Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro swept to victory with the greatest of ease in the latest World Cup series competition, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on Saturday.
The 29-year-old rider returned from New Zealand only a few days ago after presenting Masterclasses in Hamilton and Christchurch, and admitted to feeling “seriously jet-lagged”. But such is the exceptional relationship she has with the 13-year-old Valegro that she only fell 0.4 points short of the world-record Freestyle score the pair set at Olympia, London in December when coming out on top by a considerable in the sixth leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage 2014/2015 Western European League series.
The result sheet reflected that of Friday’s Grand Prix, with exactly the same horse-and-rider combinations filling the top five places. The Netherlands’ Danielle Heijkoop (Siro NOP) filled runner-up spot ahead of Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl (Unee BB) in third, and Dutch riders Diederik van Silfhout (Arlando) and Hans Peter Minderhoud (Glock’s Flirt) claimed fourth and fifth places. However, despite the quality of the field, Dujardin’s absolute supremacy was unmistakable as her nearest rival finished more than 11 marks behind her winning score of 93.900.
The Amsterdam crowd were treated to a great day of sport, with Germany’s Isabell Werth and El Santo NRW lighting up the arena with a powerful and expressive test that just oozed with fun. When you have a trophy cabinet filled to the brim with Olympic and World Championship gold medals you are entitled to have as much fun as you like, and with her 14-year-old gelding grooving to the sound of David Bowie, the 45-year-old veteran swept into the lead on a mark of 76.775 just before the judging break.
But Denmark’s Agnete Kirk Thinggaard, who has rocketed to prominence this season, went out in front as soon as the action resumed when posting 78.050. This pair are exciting to watch, showing great balance and rhythm in passage in particular, and demonstrating tremendous harmony between their music and their floorplan.
Two rides later, Dujardin and Valegro set the new target so high that there was never any doubt about the final outcome. The Olympic, European and World champion was smiling even before she began, and Valegro just settled to his job, drumming out that now familiar perfect piaffe and passage and sitting steady and low in canter pirouette as the scores came tumbling in thick and fast. Britain’s Stephen Clarke and Dutch judge Eduard de Wolff van Westerrode each awarded the pair artistic marks of 98.00 while Isabelle Judet from France gave them 96.00, and when their final total of 93.900 went up on the scoreboard it was very definitely a done deal.
Heijkoop wasn’t intimidated, following with a smooth, confident performance that highlighted her black gelding’s exceptional piaffe for a mark of 82.375. And Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, who continues to lead the Western European League standings after this leg, once again presented her courageous floorplan that embraces difficult transitions including canter to piaffe/pirouette to walk, for a strong score of 80.900.
Penultimate performer, Diederik van Silfhout with Arlando NH, posted 79.950 for fourth place while fellow-Dutchman, Hans Peter Minderhoud, brought the competition to a close with a calm and elegant test from Glock’s Flirt for fifth spot.
Dujardin was quick to thank her trainer, friend and mentor, Carl Hester, after the winning result. “Carl kept Blueberry (Valegro) ticking over while I was away in New Zealand, I’m always so grateful to him,” she said.
She wasn’t too pleased with her ride in Friday’s Grand Prix however, even though she won that by more than a seven-point margin. “I was really jet-lagged and I was terrible, I was so angry with myself for the way I rode!” she insisted.
She talked about what Valegro has been doing since re-setting the Grand Prix and Freestyle world records at Olympia last month. “He had a couple of weeks off over Christmas and then I started riding him for a couple of days before heading off (to New Zealand). But I only had three days to ride after I got back this week, so he’s a pretty amazing horse!”
And looking ahead to the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage 2014/2015 Final where they will be defending their title she said, “he won’t be doing anything until then. He isn’t the kind of horse that needs competition all the time, so our next outing will be Las Vegas, and after that we’ll be concentrating on getting ready for the European Championships”.
Runner-up, Danielle Heijkoop, reflected on her performance, saying “we had a bigger score at Mechelen (BEL) in December, but I’m very happy with how we went today”. Talking about her trainer, Anky van Grunsven who is a nine-time winner of the FEI World Cup Dressage title, 27-year-old Heijkoop said “we think alike, our attitude is that things can always be better, but for me the most important thing right now is that you can see our score is getting a little higher everywhere from last year, it’s all improving.”
Now riders are already thinking ahead to how their horses will respond to the bright lights and electric atmosphere of the Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas in just over two months’ time. “I’m so excited about it!” said Dujardin, “I know the crowd starts clapping before the finish, and the place is buzzing all the time, but hopefully Blueberry will be OK with all that and will put on a great show.”
Runner-up, Danielle Heijkoop, says that her gelding, Siro, can be “a little bit crazy” during the prize-giving ceremony and after he comes out of the arena, but that he is usually a thorough professional during his test. “Actually I think he will love it in Las Vegas, when he’s doing a test he really enjoys the crowd, and I hope it won’t be a problem for him”.
The next leg will take place Neumuenster, Germany on Sunday, February 15.
Result: 1, Valegro (Charlotte Dujardin) GBR 93.900; 2, Siro NOP (Danielle Heijkoop) NED 82.375; 3, Unee BB (Jessica von Bredow-Werndl) GER 80.900; 4, Arlando NH NOP (Diederik van Silfhout) NED 79.950; 5, Glock’s Flirt (Hans Peter Minderhoud) NED 79.250; 6, Jojo Az (Agnete Kirk Thinggaard) DEN 78.050; 7, Favourit (Sonke Rothenberger) GER 77.325; 8, El Santo NRW (Isabell Werth) GER 76.775; 9, Uzzo (Patrick van der Meer) NED 75.725; 10, Axis TSF (Terhi Stegars) 75.675; 11, Ulysses la Haya (Laurens van Lieren) NED 73.950; 12, Biggles 1015 (Kristian von Krusentierna) SWE 73.775; 13, Eres DI (Jeroen Devroe) BEL 73.275; 14, Sunny Boy (Juan Antonio Jimenez Cobo) ESP 73.175; 15, Thriller (Katja Gevers) NED 72.050.
Western European League standings after Round 6:
- Jessica von Bredow-Werndl GER – 71
- Danielle Heijkoop NED – 60
- Fabienne Lutkemeier GER – 54
- Hans Peter Minderhoud NED – 50
- Agnete Kirk Thinggaard DEN – 49
- Sonke Rothenberger GER – 47
- Edward Gal NED – 40
- Isabell Werth GER – 40
- Adelinde Cornelissen NED – 37
- Valentina Truppa ITA – 34