Carl Hester brought 2004 to a fantastic end for British dressage when he won his first FEI World Cup Qualifier with Escapado in Mechelen between Christmas and New Year.

Escapado initially found the Nekkerhal arena difficult to cope with, leaving the pair in sixth place after the grand prix. However, a more settled performance in the kur saw the partnership achieve a score of 74.50. They received a standing ovation from the crowd following the British national anthem.

“It was amazing”, said Hester. “Escapado found it a difficult arena in the grand prix – his eyes were popping out of his head! In the freestyle the one real error was mine, and he was great in the piaffe and passage.

“By the time the national anthem played though, he stood like a rock and watched the flag rise! The crowd was really lovely and I appreciated their support.”

Hester is now second in the Western European League standings on 50 points and looks on form for a place in the World Cup final in Las Vegas (20-24 April).

A foot perfect test by Ballaseyr Royale and Richard Davison saw them also take part in the prize giving ceremony, this time in third place behind Swiss rider Marie Line Wettstein.

“[Ballaseyr Royale] was gorgeous”, said Davison. “There wasn’t a single dodgy moment. I didn’t see Carl’s test but when he told me he had gone well but with a few blips, I thought I’d really go for it, and ‘Bird’ was with me all the way.”

Marie Line Wettstein gained her best international result to date with Le Primeur to take second. “I’m singing like a bird”, said the delighted Wettstein, who came closest to Hester’s score on 74.10.

While some riders enjoyed their belated Christmas presents, others fared less well. Spain’s Beatriz Ferrer-Salat sadly had to withdraw before the competition when Beauvalais developed a cold, and Sven Rothenberger and Barclay II failed to reproduce their grand prix winning style in the freestyle where they finished fourth.

Belgium’s sole representative Jeroen Devroe was eliminated when he rode Paganini into the arena carrying his whip, although the pair were allowed to perform in front of their home crowd anyway.

After the action, ground jury president Mariette Withages said: “It has been an exceptional day. The top riders rode well and to see new countries at the top is an evolution, although they have been building up for a long time.”

FEI World Cup Dressage, Freestyle to Music Qualifier, 29 December ’04

1. Escapado (Carl Hester) GBR 74.50;
2. Le Primeur (Marie Line Wettstein) SUI 74.10;
3. Ballaseyr Royale (Richard Davison) GBR 73.25;
4. Barclay II (Sven Rothenberger) GER 72.70;
5. Amando (Gina Capellmann-Luetkemeier) GER 72.70;
6. Hexagon’s Ollright (Laurens van Lieren) NED 72.40.