Double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin cruised to the 2020 British Grand Prix Champion's title totally unchallenged, if only by herself. Riding her number one in the barn, Mount St. John Freestyle, Dujardin swept the board and dominated a field of 26 competitors strong.
The belated, corona edition of the 2020 British Senior Championships took place at Hartpury equine college, in Charlotte's and Carl Hester's backyard.
For 2020 the British Nationals were supposed to take place at Somerford Park in Cheshire on 24 to 27 September, but were cancelled due to corona. However, with the most prestigious international competition hosted on British soil, the London Olympia Horse Show, also cancelled, a time slot opened up on the calendar for the Nationals to take place on 21 - 22 December 2020.
Normally the Brits give away titles to the Grand Prix test winner/champion, a separate title to the Freestyle champion, as well as an Overall Senior Champion title. This time the more traditional and widespread format was followed with just one overall champion's title decided over two rounds: the Grand Prix and the Freestyle.
Thirty combinations were entered and 26 of them ended competing. The 15 highest ranked riders in the Grand Prix were eligible to compete in the freestyle. Eurodressage watched both rounds and our impressions are in this article.
A stellar panel of Britain's 5-star judges officiated - Stephen Clarke, Andrew Gardner, Clive Halsall, Peter Storr and Isobel Wessels - although Gardner was replaced last minute by Sandy Philipps.
With corona crippling social and sportive life in the United Kingdom, the event took place behind closed door. As a consolation Horse & Country TV streamed the event live, for free, with commentary provided by Matt Frost and interviews carried out with the riders by Jenny Rudall.
On Grand Prix day the streaming service was choppy, which led to a lot of frustration world wide from viewers who wanted to tune in to see Britain's best compete. On freestyle day there were also a few issues with the sound, with Emile Faurie's and Dujardin/Freestyle's music not being played on the stream for some parts.
Aware of the issues, Horse & Country TV decided to offer the replay for free until the New Year.
Aside from these technical mishaps, the stream is definitely worth tuning into as there have been so few competitions this year. It is the ideal opportunity to see the best of Britain ride in this 2020 corona year, in which there were only some proper international shows in January till March 2020. Only at the CDI Hagen in September did three British team riders compete. The rest all stayed on the island for the entire year.
Absent from the 2020 Nationals were team riders Gareth Hughes (Briolinca/KK Woodstock), Charlotte Fry (Dark Legend/Everdale) who chose not to cross the Channel with corona and brexit, as well as Richard Davison (Bubblingh).
For some strange reason scores at National Championships always seem inflated. It is a world wide trend, as if marks get sprinkled with a pinch of patriotism to make the sport look good, abroad and domestically. In Great Britain it is no different. Nonetheless, some amazing riding was to be seen in Hartpury and it was a nice Christmas treat in the absence of all the fun and excitement the December world cup qualifiers (Frankfurt, London, Mechelen missing) normally offer.
Dujardin in Cruise Control
The time that people thought Charlotte Dujardin would be a one-hit-wonder on Valegro is definitely over. At the 2018 World Equestrian Games she proved that she could also be as successful with second GP horse, Mount St. John Freestyle, and in Hartpury today she showed that number three, Gio, is lined up as future medal contender. By the way, with her student's Erlentanz she also scored 79.152% in the Grand Prix in Aachen. That's number four if you will.
A year off from competition at the highest echelons has done the 11-year old Hanoverian mare Mount St. John Freestyle (by Fidermark x Donnerhall) more than good. Emma Blundell's bay mare had a full throttle start at Grand Prix at age 9, winning team and individual bronze at the 2018 WEG, followed by an unfortunate elimination from the Grand Prix at the 2019 European Championships in Rotterdam (blood on the spur). She had just scored 81.9%. The time at home and only some practise show gave her time to mature and it clearly shows.
Dujardin won the Grand Prix with 83.04%, their second highest Grand Prix score ever (looking at international results). In the freestyle, the judged whipped up a 90.2% as icing on the Christmas cake.
