There was little doubt that Germany would once again take team dressage gold at Tryon; it was more a matter of how big the margin was going to be.
The Germans were the only team to post two Grand Prix scores topping 80%; the unstoppable Isabell Werth leading the individual rankings on 84.829% with Bella Rose, and Sonke Rothenberger with 81.444% on Cosmo.
Backed up by Jessica von Bredow-Werndl’s first-day score of 76.677% on TSF Dalera BB, the almighty total of 242.950 was just too formidable to catch.
But the really interesting battle was for the lower steps of the podium.
At one stage, an extraordinary six teams were genuine contenders, showing how much the sport of dressage has opened up in recent years.
Great Britain were sitting in silver medal position with Charlotte Dujardin still to ride, and her 77.764% performance on the very inexperienced Mount St John Freestyle had them finish with a team total of 229.628.
It was up to the final rider for Sweden, Patrik Kittel, to push the Brits off the podium – but he needed a personal best of 78.3% on his 10-year-old mare, Well Done De La Roche CMF. They came agonisingly close, with a score of 78.19% more than 2% ahead of their previous best score, and the Brits were guaranteed at least bronze.
Last to go was the USA’s Laura Graves, and the scores were so close that even a few minor mistakes would have cost the home side a medal.
But Laura’s near flawless ride – with just a few marks deducted in the walk movements – saw her with a massive 81.63% which brought her team’s score up to 233.229, and to silver.
Great Britain was thrilled with bronze; as Carl Hester says, his team was determined to prove that there was life in British dressage post-Valegro.
“For the last six or seven years, people have though British dressage was all about Valegro, and the rest of us just chipped in at the back… now he’s retired and as amazing as he was, it’s given us all the will to prove we have depth and can keep winning medals,” he says.
Carl himself put in a very strong performance on the elegant Hawtins Delicato, scoring 77.283%, while the third counting score was Spencer Wilton’s 74.581% on Super Nova II.
Charlotte was delighted with her mare’s just sixth Grand Prix. “To be honest I didn’t really know how it would go. She’s not done much at all in that kind of atmosphere, so for me it was just about trying to go in and give her the best ride I could, to give her confidence, and not try and ride for too much.”
The test had some very small errors – such as a blip in the one-time changes – but Charlotte says these mistakes are easily fixed.
Being at her first major championship without the multi-medal winning Valegro was a new phase for her, but Charlotte is more than up for the challenge. “I’m a fighter, and I feel very proud to have another horse I’ve trained – I’ve had her since she was five and competed her all up the levels. To have her at a major championship is as good as winning another gold!”
Laura Graves, who’d shown once again what a cool customer she is under intense pressure, says she was very proud of what the home side was able to achieve. Her score was backed up with Kasey Perry-Glass’ 76.739% on Goerklintgaards Dublet, plus the 74.86% scored by Adrienne Lyle and Salvino on the first day.
“Sure it’s a lot of pressure, but adrenalin is such an amazing thing. From the second I got in the saddle I was totally ready to go,” she says.
But she warns that in the oppressive heat at Tryon, with the GP Special tomorrow, and even with a rest day before the freestyle, fitness is going to play a big part in the rest of the competition. “The Special is a long test… it really will be a test of fitness in this weather.”
Sweden in the end was an agonising 0.172 marks away from a medal for fourth, the Netherlands were fifth with 223.664 and Spain sixth on 220.186. Denmark, missing its number-one ranked rider, was seventh on 216.584 and Australia relieved to have qualified for Tokyo, eighth on 210.016. Only one Australian rider made the cut to get into the GP Special though; Kristy Oatley on Du Soleil, who scored 71.584%.
Unfortunately for New Zealand, the high overall scores meant that the bar was set at 70.233% for the top-30 riders continuing to the second part of the competition; with 68.991% Julie Brougham and Vom Feinsten were 36th individually.
The day belonged overall to Isabell, who was openly emotional after a practically perfect test on the sublime Bella Rose, the mammoth 84.752% score a huge personal best for the mare who’d had nearly four years off with an injury sustained at the last World Equestrian Games.
“I’m so happy, this is so so special to come back after four years with Bella, most of the riders know how close my heart is to this horse,” she says. “I was so happy and so emotional just to be going in, and through the test I could really enjoy it, on last centreline I realised this was a very special day. I’m so proud of this horse.”