British grand prix dressage rider and trainer Anna Ross on Europeans fervour and how team efforts bring stars together
What a competition the European Dressage Championships have been: the highest standard I’ve ever witnessed. After Britain bagged the team gold medal, there were only four people feeling under pressure for the grand prix special and freestyle… the rest of us could just sit back and enjoy their rides.
It’s always more exciting when the outcome doesn’t seem inevitable and although the favourite prevailed, there was a battle royale for the gold medals. The Brits were outstanding – I’m going to put it out there and say Lottie Fry was my freestyle winner.
Seeing all the British blue T-shirts led me to reflect on how many people actually make up a British team. It’s easy to think it’s just four riders, but in reality the team is the front line with an army behind. The army is not just those on the battlefield – or the field of play, as it’s known in sport – but is made up of owners, grooms, vets, farriers, saddle fitters, breeders, parents, partners, supporters and many others who help bring the riders and horses together.
When British team chef d’equipe Caroline Griffiths told me a few years ago that the team members would need to score more than 80% to be in medal positions, there was a mountain to climb despite previous successes. We’ve had superstar combinations and strong teams behind them but the sport has evolved, and now it’s necessary to have three superstars with a solid back-up. It was no easy task to bring it all to a perfect storm on the day – but in Riesenbeck it happened.
Strength in depth is key to do this, and it’s not only us who have it. Germany effortlessly replaced Sönke Rothenburger’s injured ride with another 74% horse and rider in Matthias Rath and Thiago GS. Meanwhile, our British reserve horses (Jagerbomb and Indigro) are only nine and 10 years old respectively and are improving fast, along with a promising chasing group.
Nanna Skodborg Merrald and Blue Hors Zepter make an exciting superstar combination for Denmark, while their former top team member Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour brings her next horses up the levels. As the lead rider for Blue Hors, Nanna will have plenty of horsepower behind Zepter.
The bronze-medal winning Danish team also had two young horses in Jovian (Andreas Helgstrand) and Vayron (Daniel Bachmann Andersen) who will be aimed at the Olympics, and I’m sure Denmark can keep quality horses coming through.
The legacy of these medals is the inspiration to all our other riders, both young and old, to do better, to aim higher and to continue the standard set. The rest of our British army needs to keep marching to ensure that our teams have horses for the future. And the riders, unless they are self-funded, will need to possess the business management and social skills to collaborate with those who can provide for them.
We can produce both very good horses and very good riders in this country; the task is to make sure that they meet and their teams are supported. A good example of this is 24-year-old Anna Jesty. While her international under-25 grand prix win in Belgium will be understandably overshadowed, being the same weekend as the Europeans, it was another British-bred horse, another Union flag raised for our country and another top talent preparing for the future with young horses behind.
Getting behind Abi Lyle
Spare a thought for the Irish riders, who did not have Lady Luck on their side last week. It makes it even more tragic that their hard-fought Olympic team spot earned in 2019 was effectively wasted when the then team management decided not to send a team to Tokyo. We are all rallying behind Abi Lyle, who is based here in the UK, as she makes her bid for Paris as an individual.
This has been a golden year to be a British Dressage member, made even more exciting with an Olympics just around the corner. With medal-winning performances from our junior, young rider, para and senior teams, the national championships this weekend are going to have a real party atmosphere.
● Who was your winner of the individual medals at the Europeans? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your views published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine
- This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 14 September, 2023
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