What We Saw:
We liked Freestyle the most in the Grand Prix test, even though from the comments later on Charlotte seemed more thrilled with the Kur. In the Grand Prix the mare looked so effortless, so smooth and relaxed, even though we have seen her piaffe and passage better before. However, all the rest of the work was at a new level. The half passes were scopy and elastic, the extensions ground covering, the walk clear in the rhythm, the tempi changes big and easy and small pirouettes. In the passage she was not as collected and in the piaffe she dropped on the forehand and swaying the right hoof out from under body, despite good activity and rhythm.
In the Kur to Music, Freestyle produced super extensions and fabulous trot half passes. The passage half pass to the right lacked some crossing and ground covering, the one to the left was better. In the extended walk the nose could have reached a bit more out. The canter half pass to the right started out a bit flat, but improved along the way, the two tempi changes were big to those to the left swung in the hindquarters. The single pirouettes were better than the doubles, which turned out quite big. There was a mistake in the ones, but they were clear on the correction line. The transition down to trot failed and overall Freestyle was more fidgety in the mouth, opening her mouth or licking her foam away in the walk. The passage was bouncy.
The pair's massive scores left them unchallenged for the title, her second in her career at Grand Prix level. The first one she achieved in 2015 on Valegro.
What Charlotte had to say:
"It's fantastic to have these National Championships and what a way to start my Christmas," said Dujardin smiling from ear to ear. "This year has been brilliant for her, not to have that pressure. We've been doing a lot of training, and a lot of competitions here, training competitions. You can see the experience she has. She comes in and delivers the job. It's really exciting for next year."
The last time Charlotte rode a 90% score was in Rio with Valegro, winning Olympic gold. By the way twelve times Charlotte and Valegro scored over 90% in the freestyle.
"I'm absolutely delighted, it's my first 90% since Valegro," she exclaimed. "I hadn't ridden the freestyle with her since Amsterdam. I hadn't even practised it. I started behind the music, then I caught up. That will teach me for not practising a freestyle. I was pleased with her yesterday, but I thought to put in more power in today. We still had a few blips here and there, probably if I practised it a bit more it would have been better. She always tries. When you have that feeling, you can't ask for much more."
Gio Runner Up
Dujardin also placed second overall with her rising Grand Prix horse Gio, a 9-year old Dutch warmblood gelding by Apache x Tango), which Charlotte co-owns with New Zealand Renai Hart. The pair's international debut had been planned for the CDI-W 's Hertogenbosch in March this year, but it was the first show to get cancelled due to corona. Instead the debut was postponed until the CDI Keysoe in October, where they posted 79.348%.
In Hartpury, the chestnut pocket rocket enthused the judges, who had him at a rather generous 79.10% in the Grand Prix and 88.05 % in the freestyle for two second place finishes.
What We Saw:
Gio appeared quite "hocks and knees" in the Grand Prix, lacking that length in stride and stretch in the frame, but for sure impressed with how easily he compresses and can pick up his feet off the floor for spectacular airtime. The trot extensions get quick in the tempo and in the collected walk he appeared short-long behind. The trot half passes were delightful and there was very nice diagonal pairing in the rein back. The passage is springy with much suspension but in the piaffe he falls on the shoulders, while swings the hind legs out from the under body. The 9-year old crosses the hindlegs behind in the piaffe and gets so narrow at the base that he almost steps on his own coronet bands. This is why he over compensates by swinging so much behind. He still needs to learn to truly take the weight on the hindquarters and lower the croup. The two tempi changes were really fabulous: straight and uphill, but there was one missed change in the ones. The zig zag was athletic and the pirouettes nice and small. The passage on the final centreline was very straight.
In the Kur, Dujardin was able to get more stride length riding to Valegro's music. Gio shone in the passage that was off the ground and in the trot half passes. The extended walk had good overtrack and striding and the canter half passes were well ridden. There was a bit of swaying with the hind to the left in the two tempi changes and the right double pirouettes were fairly big. The one tempi changes were energetic and forward. The piaffe was active and electric, but the balance issues were still there.
