‘This never becomes normal’: extraordinary Europeans freestyle smashes records as two Brits ascend the podium

  • If ever a European Dressage Championships freestyle was to stick in the mind for many years to come, it’s this one. On the sixth consecutive day of sizzling sunshine at the beautiful Riesenbeck venue in Germany, what played out in the flower-clad arena was without doubt something for the history books.

    Every single one of the medallists scored a personal best, and every one of them surpassed the previous European Championship record, set by Valegro back in 2013 (though his all-time freestyle world record remains intact). Today it was Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl back on the top of the podium, this time with Britain’s Lottie Fry in silver and Charlotte Dujardin in bronze. And what every single one of these remarkable women produced in the arena today was nothing short of extraordinary.

    Watch Jessica reflect on her test in the video below

    The run-up to these championships was characterised by debates over whether world champions Lottie Fry and Glamourdale could defeat the European and Olympic champions, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and TSF Dalera BB – or whether Charlotte Dujardin and Imhotep would possibly beat the both of them.

    And when it came down to it, the competition went as close to the wire as everybody hoped it might.

    Jessica was first of the medallists into the Riesenbeck arena, where the crowds sat in relatively close proximity to the arena and produced an electric atmosphere. Jessica has been producing magic for years now with this incredible 16-year-old mare, but today was something else. Their scoresheet was flooded with 10s, for piaffe, passage, the transitions between, the right pirouette and the halts. Their French-themed music raised goosebumps, and although they did have a blip in the one-time tempis, they performed them flawlessly on their joker line to pull the mark for that movement back up.

    “The audience were so amazing, it was like I was being carried through the test. I’m sorry to them for the mistake in the ones, but luckily I had my joker line,” said Jessica.

    “The best word to describe my whole week here is grateful. I am so grateful to have such a wonderful dancing partner in Dalera, and to have her owner here and my family, my kids and all my team at home,” she added. “It’s very special, and this never becomes normal.”

    Their score of 92.82% was their best ever – and this from a pair who had already exceeded 90% 10 times already before today. Could Lottie and Glamourdale even hope to match it?

    European Dressage Championships freestyle goes to the wire

    Having missed out on a podium place in the special, Lottie and Glamourdale were back on sparkling form today. Lottie rode with her face set in quiet determination, knowing she had to produce her own personal best to be in with a shot of gold – and with Charlotte Dujardin yet to come, possibly even a medal.

    Like Dalera, Glamourdale also had a blip, striking off wrong into canter after their walk tour – proving that even the very best can make the most elementary of errors from time to time. But the rest of his work was simply stunning and spectators waited with bated breath to see whether his score could exceed that of Jessica and Dalera.

    It was very, very close. Less than 0.5% separated these two powerhouses of modern dressage, but in the end, it was Lottie who would have to settle for silver.

    Both of them faced another tense wait, though, as Charlotte Dujardin took to the arena with a brand new freestyle aboard the 10-year-old Imhotep, who has been nothing less than a personal best machine this week, churning them out one after the other.

    He did it once more here, producing a highly accurate, expressive test with extraordinary amounts of lift and suspension throughout. That their massive mark of 91.4% – itself higher than Charlotte’s own Europeans record, and higher than the gold-winning scores at both the 2019 and 2021 Europeans – was not enough to take the lead here underscores the exceptional standard shown in Riesenbeck today. But it was enough to edge special silver medal-winner Nanna Skodborg Merrald off the podium, and take the bronze.

    Nanna and Blue Horse Zepter claimed silver in the special – their first individual medal – and they performed a new routine in the European Dressage Championships freestyle for a new personal best of 89.55%. 

    Zepter is the son of Blue Hors Zack – Nanna’s 2022 World Championships team gold medallist. He is a massive horse, but so attentive to Nanna’s aids, while maintaining great activity, balance and expression, and they make a beautiful partnership. Some small rhythm issues in the piaffe and a mistake in their one-time changes were what kept them off the podium today. 

    Earlier in the afternoon, Isabell Werth proved why she is the ultimate show-woman as she rode an exceptionally difficult freestyle on DSP Quantaz for 88.4%, a touch above their previous best. Her Bonnie Tyler programme scored over 95%, with 10s for the music and interpretation. The highlight was a piaffe pirouette that transitioned seamlessly into a canter pirouette, and then later the same move in reverse. The German home crowd were in raptures.

    Meanwhile, Therese Nilshagen was another to trounce her previous personal best, scoring a huge 86.13% with her long-time championship partner, Dante Weltino OLD. The pair have been a feature of every Swedish team since 2017, and the 16-year-old Danone son is still hitting new peaks, not just for themselves but for their country – their score here was a new Swedish record.

    “I’m really proud of my horse; he’s 16 years old but in the shape of his life, so it was so nice to show it in the ring today,” said Therese. “My music is a good mix of power and emotions, and it fits us very well. We can show a very good picture together with the riding and the performance.”

    Carl Hester enjoyed a wonderful conclusion to what has been a dream week for him and his ride of just eight months, Fame. In their first-ever freestyle together, they achieved the highest mark of Carl’s entire career, 85.46%, to sit seventh on the final leaderboard.

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