Aug. 26—Caen, France
What do you get when you put together a team that includes a five-time Olympic gold medalist riding a horse she thinks might be the best of her career, an FEI World Cup Dressage Final winner, and an Olympian capable of scoring 80 percent? You get an Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games gold medal—and you get it with a healthy margin.
Today the Germans sealed an official return as dressage powerhouse of the world by taking the top title on a combined score of 241.70—more than 10 points ahead of silver medalists Great Britain (231.34). The Netherlands took bronze on 227.40, and the U.S. team finished fourth with 222.71.
“At the moment we’re very lucky because of the horses we have. We have these three that are so good. It’s maybe a little bit like Britain at the Olympics [in London],” said German team coach Monica Theodorescu. “The horses are in top form, and the riders are riding forward, riding for something.”
Germany’s Isabell Werth scored the highest mark for the team (81.52%)—and also her horse’s highest Grand Prix score—with the 10-year-old Bella Rose 2.
“This is one of the diamonds you find in your life,” said Werth. “She’s so beautiful, so proud, and she has great charisma. I couldn’t have expected that she’d be so cool and relaxed in the big stadium. She was really concentrated and focused on me. I think this is one of the strongest teams we’ve ever had in Germany, and it was really nice to see."
But after the high of the gold medal, Werth had to withdraw the mare from tomorrow's Special due to inflammation in her hoof.
“It strikes us as a complete surprise,” said Werth in a press release from the German Federation. “I am deeply disappointed. But of course we don’t want to take any risks; the health of the mare is an absolute priority, which is why I have withdrawn from the Special.”
Helen Langehanenberg and her World Cup winner Damon Hill NRW were the second German pair to go today, and they earned a 81.35 percent for third overall. The team also carried Kristina Sprehe’s score of 78.81 from yesterday, and Fabienne Lutkemeier was the drop score (73.58%). But even if the lower three scores were used, Germany would still have secured gold.
“It’s an honor and a pleasure to be part of this team,” said Langehanenberg, whose score only suffered from a scoot forward out of passage on the last centerline. “It’s absolutely an extraordinary situation in Germany this year, even without Matthias [Rath, on Totilas]. I had a really good feeling in the test. It was a pity at the end, but OK, we are both human beings. Some mistakes can happen. He has so much fun in the test, and that makes me really proud.”
Though Langehanenberg enjoyed the benefit of going in the ring with three strong German performances preceding her, Charlotte Dujardin knew she needed a top mark with Valegro for Great Britain to get silver. She delivered with an 85.27 percent, and she got her redemption from an uncharacteristically sub-par showing at the Aachen CDIO***** (Germany) a few months ago.
“Everyone after that was like, ‘Oh, God, what’s happened to Valegro?’ I struggled with it, but it definitely made me a stronger person, and it made me not fear what happens if it goes wrong,” said Dujardin. “Now I know what happens it if goes wrong, and it’s OK. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. You always have another test to do. It was good for me to make those mistakes and then come back here and have the ride I wanted.”
Edward Gal didn’t have the ride he wanted with Glock’s Voice—the horse struggled in piaffe and had a mistake in the one-tempis—but Adelinde Cornelissen’s score of 79.62 percent with the 17-year-old Parzival secured bronze for the Dutch team.
“I rode a safe test, no mistakes whatsoever,” said Cornelissen. “That’s important for the team competition. I like the pressure of going last for the team, so that’s good. Maybe we can get a little bit extra tomorrow [in the Special].”
Fourth—And On Their Way Up
The U.S. team missed a medal this time, but for the two riders competing at their first World Games—Laura Graves and Adrienne Lyle—the experience was an investment in their future performances. Graves and her Verdades were the first U.S. pair today, and they put in a nearly fault-free test for a 74.87 percent and 10th individually. The pair is in their début year of CDI Grand Prix showing, and this is their first international championship.
“It just keeps feeling like the next step,” Graves said. “This is the big boom I was waiting for. People asked me [at the selection trials] in New Jersey, ‘You’re on the team! Aren’t you so excited?’ You kind of expect fireworks and rainbows and all this stuff falling from the sky. Now this is the big bang for me. It’s very fun. To be here on a team is a whole different feeling than being anywhere as an individual.”
Graves felt some tension from her longtime mount in the main arena, and that resulted in a slight spook and stop at the walk. The 27-year-old also felt her own show nerves for the first time.
“The time we had to school in there was really limited,” said Graves. “He’s the kind of horse who, if he’s comfortable, he’ll walk through fire for you. But if he’s nervous… He’s very honest if he spooks. He’ll never tell a lie. But I think just having limited time in this stadium showed today.
"When I was warming up, I kept saying, ‘I have this pain in my stomach.’ I don’t get nervous, but I had this pain in my stomach. [U.S. Chef d'Equipe] Robert [Dover] said, ‘That’s nerves.’ I said, ‘I’m not nervous.’ He said, ‘The pain in your stomach, that’s what nerves are!’ "
Since both Lyle and Graves ride with Debbie McDonald, they convinced her to make the trip to France from Idaho. McDonald is celebrating her 60th birthday on Wednesday.
“I started riding with her last November, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much she’s changed my whole life. I wouldn’t be here without her,” said Graves, who started crying as she spoke. “She was crying after [Graves' test], just like this.”
Peters went in the afternoon session with Legolas 92, and his test was on its way to a personal high score until the one-tempis. With that mistake he earned a 75.84 percent, good enough for eighth individually.
“The rest of the test was probably the best we’ve done,” he said. “I really fought for my team and fought for my country, and Legolas certainly stepped up. We risked every single movement. Right from the first extended trot, there was a lot of power. I really went for it in the half-passes. The strong part is his piaffe and passage. I had a wonderful feeling, very supple and energetic. We went for full risk in the ones, and that’s where the mistake happened.”
Peters, San Diego, didn’t have an ideal preparation for this championship; he was hospitalized shortly before Aachen for pneumonia and pleurisy. And though the United States wasn’t standing on the podium at the end of today, Peters was proud of his young compatriots. The top three U.S. riders—Peters, Lyle and Graves—are qualified for tomorrow’s Special. Tina Konyot, the fourth team member, is retiring Calecto V after two World Games and an Olympic Games.
“I think to say they had a good performance is a bit of understatement. They had an excellent performance,” said Peters. “It’s so exciting to get inspired by top horses in the world, but to get inspired by your teammates is even more special. I’m honestly honored to be on the team with them. It’s fantastic.”
The top 30 from the Grand Prix continue to tomorrow’s Special, which begins at 9:30 a.m. The final Brazilian rider of today, Luiza Tavares de Almeida with Pastor, was eliminated at the beginning of her test for lameness.
Want to know what else is happening in other disciplines here at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games? Visit the Chronicle's hub page! Only curious about dressage? Read all about that on the dressage specific page. Find scores and results on the Normandy 2014 page.