The 27-year old Charlotte Dujardin has put Team Great Britain in pursuit of gold by winning today's Grand Prix at the 2012 Olympic Games in London with an Olympic record score of 83.663%. In front of a 20,000 people sell-out crowd, Dujardin figuratively blew the roof off the Greenwich Park stadium as the spectators cheered, clapped, roared and stamped their feet when Dujardin and Valegro left the arena.
Aboard Carl Hester and Roly Luard's 10-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Valegro (by Negro x Gerschwin) Dujardin had big shoes to fill because her 88% Grand Prix Special world record beating performance at the CDI Hagen in April had to keep her afloat as world elite rider despite only one international competition on European soil this 2012 outdoor show season. After a brief appearance at the CDI Addington a month ago, where she rode a 90% Grand Prix Kur score, Dujardin certainly became the hot favourite for Olympic individual gold. So far she has lived up to the expectations.
Already in 2011 it was clear to the connaisseurs that Valegro is the best Grand Prix dressage horse in the world at the moment, but the pilot in the saddle still needs to steer a clear round in order to get the high scores. Today in the Grand Prix Dujardin did what was asked of her: a clear round, a top score and bring Britain into the lead of the team ranking. The amazing fact about her achievement is that even though she won the class, Valegro was not even at full potential!
Dujardin rode a smashing yet secure ride and piled up 12 tens on her score sheet. The halt at entry was fab, the first trot lengthening convincing. Charlotte did hold a firm contact with the left snaffle rein, especially in the trot work, but the horse was steady in the bridle and had the poll as highest point. Valegro traveled well in the half passes and was radiant in the extensions. The first piaffe was 3 meters before the marker but good in rhythm. In passage the chunky bay gelding could have been a bit more together but he was regular. In the extended walk there were two hooves overtrack but there can be even more length in the strides. The second piaffe-passage was very safe and again the piaffe was early to the marker and slightly timid, but it was all executed with amazing accuracy and invisible aids. Dujardin raked in more top notes in her fantastic canter tour. Superb one and two tempi's, a brilliant zig zag, a powerful extended canter and nice pirouettes came one after the other. The final extended trot was impressive.
Dujardin scored 83.663% to ace the Grand Prix with 85.532% (Clarke - GBR) as high score and 81.383% (Eisenhardt- GER) as low score. Charlotte was thrilled with her performance as well as the reaction from the crowds. "The marks haven’t been that high so I was hoping for an 80; my best before this was 81 so to come to the Olympics and smash that is a little bit crazy," she told British Dressage. "I had such fun. It’s such a buzz I can’t tell you! I’ve been here since Sunday and I’ve just wanted to get in and do my piece. It was so exciting; when you ride in with all those people around you, it’s just amazing. I’m wearing my lucky breeches, the ones I broke the world record in at Hagen so maybe they helped!"
Dujardin has made a spectacular rise to stardom aboard her trainer Carl Hester's Valegro. "Blueberry is just unbelievable, to think he’s only 10 and we only started grand prix last year. He knows what he has to do when he gets in there he’s just brilliant and never lets me down. I just enjoyed it from start to finish and when you stop and have that crowd around you, it’s just magic."
Dujardin's score added to Carl's 77.720 (5th place) and Laura Bechtolsheimer's 76.839% (7th) put Britain on average of 79.40% with which they sit on first place in the team ranking ahead of Germany (78.84%) and The Netherlands (76.80%). The team competition is decided in combination with the Grand Prix Special on 7 August 2012.
Adelinde and Parzival, a Force to be Reckoned With
World Cup winner and 2011 European Dressage champion Adelinde Cornelissen and her 15-year old Dutch warmblood Parzival (by Jazz x Ulft) proved they are still a force to be reckoned with after having been off the entire 2012 outdoor show season. They qualified for the Olympics by simply showing form at a small national show in Ermelo, The Netherlands.
When Parzival entered the big Olympic stadium it became obvious this was not Ermelo and the tall, athletic chestnut looked into the crowds and cameras and seemed impressed. It took a while for Adelinde to filter this tension out of her horse. The entry was quite retained, the half pass right was great in cross-over, but the one to the left became slightly irregular in the rhythm. The halt before rein back was not square but Parzival took good steps backwards, the second trot extension did not have enough overtrack. The first piaffe-passage was beautifully off the ground and very clear in the rhythm. The extended walk was slightly tense with not enough stretch in the neck, but there were two hooves overtrack. The collected walk was very good. The second piaffe was superbly on the spot but in the transition to passage the hindlegs were out. Parzival's highlight movements are without a doubt the tempi changes and pirouettes. The changes were huge in ground cover and super straight, while the pirouettes were on the spot. The extended canter, however, was quite conservative and Cornelissen was hanging into the bit to collect him before the flying change. The final trot extension was the best of the three concerning lengthening of the frame, but was also executed with a very strong contact. Parzival became slightly crooked on the final centreline but was still very expressive and rhythmical. The final end halt was outstanding.
