As far as dressage goes, what a special World Equestrian Games (WEG) it has been. As I write, the freestyle has just been cancelled due to the extreme weather resulting from Hurricane Florence, but we have already been treated to some thrilling sport.
Congratulations to our British team on their medal and Olympic qualification, and commiserations to Sweden, who missed out on bronze by the tiniest of margins. I can only imagine how each of their riders must have been visualising their respective grands prix as they went to bed on Thursday evening, thinking of where they lost that all-important mark.
It was interesting to see another year with no Dutch team on the podium and yet it was down to the wire to see who was going to win silver and bronze even without the Dutch in real contention.
It was inspiring to watch many riders perform season-bests in the test that counts for their countries. The Germans asserted their dominance once again with Isabell Werth at the helm, and I was particularly impressed with how Sönke Rothenberger, at the tender age of 23, managed to deliver such a gutsy, cool performance under enormous pressure.
Sweden’s Patrik Kittel and Therese Nilshagen, as well as their younger team member Juliette Ramel, all put in the best test I have seen from them all summer. The USA didn’t disappoint their home crowd either, with their rides all making for stunning viewing.
Our Brits were impressive because, aside from Super Nova II, we had such a young and inexperienced team of horses who coped well with the travel, extreme climate, atmosphere and pressure of a championship event. They made it known that the British team is back on its way to the top.
A few of the team medal-winning riders didn’t repeat their grand prix performances in the special. Adrienne Lyle of the USA had a very tough ride — possibly the intense humidity brought the “stallion” side out in her horse, Salvino.
Carl Hester’s performance, though still impressive and harmonious, had a few blips, but what a future this horse has. Sönke, too, struggled to maintain form with a few mistakes creeping in. It’s tough after winning gold to pick yourself up and refocus for the next day, with so much emotion to digest (First World problems, I know!).
The USA’s individual silver medallist Laura Graves, however, had no problems coming out hungry and focused, demonstrating her lovely, established partnership with Verdades. Gold and bronze went to two masters of coping with pressure and ambition; Isabell and Charlotte Dujardin.
Mount St John Freestyle performed with utter focus, and left us in no doubt that this horse will give Charlotte a very exciting future.
This time though, Isabell stole the show with Bella Rose. Her ability to go in last and just deliver is quite inspiring; she too had not had a faultless test in the run up to WEG, yet rode two when it counted. She performed the best piaffe-passage tour and half-passes of the Games and the rest was also ridden immaculately.
We have all seen Isabell win many medals on many different horses but her emotion on this horse showed how special the mare is to her, and that is lovely to see in an older rider who has been there so many times. That is dressage: perfection and partnership with a lot of grit mixed in with the harmony.
I am sure all of us riding at the British Dressage National Championships this week are feeling very inspired.
Ref Horse & Hound; 20 September 2018