Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro have gone from strength to strength since taking gold in London, breaking the world record for freestyle and grand prix as well as becoming European champions last year and taking the World Cup title in Lyon. However, with Totilas, Damon Hill and Jerich Parzival winning on the continent, Charlotte cannot afford to become complacent.

The top combinations meet at Aachen this weekend where it should become clearer how hard Charlotte will have to fight to take her first world title.

Totilas back to his best?

The 2010 triple world gold medallist Totilas made a winning return to competition this spring after a two-year absence due to injuries and rider illness. In their third show last month (27 June) the stallion and Matthias Alexander Rath earned a personal best score of 85.18% in the grand prix at Perl CDI. This was the stallion’s highest ever grand prix mark under any rider.

“It all went very, very well,” Matthias said. “Now we are preparing for Aachen and then we’ll know where we stand.”

Totilas shot to stardom under his former Dutch rider Edward Gal and was the previous world record holder for all three international grand prix classes before he was sold to Paul Schockemöhle at the end of 2010. There was widespread criticism of the ride being removed from Edward, but Totilas’ recent comeback has started to silence critics.

British Olympic rider Richard Davison believes that the decision to train with Anky van Grunsven’s husband Sjef Janssen after 2012 appears to have helped the partnership.

“Perhaps one reason it took them time to click with Totilas is that they didn’t find out enough about how the horse was previously trained and ridden,” Richard said. “Moving to train with Sjef is logical as Edward Gal worked in that system and achieved world record scores with him. Judging by how Totilas is now moving and performing, it seems to be paying off.”

Always the bridesmaid?

The current world number two combination Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill are also still snapping at Charlotte’s heels. The stallion was excused from the first selection trials for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) at the German Championships in Balve (15-18 May) due to breeding duties.

Helen and Damon Hill, who won last year’s World Cup, finished 4.84% behind Charlotte at this year’s final. However, there were several small errors that knocked down their mark.

“It will be interesting to see Damon Hill in Aachen as he starts to get strong again as the summer goes on,” said Olympic team gold medallist Carl Hester.

“At the World Cup in April he looked tired, but last summer at the Europeans he was only 1% behind Valegro. He was on fire.”

After missing out on a medal at the London Olympics by 0.03%, Helen will be determined not to be the bridesmaid again.

The rest of the pack

The combination closest to spoiling Charlotte’s golden party in London —  Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival — have also been on winning form after a nine-month break.

The 17-year-old gelding suffered from an irregular heartbeat last June but scored 77.86% to win the grand prix at Arnhem CDI (7 June), and then went on to post the biggest score of the day — 81.48% — at the Nations Cup in Rotterdam two weeks later (19 June).

“I’m very happy,” Adelinde said afterwards. “For the past few months I’ve been trying to change our technique, and it takes time. But I feel it’s coming together at last and we are on our way.”

Carl watched Parzival’s test in Arnhem but believes the horse’s age might limit his potential.

“Certain things did look better,” Carl said. “But with a horse of that age it is hard to get maximum performance across three tests.”

Five-times Olympic gold medallist Isabell Werth has also had a successful spring and has the choice of two rides in Aachen — Bella Rose and Don Johnson.

The 10-year-old Bella Rose is a rising star and scored more than 80% in both the grand prix and the special in Perl.

But despite more horses having crept over the 80% barrier this year Charlotte and Valegro still remain at the top of the pile.

“There is a pack in which there are some very, very strong horses but I don’t think they can close the gap,” said Richard. “I’m putting my money on Valegro.

“However, he is only a horse and as we all know in any sporting environment, anything can happen.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (17 July, 2014)