Brits in Olympic dressage top two so far

First day dressage leaders Carl Hester and Uthopia.
First day dressage leaders Carl Hester and Uthopia. © Kit Houghton/FEI

British riders hold the top two positions after the opening day of dressage at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Greenwich Park on Thursday.

Danish rider Anne van Olst had the honour of being the first rider to canter up the meridian line in the Greenwich Arena to get the competition under way with Clearwater, and the combination set a good benchmark of 71.322%.  The British Team was drawn fifth of 10 teams on Tuesday which meant team pathfinder Carl Hester, competing in his fourth Olympics, was relatively early in the running order at seventh to go.

He entered the arena on the dark bay stallion Uthopia to rapturous applause, countless waving Union Flags and an electric atmosphere and got off to a breath taking start with the horse’s trademark extended trot. An expensive mistake came when Uthopia changed in the extended canter across the diagonal but this was the only major error in an otherwise fabulous performance for a score of 77.72% to take the lead.

“That’s my second international show of the year so I’m very happy, it felt like a good performance; I know it’s not the highest mark I’ve had but I have to take into account it’s the Olympics, it’s the toughest standard, and I’m obviously in the first group,” Hester said.

“I’m delighted, we had one mistake where he changed in the extended canter which was costly, that took me down under the 78% which would have been my ideal score I think to start with but hey, 77% is still great. The horse felt good, he’s moving well and you can’t prepare a horse for what we’ve just done. There’s nowhere in the world that I’ve been on a young horse that could prepare for the noise and the feeling and the atmosphere, so all that taken into account I’ve had a great ride and it’s a good start for us.”

The second Danish rider suffered the worst of the showery conditions when Anna Kasprzak performed in a monsoon with Donnperignon but they still managed 75.289%.

The tension rose the turn of the first team riders from the Netherlands and Germany came around.  Dutch rider Anky van Grunsven made history by becoming the first dressage rider to compete in seven Olympics and is the defending champion.  With Salinero she put in a strong performance for 73.343% which was not enough to take the lead but certainly a good start for the Netherlands. On to Dorothee Schneider and Diva Royal for Britain’s  biggest team challengers, Germany, whose dominance of this sport at Olympic level includes 12 team and seven individual titles.  The combination was strong throughout but a combination of small mistakes made an impact to give them a final score of 76.277% and third place so far.

Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris, currently in second place.
Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris, currently in second place. © Kit Houghton/FEI

It was then the turn of Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris, who certainly belied his 17 years in looking better than ever, to a great British reception. The pair certainly projected a different picture to that four years ago in Hong Kong as they were a picture of true harmony.  Ironically, as eventers Mary King and Tina Cook had done in having the same two fences down in the individual show jumping round, ‘Alf’ also threw in a change in the extended canter as Uthopia had done.  As Bechtolsheimer left the arena the score sat at 71% but with final marks and collectives, the final total was 76.839% which gave them second overall.

Bechtolsheimer wasn’t entirely content with her score, which leaves her just under one percentage point behind Hester as the second tranche of riders take on the Grand Prix challenge on Friday.

“I’m pretty gutted for my team that the score didn’t reflect what we thought it would be,” said the 27-year-old British rider who took three silver medals at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky two years ago with the same horse.

“It is by far the lowest percentage that I’ve had in a few years. I hope it is just because the marks are lower here,” she said.

The British rider produced a powerful and eye-catching performance, but there were mistakes including one in the extended canter, where Hester also faltered, and she didn’t overtake her team-mate as she had clearly expected to do. “I felt like Mistral Hojris put in a really solid performance as always,” she said afterwards with disappointment in her voice.

“In parts he got a bit strong, but I was always able to bring him back. He remained concentrated and focused throughout the test, and I felt like I put in a solid performance.

“The crowd are very, very supportive and it’s unbelievable to ride in front of a home crowd like that – I felt very much carried by that the whole way through. I felt Alf put in a really solid performance as usual, I had one little mistake at the end of the extended canter – I copied my team mate Carl Hester we seemed to have made exactly the same mistake,”  Bechtolsheimer said.

