Sensational start to Tokyo dressage

All the action from the first day of the Grand Prix at Tokyo, with images from Libby Law

Jessica von Bredow-Werndl rides TSF Dalera, Photo: Libby Law Photography

It may have been a long time coming, but the opening day of dressage at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games more than lived up to expectations. Emotions ran high and so did the scores as superb individual performances saw The Netherlands take the early lead in the battle for the team title, while Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl set a personal best when posting the biggest mark of the evening, a massive 84.379%, with TSF Dalera, despite a spook entering the arena. 

“She wasn’t scared, she was just excited by the atmosphere. She didn’t expect it because it [has been] so silent every day here!”

“There was a lot of power, a lot of energy; she was very focused. When she is that ‘on’ I have to control my body 100% otherwise I can bring her out of balance. Now I will go away and analyse everything, and try to make [the Special] as good… or even a little bit better.”

Talking about how testing it was for the riders as well as the horses in the conditions at Baji Koen Equestrian Park, Jessica says, “to be honest I’m very fit, but at the centreline where I started the pirouettes I thought ‘gosh, it’s so exhausting!’ It was so hot in there and the humidity is extreme after the rain. It was tough.”

Her test was filled with highlights, and snaffled eight of the 10 perfect marks handed out by the judges. She had five scores of 10 for piaffe, and three more 10s for the passage-piaffe transitions. 

The top two from each of groups in the Grand Prix will qualify straight through to the freestyle, as well as the next best six combinations. Also through to the freestyle from group C was the USA’s Sabine Schut-Kery on Sanceo, who also scored a personal best with 78.42%.

Sabine Schut-Kery rides Sanceo. Photo: Libby Law Photography


The competition is divided into six groups, with three of those groups taking their turn on the first day, and it was Great Britain’s Lottie Fry and the impressive stallion Everdale who set the early target score when posting 77.096% to top Group A, follow by Sweden’s Therese Nilshagen in second with 75.14%.

Lottie Fry rides Everdale. Photo: Libby Law Photography

Denmark’s Cathrine Dufour was the leader of Group B, with a super 81.056% for her horse Bohemian.

“It was important for me to give him a really great feeling in the ring today”, Cathrine says. “I didn’t want to push too much because I wanted him to be comfortable in there. And even though there’s no audience there’s a vibe in the arena and they can feel it!”

Cathrine Dufour rides Bohemian. Photo: Libby Law Photography


Meanwhile Edward Gal’s score of 78.649% left him second in Group B and gave The Netherlands a firm basis on which to build their team challenge. His black stallion, Total US is only nine years old, and a son of the great Totilas. 

“You feel so much comparison, the same feeling when you give your leg, the same reaction. Totilas was more confident at his age – he (Total US) is a bit shy but I’ve done some more competitions with him now and I feel him getting more confident”, says Edward. 

Edward Gal and Total US. Photo: Libby Law Photography

His performance was backed up by that of his partner and team mate,  Hans-Peter Minderhoud, who bolstered the Dutch position with a score of 76.817% with Dream Boy.

Hans-Peter Minderhoud and Dream Boy. Photo: Libby Law Photography

Previously, dressage riders were only permitted to dress in modest colours, but following a change to those rules the Dutch dressage team have joined their jumping counterparts in wearing the brightest of bright orange jackets, so they stand out in every sense.

Carl Hester’s route to the individual final from group C is less certain. He pulled off a masterful performance with his elegant En Vogue, with the tall Jazz son visibly becoming more confident throughout. However, they had an expensive error in the two-time changes and in the extended canter, which pulled down their mark to 75.12%, leaving them fourth in what was a very competitive group.

“He’s never done [anything like] this before – this is enormous for him,” says Carl. “He’s nervous, he’s hot and all of those things and he was very on edge warming up. He actually was perfect… the fairly obvious mistakes were my two tempis and my extended canter.”

At the halfway mark, Carl is eighth overall, putting him in a good place to pick up one of the six “best of the rest” positions in the individual final.

Carl Hester and En Vogue. Photo: Libby Law Photography

The Grand Prix continues tonight when another 30 horse-and-rider combinations take their turn. And if Dorothee Schneider (Showtime) and Isabell Werth (Bella Rose) can come anyway close to the score achieved by their compatriot Jessica, then Germany looks well on the way to securing the Olympic dressage team title for the 14th time.

The number of countries now left in the medal race for the team title has been reduced from 15 to 14. The withdrawal of Victoria Max-Theurer and Abbegelen NRW, due to a tooth abscess, leaves Austria without a team.

Facts and Figures

The best two combinations in each group are as follows:

Group A – Great Britain’s Charlotte Fry and Everdale with 77.096 and Sweden’s Therese Nilshagen with Dante Weltino OLD 75.140.

Group B – Denmark’s Cathrine Dufour and Bohemian with 81.056 and The Netherlands Edward Gal with Total US scoring 78.649.

Group C – Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl with TSF Dalera and USA’s Sabine Schut-Kery with Sancero.

A big pat for Lottie Frey’s Everdale. Photo: Libby Law Photography