Carl Hester: Something fishy at the Europeans *H&H VIP*

  • Aachen was the championship that could make or break dressage. Team GB had been looking forward to it for so long; an exciting build up and great scores — a medal looked possible. We arrived four days before to prepare and took over the Novotel for the whole week. Ours is a team of friendship and a great atmosphere, ably led by Dickie Waygood.

    On day two I joined the eventers in the main paddock. Nip Tuck (Barney) may be a giant but his mouse-like qualities came to the fore. As a waiter dropped a tray of glasses, Barney spun round and fell down on top of me. I do wonder if that waiter was working for the German team?

    Also in the wars was Denmark’s Anna Kasprzak, who was kicked in the chest at the trot-up. At first it was thought she had broken her sternum, but joking later in the minibus we suggested it was her airbags that saved her.

    The controversy started at the trot-up. The British horses looked good and went through, as did those of many other nations. Totilas, however, looked iffy but went through.

    Michael and Fiona got the team off to great start. When Michael can get Marakov’s canter to match his fantastic piaffe and passage there’ll be more points to come, and we couldn’t ask more of Fiona’s “Tillie” at this stage. Many felt she was under-marked; you could see 10s in her piaffe and passage, which weren’t forthcoming.

    As for myself and Charlotte, although Barney saw a ghost in a bush after the extended canter, which cost our flying change mark, I was delighted with our score. One of Charlotte’s fortes is the canter zig-zag, which for once didn’t materialise as she counted seven instead of six strides. One of the difficulties with Valegro nowadays is keeping him running on full power. His amazing relaxed attitude doesn’t always help him when the heat is on.

    As Totilas set off, I heard whistling in the first extended trot, but not the bell. It was very uncomfortable. Similarly, at last year’s World Equestrian Games, Germany’s Bella Rose was withdrawn after the grand prix [due to lameness]. I can’t help but question whether this really is good team management. Does anyone believe Totilas was on form from day one? Co-owner Paul Schockemöhle didn’t come to Aachen. It all just seemed a bit fishy, but that’s mere speculation. I just hope now this amazing horse can enjoy a happy retirement.

    Charlotte and I will always feel we lost the gold rather than won the silver. She says zig-zag, I say flying change. However, as we have a rule that after a ride we allow ourselves only ten minutes to talk mistakes, I should be keeping this to ourselves.

    Although it fulfils many dreams to ride in the grandeur and majesty of the Aachen landscape, it has a notoriously nationalistic feel to it. For Saturday’s individual honours in the special Valegro was the clear winner and, personally, fifth with Nip Tuck made my year. Fiona finishing ninth (in a downpour), bringing three team members into the top ten, kept the home supporters delighted. Michael had so many highlights too. I am sure he and his father Ferdi will work on Marakov’s canter for next year.

    For the kür, a cooler breeze seemed to be in our favour. After a week the horses can feel rather jaded, so a different warm-up is needed. For the first time in years Valegro was under threat —Desperados came tantalisingly close.

    Having scrutinised both tests, yes, they did deserve to be neck and neck, but the degree of difficulty, choreography and Tom Hunt’s unbelievable music clinched the title. Valegro has been at the top for five years and he’ll have a change of scenery this winter — galloping, pole work and fun to get him in shape for next year.

    Not so common sense

    I am a fan of the judges being individual, but the judging supervisory panel’s 6% rule was sorely needed. Amid the obvious disagreement over Totilas’ marks — in anyone’s opinion the horse was unfit — how brave of Katrina Wüst to mark what she saw. Standing up and being counted will surely make the sport better, looking ahead to Rio. With some of the judging in Aachen, it seems common sense was not so common.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 27 August 2015