Lyon, France—April 20
Once. Again. Now go earn a World Cup title.
It’s a feat only the best could pull off: riding a brand-new freestyle for only the third time ever and winning the Reem Acra FEI Dressage World Cup in front of thousands. But Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin is the best.
“It all came off how I wanted it to, really,” said Dujardin, who scored 92.17 percent in the first public performance of her new freestyle with Valegro, her Olympic and European Championships gold-medal partner. “I had only ridden it twice at home, so it was very new to me. I wouldn’t say I was as confident as I was with my other music, obviously. But I definitely think that music can beat my old music.”
Dujardin, 28, didn’t break her own freestyle record of 93.97 percent (which also happens to be the world record) today, but she thinks with this new test’s level of difficulty, it won’t be long. The program includes passage half-passes, extended canters into double pirouettes, and her new showcase movement: piaffe pirouettes.
“That was just something I was messing around at home with, and I said to Carl [Hester, her coach], ‘Why don’t we stick that in the freestyle?’ And he wasn’t quite sure at first, but I gave it a go and kind of pulled it off.
“But then this morning I kind of said, ‘Do you think that was a good idea, putting the piaffe pirouettes in?’ Because I wasn’t sure! You play around with it at home, but you don’t know whether you can pull it off in the arena. But Valegro, being the superstar that he is—he did it.”
Dujardin’s new music comes from the animated film How To Train Your Dragon. “It’s quite similar to some music I’ve already used [from the same film],” she said. “I just think it’s really story-telling and captures his highlights. It’s just fantastic to ride to.”
Valegro earned a total of 17 marks of 10 for various movements from piaffe to lateral work to flying changes. His lowest marks were in the walk work, where he scored one 6.5 but mostly 7s and some 8s and 9s.
The pair also garnered stellar collective marks, each of which carry a coefficient of 4. They scored many 10s for aspects like rhythm, harmony, choreography, music and rider position, and no judge marked them lower than 9 in these categories.
“Obviously I was very grateful to be able to get the wild card and come here and take part, and thankfully it’s come off really well,” said Dujardin, who did not attend enough qualifiers to enter like her fellow competitors. “To have the crowd behind us was very, very special.”
Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg came to Lyon to defend her 2013 title with Damon Hill NRW, but she ended up as runner-up, as she had in 2012 (to Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival).
“I made a few mistakes yesterday, but today I really had a great feeling. On the first centerline we didn’t feel very together; maybe I could have supported him better. But every movement felt better than before, and I’m really happy with this weekend.
“I definitely risked a lot, and if you risk a lot, [mistakes] can happen,” she continued. “But if you don’t risk anything, mistakes can happen anyway. So you have to try.”
Damon Hill scored 87.33 percent, showing off between passage half-passes, tempi changes on a bending line into double pirouettes, and transitions between passage and extended canter and between piaffe and extended trot. They earned mostly 9s for degree of difficulty and some 10s for harmony between horse and rider and interpretation of music. The stallion also picked up two 10s for his beautiful extended walk.
Edward Gal, who finished third in yesterday’s Grand Prix, achieved the same result today. While his mount Glock’s Undercover was slightly more settled, Gal still didn’t feel like he got the most out of the gelding.
“He was still feeling excited,” admitted the Dutchman, who scored 83.69 percent. “It’s difficult with him to get warmed up in this environment [with lots of spectators and the trade fair surrounding the warm-up arena]. When he’s quiet in warm-up, he’s OK, but when he gets overactive, then we get some mistakes in the test. And then at the end I lost my [curb] rein! So it wasn’t my best test, and I know I can do much better. So we look forward to the next one.”
Drawing A Blank
Top-placed U.S. rider Tina Konyot got off to a strong start in her familiar “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” freestyle with Calecto V, but their final score of 71.92 percent was several percentage points lower of the marks they earned in the lead-up to the event.
Konyot took full responsibility for the result but said she was also at a loss for what had happened.
“The beginning of my ride was beautiful—it felt beautiful, he felt fabulous,” she said. “But about a third or a quarter of the way into the ride, I had no idea where I was. In all my years of riding, I’ve never drawn a complete blank.”
As any professional performer knows, the only thing to do when you forget a line or lose your way is to keep your head up, improvise as best you can and try to pull it off. That’s exactly what Konyot did, finishing her test only a little bit ahead of the music. And she and Calecto moved into the provisional lead despite the extemporaneous nature of their performance.
“He felt very, very good. I was just all over the place,” Konyot said. “I absolutely cannot tell you what happened. It’s like me asking you, ‘What does it feel like to get stabbed?’ [and you saying] ‘I don’t know, no one’s ever stabbed me.’ I’ve never lost my way before. I am just completely shocked. I’m going to look at the video to see what I did.”
Cesar Parra, the second U.S. representative here in Lyon, put in a solid performance with Van The Man for 68.42 percent and 16th place.
“It was much better than yesterday; the horse improved a lot,” said Parra. “I was a little bit ahead of the music, and I think the score of 68 was a little too low. [But] it is what it is. I love the horse. It is a nice horse, very talented, but just needs some time to bloom.
“I am very, very happy with him,” he added. “It was a great way to celebrate Easter.”
Parra said the gelding still felt a bit behind his leg, but that that was understandable, given that this marks his first competition indoors. And with the lights lowered in the grandstands, the presence of unseen spectators proved a bit ominous.
“I think the feeling of the public got him a little bit behind,” he said. “He could not see the public, but he could feel them. It made him feel a little bit insecure as we went around the ring.”
Parra’s freestyle routine, which utilizes arrangements of songs like Enrique Iglesias’ “Bailamos” and Toto’s “Africa,” is an old routine from his previous World Cup Final appearance, in Las Vegas in 2005. He plans to change it soon to fit Van The Man better.
“I wanted to do more piaffe, transitions, passage,” he said. “The canter is very secure on him, but he felt unsure today of what was going on around him. He held it together, so I am very proud of him. The double pirouette and the tempis were good. I think right now everything is on the good side, but is not brilliant.”
You can view all the results from Lyon here.
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