April 19—Lyon, France
Want to know how to break a world record?
Step 1: Work very hard for years on end.
Step 2: Don’t think about it.
Such is the wisdom of British dressage phenom Charlotte Dujardin, at least. And she would know, having shattered the world Grand Prix record (a record she herself had previously set twice already) today in the first leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Final, picking up an overall mark of 87.12 percent with her Olympic and European Championship gold-medal partner Valegro.
“I never really think about what score I’m going to get [when I go in the arena],” said Dujardin, who topped her previous record of 85.94 percent, set at the 2013 European Championships (Denmark). “It’s whether I feel happy or pleased with how it felt.
“I definitely came out of the arena [today] thinking that there were a few blips I could have done better, but otherwise it felt really good, and I was very happy,” the 28-year-old rider continued. “He went in there and performed to his very best, and as a rider that’s all you can ask for. I enjoyed it, and Carl [Hester, her longtime coach and fellow gold-medal teammate from the 2012 Olympic Games] was happy, which was even more of a bonus. Then when I found out I got a world record… It’s fantastic.”
Dujardin came out nearly 4 percentage points ahead of second-placed Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW of Germany, who are here defending their 2013 World Cup title. They scored 83.34 percent in today’s Grand Prix.
“It’s so easy now,” Langehanenberg said of riding the 14-year-old stallion. “It’s like playing a little bit. He comes into the arena, and the bigger it is, the better he feels. You go down the centerline, and he wants to compete. He loves to go to shows, and the more people there are, the happier he is. It was such a fluid test [today], with a lot of harmony and expression as well. I had a really good feeling today.”
Dutch rider Edward Gal, who came third today with Glock’s Undercover (80.02%), didn’t have the same feeling, though.
“Today it was quite difficult with Undercover,” he admitted. “He was quite excited in the warm-up. In the ring he was better, but I still had the feeling that he was a little bit tense, and I couldn’t ride him as well as I wanted to. The last few competitions he was really nice, and today it was a little bit less. I hope it’s better tomorrow.”
Tomorrow is when the 17-horse field will perform their freestyle tests, and many British dressage fans are eagerly anticipating the unveiling of Dujardin’s brand-new routine. She’s keeping mum about the music and choreography until then, except to say that “I’ve got a little interesting bit at the end—hopefully I can pull it off!”
“Carl’s been very pleased with it,” Dujardin continued. “He usually comes out with all kinds of comments about what I’m doing and my choice of music, and he didn’t actually scream at me for the first time, so hopefully I can do the same tomorrow. I’m very, very excited to be doing it.”
Ground Jury President Evie Eisenhardt of Germany praised this World Cup Final field as one of the best she’s ever seen. In addition to a world record being smashed and some amazing quality at the top of the leaderboard, “we had a good mid-field as well,” she noted. “I have judged a lot of good events, but this is one of the best that I have judged.”
Happy Just To Be In The Ring
U.S. leader Tina Konyot might not have had quite the test she hoped for with Calecto V, as they ended up in 11th place with a 70.44 percent, but for her, the victory was in just competing.
When she picked Calecto up from the airport on Wednesday, April 16, he showed symptoms of shipping fever.
“It was scary—he’s my baby,” she said. “I had rented a truck so I could pick him up myself. It’s a lot, coming from the hot temperatures in Florida and arriving here in the colder temperatures and adjusting. Just to be in the class is a bonus for me, so I’m thrilled he performed so well.”
Konyot credited U.S. Equestrian Federation veterinarian Dr. Rick Mitchell with caring for Calecto and enabling him to get better in time to compete. She rode Calecto for the first time in France just yesterday, on Friday, April 18.
“I was very grateful for Dr. Mitchell to have him on antibiotics to get his fever down so quickly and to get rid of his cough,” she said. “He’s very healthy now, or I never would have proceeded. That’s the biggest thing for me—that he’s well.”
Konyot’s Grand Prix had a few mistakes, with a miss in the one-tempis and an early halt on the final centerline, but she was happy with how her horse went, and the grin she wore as she left the arena showed it.
“We can do better than that,” she said. “You want to have a mistake-free test, but I’m happy.”
Konyot had the unfortunate draw of going first in the Grand Prix order, but she didn’t let that ruffle her feathers.
“It’s always disappointing if you have to go first, but somebody has to do it. I’ve been in he sport a long time, so it didn’t keep me up last night. You’re going to ride the same if you go first or 15th,” she said.
It’s A Process
Cesar Parra, representing the United States in his second FEI World Cup Final, was much happier after his test than his score of 65.54 percent on Van The Man might indicate.
“The feeling was very good. I had some mistakes, but that’s part of the process that we’re in with him,” Parra said. They placed 16th out of 17 starters.
Van The Man broke to the canter in the first extended trot, then a few moments later he froze in one corner of the ring during the passage tour, refusing to go forward and threatening to rear. But Parra wasn’t too upset with the bobbles.
“He’s been a very special horse mentally to work with. I was nicely impressed with how he handled this arena,” he said.
Parra noted that Van The Man has a tendency to panic and feel fear when overwhelmed. “I used to think he was spooky, but he’s not really spooky. He feels fear in certain situations, and he has to learn to trust me and go forward,” he explained.
“He’s grown up a lot. Over the whole last year I have had to develop a tremendous amount of patience with him to allow him to grow up and to fill the gaps he had in his training,” Parra continued. “He feels more and more confident, so he’s less scared. As the test went on, he settled and got much better.”
Parra and Van The Van’s score had started in the mid-50s during the moments of tension, but once Van The Man settled and relaxed, they improved into the 60s.
Parra considers the World Cup Final to be a step toward the future with Van The Man.
“He’s developing very well. His style is perhaps a bit different, but I feel happy with him, how his neck looks and everything. That’s what I love about dressage,” he said. “It’s a journey—making them better.”
You can find full results for all the FEI World Cup Final classes here.
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