Great Britain’s dancing duo Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro added a second gold to their name – and the third medal of their Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games debut – at the Grand Prix Freestyle in Normandy.
Together they produced spectacular work, especially in the trot, transitions and pirouettes, to earn high marks across the board from the judges. Their massive score of 92.161% lit up the scoreboard, much to the delight of the crowd. Winning the Freestyle completes the set, meaning the talented duo can now add the title of World Champions to their already impressive resume, alongside their Olympic and European titles.
After her test a delighted Dujardin said: “It’s my third time riding that test so it’s still very new, so to do what I’ve done with it is fantastic. He just felt brilliant; I’m very pleased and absolutely over the moon.
“It’s just absolutely incredible. After London I didn’t think it could get much better, but to go to the Europeans and come away with two golds and now to come away with another two golds and a team silver I just couldn’t have asked for any more. I just go out there and have fun, I don’t really think about the pressure. Riding a horse like Valegro gives you so much confidence I just go in there and do my best and that’s all I can do.”
Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill secured silver on 88.286 over Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival (85.714). Petite Langehanenberg hugged her big dark chestnut “Dami” and blew kisses in every direction after her ride that she said “felt like his best freestyle ever”. But again the pair missed out in the duel for top spot.
For Adelinde Cornelissen the competition proved that the days of retirement are not there yet for Parzival. “We keep going as long as he rides like today.” The Dutch bronze medallist and her 17-year old chestnut gelding turned the table on German team gold-medallist Kristina Sprehe and Desperados, who had bested them in the previous individual medal encounter at grand prix special.
As the Dutch rider said afterwards her wonderful chestnut horse “feels like he’s seven years old, not 17. He’s amazing and he just keeps doing his best over and over again”.
“A lot of people said his best days were over, but a bronze medal in the World Championships proves that they were wrong!” said Cornelissen this evening. “It’s not easy to ride after Charlotte, there was a lot of noise but I thought ‘take it easy and just do your own thing’,” Cornelissen said.
“Now it is just about keeping him fit and happy and he will still be there for the Olympics (Rio 2016). As long as he still loves the games, we won’t be stopping.”
Langehanenberg was also delighted with her result. “This is my first world championships and I’m going home with team gold and two individual silver medals. I’m so proud of Dami, I enjoy him every time I go in the arena and he always does his very best for me. Dami can speak and read. He’s more than any other horse. He’s just perfect. He had the best character you could have.”
Morgan Barbancon was first to go of the 15 qualified for the Freestyle, and the 22-year-old produced a lovely test to set the pace with Painted Black, one of three 17-year-old horses in the field. The black stallion, formerly competed by Anky van Grunsven, has established a really nice partnership with the young Spanish rider, and the pair looked relaxed and happy as they racked up the first target mark of 74.393.
Hans Peter Minderhoud bettered that when posting 75.554, but the Dutch rider wasn’t so happy. “The horse was confused and thought the test was finished halfway through!” he said afterwards. “It was hard to get him to concentrate but he is still young and needs to develop more power and gain more experience. And we mustn’t forget he made it into the final 15.”
Carl Hester was next in with Nip Tuck, and once again the British veteran produced some wonderful work from the 10-year-old bay gelding who temporarily taking the lead on 76.589.
But his silver medal winning team-mate, Michael Eilberg, quickly took over at the top of the leaderboard when posting 79.696 with Half Moon Delphi. The charming grey mare showed lovely, rhythmical work and increased in confidence every time she entered the arena this week.
The lead continued to change hands and the scores continued to rocket upwards as the second half of the competition evolved. Austria’s Victoria Max-Theurer and Augustin posted the first score over 80 per cent at 81.036 only for that to be improved upon by one of the most exciting new partnerships in action.
Grand Prix Special bronze medallist, Germany’s Kristina Sprehe, followed with a superb performance from Desperados FRH who sparkled to bring the target mark to 83.125. But two horses later, and with just three left to go, Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW raised the stakes even higher with a test that was smooth as silk.
