H&H dressage editor Polly Bryan predicts a thrilling Olympic Games full of unpredictability – where Britain’s bright young stars could flourish
ON paper, there’s no reason why Britain can’t reclaim their glorious gold from 2012 at the Tokyo Olympics. The world-class trio of Carl Hester, Charlotte Dujardin and Lottie Fry have three young horses who are more than capable of living up to the weighty expectations upon them in the Olympic dressage competition. But rookie horses across the board, coupled with a fresh format, challenging climate and the disruption Covid has brought to preparations, means this Games is set to be the most unpredictable yet.
There have already been surprises: Gio wasn’t the horse most expected to be selected for Charlotte Dujardin’s bid to retain her individual Olympic title. But “Pumpkin” is by no means second-rate. Popular with judges and fans alike, his exceptional talent combined with his adorable attitude – and the fact he has arguably the world’s best rider on his back – means that he could lead the British Olympic dressage team into an extremely competitive position.
He is a little horse who rises to a big occasion, and could challenge for an individual medal, though with just one international special and freestyle to his name so far, he will be in thoroughly uncharted territory.
Carl Hester’s En Vogue, though, could prove to be Britain’s talisman. This tall, elegant gelding, who has proved such a good match for Carl since owner Charlotte handed over the ride in 2020, is one of the most talented horses in the world. So far he has shown us tantalising glimpses of the medal-winner he could be, and if anyone can nurture a horse to bring out his best at precisely the right moment, it’s Carl.
Meanwhile, the extra year has done nothing but benefit 25-year-old Lottie, who rides with the skill and maturity of a rider twice her age, and the super stallion Everdale is bursting with talent he has yet to show off fully.
These Games will mean more than medals for Lottie, though – her late mother, Laura Fry, rode at the 1992 Olympics, alongside Carl, and there will be a tangible note of poignancy as Lottie steps decisively into her footsteps.
Teams of three with no drop score brings a new level of uncertainty, but Britain could not hope for a better travelling reserve in the level-headed, highly experienced Gareth Hughes, who completes the same British quartet from the 2019 Europeans.
For even a nibble at gold, Britain must find a way to surpass the omnipotent Germans, and it would be brave to bet against them retaining Olympic gold.
Reigning world and European champion Isabell Werth returns on good form with Bella Rose, but age is no longer on the 17-year-old mare’s side, and the lengthy journey plus the heat could have an impact. This Games could well belong to Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and her lovely mare TSF Dalera, who have been Europe’s darling, dominant combination this year. Then there’s Dorothee Schneider, whose Showtime FRH came within a whisker of toppling Bella Rose in 2019. Germany will take some beating.
But plenty of teams are bidding to do just that, and it only takes one missed change – or positive Covid test – to rejuggle the rankings.
The extra year has added to Denmark’s leading lady Cathrine Dufour’s arsenal, as she now brings forward the fiery young Bohemian. If Cathrine can tease out his full potential, they will jostle for an individual podium position, and with two strong team-mates in Carina Cassøe Krüth and Nanna Skodberg Merrald, Denmark are tipped for a team medal, too.
Sweden present a strong threat, with three experienced pairs, and the Netherlands could disrupt proceedings, too, should Edward Gal’s nine-year-old Totilas son Total US live up to the hype. Then there’s the USA, without their star players of recent years, but with a refreshing mix of youth and experience – and more shows under their belts in the past 12 months than many European contenders.
At a Games like no other, only one thing is certain – nothing in Tokyo will be guaranteed.
Who are the individual Olympic dressage medal contenders?
Charlotte Dujardin: The reigning Olympic champion will be gunning for a medal on her latest talent to explode on to the international dressage scene, Gio. They swept the board in Hagen in April, and while the 10-year-old has only done one international special to date, in May, it earned 81.43%. The little “pocket rocket” appears unfazed by atmosphere, thanks to his excellent temperament, and loves to show off. Charlotte says: “No matter what I ask of him, he always delivers.” We can’t wait to see what they can produce in Tokyo.
Isabell Werth: As reigning European and world champion, Isabell will be desperate to add the Olympic title to her beloved Bella Rose’s tally. This pair thrive under pressure – they have twice exceeded 90% in an international freestyle, both on big stages, and five-time Olympian Isabell certainly won’t be fazed in Tokyo, the biggest stage of all. Despite having had very few outings since winning gold at the 2019 Europeans, they have proved to be on their usual faultless form with another plus-90% score at the recent German national championships. That said, the Belissimo M mare is 17 now, and the journey to Tokyo, plus the intense heat, could take its toll.
Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl: Jessica and TSF Dalera have only been getting better and better since taking European individual bronze in 2019. Their delightful freestyle routine to music from La La Land earned more than 93% at the German national championships in June, and definitely has the potential to win gold. This supremely elegant mare boasts arguably the best piaffe in the world right now, and has almost no weakness, and Jessica has managed to get more shows under her belt over the past 12 months than most. They could come out on top in Tokyo.
Dorothee Schneider: Dorothee and Showtime FRH came agonisingly close to toppling Isabell Werth and Bella Rose at the 2019 Europeans – winning two individual silvers there with 90% in the freestyle. This mesmerising gelding’s career has been stilted through first injury and then the pandemic, but he is on great form heading into the Olympics. Dorothee and Showtime scored a fraction under 90% at the German championships, while Dorothee was still recovering from a broken collarbone – who knows what they can produce once she is back to full fitness.
Cathrine Dufour: Don’t be surprised to see this young Dane usurping a German on the individual podium. Cathrine is no stranger to individual medals, having won two European bronzes with Atterupgaards Cassidy, and the young, spicy Bohemian looks to have even more talent available to unlock. Cathrine is a superb test rider, who really knows how to show off her horse in the arena, usually with modern, funky music routines. Bohemian can be unpredictable, but if things go their way Cathrine could add to her medal collection in Tokyo.
Patrik Kittel: The experienced Patrik rates the lovely mare Well Done De La Roche CMF very highly. She has come on in leaps and bounds since making her championships debut in 2018, and scored a personal best of 86.12% at the end of 2019. Patrik is a true showman, who loves to delight the crowds with daring freestyle programmes and bold music, and he will revel in the chance to claim his first-ever individual medal.
Edward Gal: Edward has hinted that his latest star Total US could be better than his sire, the late, great Totilas. If he is, watch out Tokyo. The flamboyant stallion is only nine, and made his grand prix debut earlier this year, but he swept the board at his first international in April and also dazzled the judges on home soil at Rotterdam CDIO5* in early July. If the young stallion can keep his cool on the biggest stage of all, he could make a bid for a podium.
Horse & Hound’s Olympic dressage medal predictions
For more key stats, plus other riders to look out for, don’t miss Horse & Hound’s ultimate guide to Tokyo, on sale Thursday 15 July
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