In a much-anticipated clash of the titans between reigning Olympic, World Cup and European champions Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and TSF Dalera BB and reigning world champions Charlotte Fry and Glamourdale, the German pair emerged victorious Sunday in Riesenbeck, Germany. In the process, they set a new personal best score to complete their unbeaten streak at the 2023 FEI Dressage European Championship and retain their European title.
Dressage fans around the world were treated to a talent-soaked competition that saw all three riders on the podium—von Bredow-Werndl (92.81%), Fry (92.37%) and fellow British rider Charlotte Dujardin, who was third with Imhotep (91.39%)—dance past the previous European championship freestyle record of 91.25%, set by Dujardin and Valegro in 2013.
In the months leading up to the event, speculation was rife about the clash of the sport’s giants and the emergence of many new stars, but the expected fireworks didn’t materialize earlier in the week, with “Dalera” looking powerful while Glamourdale was slightly off his anticipated form and Fry acknowledging, “The first two tests maybe weren’t what I had hoped they would be.”
On Sunday, however, spectators were treated to Dalera and Glamourdale at their world-topping best, while Dujardin again demonstrated her talent with young horses, producing a test from Imhotep that belied the 10-year-old’s relative lack of experience.
A total of 18 combinations lined out in this much-anticipated final test of the week, and it was Germany’s Frederic Wandres and Bluetooth OLD, who dominated this year’s Adequan Global Dressage Festival (Florida), leading the way at the halfway point on a score of 84.56 percent. That might have been a great deal higher, however, if he hadn’t forgotten part of his floorplan. Riesenbeck is in the heart of German horse country, and the super-sharp spectators immediately realized something wasn’t right when he did a few steps of half-pass before riding down the centerline to finish.
“I had a brain-stop!”, he said afterward, explaining he had omitted some of his half-pass and was trying to fit it in before finishing his test. “It was absolutely not a horse mistake, it was completely on my side.”
When the action restarted the riders were playing leap-frog, with each one overtaking the one that went before. The crowd showed its everlasting adoration for Germany’s own Isabell Werth, who was greeted with a frenzy of sound when she steered DSP Qantaz to the new leading score of 88.40 percent. Two horses later however Denmark’s Nanna Skodborg Merrald and Blue Hors Zepter, silver medalists in Friday’s Grand Prix Special, raised the bar even higher when putting 89.54 percent on the board with a super-smooth performance.
Then von Bredow-Werndl set off for a test that was filled with seamless transitions and showered with maximum marks of 10 for Béatrice Buerchler-Keller’s 16-year-old Trakehner (Easy Game—Dark Magic, Handryk) but it wasn’t without an uncharacteristic mistake in the one-tempi changes. The pair stayed in tune with each other to the very end, when the scoreboard showed a European record-breaking 92.81% for the new lead. It didn’t seem likely any of the rest could come anyway close to that.
Watch their winning freestyle, courtesy of FEI.tv:
But Fry and Glamourdale did.
The 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion (Lord Leatherdale—Thuja, Negro) owned by Van Olst Horses was on fire Sunday, much more like the super-steed who wowed the spectators at the Blue Hors FEI Dressage World Championship in Denmark, last summer when he carried Fry to victory in both the Grand Prix Special and the freestyle. Heavenly half-passes and lovely piaffe/passage saw the scores piling up, despite a mistake when picking up the canter lead for the first time. The crowd held their breath while the score was being calculated, and although 92.37% was just short of von Bredow-Werndl’s target, the knowledgeable spectators roared with approval because they knew they had seen something very special once again.
“I guess I feel a little relief that we are back on the podium, but mainly just excitement and super happy,” Fry said after the freestyle. “The feeling that he gave me in there today was that we are really back on track. The first two tests [this week] maybe weren’t what I had hoped they would be, but today it was the most incredible feeling, and I’m a bit speechless to be honest.”
She said she was trying to reproduce the best parts from her Grand Prix and Special tests from earlier in the week.
“ ‘Glammy’ also had a day off yesterday,” she noted. “It’s been very hot for him, and today he was fresh but he was concentrated. The first day here he was fresh and slightly distracted, and the second day he was slightly tired, so today we got the perfect mix, and it was such an amazing feeling.”
Dujardin was last into the ring. It didn’t seem possible that Imhotep, Carl Hester and Coral Ingham’s Dutch Warmblood (Everdale—Della Dottie, Vivaldi)—a 10-year-old with no real experience—could withstand the pressure, the noise, the tension in the arena that was now like a cauldron of excitement. But he did, overtaking Skodborg Merrald’s Zepter for bronze medal spot when earning 91.39 percent for a wonderful test.
“I was just delighted to start and finish; he’d never had anyone clapping through his test and I was thinking, ‘They are clapping and I’m not even close to home,’ ” Dujardin said. “But he’s just incredible, he takes everything in his stride, and I’m just so excited for next year. I had a baby six months ago, and I didn’t think I’d be here this year. I kind of ruled out the Europeans and was aiming at Paris next year, and here I am at the end of the week with one gold medal and two bronze medals. I can’t ask for more.”
More extraordinary was the fact that she was riding her floorplan and music created by Tom Hunt for the very first time. She only started putting it together a few weeks ago, and she had no idea how it would work out. The music is from the film “Madagascar” because apparently the chestnut gelding looks just like Alex the Lion when his mane is loose.
After her win, von Bredow-Werndl reflected on the win.
“This is the success of a huge amount people, not only me,” she said. “Today the big feeling is just gratefulness. Dalera only hand-walked yesterday and she was full of power and energy again today.”
As for the much-anticipated showdown between Dalera and Glamourdale, both von Bredow-Werndl and Fry spoke of how positive it is for them and for the sport.
“I was prepared to meet her [at the 2023 FEI World Cupn Finals] in Omaha, or in Aachen, and I was just finally happy to meet her here,” von Bredow-Werndl said. “I’m focusing on myself and Dalera, and I’m happy we had great sport and other riders coming up, but this pushes me to train better, more precisely and to keep on improving.”
Fry noted the excitement the duel creates a year out from the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on for next year but it does make everybody super excited when we were so close today, having small mistakes but that makes it even more exciting because we both know we can be better,” Fry said. “And we shouldn’t underestimate Charlotte or Nanna for next year, or Isabell [Werth], so I think we are going to have a year to work on a lot of things and Paris is going to be really exciting!”
See complete results here.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the previous European championship freestyle record score, which was 91.15%, achieved by Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin in 2013.