It all came down to less than 1 percentage point in the FEI Nations Cup dressage at the Hickstead CDIO*** in Hickstead, West Sussex, England, on Aug. 2. In the end, the British emerged victorious, but the American riders made them work for it.
Carl Hester and Uthopia, who were the only pair to score above 80 percent, anchored the British team, earning an 81.65 for the individual freestyle win.
The U.S. team of Arlene "Tuny" Page on Alina, Kathleen Raine on Breanna, Shelly Francis on Doktor and Guenter Seidel on Coral Reef Wylea was on track to win the competition with a sizeable lead after three riders from each team had gone. But as the last to go, Hester’s score boosted his team (Nikki Crisp on Pasoa, Michael Eilberg on Marakof and Gareth Hughes on DV Stenjkers Nadonna) to the top with a final average of 76.18 percent.
The U.S. team was close behind on 75.25 percent, and a young German team (Stephan Koberle on Darjeeling, Johanna Von Fircks on Nymphenburgs Rockport, Matthias Kempkes on Roccoletto and Jenny Lang on Loverboy) finished third (73.26%).
For Page, the U.S. success can be attributed to Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover’s positive vision and passion. “It was an absolutely great experience. Robert is doing a great job and really putting his money where his mouth is. He works beautifully with my coach, Juergen Koschel. Robert does nothing but come and watch, observe, make comments, and not in a takeover way. It’s perfect,” she said.
“I think right now is kind of a magic turning point in American dressage. I think that it’s taken people a while to really accept the fact that we are a long way away from the podium and the grumbling and the analyzing and the talking is done, and everybody’s got their back to the wheel, and they’re pushing now,” said Page. “It’s great to be in the game at this point in time because it feels like a wave building and building and building. At the end of the day, it really comes down to teamwork.”
The British anchor, Hester, was competing Uthopia again after handing over the ride to his assistant and Olympic teammate Charlotte Dujardin this spring. “It was like being back in the good old days of 2010. I don’t know what happened because he was hot as hell, but he felt like a million dollars!” he said. “I had a fab ride; it was a great boost for us both. I hadn’t ridden him since the [2012 London Olympic Games where they earned team gold] really, and now I’m seriously looking forward to the European Championships in Herning [Denmark]. This has put us both in the right frame of mind.”
This year marked the pilot season of the Nations Cup series for dressage, and Hickstead was the last leg, with eight teams competing. The Netherlands won the series, while Sweden finished second and Great Britain third.
The FEI implemented a new format for the Nations Cup that allowed each competition to choose whether the Grand Prix or the freestyle would be used for the Nations Cup, instead of designating the Grand Prix or the Grand Prix and the Special as the deciding scores as had been the case in the past.
Organizers in Vidauban (France), Rotterdam (the Netherlands) and Aachen (Germany) used the Grand Prix, but Hickstead chose to use the freestyle.
Hester praised the concept. “From a team perspective this kind of competition can only be good,” he said. “You see it everywhere—when it comes to championships and big events we tend to mostly find all the same old faces competing, but this series can give other riders the chance to fly the flag, and I believe it will help to raise the standard all round. A lot of riders don’t get the chance to experience team pressure—this kind of competition will expose them to it, and it’s great learning for them.”
He pointed out that while he enjoys riding the freestyle, he has some reservations about using it as part of a Nations Cup series. “I think we need to use the Grand Prix rather than the freestyle so that it’s more of a level playing field for everyone. But this has been a great trial season, and the Nations Cup series is a great idea,” he said.
Germany’s Lang and Loverboy finished in second (77.75%) individually, while Raine finished third (75.65%). Seidel and Francis took fourth and fifth place respectively, and Page finished 21st (69.20%).
For complete results, visit Hickstead’s website.