August 9 — London.
Before this Olympic Games in London, Great Britain had never won a medal in dressage of any color. Now that nation can count not only team gold but also individual thanks to a stupendous performance from Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro in the freestyle today.
Dujardin drew the lucky last position, but she had a few strikes against her heading into the ring. Her mentor and coach, Carl Hester, rode two horses before her in the order of go, so he couldn’t help her warm up. And Valegro, who is just 10 years old and only started showing Grand Prix a year and a half ago, was feeling the effects of a long week and some unusually hot weather.
“I said to Carl Hester before I went in that he felt tired, but he still gave me everything. He didn’t let me down,” said Dujardin, 26.
The Netherlands’ Adelinde Cornelissen was second-last in the order and she’d just put in a faultless performance with Parzival, scoring 88.19 percent.
Valegro, whose barn name is Blueberry, matched Parzival movement for movement. His freestyle music couldn’t have been more appropriate, including the Olympic Fanfare, the “Land Of Hope And Glory,” chimes from Big Ben and themes from popular British movies. But then it looked like things might fall apart at the very end when Dujardin asked him to come back from canter to piaffe on the centerline at A. He resisted for a moment and appeared confused. “It was just pure greenness and tiredness. He just misunderstood me,” said Dujardin.
But she didn’t know if that mistake might be the difference between gold and silver. Although the stands were filled with screaming, cheering, stamping British fans, Dujardin looked a little crestfallen as she left the arena. She was out through the tunnel and about to head back to the barn when the score of 90.08 percent went up on the board. The crowd erupted with noise, and she burst into tears as her teammates and supporters started screaming, “You did it! Charlotte, you did it!”
“It’s unbelievable, very emotional,” said Dujardin.
Cornelissen, the two-time reigning Reem Acra FEI World Cup champion, was gracious in her defeat. “I gave it my best shot, but if she was better, she was better,” said Cornelissen. “I was very, very happy. He did such great things I was not even expecting.”
Stephen Clarke, who was the president of the ground jury for the freestyle, said the two tests were very close.
“The impression we had was that Adelinde had huge power and expression, but for us there needed to be a little bit more lightness and self-carriage,” he said. “You can see sometimes the horse crosses its jaw a little bit, and that took down the harmony mark a touch. Charlotte’s generally has a little more self-carriage but maybe not quite as much power and expression today in the piaffe and passage. Maybe one had a little more power and the other had a little bit more harmony and self-carriage. Our decision was for the harmony.”
A Serious Celebration
How will Dujardin celebrate her second gold medal of her first Olympic Games? “We have a boat on the Thames tonight. We might drown,” she joked. “The friends and family, Carl and everybody have organized it. It’s going to be fantastic. The whole team is coming. We’re going to have a great time.”
And Valegro? Hester has spoken openly about the fact that his mount, Uthopia, and Valegro will most likely be sold after the Games, but Dujardin insisted that hasn’t happened yet. “He’s going to come home. He’ll have a well-deserved break, have a lovely holiday,” she said.
Dujardin’s teammate, Laura Bechtolsheimer, also got emotional as she discussed her bronze-medal winning freestyle with Mistral Hojris. “For a horse of his age, at 17, to move like that and give his all is beyond words,” she said. “He was so full of power and energy. He gave me a very special ride. To be on the podium again was huge for us. He’s 17 years old. He may or may not do another championship. I have no idea. To finish this year off like that was fantastic. I felt like I’d finally done him justice.”
A Disappointing Finish
Ravel’s fabulous career ended on a bittersweet note for Steffen Peters. Normally, the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Contango—Hautain, Democraat) is rock solid, but today he had one uncharacteristic mistake after another to finish 17th on 77.28 percent of the 18 starters today.
“There’s no way of sweet-talking this. It just wasn’t a good freestyle. This is not the way I wanted to finish,” said Peters. “I had a super warm-up. He was definitely a bit distracted. He kept looking around in the trot extensions and the canter extensions.”
Peters and Ravel’s owner, Akiko Yamazaki, had already decided this would be Ravel’s last major competition after a career that includes many highlights such as an FEI World Cup title in 2009 (Nev.) and two individual bronze medals at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (Ky.) in 2010.
“I’ll remember Ravel for his career. If you put it all together then this was just a little glitch today. But it’s certainly very sad that it happened at the end of his career. I still love him. He’s given us so much, just not quite today,” said Peters. “I’d like to do one big retirement party for Ravel and hopefully ride the freestyle once more and do it a little bit better than here.”
On the other hand, the Netherlands’ Anky van Grunsven had exactly the finale she hoped for with Salinero, who already earned back-to-back individual gold medals at the last two Olympic Games and was competing in his third at the young age of 18. The pair scored 82.00 percent for sixth place.
“I am really happy,” said van Grunsven. “It was a good test in his last competition ever. It is emotional, but he did a good job. It’s been an emotional week, but it was always in my head that it was my last time, and I wanted to enjoy it. I knew this day would be hard, but it’s the first Olympics where I didn’t wake up nervous.”
If there was an award for spunkiest performance, it definitely would’ve gone to Concalo Carvalho’s Rubi. The 14-year-old Lusitano (Batial—He-Xila, Xaquiro) danced to the Black Eyed Peas for Portugal. The choreography showed off the stallion’s fabulous piaffe with multiple fans and pirouettes. As soon as Carvalho halted, he dropped the reins and began waving to the crowd. “I chose the music because me and my horse love to dance,” he said.
To see full results, visit the London 2012 website.
Check out the Aug. 20 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse for a full story about the dressage and show jumping at the Olympic Games.