What Charlotte had to say:
"He's only 9 years old and this today is his 5th Grand Prix," she commented yesterday. "He made mistakes but these are very useful. We skipped the small tour as I knew he would make a really good Grand Prix horse and have him as a back-up for Tokyo."
She continued, "I'm so proud of Gio today. Yesterday he was a deer in headlights. He did it but he was quite tight. I had to give him a lot of confidence going round. Today he was absolutely fantastic. He's a little power house. When you sit on him, he has so much ability to sit and collect, you can feel his hindlegs under your bum. I wanted to up my game today, put a little more power in. I wasn't able to do that yesterday."
Hester and En Vogue Strike a Pose for Bronze
The overall third place went to Carl Hester aboard Charlotte Dujardin's, Ben Neal's and Lady Anne Evans' 11-year old Dutch warmblood En Vogue (by Jazz x Contango x Beaujolais).
Carl's team horse at the 2019 European Championships in Rotterdam, Hawtin's Delicato, has been remarkably absent from this year's show scene, not even competing at the training events. Hester has set his Olympic team hope on the sensitive En Vogue, who probably showed the biggest progress of all in the two months since the CDI Keysoe.
They scored 77.1 % in the Grand Prix and 86.475% in the freestyle.
What we saw:
We loved En Vogue in the Grand Prix. The dark bay gelding produced a good straight halt at entry, showed lovely half passes, a good medium trot, although in the extended he needed more overtrack. The rein back was tense. The passage was very lightfooted and off the ground and in the first piaffe he made a good attempt at sitting more behind and coming up in the withers. The tempi changes were straight and smooth, the extended canter nicely uphill. A got a bit away if his rider in the zig zag and lost the canter in the first pirouette. There were also a few small bobbles i the rhythm on the final centerline, but overall there was very nice riding from Hester.
In the freestyle, En Vogue looked a bit more tense and impressed by the atmosphere. The trot extensions were solid, but can be bigger. In the extended walk there was just enough overtrack and there could have been more relaxed marching through the body. The passage work was very soft footed, the piaffe today did not show enough balance and self carriage, even though the horse is very energetic and enthusiastic. He still relies very much on his ride to carry him through the movement. En Vogue stayed nice and supple in the contact throughout. The canter half passes were neat, there was good collection in the left double pirouette, the one tempi's were straight. The downward transition to passage failed though and in the end the horse began to feel overwhelmed, losing balance and rhythm in the final passage bit.
What Carl had to say:
"He was amazing. He does have a lid and you can just go to the top of that lid. He's 17.3 but he feels like 20 hands," Hester explained, adding that his horse is very noise sensitive. "He goes, "what's that noise" when the music was going.There is nothing he doesn't hear. It's his first freestyle. I need to build more trust so he can relax. but he was rideable. Regardless of the result, he has grown up from this show."
Carl used Uthopia's 2011 European Championship music.
"That was Uthopia's music in 2011 and I did exact the same mistake at the European Championship," Carl laughed. "En Vogue is such a natural sitter, his hindlegs are low to the ground, he takes his weight down every stride. He was tipping over a little bit in the piaffe-passage, and is not that balanced yet, but he has no weakness. I just have to make it polished. Hopefully next year. I'm stoked with the 86%."
Ranking fourth in the Championship was Sonnar Murray Brown aboard the 13-year old Trakehner Erlentanz (by Latimer x Benz). Charlotte Dujardin rode the horse in 2019 when Sonnar was recovering from a broken leg and this period brought the horse to a higher level in sport. Murray Brown reaps the fruits from this labour and now has a British team candidate to ride.
In the Grand Prix the horse showed its talent and quality but the test lacked some polish. The half passes were amazing, the extended walk is the horse's forté and the tempi changes are so beautifully straight and uphill. However, the passage was not entirely event, the collected walk was not shown at all, and there was a mistake in the twos. Their freestyle to The Lion King music had more precision as Sonnar first rode the horse's highlight movements in canter (half passes, tempi changes). There was more balance and control in this test and the rider seemed not to overask himself. They scored 74.86% (5th) in the Grand Prix and 83.575% in the Kur (4th).