“Some days [the draw] turns out to be a great advantage, other times a disadvantage, at the end of the day it’s one of those things you can’t control as a rider and you just have to focus on your performance and give your best in the ring and forget about the rest of that stuff as its really not something you can influence.”

Dorothee Schneider and Diva Royal are in third place.
Dorothee Schneider and Diva Royal are in third place. © Kit Houghton/FEI

But if Bechtolsheimer thought she was having a bad day, it was nothing compared to the nightmare elimination incurred by Canada’s David Marcus after his 12-year-old gelding Capita, went into a dizzy spin when disturbed by the crowd during one of a series of rainstorms that swept across the arena. No matter how hard he tried, the rider couldn’t get the horse back under control, and his departure has ensured that only nine of the 10 teams that started are still medal-contenders because, with only three riders per team, every score counts and the Canadians are down to just two.

“Things were going fine until he spotted a TV camera in the corner,” Marcus said. “And the crowd were moving around in their seats due to the rain, and it all went wrong. He doesn’t normally do anything like that. It was totally out of character and I am desperately disappointed.”

Hester set the standard when last to go of the first group, riding the 11-year-old stallion, Uthopia, on whom he won team gold and double individual silver at the FEI European Championships last year. He was already thinking about how his score would affect Great Britain, considering the new format which means that the team title will be decided by combined scores from both the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special. Asked if the format will assist his team’s chances he replied, “potentially it will. Valegro (Charlotte Dujardin’s horse) and Mistral Hojris (Laura Bechtolsheimer) are both ‘hot’ horses, and having another chance to compete in the Grand Prix Special just might help them.”

Having posted 77.720 to take the lead, he said of Uthopia, “he’s the coolest horse around. If I say walk, he walks, if I say stop, he stops. He’s a bit like a computer with a furry body!”

Defending individual Olympic champion, The Netherlands’ Anky Van Grunsven, who is the only dressage rider to win three back-to-back Olympic titles and who set a new record when becoming the first dressage rider to compete at seven Olympic Games, lined out in the second group of riders with her double Olympic champion ride Salinero to rack up a score of 73.343 which slotted her into fifth place. But she was battling strong emotions.

“It has been very difficult. My husband (Dutch team trainer Sjef Janssen) fell ill today. He has flu, but because he had an operation for a tumour last November, I had to get someone to be with him this morning. He is OK but it was a big worry for me. I blocked it out while I was in the ring but now I am thinking about it,” she said. “This is the first time in my seven Olympics Games that he has not been here to watch me,” she added tearfully.

But  she is determined to continue to support the Dutch dressage effort. “This time I am only here for the team, not for myself. If it was for my own result, I could have stayed at home. I do not have a good chance this time, but it is the team that matters,” she said.

Part owner Ann Romney cheers on Rafalca, ridden by Jan Ebeling (USA) to 13th place.
Part owner Ann Romney cheers on Rafalca, ridden by Jan Ebeling (USA) to 13th place. © Kit Houghton/FEI

Schneider followed her into the ring to take temporary second place, and then Denmark’s Anna Kaksprzak and Donnperignon slotted into third with a score of 75.289. But when Bechtolsheimer entered the ring, the leader board was altered as she wedged herself into runner-up spot between Hester and Schneider ahead of the second day.

More solid performances can be expected on Friday, but the remaining two members of the Canadian dressage team are now competing as individuals following Marcus’ elimination. Jacqueline Brooks posted 68.526 with D’Niro, and Ashley Holzer and Breaking Dawn will take their turn on Friday. It’s been a stormy Olympic Games for the Canadians so far, their eventing team failing to finish with three eliminations on cross-country day and their dressage team chances now also dashed.

Only five teams have had two riders go in the first session, so it’s early days for honours in the team results.

The USA’s Tina Konyot who will kick off the actionon day two  with Calacto V, while Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill from Germany will bring the day to a close.

• There have been some changes to the Olympic Dressage format since the Beijing 2008 Games. There is a panel of seven judges for each test. All seven award marks in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special. These points are used to calculate the percentage scores.

During the Grand Prix Freestyle, three judges award the technical marks and four judges award artistic marks. The total is used to calculate the percentage scores which decide the final individual classification.