The target was now standing at 88.286, but that was never going to faze Dujardin and Valegro, who arrived into the arena to yet another primeval roar from the crowd before setting off to weave their magical spell once more and put the result beyond doubt when posting 92.196.
For their test, Dujardin had chosen the film music of “How to train a dragon” and Valegro, not scary dragon-like at all, mesmerized the spectators with his overall charisma and quality, again with pirouettes and piaffes like a metronome.
The world championship Freestyle was a day to shine for young-and comings like USA’s Laura Graves, riding Dutch-bred brown gelding Verdades to fifth place or Victoria Max-Theurer from Austria, powerfully piloting Augustin closely following behind. And it was a slight disappointment for Swedish veteran Tine Vilhelmson-Silfven. At her third World Equestrian Games she made Don Auriello “wave” to the spectators, finishing in half-pirouettes changing direction as if greeting the public at both sides. “At least I tried,” she said regarding her score for seventh place.
Laura Graves has appeared almost out of nowhere to place herself amongst the elite of the sport this summer, and her success is all the more heart-warming for the fact that she is riding a horse that cost her just €1000. Hers is a story of deep dedication and a lot of hard work, and once again today the 27-year-old rider and her 12-year-old Dutch gelding were completely at one when throwing down a great mark of 82.036 in just the third Freestyle of their career.
That would prove good enough for fifth place amongst a field of champions. Graves said afterwards that her recipe for success is to keep things methodical, and that her result proves “that just being patient and doing what you know is right can get you to where you want to go!”
Hester rode a lovely test with the ever impressive Nip Tuck, to a personal best with 76.589%, in only his third Freestyle.
Commenting afterwards he said: “He’s been absolutely superb. He has exceeded mine, the owners, all our expectations; he’s just been a complete and utter genius this week. How he’s managed to cope, how he’s managed to take in the noise and the atmosphere has been amazing.
“There are still a few technical things that need adjusting, obviously, but he is going to grow up and he is such a big hope! He doesn’t really mind the different situations, the noise and all that. I have a confident horse now. The three extended trots were great, even though they are not his usual highlights. We’ll have a tip top programme for next year!”
“Richard Waygood, our Chef said to me ‘when you rode in, it was like being at a football match’ [the noise from the crowd], it really does feel like that, the wall of sound is deafening and there were so many Union flags everywhere you looked.”
Dujardin meanwhile joked that retirement may now be her only option now after taking all the top titles available in the sport. “I have such a fantastic horse and this week I had some of my very best rides I’ve ever had in the Grand Prix and the Special. Today I went out there to have fun, it’s only the third time we’ve used this music and I just couldn’t be happier!”
Grand Prix Freestyle result
1.Charlotte Dujardin (GBR)/ Valegro – 92.161
2.Helen Langehanenberg (GER)/ Damon Hill FRH – 88.286
3.Adelinde Cornelissen (NED)/ Jerich Parzival – 85.714
4.Kristina Sprehe (GER)/ Desperados FRH – 83.125
5.Laura Graves (USA)/ Verdades – 82.036
6. Victoria Max-Theurer/Augustin Old (AUT) 81.036%
7. Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven/Don Auriello (SWE) 80.375%
8. Michael Elberg/Half Moon Delphi (GBR) 79.696%
9. Anna Kasprzak/Donnperignon (DEN) 78.929%
10. Stefan Peters/Legolas 92 (USA) 77.321%
11. Diederik van Silfhout/Arlando NH N.O.P. (NED) 77.286%
12. Carl Hester/Nip Tuck (GBR) 76.589%
13. Natalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein/Digby (DEN) 76.143%
14. Hans Peter Minderhoud/Glock’s Johnson TN (NED) 75.554%
15. Morgan Barbancon/Painted Black (ESP) 74.393%
Reporting: Louise Parkes, Dressage GB