Richard Davison: Learning how to “win ugly” *H&H VIP*

  • Aachen had it all — drama, controversy, smooth organisation and surprise results.

    In contrast to last year’s World Equestrian Games, the German dressage Mecca lived up to its reputation and delivered an experience that left national teams, spectators and officials wanting for nothing.

    The FEI’s new concept of starting the teams in world ranking order created an exciting climax for those medals. There’s no question that the Netherlands deserved to take home team gold.

    While key riders from other nations underperformed to various degrees, each Dutch rider stepped up to the plate. Team GBR fought hard to claim another silver and maintain our consistent championship tally.

    An otherwise superb show was marred only by the Totilas fiasco. While some observers reacted by focusing on the variation in how the judges penalised his unlevelness, others questioned if the various safety checks had failed him.

    Internal reflections among FEI officials, the German Federation and even Totilas’ connections will rumble on. But, by starting him in Aachen in pursuit of a team medal, it is only right to scrutinise whether his welfare was compromised.

    As is customary in Aachen, the educated audience didn’t hold back from expressing their disapproval by whistling aloud. However, it all got a bit “Last Night of the Proms” when the whistles of those condemning the judges for not halting Totilas’ test (for his unlevel steps) were countered by others whistling to complain the judges had not awarded him enough points. For a moment a farcical sideshow erupted between factions in one stand.

    Highs and lows

    Quality horsepower is now spread across so many nations and equine eye-candy was rife. Rising stars such as Dutchman Diederik van Silfout’s Arlando, Russian Inessa Merkulova’s Mister X and our own Fiona Bigwood’s Atterupgaards Orthilia were the hot gossip.

    Likewise, masterclasses in test riding were provided by the likes of Edward Gal in the grand prix, Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin in the special and Isabell Werth in the kür.

    Edward’s sensational start looked set to put pressure on Charlotte, and bag him an individual medal. So it was extra gutting that it all went wrong for him in the special.

    As to the judging, there were plenty of examples of unity and agreement. But alas, when the differences did appear they were of jaw-dropping proportions. Thank goodness the judges’ supervisory panel could limit some, but not all, of the damage.

    It was also a pity that by the kür, the strength of competition had dwindled slightly, due to rider and horse injuries.

    Knowing Charlotte’s quest for perfection, she will view this Europeans as a roller-coaster of personal performances, and for the first time give her a taste of, to quote Clare Balding and Brad Gilbert, what “winning ugly” feels like. But two individual European gold medals and one team silver are home on British soil; so for Team GBR, it’s mission accomplished. In becoming the twice double European dressage champion, Charlotte is still setting records.

    When it comes to predicting who will take the scalps next year in Rio, it could come down to who is the smartest, and which teams work outside the box between now and then.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 20 August 2015