The oldest horse competing in dressage at the London 2012 Olympic Games is the 18-year-old Salinero, ridden by Anky Van Grunsven, who is defending the individual title she has won on three consecutive occasions and the only dressage rider ever to take three back-to-back Olympic titles – at Sydney (AUS) in 2000, Athens (GRE) in 2004 and Beijing (CHN) in 2008.

The youngest horses are all 10-year-olds – Diva Royal ridden by German team member Dorothee Schneider, Don Auriello ridden by Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven, Dorina competed by Norway’s Siril Helljesen) and Valegro ridden by Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin.

The highest placed 11 riders (including all riders tied for 11th place) not otherwise participating as qualified team members, plus all riders from the best seven teams (including all teams tied for seventh place), qualify for the individual second qualifier (Grand Prix Special).

The judging panel took positions around the dressage arena as follows: At K – Wim Ernes (NED); At E – Jean-Michel Roudier (FRA); At H – Leif Tornblad (DEN); At C – Gary Rockwell (USA); At M – Stephen Clarke (GBR); At B – Maribel Alonso (MEX): At F – Evi Eisenhardt (GER).

Rider comments

Minna Telde (SWE), asked  how her inexperienced, one-eyed horse (Santana) coped with the occasion, scoring 67.77: “Only quite well. He was scared by the sound of all the cameras clicking and we made two big mistakes. Apart from that, he was very willing and very forward-going. His (lack of an) eye is an extra thing to take care of. He can see nothing to the left and has to rely on me to tell him it is OK. He has to believe me. It’s a matter of trust between us.”

Anabel Balkenhol (GER) on her performance with Dablino, finishing on a mark of 70.973: “My horse was pretty hot. He was very excited about the spectators. He can get scared and he managed quite well.  I am not over the moon, but it was really OK. This horse has all the possibilities and it will be sad if I cannot show him again.”

Emma Kanerva (FIN) – On her test, riding Spirit to a score of 70.395: “I’m very relieved, that is the biggest arena I have ever ridden in. My horse concentrated on what I was saying to him, he stayed with me. It was a shame we had two mistakes as usually he is perfect.”

Patrick van der Meer (NED) – On his performance with Uzzo, scoring 71.003: “It went well but I made a very expensive mistake in the flying changes. That movement counts double and probably cost me a personal best. I will work for four years as Rio (2016) was always my aim. This is my own horse and he does not have a lot of experience.”


The enthusiastic dressage crowd.
The enthusiastic dressage crowd. © Kit Houghton/FEI

First day results

Rk no Rider Horse Result +
1 227 Great Britain HESTER C UTHOPIA 77.720 +
2 224 Great Britain BECHTOLSHEIMER L MISTRAL HOJRIS 76.839 +
3 230 Germany SCHNEIDER D DIVA ROYAL 76.277 +
4 213 Denmark KASPRZAK A DONNPERIGNON 75.289 +
5 239 Netherlands VAN GRUNSVEN A SALINERO 73.343 +
7 207 Belgium FASSAERT C DONNERFEE 71.793 +
8 255 Denmark VAN OLST A CLEARWATER 71.322 +
9 228 Germany BALKENHOL A DABLINO 70.973 +
10 238 Netherlands VAN DER MEER P UZZO 70.912 +
11 222 Finland LINDH M MAS GUAPO 70.729 +
12 221 Finland KANERVA E SPIRIT 70.395 +
13 251 United States of America EBELING J RAFALCA 70.243 +
14 232 Ireland MERVELDT A CORYOLANO 69.772 +
15 203 Australia OATLEY L SANDRO BOY 69.377 +
16 220 Spain MARTIN DOCKX JM GRANDIOSO 69.043 +
17 234 Japan HOKETSU H WHISPER 68.739 +
18 209 Canada BROOKS J D’ NIRO 68.526 +
19 202 Australia OATLEY K CLIVE 68.222 +
20 247 Sweden TELDE M SANTANA 67.477 +
21 243 Poland RAPCEWICZ M RANDON 66.915 +
22 208 Brazil TAVARES DE ALMEIDA PASTOR 65.866 +
23 241 New Zealand HILL L ANTONELLO 65.258 +
24 235 Morocco RAHMOUNI Y FLORESCO 64.453 +

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