After having tasted Olympic glory and success with Mistral Hojris in 2012, Laura Bechtolsheimer has been on the hunt for a successor and finally seems to have found a new team candidate in her 10-year old Bavarian warmblood mare Rose of Bavaria (by Bordeaux x Florestan). The pair finished fifth overall after a 4th place in the Grand Prix (75.46 %) and a 5th place in the Kur (79.95 %).
The black mare is a massive powerhouse, just like Mistral, and her stamina is so impressive. At the end of the test she is still as strong and bouncy as at the start. In the Grand Prix the trot extensions were big, the passage was wonderfully springy and regular, the walk had good overstep. The changes were big but she still swung a bit too much in the hindquarters. The zig zag was tidy. All that power seemed difficult for Laura to bolster at this point as her hands were consistently busy with the mouth and working backwards. Rose of Bavaria regularly flashed her tongue in the test, but this did not seem reflected in the scores. In the freestyle, the pair showed sweeping trot half passes, nice uphill extensions, big tempi changes on the half circle and a super small left double pirouette. The point of critique would once again be the very strong bridle contact with the left rein more on than the right one. Although Rose of Bavaria has much engagement from behind piaffe, she skips the right hind leg out from under the body.
Laura, who is a triple British GP Champion (2005, 2010, 2011), was thrilled with her two days at Hartpury. "I'm still overwhelmed trying to fit so many complicated movements in five minutes," she said after her freestyle. "We practised it once at home and that's it. She did everything I asked. I chucked so much at her in high tempo and she answered every question. I feel like that emoji with the brain exploding. I made a very difficult choreography because I'm thinking of the future. I know it's in her."
British Olympian Emile Faurie has been reunited with his 2018 WEG team bronze medal winning ride Dono di Maggio, a 13-year old Oldenburg gelding by Dimaggio x Santander H. Owned by Emile's student, Greek Theodora Livanos, the tall and impressive chestnut competed with Theo in 2019. The ride has been returned to Emile in 2020 as Livanos underwent complicated surgery in the U.S.A. for osteomyelitis and needed much time for rehabilitation. Dono di Maggio probably has some of the most impressive piaffe-passage of all combinations in Hartpury. This big horse makes his passage look silky soft with much airtime, in the piaffe he can sit, but this time he lost a bit of the forward tendency. Faurie rode big tempi changes, the zig zag was a bit laboured. Overall the pair can certainly connect with the world top, but would benefit from a bit more lightness in the contact and sharpness behind. They posted very strong scores of 74.18% in the Grand Prix (6th) and 78.725% in the freestyle (7th) to finish sixth overall. Faurie was British Champion on his Olympic ride Vertu in 1993 and 1994.
Carl Hester is the 2019 British Grand Prix Champion
Lara Butler Wins the 2018 British Grand Prix Championship
Hayley Watson-Greaves is the 2017 British Grand Prix Champion
Carl Hester Wins 2016 British Grand Prix Championships
Charlotte Dujardin Wins 2015 British Grand Prix Championships
Michael Eilberg Wins 2014 British Grand Prix Championships
Carl Hester Brings Tally to 66 at 2013 British Dressage Championships
Carl Hester Wins 2012 British Grand Prix Championships
Bechtolsheimer, Woodlander Farouche and Carinsio Dominate Final Day of 2011 British Championships
Laura Bechtolsheimer Wins 2010 British Grand Prix Championships
Carl Hester and Liebling II Grab 2009 British Grand Prix Champions' Title
Maria Eilberg, 2008 British Dressage Champion
Spencer Wilton and Dolendo, 2007 British Dressage Champions
Sandy Phillips and Lara, 2006 British Grand Prix Dressage Champions
Laura Bechtolsheimer and Douglas Dorsey Win 2005 British Grand Prix Championships
Hester and Escapado Win 2004 British Grand Prix Championship
Richard Davison, 2003 British Dressage Champion with Ballaseyr Royale
Nicky Barrett Claims Her First Grand Prix Champion's Title at 2002 British Dressage Championships