‘If I retired now, I’d be happy’: inspiring ride from Gareth Hughes as individuals battle it out at European Dressage Championships

  • Gareth Hughes produced a heartwarming performance in the grand prix special at the European Dressage Championships today, riding his beloved bay mare Classic Briolinca.

    The pair, who helped Britain achieve team gold yesterday, scored 74.65% – a little way off the highest marks they’ve achieved in previous specials, but Gareth said afterwards that “it was one of the best tests she has done”.

    And it was a lovely test – a wonderful display of true horsemanship, sympathetic riding and a horse-and-rider partnership that goes far deeper than what you can see during a 10-minute ride in the arena.

    The best parts were stellar. The 17-year-old Trento B mare was bouncier and a little more active in her rhythmic passage than in her grand prix, and their final piaffe in particular was super. Her changes were ruler-straight, balanced and even, and the pirouettes were a joy to watch.

    “I really liked those canter pirouettes,” admitted Gareth.

    “She tried her heart out in there. It’s boiling in the arena, like a cauldron with no air, but she was really focused. We had one little blip going into one piaffe but she doesn’t take things like that through to the other movements. She’s a true professional.

    “If I retired now I’d be happy.”

    European Dressage Championships special: personal bests and top prospects

    Although Gareth’s test took him temporarily into the lead, he and Briolinca were edged out of the top spot by some of the superb performances that followed. The special is emerging as a tight contest with 2% covering second to eighth places at this stage.

    Frederic Wandres’ ride Bluetooth OLD required swift attention from the farrier to replace a lost shoe just before his test, but promptly entered the ring – albeit at a later time – and claimed the lead with just over of 77%.

    Meanwhile The Netherlands’ Emmelie Scholtens returned from knee surgery earlier this year to achieve a personal best of 75.96% in the special with Indian Rock.

    Emmelie rode this 10-year-old stallion’s sire, Apache, on Dutch championship teams before his untimely death, and now she is bringing his talented son through the ranks.

    She explained that she made some changes in the special after finishing 13th in the grand prix with 74.56%.

    “I wanted to do some things differently; I was happy with the feeling but I had him too collected, so today I tried to go more forward and that worked out well. The beginning especially felt good, but I had a mistake in the tempi changes again,” she said.

    But Emmelie is really just happy to be here after suffering a serious knee injury in a fall while riding another horse at the KWPN stallion show in February this year.

    “My knee is still recovering,” she said. “I am more than excited just to be here.”

    Denmark’s Daniel Bachmann Andersen sits second with Vayron, having put 75.21% on the board, just fractionally short of their personal best in this test.

    This imposing Vitalis son is 12, but is only in his first season at top level.

    “It felt really nice, though a little bit green still and we still have to fine-tune it,” said Daniel. “But I’m so happy because he really let me ride and steer today. I could actually push him a bit and say let’s do a bit more, whereas in the grand prix I just had to survive and get through without big mistakes for the team score.

    “I believe this horse has over 80% in him; he has all the quality in the world,” added Daniel. “This is his first five-star show and he has been amazing. He has so much potential, but is missing some strength. But he is only been doing grand prix for 10 months.”

    The last three British riders will also ride the special this afternoon with Lottie Fry and Glamourdale on at 4pm (3pm UK time), Charlotte Dujardin and Imhotep at 4.20pm (3.20pm UK time), and Carl Hester and Fame going at 4.30pm (3.30pm UK time).

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