 

So Charlotte Fry riding Glamourdale took the Individual Gold medal for Great Britain with Cathrine Laudrop – Dufour taking the Silver for the home nation and Dinja Van Liere for the Netherlands taking Bronze. An extraordinary and exciting competition, especially as a Brit – who before the whole thing started was doubtful whether Great Britain would get any medals at all. Oh ye of little faith!!!!

The Grand Prix Freestyle to Music.

The first seven to go were those who had lower percentage marks in the Grand Prix Special with the second eight after the break being those with the higher marks. This class was simply to find the Freestyle champion. The team and the individual medals were all done and dusted in early encounters. Of the first seven, Gareth Hughes led the way riding Classic Briolinca. It was not until Benjamin Werndl, fourth from the end came in and took Gareth’s lead of 84.043% away with 85.893%. Hughes ended fifth in the class with Werndl riding Famoso finishing in fourth. The third last to come forward was the individual champion, Charlotte Fry riding Glamourdale. She rode another magnificent test, and even to music which could be tapped along to – coming in playing Queen and ending with Queen with a cleverly inserted small section of the British national anthem.

Charlotte Fry wins the Kur and her second Gold Medal of the Championships

It was magic and the combination left on top of the leader board where they stayed to win on a score of 90.654%. This was the only rider to break the 90% barrier and was a personal best. After Lottie Fry, Dinja Van Liere riding Hermes for the Netherlands, and despite riding another wonderful test, was not able to over haul the mark given to Lottie. She was given 86.900%.The final pair to compete was the expected favourite from Denmark – Cathrine Laudrup Dufour riding Vamos Amigos. Once again we were all treated to a dressage master class with flowing movements and brilliant dressage, but that was not enough to dislodge Charlotte Fry. Cathrine left in second after obtaining a score of 89.411%. This gave Charlotte Fry with the Gold medal for the Kur, and champion with Cathrine Laudrup Dufour in silver and Dinja Van Liere in bronze.

Certainly, this championship had its thrill and spills but will go down as a vintage renewal of the Dressage World Equestrian Games Championships. A championship that in many ways saw the old guard changing for the newer kids on the block.

images courtesy Goldeneye Photography, Twitter, Clipmyhorse.

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