The contest for team dressage honours at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games went right to the wire with the colour of the medals decided only in the late stages of the competition.
But in the end, Germany claimed theis sixth world title with 241,7 points, leaving silver for Great Britain (231.343) and bronze for the Netherlands (227.4).
Germany won on a safe margin, but Great Britain needed the double Olympic gold pair Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin, 29, to secure the silver with a faultless ride of 85.271 per cent. The crowd gave them a standing ovation when they left d’Ornano Stadium with the top individual result of the competition. “I wanted to show the judges that we can do it,” said a relieved Dujardin.
The crowd went wild with delight when they entered the Stade D’Ornano and Valegro and his rider responded with a performance that ensured the Dutch were pinned back into bronze medal spot. Apart from a hesitation coming down the centre line for the final time, the 12-year-old gelding and his rider were in perfect harmony.
The 29-year-old rider admits that what was, by her standards and that of her extraordinarily talented horse, a poor performance at the premier fixture in Aachen, Germany last month acted as “a wake-up call”. Today she showed that all the hard work she has put in over the interim period was worth every minute.
The German team delivered a convincing performance to get back the title, with national coach Monica Theodorescu saying: “Three horses around 80 per cent. That is not so bad.” And she outlined the plan for the evening: “We will probably drink not only water.”
This was the 11th German Dressage gold medal success since the team competition was introduced into the world championship programme in 1966.
After Kristina Sprehe had led the ranking of the first day, Isabell Werth and her ten-year old chestnut mare Bella Rose put in a stunning test, brilliant especially in piaffe and passage. The “grande dame” of WEG showed it to world championship first timer Helen Langehanenberg, besting the favourite by 0.2 points after Damon Hill stopped early at the last halt and jumped forward, leaving the stallion on at 81.357 points and third place. “He is clever and has done this test so often. He knows the routine and can read, write and count,” the reserve European champion excused her partner of four big championships.
Dutch Adelinde Cornelissen had skipped the World Cup tour in favour for the world championship. “You can’t be in top form over 365 days of the year.” That restriction paid off, giving The Netherlands a bronze medal. The last rider out for the defending champions, she delivered a safe test without mistakes. “It could have had a bit more sparkle, but I’m happy.” The only combination left from the winning team of 2010, her score saved the Dutch team that had to overcome several exchanges of injured horses.
Steffen Peters could not keep a medal rank for the United States, ending on 222.714 points and what was “one of the best US team results ever.” Peters and Legolas had a mistake in the flying changes, leaving them at 74.871 per cent. “We went for the all,” the team’s senior rider said after he had overcome a severe illness that has kept him away from Aachen.
In winning silver, Great Britain secured qualification for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. After Gareth Hughes and Carl Hester’s performances on the first day, which left the team in the bronze medal position overnight, the pressure was on for Michael Eilberg and Charlotte Dujardin to deliver on the spectacular d’Ornano stage.
Entering the arena for his world championship debut, Eilberg produced a vital test for the team, marred only by a couple of expensive mistakes aboard a slightly unsettled Half Moon Delphi to post 71.886%, which sees him through to the Grand Prix Special.
The Dutch battled bravely in their attempt to compensate for the loss of two of their best horses in the lead-up to this event, and it paid off. “We are really happy with the bronze” said Chef d’Equipe Wim Ernes. “We had to substitute, but we showed real team spirit and managed to get it together.”
Edward Gal’s replacement ride, Glock’s Voice, produced a score of 72.414. The 44-year-old rider who claimed double-gold at the last Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, USA four years ago said his 12-year-old stallion was “a bit stressed and inconsistent, so I tried to stay relaxed”.
The horse struggled with piaffe and had a mistake in the one-time changes, but delivered some other spectacular work including fabulous extended trot.
Gal, whose first choice horse for the Games, Glock’s Undercover, was withdrawn through injury, said afterwards that he “felt sick about Glock’s Undercover not going. But then I just had to focus on this horse.”
“I think he will be really good. I was hoping it would go better, I know he can do better.”
“Some parts were good then suddenly he was gone, then he was back. It was his first big competition and he was a little overwhelmed in here. He really didn’t get into it. I knew I wasn’t going to win here, but I did expect better. He was sometimes distracted. He was constantly busy with all the things around him,” Gal said.
And even though Adelinde Cornelissen and the 17-year-old Jerich Parzival would line up fourth individually at the end of the day after scoring 79.629, the Dutch total of 227.400 would only be good enough for third place on the final leaderboard.
Britain’s Chef de Mission Will Connell said the goal was Rio qualification, as there were only two chances to do this. “This is absolutely what we wanted and means that they have a two-year run in to the Olympics, during which time they can bring on young horses and don’t have to worry about qualification. What Charlotte did today was truly outstanding, and along with her team mates, they have made the paving stones for the road to Rio.”
Dujardin said that after valegro had struggled at Aachen, she was “really, really happy. After Aachen, everyone was saying ‘what’s happened to Valegro?’
“In Aachen, we struggled with the heat. It was good that it happened there, not here. I just wanted to nail it here. We wanted him at full fitness for here. It did actually knock my confidence a bit. Aachen made me come back stronger. I wanted to show those Germans I could do it. I learned what happened when it goes wrong. It made me think that I had to get riding as there is so much more in there.”
The next placed three teams, Spain, Sweden and Denmark were separated only by 3,772 points.
The Spanish had challenged in the early stages when Morgan Barbancon rode Painted Black, the former ride of Dutch superstar Anky van Grunsven, to a score of 75.143, but they were overtaken by the USA when Steffen Peters and Legolas finished eighth individually, and Laura Graves and Verdades slotted into 10th.
Graves has very definitely announced her presence at the top end of the sport. The 27-year-old from Florida competed in her first Grand Prix only in February of this year with the horse she bought as a yearling from a Dutch sales video 12 years ago.
Team Grand Prix Final Result:
GOLD - Germany 241.700: Desperados FRH (Kristina Sprehe) 78.814, D’Agostino (Fabienne Lutkemeier) 73.586, Bella Rose (Isabell Werth) 81.529, Damon Hill NRW (Helen Langehanenberg) 81.357.
SILVER - Great Britain 231.343: Nip Tuck (Carl Hester) 74.196, DV Stenkjers Nadonna (Gareth Hughes) 69.714, Half Moon Delphi (Michael Eilberg) 71.886, Valegro (Charlotte Dujardin) 85.271.
BRONZE: Netherlands 227.400: Glock’s Johnson TN (Hans Peter Minderhoud) 74.357, Arlando NH N.O.P. (Diederick van Silfhout) 73.414, Glock’s Voice (Edward Gal) 72.414, Jerich Parzival (Adelinde Cornelissen) 79.629.
Individual Qualifier Result:
1, Valegro (Charlotte Dujardin) GBR 85.271;
2, Bella Rose (Isabell Werth) GER 81.529;
3, Damon Hill NRW (Helen Langehanenberg) GER 81.357;
4, Jerich Parzival (Adelinde Cornelissen) NED 76.629;
5, Desperados FRH (Kristina Sprehe) GER 78.814;
6, Augustin (Victoria Max-Theurer) AUT 77.114;
7, Don Auriello (Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven) 76.186;
8, Legolas (Steffen Peters) USA 75.843;
9, Painted Black (Morgan Barbancon) ESP 75.143;
10, Verdades (Laura Graves) USA 74.871.