Three women who beat the odds by believing in their horses shared the podium today at the FEI World Equestrian Games in the first individual dressage championship, the Grand Prix Special.
Isabell Werth of Germany, who did not lose faith in Bella Rose after the mare was out for nearly four years, proved to be right in choosing the elegant chestnut for her WEG ride instead of World Number One Weiheigold.
When three of the riders who entered the arena before her this afternoon earned 81 percent-plus scores, it was obvious what type of performance she would have to produce.
“I knew that we had to do and be our best to really get the gold,” she said, noting that Bella responded with “so much energy, and she’s so patient to go and present herself.”
The pressure was on because Werth wasn’t winning just for herself. She had promised Bella’s owner, Madeleine Winter-Schulze, who suffered a broken leg after coming to the U.S., that she would arrive at the hospital with champagne and a gold medal. Werth always delivers, and this time it was with a score of 86.246.
U.S. rider Laura Graves had many setbacks with Verdades, purchased by her mother as a foal after seeing him on a videotape. Graves brought the Dutchbred gelding along, but it wasn’t easy, and she too often found herself on the ground. Despite the discouragements, she persisted, and was rewarded in 2014 when she and Verdades emerged onto the global stage. Graves was a dark horse to make the WEG team four years ago, but she did it by excelling in the selection trials and wound up as the highest-scoring U.S. rider at the competition. Since then, it has been one triumph after another.
“I’m lucky enough to be on a horse that really wants to do his job, especially in the heat,” she observed. The weather has been hot and humid at TIEC, but since Graves is from Florida, she noted that to her, the weather in North Carolina is practically “like winter for me.”
The heat didn’t discourage Verdades.
“I think it’s a real test of a horse’s character that when you ask them to go, they do show up for you. My horse certainly did that today,” Graves said, and her mark of 81.717 percent proved it.
Verdades seems to like TIEC.
“Even before the stadium was open for horses,” Graves said, “he kept dragging me to the stadium, like he knows he has a bunch of fans and is ready to show off.”
Hear more from Graves by clicking on this video.
Dujardin was riding the youngest horse in the competition, the 9-year-old Mount St. John Freestyle, who has a fabulous extended trot and just makes a lovely, light-footed picture in the arena.
“I couldn’t ask any more from her,” said Dujardin, who clinched a team bronze for her nation on Thursday.
“Yesterday, I played it a little bit safe because it’s so hot.” Dujardin wanted to do more for the Special, noting, “I had nothing to lose today. I’m going to go in there and see what happens. She upped her game. That’s her third Grand Prix Special, she’s very inexperienced at that.” But who could tell when the mare was marked at 81.489 percent? The horse known as “Mrs. Valegro” after Dujardin’s multi-gold medal mount, has put her rider right back in the spotlight two years after Valegro retired.
So how did it go for the other Americans who were part of their country’s silver medal team?
Kasey Perry-Glass found herself at the top of the leaderboard after a magical ride on Dublet that yielded a percentage of 78.541, though eventually she moved down to sixth. However, the top 15 in the standings will compete once more in the Grand Prix Freestyle. Originally scheduled for Sunday, it looks as if the organizers are moving it to Monday in effort to avoid rain that is expected to be heavy. Monday was originally slated to be an off day.
The trust that Perry-Glass has in her horse, and he in her, is beautiful to behold. They make a striking pair. Hear what she has to say about him and her ride by clicking on this video.
Things didn’t work out as well for Graves’ and Perry-Glass’s teammates, Steffen Peters and Adrienne Lyle. Neither managed to break 70 percent and finished next-to-last and last in the class respectively.
A visibly upset Peters noted it was great that his mount, Suppenkasper, “delivered for the team competition, but then added sadly, “Today it didn’t happen.” When it was mentioned that he had been to four WEGs, Peters responded, “Since it is the fourth, it is quite embarrassing today. I have to learn to ride this horse better. He went quite a bit better with his previous rider, Helen Langehanenberg. We’re worlds apart at the moment. It’s back to the drawing board and hopefully figuring things out.”
Lyle was more upbeat about her test with Salvino, noting he was just being a stallion when he decided he wasn’t in the mood to piaffe, and then had a problem in the one-tempis. The two-time WEG veteran shrugged it off, knowing that’s how things can go with horses.
We’ll keep you posted when a final decision is made about the Grand Prix freestyle, where Laura will be aiming for gold; hey, she already has two silver medals. How about another color? The music for her new freestyle just arrived in North Carolina, and she revealed only that, “it should be a big surprise for everyone.” We can hardly wait!
For full results of the Special, click on this link.