|History-making victory gallop: Team GB dressage gold medalists Laura Bechtolsheimer on Mistral Hojris, Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro, and Carl Hester on Uthopia. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
The US began knocking on the door in the 1990s, earning a string of Olympic team bronze medals. But Great Britain? They weren't even taken seriously in the world of international dressage.
Well, the previously unthinkable happened today: Team GB won its first-ever Olympic dressage team gold medal (total team combined average score of the Grand Prix and today's Grand Prix Special: 79.979 percent), leaving in its wake silver medalists Germany (78.216) and bronze medalists the Netherlands (77.124). And Team USA? Sixth (72.435), behind Denmark (73.846) and Sweden (72.706).
For a while the US was keen to move up to the silver-medal spot on the podium; now I think we'd be happy just to get back on there again.
I don't mean to sound like Debbie Downer. I myself don't get too hung up on the "medal hunt," especially when horses, in all their unpredictability, are concerned. But after today, it's clear that the game has changed, and yesterday's stars don't quite measure up to today's.
|Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
|Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
|German team silver medalists Dorothee Schneider, Kristina Sprehe, and Helen Langehanenberg. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
But back to the Brits. According to Carl Hester, the senior member of the team, "Hard work and dedication have paid off for all three of us." His own story is fairly well-known: Born in Sark on the Channel Islands, Hester began riding a donkey and moved to England at the age of sixteen to pursue a riding career. He spent many years in groom and apprentice-type positions, eventually working his way up to training, riding, and competing.
Dujardin, a former champion pony exhibitor, is Hester's protege and has trained with him for six years. "We are like a married couple, I guess; that's what everybody calls us," Dujardin said. "We do bicker. I shout at him; he shouts at me.
"I owe everything to Carl, really," Dujardin continued. "Training me, giving me fantastic horses to ride. He's very special to me."
The dressage world got acquainted with Bechtolsheimer when she and "Alf," a 1995 Dutch Warmblood gelding by Michellino, won team and individual silver at the 2010 WEG. The granddaughter of a billionaire German department-store-chain founder, Bechtolsheimer has had a more privileged entree to the horse world than her teammates. But it's clear that all are on equal footing when it comes to their riding and their horses.
"It was very emotional for me at the end of Charlotte's test when I knew that we'd done it," Bechtolsheimer said afterward. "It wasn't just about beating the Germans; it was about beating everybody else, which in Olympic history Britain's never done in dressage. To come here and win any medal would have been amazing, but to come here and win gold--I don't think it's sunk in completely yet. I think we're all really proud of each other and proud of our horses."
Although I'm sure the Germans and the Dutch are a teensy bit disappointed not to have won gold, I think I can safely say that everyone at Greenwich Park today was thrilled to see the fine British performances rewarded and to see the evidence that dressage excellence is expanding geographically. But I feel for Steffen Peters, Tina Konyot, and Jan Ebeling, who had one of those competitions when things just don't go the way one would like.
|A happy Jan Ebeling waves to the crowd after his GP Special test on Rafalca. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
"I was really happy with the horse; she went great, no real mistakes. She's been really good this whole week. She's given it all, and that's all I can ask," Ebeling said.
The "three amigos," as Ebeling called them--Rafalca's owners Amy Ebeling, Ann Romney, and Beth Meyer--were in the audience watching.
|Steffen Peters and Ravel piaffe on center line. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
"The half-passes felt great; I pushed the changes a bit more forward than the other day; the pirouettes felt really good," Peters said. "The piaffe even felt better than the first day. I'm just excited that he still wants to do it after all these years," he said of the fourteen-year old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Contango, owned by Akiko Yamazaki.
|Tina Konyot and Calecto V in the GP Special. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
"I can feel that he is now a little bit tired," Konyot said.
The guard is changing in other ways, as well. Van Grunsven confirmed that Salinero will be retired after these Games. Although Peters said that "We haven't really discussed retirement," he did say that "This might be the last time that Ravel goes down center line" and that he "hopes he has one more really good freestyle." Hester confirmed that both Uthopia and Valegro will most likely be offered for sale after London. German team member Dorothee Schneider became tearful during the post-competition press conference when she confirmed that she, too, will lose the ride on Diva Royal, who is scheduled to go back to her owners.
So who knows where things will stand in two years, when the dressage world convenes for the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy? Peters thinks that Legolas, the young star who won this year's US Equestrian Federation national Grand Prix title, will be "ready to play with the big boys and girls" by then. We'll have to see where Uthopia and Valegro end up, who van Grunsven will be campaigning, and how Totilas is doing. I may be writing a completely different story in two years. I'd be delighted to be writing about the continued success of the British dressage team--but I wouldn't mind also being able to tell you about great news for Team USA.