The Dutch rider scored 81.687% with 79.574% as low score (Roudier - FRA) and 82.979% as high score (Tornblad - DEN). "The first part he was a bit distracted. Hello! People, cameras, judges' boxes, but after the rein back I could go full throttle," Cornelissen told Eurodressage. "He was really good once he had his focus on me. I had much control in canter."
Adelinde's score was essential in putting the Dutch team in a provisional bronze medal position. "I put down a good result and now we are well on our way," she commented. "It will be hard to catch up if the Brits and Germans continue to ride well. But anything can happen. There will be a few days in between."
Last year in Rotterdam, Adelinde went off course in the Special. When a journalist asked her if she was scared to do the same, she replied confidently, "no, I know the way!"
German Battalion Smells Gold
The German Olympic dressage dames certainly have gold on their mind and are putting up a strong fight for top glory. Helen Langehanenberg led the German campaign by finishing third with 81.140%. Aboard Christian Becks' Westfalian stallion Damon Hill (by Donnerhall x Rubinstein) Helen proved to be on form and produced the quality of riding that could earn her an individual medal later on in the competition.
Damon Hill was supple, active and extremely ground covering in all three gaits. His trot was bubbly and forward with powerful extensions. In the half passes right he could have had more bending in the body but the cross over of his legs was amazing. The first piaffe and passage were bouncy but Damon Hill should have been more up in the bridle in the piaffe, even though its rhythm was good. The combination picked up tons of points for its massive extended walk. The second piaffe and passage were super expressive with huge lift in the horse's legs, even though the piaffe travelled forwards. In the canter work, the stallion started to bare his teeth a bit despite the light, soft contact. The two tempi's were good, but the one's were laboured and lacked ground cover. In the small pirouette left there was a slight loss of impulsion. The final centerline could have been straighter and Damon Hill swerved to the right and became a bit wide behind in the piaffe at X. While there were no major mistakes in this test and the horse totally glowed like a star, the small imperfections need to be erased in the Special to climb further on the score board.
Helen's high score was 84.362 (Alonso - MEX) and low score was 78.511 (Rockwell - USA). The petite German rider was very pleased with her test. "I'm super happy," she said. "He went fantastic and there were many highlights in it. The walk, the passage, they are always very good. Even the rein back was good today. He really stayed with me. I had a great feeling, especially after the walk. I was able to relax more."
Langehanenberg appears very focused and does not let Germany's gold fever -- the country has won team gold at every single Olympics since 1984 -- affect her concentration. "I want to ride stress free," she explained. "I didn't want to hear what the rest did." The 30-year old rider is cool as a cucumber about the expectations. "I don't make any expectations beforehand. I just give it my best. The team has been more fun than I expected. The girls, the grooms, the owners, everyone is great. It's important that I don't have the feeling to be pressured to achieve something."
Helen's team mate Kristina Sprehe finished fourth on her super talented Hanoverian stallion Desperados (by De Niro x Wolkenstein II) with 79.119%. The 25-year old rider has been promoted in Germany as the new shooting star filling up the gap the absent Matthias Rath and Totilas left behind. Sprehe certainly has been growing as a rider this year and is able to maneuver her slightly more experienced equine partner with great efficiency. However, her test was not as immaculate as it should be and the 79.119% score was quite generous considering the performances of her competitors.
Sprehe and Desperados took a powerful start with huge trot extensions and gigantic half passes. The first passage was irregular behind but the piaffe was very rhythmical and scopey. The extended walk was very good with two hooves overstep. The second passage was slightly better but still had uneven patches in the bends. In piaffe there was much sit even though the horse leaned on the forehand. The canter work was very strong and the German team baby proved she can resist outside pressure throughout her test. The tempi changes were good, the pirouettes small, the canter extension decent. The final centreline had the best piaffe and passage of the test though the regularity in passage remains to be a sore point.
"Yesterday Dorothee Schneider did such a good job and, in a way, she did me a favour. But it was also a pressure because I wanted to do as good a job for my team," Sprehe told FEI press officer Louise Parkes. "
Denmark and USA Complete Top Five
The Danish team is currently in fourth place and Anna Kasprzak's 75.289% ridden yesterday became the high score of the team. Danish champion Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein and her home bred Digby (by Donnerhall x Sandro) were as usual very strong in piaffe and passage. Even though she normally builds her score from a faultfree test, this time she had an issue in the one tempi's which reduced the score to a 74.92% and 13th place.
