It was team gold for Great Britain at the FEI Dressage European Championship 2023 in Riesenbeck (GER); the hosts and defending European champions from Germany had to settle for silver medal spot, ahead of the reigning World champions from Denmark in bronze.
Fantastic individual performances were the order of the day, with world number one, Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, posting the biggest score of the competition with the super-mare TSF Dalera BB, when putting 84.612 on the board. But it was Lottie Fry’s personal-best Grand Prix result of 81.258 with the stallion Glamourdale that clinched it for the British side, boosting them to pole position on a final tally 242.220 when the best scores from each team were added.
Germany completed on a total of 239.674, while Denmark rounded up their tally at 228.727. Sweden slotted into fourth place ahead of The Netherlands in fifth and France in sixth, while Austria, Belgium, and Spain earned the three Olympic qualifying spots up for grabs when filling the next three places, in that order.
Fry was joined in the victorious British side by Gareth Hughes (Classic Briolinca) and Carl Hester (Fame), and Charlotte Dujardin (Imhotep) who also produced a stunning performance.
Raised the temperature
It was Germany’s Frederic Wandres who first raised the temperature on a very hot day, when producing a strong score of 77.888 with Bluetooth OLD under the midday sun. “It was so hot in there, but Bluetooth is used to the heat a little bit from competing in Wellington (USA). He has had two seasons there and every day it is 30 degrees, so he is able to deliver very good scores in the heat. I think we showed a very harmonious ride and a consistent frame from the beginning to the end with no technical mistakes,” he pointed out.
Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Imhotep set a whole new standard, when putting 82.422 on the board for a test in which they earned multiple scores of 9 and 10 and held the crowd spellbound.
“The relaxation, the frame is getting better; he still has moments where it could be better, but it all comes from experience. Just going through the test, for 10 years old, that’s done as little as he has; it really is amazing. It normally takes years and years to get them to that point. Last year I think he’d done maybe four or five Grand Prix before the World Games (FEI Dressage World Championship).
“He did just three shows before coming here, and preparation-wise, he needs to do more shows but smaller shows just to give him experience, but then he goes and does that! I love him to bits!” said Dujardin.
She didn’t have a great start to the week. “When I got here, Pete (Imhotep) had been travel sick; there were complications getting here because of the EU paperwork that was done wrong, so he had 19 hours of travel and he’s never travelled that far. So he arrived with travel sickness, but we have a great team of vets that helped, so thankfully he was fine. And then Isabella (her six-month-old baby daughter) got a temperature. She was really sick and had high fever, so I got about an hour’s sleep on Monday because she was so poorly – it’s been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster for me this week!” Dujardin said.
With just one more rider to go for each team, the result was still hanging in the balance. When world number one, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, blew the competition wide open with what would be the biggest score of the competition, then Germany looked set to threaten Britain’s overnight lead.
Consistent scores of nine and multiple scores of 10 for piaffe and for seamless transitions throughout their entire test earned a massive mark of 84.612. She was delighted.
“Being here in Germany riding my wonderful, beautiful mare Dalera is always a gift. Every time I am allowed to enter the arena it is a gift. She always tries her very best and it’s just up to me. If I am focused and on point, then she is as well; she is my mirror!” she said. But there would be one more twist in the tale.
Third-last into the ring, and under immense pressure, the horse-and-rider combination who claimed the individual title at last summer’s FEI Dressage World Championship in Herning (DEN), Britain’s Lottie Fry and the super-stallion Glamourdale, would ensure that although von Bredow-Werndl would have the highest score of the day, it would be Team GB on the top of the team podium.
The stallion kicked off his test with a huge mark of over 87.00, but ended up on 81.258, still a personal-best for the British partnership. “He felt amazing in there, he had a few small distractions; some noises from outside caught his attention, but still he got a personal best, which shows we’ve really improved on a lot of things from last year and we were excited to get back in there,” Fry said.
That score would lift the British total past Germany and onto the top step of the medal podium.
“He went in there on fire! I just felt a few little distractions; his eyes wandering to the outside of the arena, but I think he had many many highlights today as well; some things that have never been as good, so we are focusing on those and really going for it tomorrow!” said Fry.
The stallion was awarded six scores of 10 for his trademark and thrilling extended canter, and the spectators will be looking forward to seeing it again in the Grand Prix Special, for which the top 30 individual riders have qualified.
Carl Hester had thrown down the British gauntlet with what he described as his “best test to date” with Fame.
“I’ve only been riding him for about nine months and I was absolutely delighted with him. My take-away from yesterday would be if I could ride the beginning of my test like I got to ride him at the end of the test, that would help to get more points in there. He’s a joy to ride, a joy to be around, and I’m very lucky to have him!” he said.
Team-member Gareth Hughes was filled with emotion. “We’ve been a team since 2019. Lottie – her career so far has been unbelievable; what the future brings is mind-boggling. We have Carl; he gets on a horse and he is just a master – he’s been coaching me for 20 years. Charlotte – for me she’s the best test rider in the world; it’s just an honour to watch her today and it’s an honour to be part of this team, and all I can say is thank you!” he said.
This was only Britain’s second team gold in the 60-year history of the FEI Dressage European Championship. Dujardin, riding Valegro, and Hester, riding Uthopia, were on that winning side in Rotterdam in 2011 and, a year later, they clinched team gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games. This result seems like a good omen a year ahead of Paris 2024.
by Louise Parkes