It was a typically British day in terms of the weather but the action at the final day of the cChampionships had all the drama of an early evening soap opera. Heroes, villains, damsels in distress and a participating audience all ensured the finish here at Aachen would be a memorable one. In the end, the sport was the victor and we had three worthy medallists in Charlotte Dujardin, Kristina Broring-Sprehe and Beatriz Ferrer-Salat.
For Britain the day started with the news that Fiona Bigwood had made the difficult decision to withdraw Atterupgaards Orthilia when it was discovered she had a slight skin irritation from yesterday’s deluge of rain. Chef d’Equipe Richard Waygood said; "Unfortunately due to a slight skin reaction causing sensitivity, the decision has been made to withdraw Tillie [Atterupgaards Orthilia], ridden by Fiona Bigwood, from today’s competition. We are obviously all disappointed but it’s nothing serious and we’ll always put the mare’s welfare first. We’re looking forward to seeing them out again in the not too distant future."
So that left us with two British representatives. A further withdrawal by Anna Kasprazak and Donnperignon brought the field down to 13. Anna has been suffering all week following being kicked by her horse after Tuesday’s vet inspection so today’s final effort was just a step too far.
The first session was tinged with a slight air of sadness as we waved goodbye to one of the sport’s troopers, Painted Black who danced his final tango with rider Morgan Barbancon Mestre. Their mission this week was a simple one; get Spain qualified for Rio. With that box ticked, the duo could enjoy the rest of the competition and they did. A score of 73.375% left them in 12th and the 18 year old can resume his stud duties.
In the middle session, it was Isabell Werth who lit the crowd up with her ever-loyal partner Don Johnson FRH, owned by Medeleine Winter-Schulze. Isabell has been in great form all week and has relished the home support and magic afforded by Aachen and today she wanted a medal to say thank you. She rode with great determination to the music of Queen; including some words from Bohemian Rhapsody which had the stands chattering. The judges must have liked it as they awarded and average of 9.07 for music to give a final total of 82.482% and the lead.
It was then Carl’s turn and there was an air of expectation after yesterday that he and Jane de la Mare’s ‘ugly duckling turned swan’ might just pull off something special. They broke that 80% barrier for the first time last month but the Don Ruto gelding would have to better that by some 2.5% to overtake Isabell; but the mood the maestro was in, anything could happen. He elected to ride to his London 2012 score which many love and includes a wide variety of music including the G F Handel piece, Zadok the Priest and bites from Trevor Jones’s soundtrack from The Last of the Mohicans film. It wasn’t foot perfect but it was a typical Hester test; not just ridden but presented like a fine production with no marks wasted. It was a performance which split the judges with the French judge Jean Michel Roudier placing him third but one down in tenth. 79.571% was the final verdict – an amazing score on this stage for a horse still at the beginning of his grand prix career (this was only his seventh grand prix freestyle).
Carl jumped off and sped to help Charlotte in her final preparations while the Aachen main stadium cauldron began to heat up.
Yesterday’s bronze medallists Hans Peter Minderhoud and Glock’s Johnson were next. The horse has been seriously impressive but today he looked like the exertions of the two previous tests caught up with him. HP has also been suffering with a tummy bug so was not at full strength. It was a clean test but just lacked that certain something to be medal worthy. A score of 82.441% tucked him behind Isabell.
Third last in was Beatriz Ferrer-Salat and Delgado for Spain. They’ve been quietly spectacular this week and have been almost under the radar with two great performances to finish fifth and fourth. Their routine was to music specially composed by a friend of Beatriz’s from Barcelona; “I heard it an loved it’” she said. It was ideally suited to the leggy De Niro chestnut, who has been plagued by injuries through his career and they once again conjured a correct, mistake free routine to score 82.714% much to the disappointment of the partisan crowd as it knocked Isabell off top spot.
However, their grief was short lived as in cantered Kristina Broring-Sprehe and Desperados FRH. Surely after yesterday’s performance this duo could be the ones topple Charlotte and steal her freestyle crown; it was clear that they were hoping so! Again the duo were crisp and sharp in their execution to slightly melancholy music with no major blips. The crowd loved it and erupted as the black stallion planted his four hooves at the end. It was nail biting as we waited patiently for the score…88.875% flashed up on the massive score board as the final competitor, Charlotte, entered. And the crowd again whooped and cheered but that once again didn’t put our superstar duo off.
With Carl Hester, Roly Luard and Anne Barrott’s Valegro, she entered to an atmosphere fuelled by tension, expectation and nerves. But the pair have been in this situation before, albeit perhaps with a less hostile crowd, but it’s what they train for every day and Aachen was never going to be easy. Everything started to plan as they glided pixie-like to the music of ‘How to train your dragon’, used at the FEI Reem Acra World Cup Finals. The test is high in difficulty but uses Blueberry’s strengths so well; piaffe pirouettes, passage half pass, instantaneous tempi changes but then it was time for those pesky canter flying changes. The first set of ones didn’t work so Charlotte tried a second line which were better but not perfect. The two times were much better to help the marks stay at a medal worthy rate.
They finished to mixed crowd reactions; there wasn’t quite the beaming smile of yesterday but a relieved Charlotte waved and saluted the crowd as she exited. Kristina’s confirmed score of 88.804% was announced and the crowd went wild; sensing that the champion had made mistakes big enough to be in danger of losing her title. For the crowd, which ever rider they were behind, it felt like an eternity until the provisional score of 88.982% was read out. That gave victory to Charlotte by just 0.107%. But there was an odd reaction; no joy, muted cheers, no celebration…it wasn’t confirmed. Hope was alive on both sides. Again, another eternity of waiting for confirmation…until 89.054% was announced; gold was hers! There still were no enormous cheers, cries of joy; only polite, congratulatory applause.
The home crowd was clearly disappointed. Their star had shone and come close to toppling the sport’s champion but the test isn’t about one movement and across the entire performance, Valegro had surpassed Desperados, albeit by a small margin – just 0.25%. In the artistic marks, the balance was with the German but technically the judges ruled in favour of the Brit which was enough for the victory and Charlotte to retain her individual freestyle European title.
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