"I am quite pleased with the mark. He made a mistake in the changes, which happens very seldom. I have no explanation for that," zu Sayn-Wittgenstein commented after her test. "I am very proud because he (Digby) is home-bred and at the start he did not look like a dressage horse. He had a very good walk and canter, but he could not trot. I am very pleased he learned to trot."
Steffen Peters guided the American team to a provisional fifth place with his 77.705% score and sixth place. A double individual bronze medalist at the 2010 World Equestrian Games and fourth at the 2008 Olympic Games, Peters has been training Ravel for this Olympic moment and will make a firm attempt at an individual medal alongside the leading ladies. In 2011 Totilas literally stole the Aachen kur victory from Ravel, which excels in the freestyle, so the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood (by Contango x Democraat) can be in for a big surprize in the Kur finals on 9 August!
In the Grand Prix the dark bay gelding looked fit and on form. The half passes were outstanding, the trot extensions some of the best in Ravel's career. In the first passage the hindlegs could have moved more under the body but the piaffe was good. The horse should have been more active in the extended walk despite the decent overtrack. The second passage was good, but Ravel hollowed his back a bit in the piaffe. The canter work was very secure: huge ground cover in the zig zag, beautiful one tempi's, big two's, and a superb tiny pirouette right. On the final centerline the horse swerved to the right but Peters corrected it with minimal aids. The overall image was a very friendly, harmonious one.
Peters' low score was 75.426 (Ernes - NED) and his high score was 79.468 (Eisenhardt - GER). Both judges were sitting at the short side of A.
The California based American told Eurodressage he was "very happy. He came in on the first day of the familiarization of the arena. He was so much more horse than and exploded, which is a bit uncharacteristic of him. When I came in today, he first looked at the cameras but I had him where I liked him to be. I'm excited about my half passes and the entire canter work felt great. One pirouette could have been better."
In preparation of the Special, Ravel will get tomorrow off. "I've done this so many times with Ravel. We have three days. On Sunday I'll prepare him a little for the Special with the walk-piaffe transition and the passage canter transition to the right. It can be a difficult movement for him, but overall he goes well in it. It's a better test for him."
Munoz Diaz and Gal Pamper the Crowds
Spanish Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz and his charming PRE stallion Fuego became once again the crowds' sweet hearts after a fabulous test. Fuego is one of few PRE's with fantastic extensions in trot and canter and his half passes were delightful. The passage is full of bounce and in piaffe the horse lifts his knees almost chin high, but the transitions in and out should be more flowing. The extended walk did not have enough overtrack today and was slightly tense. The tempi changes were uphill, the pirouettes small. In the zig zag Munoz Diaz turns the horse's head in the opposite direction already after the third/fourth stride in each half pass, which makes the movement look less perfect. The combination scored 75.608% and receiving roaring applause from the spectators.
"My horse does exactly what I want. He is classical, and at the end of the day dressage is about classical, fluid movements. I am going 100% for the Freestyle and I love the English crowd. Valegro is the best, I love him!," the Spaniard told Louise Parkes.
Dutch Edward Gal is incredibly popular thanks to his reputation and fame generated by Totilas and the crowds are totally enamoured by the sympathetic and funny Dutch rider. Gal pulled out the stops with his Austrian owned Undercover (by Ferro x Donnerhall).
The black gelding does not have the biggest trot, but the rider slows down the tempo deliberately for the horse to gain the most scope in the movement. There was hardly any overtrack in either of the three extensions, despite the far-reaching frontleg. The horse was much nicer in the frame and slightly more open in the throatlatch than usual, which added to a more harmonious overall image. In the piaffe and passage the horse is quick, electric, far off the ground and rhythmical like clock work, but there is much body tension in those movements. The extended walk was mediocre with only one hoof overstep. The two tempi's were big, the ones correct but should be more ground covering. The extended canter was powerful but the horse needs to lengthen more in the frame. The pirouettes are still a weak point as the stride shortens considerably and there is hardly any lift in the forehand. The final centerline was good. Gal rode a very buttoned-up test and got the most out of this horse! They scored 75.395% to finish 11th.
Edward only started riding Undercover six months ago and said, "it was a really good test, but we are still building a combination together. He was a little tense at times and was taking off with me a little, especially at the extended trot." Gal told Louise Parkes that he "hope(s) we will get a medal. But I don't know which colour yet."
Text and Photos © Astrid Appels - No reproduction allowed!
Eurodressage On the Scene at the 2012 Olympic Games