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Dressage gold for Edward Gal and Totilas

September 30, 2010

There were few surprises for those in the know when Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas won individual dressage gold for the Netherlands at the World Equestrian Games earlier today (local time).

Edward Gal celebrates his individual gold medal win on Moorlands Totilas at the Dressage World Championships. © Dirk Caremans

Edward Gal interview

Edward Gal in het Nederlands

Silver medalist Laura Bechtolsheimer on Mistral Hojris.

Laura B interview

Steffen Peters and Ravel. © Dirk Caremans/FEI

Steffen Peters interview

Individual medal winners on the podium Edward Gal (gold), is flanked by Laura Bechtolsheimer (silver), and Steffen Peters (bronze). Laura Bechtolsheimer said: "I felt quite short on the podium between these two guys today!" © Dirk Caremans/FEI

A crowd of 31,026 watched as Gal and Totilas made Dutch dressage history today when becoming the first combination from The Netherlands to win the World Championship Grand Prix Special title at the World Games.

But this extraordinary pair are also on the brink of adding another record to the list they just keep on compiling. If they can add Friday's Freestyle to their haul, then they will become the first partnership ever to take both titles, and on present form they look well-set for a hat-trick of gold after yesterday's team victory.

Great Britain's Laura Bechtolsheimer on Mistral Hojris put up a new British record Grand Prix Special score, 81.708%, to secure the silver medal. She became the first British rider ever to take World Championship silver in the Special. The previous best British result was bronze for Jennie-Loriston Clarke and Dutch Courage back in 1978 at Goodwood (GBR).

Bechtolsheimer, 25, and Mistral Horjis, owned by her parents Dr Wilfried and Ursula Bechtolsheimer, had a test of pure harmony and elegance which included several tens.

"I've worked hard to keep his focus for the Grand Prix special and I'm pretty happy with silver," Bechtolsheimer said. "I probably had a better chance of winning gold yesterday as he was more relaxed - he made me work quite hard today! I didn't hear my mark for a long time as I was too busy telling my horse he was a legend."

In the press conference, one journalist asked if she'd considered swapping nationalities for Germany where she was actually born, she replied; "I only lived in Germany for one year - I grew up in Britain, went to school in Britain, all my friends are in Britain and I'm proud to compete for Britain!"

Steffen Peters won bronze for the United States. It is believed that this marks the first US individual dressage medal in a world championship. For Peters, 46, the win was extra meaningful considering his brush with the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he ended up taking fourth.

Peters was emotional afterwards. "I've been counting the days and hours since I missed that bronze medal in Hong Kong," he said, "so this means a lot to me. I can't believe how lucky I am, what he (Ravel) did for me today was unbelievable".

Peters was born in Germany and immigrated to United States in 1992. He rode on his first US team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, winning the team bronze medal. At the 2006 World Equestrian Games, Peters and Ravel, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, led the US team to the bronze medal. After their painfully close fourth at the 2008 Olympics, they won the FEI World Cup Final in 2009.

"Certainly yesterday was a huge pressure for the team, but there's never been a bronze medal for the US. before, so I was beside myself on the podium," Peters said.

It was The Netherlands' Imke Schellekens-Bartels and Hunter Douglas Sunrise who held the lead as the final five partnerships took their turn in the arena. And the Dutch duo's score of 74.792 was unchallenged by the defending champion, Germany's Isabell Werth, whose 14 year old gelding Warum Nicht was unsettled throughout his test, producing a score of 72.000 that was only good enough for 10th spot in the final analysis.

Peters was next to go, and to the delight of the home crowd swept Schellekens-Bartel's target aside when firmly posted into pole position by all five judges. But the German-born rider's time at the head of affairs would be short, as Bechtolsheimer, with her exquisitely light touch, steered Mistral Hojris to improve on the American's score by almost three full points.

Second-last into the arena were the crowd-pleasing partnership of Spain's Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz and his delightful dancing stallion Fuego XII Their score of 76.842 would leave them just out of a medal position, but Spain's rising fortunes in the sport of dressage have been clearly evidenced this week and the PRE stallion and his rider, who first rose to prominence when winning the Spanish Championships in 2008, today threw down the gauntlet as top-level contenders.

Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz and Fuego XII. © Kit Houghton/FEI
But Gal and Totilas were once again in a class of their own. From the outset, judges Cara Witham (CAN), Stephen Clarke (GBR), Mary Seefried (AUS), Maribel Alonso (MEX) and Linda Zang (USA) rewarded the passage and piaffe with nines and tens and it seemed the score might come dangerously close to the World Record 86.460 they set in Aachen this summer. That didn't quite happen despite straight tens for the final passage and more straight tens for Gal's riding position as the scoreboard showed 85.667 but the victory was, once more, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Firsts are now all in a day's work for the Dutch stars, and Gal said afterwards that the stallion was much more relaxed than he had been yesterday, "and that meant I could take a little more risk today," he said.

Asked how it feels to ride this much-admired horse who has already established a legendary reputation he stumbled to explain, as he always does.

"It's so difficult to describe the feeling" he said, "you'd have to ride him to feel it and that's something I won't allow!" he said to a wave of laugher. "I know he's always there for me, he doesn't want to make any mistakes even when I screw up. He's such an amazing horse."

"He has so much energy and so much power, but you always have the feeling that you can control it. And he doesn't want to make a mistake, ever. I don't think I will ever get to ride another horse like him."

Commenting on a rumour that Totilas has been sold to the USA, Gal said: "I've heard those rumours too, but I can confirm there is nothing going on!"

Bechtolsheimer reflected on the fact that the sport is developing so fast and the standard is constantly being raised. "The guys just keep getting better and better, and it's a lot more open now. It used to be just Isabell and Anky (Van Grunsven/NED), but now quite a few of us feel like we have a chance and it makes the sport more exciting," she said.

She's been in amazing form herself this week, and in Friday night's Freestyle she will be hoping that she might just get that chance and take full advantage of it. But the one they all have to overcome is the black stallion whose record-breaking run just seems to go on, and on.

Ground Jury president Mary Seefried (Australia) said the top riders put on a "show of harmony, classic riding and certainly entering goose bump territory!"

When asked about the best elements of the performances of the riders today, she said: "for the first three it was harmony with the horse, the horses are so well-trained and responsive that the riders can create great energy. For the Spanish horse it was his wllingness to work - he must give a great feeling to his rider."



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