Dressage is the fastest growing Olympic equestrian discipline in the United Kingdom (UK). As enthusiasm for the sport increases, so does our nation?s success at the top. Team GBR (Great Britain) achieved the best-ever dressage results for Britain at the European Dressage Championships last year?team silver and the individual bronze. This recent success clearly demonstrates that we have the riders and horses to compete successfully on the world stage. However, while we have raised our game, so, too, have European competitors, such as Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas and Isabell Werth, who is now back in contention. The Americans, particularly on home soil, are not to be discounted, and there are a couple of nations who had young teams at the 2009 Europeans who will be much stronger at the WEG. All in all, we face tough competition and we know that we can't be complacent.
Riders in the World Class Programme will be under the watchful eye of the selectors and me. The World Class Programme incorporates dressage, eventing, show jumping and para-equestrian. It comprises the Performance and Development programme plus the Equine Pathway. The aim of these programs is to have in place a sustainable system that can deliver more medals on the international stage now and in the future. The Programme has been funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport through Exchequer and National Lottery funds, via UK Sport, since 1998. Team selection for the WEG will be announced the first week in July. Here are some of the British horses and riders to watch:
Laura Bechtolsheimer, 25, and Mistral Hojris, a 17-hand, 15-year-old Danish-bred gelding by Michellino and owned by Dr. and Mrs. Bechtolsheimer. This pair was instrumental to the success of the British team at the Alltech FEI Windsor European Dressage Championships. Britain won team silver, and Laura added to this with an individual bronze in the Grand Prix Special, replicating the success of the British team in Lipica as the best-ever result achieved by a British team at a European Championships, beating Germany in the process. The pair also finished fourth in the Grand Prix Freestyle with 81.75 percent. This pair broke their personal best again to win the Grand Prix at Stuttgart (77.19), and went on to win the Grand Prix Special (76.54). They have since enjoyed a spectacular start to 2010 at the Amsterdam CDI-W in January (78.04 percent in the Grand Prix and 82.30 percent in the Freestyle) coming second in both to Gal and Totilas. Laura is our best hope for an individual medal at WEG.
Emma Hindle, 34, was a member of the British bronze-medal-winning team at the 2003 European Championships at Hickstead. She has been a member of the British team every year since and achieved the best British placing, seventh overall in the individual competition at the 2008 Olympic Games. Emma and Lancet 2, her 16.2-hand, 17-year-old German-bred stallion by Wenzel I, were the lynchpins of the European Championship team in 2009. Last to ride, they put in a polished performance under enormous pressure and clinched the team silver medal.
Carl Hester, 42, has a new ride for 2010. Uthopia?a 16.1-hand, 9-year-old Dutch-bred stallion (by Metall) owned by Sasha Stewart?is in his first year of Grand Prix and has already proved himself a high scorer. At their first international competition at the Spanish Sunshine Tour in March, the combination was undefeated in the big tour classes, improving each time out to score 75.29 percent in the final Grand Prix Special. A consummate professional, Carl has amassed a record 51 national dressage titles and has been British Dressage (BD) National Champion six times. He has competed in three Olympics, one WEG and five European Championships and has reached one World Cup Dressage Final. At the 2009 European Championships, he rode a personal best on Liebling II to win team silver.
Fiona Bigwood?s new partner, Wie Atlantico, is a 17.1-hand, 11-year-old German-bred gelding by Wie Weltmeyer. Last year, they had big tour wins at Saumur and Biarritz. This year the pair has achieved three national Grand Prix wins, all with scores of 70 percent or more. A stellar performance from them at Saumur CDIO 2010 led the British team to third place in the Nations Cup.
Fiona, 34, made her senior team debut in 1996 when she was selected for the European Championships with Dance & Fly. In 1998, she was ranked number one in the British International Rider Rankings and the following year, once again, she represented Great Britain at the European Championships. In 2005, she was on the team at the European Championships riding Mr G De Lully.
Maria Eilberg, 26, made her senior team debut in 2009 as part of the silver- medal-winning team at the European Championships. This was the highlight of a year in which she and Two Sox, a 16.2-hand, 16-year-old German-bred gelding (by Ehrentusch) owned by Ferdi Eilberg, enjoyed numerous good international results, including a second in the Grand Prix and a win in the Grand Prix Freestyle at the La Mandria CDI with a score of 74.10 percent. Maria was BD National Champion in 2008.
Richard Davison is team manager for GBR dressage. As a member of the British dressage team, he has competed in three Olympics, two World Equestrian Games and four European Championships. He was also a World Cup finalist four times. He is a Fellow of the British Horse Society (BHS) and was awarded the FEI Gold Badge of Honour in 2003 and the British Equestrian Federation Medal of Honour for recognition of activities connected with international endeavor.
This feature appeared in the July 2010 issue of Dressage Today.