Dressage's rising star shines even brighter

August 27, 2009

On another record-breaking day of dressage, the Dutch secured their second successive team title and their final rider, Edward Gal, set a new world record in the Grand Prix at the Alltech FEI European Jumping and Dressage Championships at Windsor, Great Britain yesterday.

Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas. © Kit Houghton/FEI

The winning Dutch team, from left to right: Imke Schellekens-Bartels, Edward Gal, Adelinde Cornelissen, and Anky van Grunsven. © Remko Veurink, www.jmint.eu

Already leading after the first two team members completed their tests on the previous day, gold was secured when third-line rider, Olympic champion Anky Van Grunsven, added a score of 73.872% to the Dutch tally. And Gal then put the icing on the cake when wowing the crowd with another sensational performance from the fabulous stallion Moorlands Totilas who is taking this sport by storm.

The home crowd had plenty to celebrate when Great Britain claimed silver ahead of Germany - Laura Bechtolsheimer's excellent score of 76.638% opening the door and Emma Hindle sealing it when last in for the host country. Germany had to settle for bronze, but it was a significant achievement for the once-dominant nation that struggled so hard during the selection process due to absence and injuries.

Van Grunsven said that Salinero was nervous going into the ring "and he doesn't like the weather, he likes it hot but it's cold and windy here!" she said. She admitted they made "too many mistakes" - the 15-year-old gelding breaking during the second canter changes and unwilling to halt properly on either entry or completion of the test. "I'm not depressed" she said, however, "I hope now he will settle down and tomorrow we will be much better".

Van Grunsven entered the ring with Salinero while the crowd were cheering Laura Bechtolsheimer's performance: "I did it on purpose, it's good for him to hear that, Salinero should be old enough to do that now," she said.

Bechtsolheimer's personal-best result seriously strengthened Britain's chances. Her 14-year-old chestnut gelding, Mistral Hojris, earning consistently good marks in passage and awarded three 9's for his final piaffe.

"This has been his best-ever season" said the 24-year-old from Gloucestershire who graduated from Bristol University two years ago with degrees in Philosophy and Politics and whose father, Wilfried, was also a British dressage team member.

"This is the most honest horse I've ever ridden and I've worked hard with our Sports Psychologist, Joss Brooks, since returning from Hong Kong last year. I've learned that there is only so much you can do and after that it's up to your horse and yourself to do your very best on the day - don't get hung up on the mistakes" she pointed out.

And she is really looking forward to tomorrow's Grand Prix Special and Saturday's Freestyle - "I've done my bit for the team, so now I can take all the risks I want and really go for it!" she said.

When Hindle came into the ring in the closing stages it was clear that a score of over 70.512% would clinch silver for the home team. Matthias-Alexander Rath and Stertaler-Unicef had kept the pressure on when returning a mark of 75.617%, but it was not quite enough to tilt the balance when the final German representatives, Monika Theodorescu and Whisper, registered 72.340%. Hindle kept a clear head and with strong scores for passage and pirouette she exceeeded the percentage required when registering 72.936% with Lancet.

So the British edged the Germans into bronze by a margin of just 2.425% to take their second-ever team silver finishing spot, the last recorded in 1993 when Emile Faurie also claimed individual bronze.

Laura Bechtolsheimer riding Mistral Hojris was the highest scoring member of the silver medal winning British Team. © Kit Houghton/FEI
Gal brought the afternoon to the perfect conclusion with another breathtaking test from Moorlands Totilas. The black stallion moves so freely he almost tips his nose with his knees as he fires his forelegs into action in extended trot and lifts them high in passage and piaffe. He is already creating an awestruck atmosphere every time he strides into the arena, and you could hear a pin drop, and sighs of delight from the crowd, as he executed so many of his rider's instructions to near-perfection.

The judges clearly loved him, and the crowd gave this exciting partnership a rousing reception as they took their bow after picking up 9's and 10's all over the place to shoot to the top of the individual scoreboard with 84.085% - a new record-breaking Grand Prix dressage score. He pushed his team-mate, first-day leader Adelinde Cornelissen, into individual second spot with Parzival while Bechtolsheimer claimed third.

Asked how it feels to ride a horse with such exquisite movement Gal said afterwards "it feels so good, but you have to be careful how much pressure you put on him because when it goes wrong it goes REALLY wrong!". And he believes that despite his already exceptional talent Totilas has even more to give "there is still some room for improvement" he said.

He recalled the first time he sat on the stallion because it was a bit scarey. "I didn't like him at all, he had so much power and I wasn't convinced I could control it," so the next time he went back to try him he took a friend who sat up on the horse first.

Of course it's a different story now and he wouldn't part with him for the world. "We've had lots of offers for him but he's not for sale - as long as I want to ride him he will not be sold and I want to ride him until we score 100%!" he added. Somehow with Totilas, that doesn't seem altogether impossible ...

"My horse doesn't know he's a star," said Gal, "he doesn't feel arrogant or anything, he just does what he does because he can.

"If Totilas has a weakness then the only thing is his age."

Russian rider Alexandra Korelova had a disappointing ride on Balagur, finishing 22nd individually. "If he wants he can do anything - today he wanted it too much I think. He was in a bit of a hurry!" she said.

Sweden finished fourth, just over four percentage points behind the Germans in bronze medal position and just over one percentage point ahead of Denmark in fifth place. Tomorrow the top-30 go into the Grand Prix Special and the best 15 then go forward to Saturday's Freestyle.

The horses did not come into the ring for the medal ceremony. "The decision to have only the riders in the ring was taken following concerns expressed about the welfare of some horses before the prize-giving," said David Holmes, FEI Executive Sports Director. "The most important thing is the welfare of the horse".