The 2014 World Equestrian Games (WEG) got underway in Normandy, France, last week and the world’s best dressage riders and horses headlined the first week of competition at the d’Ornano Stadium.
Packed stands at the d’Ornano Stadium for the Dressage competition – photo (c) Nicole Graf Ussher
There were trials and tribulations, along with cheers and tears, over the four days of competition, and spectators were treated to phenomenal performances of which they couldn’t get enough. The stands were filled and the stadium was abuzz, just as it will be next April for the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Finals in Las Vegas when the FEI World Cup Finals in both dressage and jumping return to the Entertainment Capital of the World!
At WEG, there was drama before the Games even started. Germany’s Matthias Alexander Rath had to withdraw his superstar Totilas due to a last-minute injury. It was a great disappointment for fans who were looking forward to a rematch between the famous black stallion and the Olympic Champion Valegro, ridden by Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin, who was beaten by Rath just the month before at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany. The Dutch Team also had to make adjustments to their roster as Danielle Heijkoop’s Kingsley Siro and Edward Gal’s Glock’s Undercover were also placed on the injured list, and Gal had to call upon his second horse Glock’s Voice to step in.
Grand Prix Team Competition
The Grand Prix Team competition got underway under ominous skies that continued throughout both days of the Grand Prix, and several unlucky riders had to perform their tests in torrential rain.
Team Gold for Germany – photo (c) Hippo Foto Team – Leanjo de Koster / FEI
Germany, which uncharacteristically took only the Bronze medal at the 2010 WEG in Kentucky, reclaimed their Gold. Fabienne Lutkemeier, who was called upon last minute to replace Rath, got the unlucky draw as first rider to go with D’Agostino FRH, but the 24 year-old kept her cool and scored 73.586%, while teammate Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH received the best score of the first day, 78.814%, which gave the Germans a head start. Helen Langehanenberg put in a top performance with Damon Hill NRW to score 81.357%, while Isabell Werth and Bella Rose 2 earned 81.529%. Werth’s dreams of an individual medal were unfortunately dashed, as she had to withdraw the mare from the rest of the competition after slightly injuring herself.
Great Britain takes the Silver: (l-r) Carl Hester, Michael Eilberg, Charlotte Dujardin, Gareth Hughes – photo (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV
Great Britain once again proved their well-deserved placement at the top of the sport, and repeated their Team Silver medal from WEG 2010. The Brits have become sweethearts of the sport, as the former underdogs have fought their way to the top and are now regulars on the podium. Olympic gold medalist and 2014 Reem Acra FEI World Cup champion Charlotte Dujardin and her dancing horse Valegro didn’t disappoint their fans or the judges, earning the top Grand Prix score of 85.271%. Her teammate and trainer Carl Hester and Nip Tuck earned their own personal best score of 74.186%, which added to the continuation of their fairy tale. The big gelding was purchased by Carl and friend Jane de la Mare as an unattractive yearling for only 1,000 Euros and he lives out in a field – not the usual story for a top international Grand Prix horse! Teammates Michael Eilberg on Half Moon Delphi along with Gareth Hughes and DV Stenkjers Nadonna also performed well, earning 71.886% and 69.714% respectively.
The Netherlands wins the Bronze medal and Selfie of the Day! (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV
Despite losing two top horses from their original lineup, the Dutch fought valiantly, but in the end had to settle for the Bronze. A super performance from Hans Peter Minderhoud and Glock’s Johnson in the pouring rain received a 74.357%, while Diederik van Silfhout and Arlando NH N.O.P., also put in a fantastic effort which earned 73.414%. On the second day of competition the heightened atmosphere seemed to rattle Glock’s Voice a little, but the 2010 WEG triple gold medalist Edward Gal expertly guided him to a 72.414%. Two-time World Cup champion Adelinde Cornelissen and her Olympic partner Jerich Parzival N.O.P. showed their expertise, earning a 79.629%.
Team U.S.A.’s fourth place finish was impressive after a superb performance by Olympic veteran and 2009 World Cup champ Steffen Peters and Legolas 92, who scored 75.843%. Team ‘newbie’ Laura Graves and Verdades performed amazingly well under pressure, and scored 74.981% in her first-ever WEG appearance and her first European tour. Spectacular! Adrienne Lyle and her Olympic partner Wizard had a solid test which earned 72.000%, as did Tina Konyot and Calecto V, who received 69.643%.
Grand Prix Special
With team medals decided, the riders focused on their individual performances and the Grand Prix Special proved exciting indeed, as the top 30 competitors moved forward. Great Britain’s golden girl Dujardin came to WEG on a mission – to win both of the individual Golds and to become the first rider to hold Olympic, European, World Cup, and World Champion titles at the same time – the first three of which she had already won. Although they didn’t put in a mistake-free test, the duo scored a fantastic 86.120% in the Special to clinch the Gold. One down and one to go!
Germany’s Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH win the Bronze medal in the Grand Prix Special
(c) Hippo Foto Team – Leanjo de Koster – FEI
Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill, another crowd favorite, took the Silver with 84.468%, while teammate Kristina Sprehe and the elegant Desperados FRH took the Bronze with 79.762%. It was a tough day for Holland’s Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival who had a super test, but unfortunately had entered the arena after the allotted 45 seconds which meant extra penalties and a finish just out of medal contention with a score of 79.328%.
Laura Graves and Verdades, a horse her mother bought for her as a foal which she then trained to Grand Prix herself, were the highest placed American duo, finishing in 8th. Steffen Peters and Legolas 92 finished 10th.
Grand Prix Freestyle
Golden girl Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro claim their second gold medal at WEG in the Grand Prix Freestyle – photo (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV
It was a perfect day for the individual medal finale as the sun shone down on the sold-out stadium of 20,000 and the excitement in the air was palpable. The crowds cheered with each rider that came through the tunnel into the arena, and when you thought it couldn’t get any louder it did – especially when Dujardin and Valegro trotted in. This was only the third time they had performed to their ‘new’ music, but it seemed like old hat and this time the pair was foot-perfect, and they scored a whopping 92.161% to win Gold and make Dujardin’s wishes for two WEG Gold medals come true.
Dutch rider Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival N.O.P. take the Bronze – (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV
A dazzling performance from Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW earned 88.286% to secure the Silver, which will be added to their collection of Olympic, European, and World Cup Final medals. It was a much brighter day for Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival, as the pair danced their way to a well-deserved Bronze medal with a score of 85.714%.
The U.S.’s Graves and Verdades had the performance of their life with a beautifully harmonious Freestyle which earned them an 82.036% and fifth place among the greatest riders in the world. What an exciting combination to have for Team U.S.A.’s future! The top stars of the 2014 WEG and their amazing accomplishments promise to make the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas a historic event you won’t want to miss; be sure to reserve your tickets today!
WEG fairy-tale for U.S. rider Laura Graves and Verdades who finished 5th in the world! photo (c) Susan J Stickle