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‘Gasps went round the arena’: H&H dressage editors share their standout moments

Two Horse &Hound dressage editors share their personal highlights from their time in the role

Sarah Jenkins, dressage editor 2005-2011

There were so many highlights from my time as dressage editor at Horse & Hound, from travelling to Kentucky for the Disneyland of World Equestrian Games, to being allowed to ride Diamond Hit when I went to Germany to interview Emma Hindle, but for this I’m going to pick three consecutive European championships that were so special to report for three very different reasons. Looking back and trying to pick just three moments reminds me how incredibly lucky I was to have that job, I don’t know if I made the  most of it at the time, it was such a privilege to meet and watch so many legends of our sport, to see it transform and see those that deserved it do so incredibly well.

1. Anna Ross finishing 10th and best of the Brits at the European championship in Turin in 2007. She’d fought so hard to get herself seen on Leibling II by international judges, and to break into the squad as a newcomer. And she’s fought so hard for everything she has today, from the days of selling sandwiches out of the back of a van at Talland. She and Roland Tong were always the friendliest faces at the small national shows I reported week to week as a fledgling reporter, and made that experience hugely fun as well as helping me learn the ropes. And so I couldn’t have been happier to see Anna excelling on that international stage. Turin was a wonderful setting, too – the press office was the most beautiful building, the whole experience was perhaps not the best organised but certainly the most charming. I remember someone complaining about the organisation and someone on the organising committee saying something on the lines of “Look around you, could you be anywhere more lovely? Could you have nicer food or wine in front of you? How are you not happy?”

2. When Edward Gal brought Totilas to Windsor for the European championships in 2009. He won freestyle gold (pictured top), and suddenly all the show jumpers wanted to watch dressage for the first time ever. Yes Charlotte and Valegro (and Carl of course) put British dressage on the map, but just before that Edward and Totilas created an audience for dressage in Britain. Gasps went round the arena when he went into extended trot, and laughter at the incredulity of this horse, how far ahead of the competition, how other worldly – he changed judging, too, suddenly judges were giving out 10s right left and centre – he scored 29 of them in total – because they couldn’t answer the question “What could be better” (apart from those who felt the hindlegs didn’t match the front…). Their music wasn’t to everyone’s taste, I never understood why, I absolutely loved it. Those bells tolling in the canter pirouettes. Ah! Amazing. They scored 90.7%, breaking their own world record at the time.

3. When the British team, led by Carl Hester, won the team gold medal at Rotterdam in 2011. It was where Carl famously stood behind a post at the side of the arena, hardly able to bring himself to look out from behind it to witness Charlotte and Valegro as they contested their first championship. Valegro and Charlotte had gone from their first grand prix at Addington four months earlier to helping the team to European gold – and Carl and Uthopia had won the grand prix with a dream ride. This was the turning point. All their hard work as team Hester-Dujardin had paid off and they had changed the direction of British dressage. Laura Bechtolsheimer (now Tomlinson), who had been Britain’s strongest competitor for some years, suddenly had team-mates of the same calibre. Britain was on the podium – at the top. I can’t emphasise how mind blowing that was. I’d never interviewed the British team in a press conference before, I’d always interview the Germans, Dutch and Swedish in there and then go to find the Brits afterwards. But now there they were in the press office. Everyone was hugging everyone and the disbelief was equal to the joy. I was watching in Greenwich when they won Olympic gold, too, and that was special on another level, but by then it was almost expected. In Rotterdam we few British journalists were betting on it, but nobody else believed it could happen.

Polly Bryan, dressage editor 2017-present

I first decided I wanted to one day be the dressage editor at Horse & Hound when I was 15, but I never really believed that 12 years later I would actually find myself landing my dream job. My era may not have coincided with the Valegro/Totilas golden years, but it’s so exciting to see the next raft of superstars coming through the ranks, and the highlights of my relatively short time in the role have already been many.

1. The British para dressage team winning gold by a huge margin at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. This was the first championship I ever reported, and para dressage will forever hold a special place in my heart as a result of Rio. The 10 days I spent out there were a real rollercoaster, but to witness our British para superstars perform so brilliantly, in the presence of truly strong competition, was magical. Emotions ran high from start to finish, and I lost count of the number of times I cried, from watching Sophie Wells finally achieve the individual title she was denied four years earlier, to Natasha Baker riding her final centre line on the legendary Cabral. There were so many heart-wrenching and heart-warming stories to come out of those Games that I could barely keep up with writing them all!

2. The moment I instinctively threw my arms round Carl Hester after Britain clinched the bronze medal at the World Equestrian Games in 2018, heralding the start of a new era for British dressage. The final result for us had hung on Sweden’s Patrik Kittel, who needed a whopping personal best on the inexperienced Well Done De La Roche to edge Sweden onto the podium ahead of Britain. But as we watched his test from a very tense, sweaty mixed zone, my Fitbit confirming how hard my heart was pounding, we could see his running score rising dangerously high. The tension was almost unbearable, but as it was finally confirmed that he had fallen just 0.1% short, and Britain therefore had bronze, one of the first people I laid eyes on was Carl, and it was a moment of jubilation that I’ll never forget.

Continued below…

3. The British one-two-three at Olympia 2019. This felt like a real come-of-age moment for Charlotte Dujardin’s young ride Mount St John Freestyle, who deservedly scored more than 87% to win, and I was delighted for Charlotte after the struggles of the past summer, when she was eliminated at the European Championships in Rotterdam. Carl Hester posted close to his career-best score to take second on Hawtins Delicato, and Lottie Fry consolidated her place as the “next Charlotte” in third with a personal best. It may have been down to the champagne (Olympia press conferences are always the best!), but I felt a real buzz of euphoria as a British gold medal in Tokyo suddenly started to seem like a realistic prospect.

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