Highlights of 2014 by dressage-news.com

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Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro celebrating another gold medal victory. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro celebrating another gold medal victory. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Dec. 30, 2014

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Highlights for 2014 were about the dominance of one championship partnership but also the impact of a split between horse and rider, the rise (again) and disappointment (again) of a horse once considered the greatest and some feel-good stories about success and effort.

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro were more than superstars in dressage as Great Britain’s Sunday Times & Sky Sports named the 29-year-old rider Sportswoman of the Year and she made the short list for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

The pair were already bedecked with Olympic team and individual gold medals as well as gold from European Championships, and held all three Grand Prix world records when 2014 began.

They added their first World Cup, early in the year then went to their inaugural World Equestrian Games to add team silver and two individual gold medals. Not satisified with the treasure trove of precious metal, the duo broke their own Grand Prix and Freestyle records at the year-end London Olympia event.

The first time in history a horse and rider have held all championships in dressage. Plus the first British winner of the World Cup and individual gold at the World Games as they were for the Olympics in 2012.

By the time Charlotte and Valegro defend their World Cup title in Las Vegas next April, they will have been competing at Grand Prix just four years.

Their story, so far, would not be complete without recognizing two giant size influences.

Alan Davies, who takes care of Valegro, getting a hug from Charlotte. Alan was also nominated as International Equestrian Federation Groom of the Year. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Alan Davies, who takes care of Valegro, getting a hug from Charlotte. Alan was also nominated as International Equestrian Federation Groom of the Year. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

 

Carl Hester wears many hats---part owner of Valegro, trainer and mentor of Charlotte Dujardin, coach of other British team combinations and who owns, trains and competes horses for Great Britain at the top level at the same time. © 214 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Carl Hester wears many hats—part owner of Valegro, trainer and mentor of Charlotte Dujardin, coach of other British team combinations and who owns, trains and competes horses for Great Britain at the top level at the same time. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Hopes were raised on the return of Totilas to the show arena in May after being sidelined with injuries for two years that the charismatic black stallion who held the spotlight and the world records before Valegro would again wow his legion of fans.

After eight competitions over a couple of months, the prospect of joining a mighty German team and going head-to-head with Valegro were dashed when the 14-year-old KWPN horse was withdrawn from competition with a recurring injury.

Matthias Alexander Rath hugging Totilas after winning the CDIO5* Grand Prix Special in Aachen, the last competition before being withdrawn from competition with injury. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Matthias Alexander Rath hugging Totilas after winning the CDIO5* Grand Prix Special in Aachen, the last competition before being withdrawn from competition with injury. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Totilas was not the only loss for Germany in 2014.

Helen Langehanenberg decided to end her four-year partnership with the stallion Damon Hill NRW after sharing Olympic team silver, World Games team gold and a pair of individual silver medals, a World Cup title and European Championship medals.

The rider’s intensity and focus in a pint-sized body won widespread admiration and the breakup of the relationship left a big hole in Germany’s lineup of stars.

Helen Langehanenberg riding Damon Hill out of the competition arrena for the last time. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Helen Langehanenberg riding Damon Hill out of the competition arrena for the last time. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Isabell Werth, however, showed (again) the depth of talent in German equestrian sports.

Bella Rose gave Germany’s most decorated rider entry to the 80 per cent Grand Prix club in 2014 and another world championship gold medal. But for the almost universally condemned competition arena footing at the World Games where the pair was the highest placed German in the Grand Prix (second behind Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro) the duo pulled out although she was obviously a contender for an individual medal.

The mare that Isabell found as a three-year-old will be 11 years old in 2015 and could be the highest ranked German combination heading into the European Championships at Aachen in August.

Isabell Werth on Bella Rose celebrating after the CDIO5* Grand Prix Freestyle in Aachen, Germany. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Isabell Werth on Bella Rose celebrating after the CDIO5* Grand Prix Freestyle in Aachen, Germany. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Several 20-something riders from North America and Europe made their presence felt strongly in 2014, but none more so than the 27-year-old Laura Graves whose mother bought Verdades as a baby from a Dutch sales video and developed the KWPN gelding through the levels to the World Equestrian Games as a 12-year-old.

The pair that grew up in the frequently icy northern state of Vermont that is not known as a hotbed of dressage and moved to Florida for better weather and hard-earned training were not even on the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) world rankings of 722 horses and riders at the beginning of 2014.

At Normandy, the pair placed fifth in the Grand Prix Freestyle after finishing eighth in the Special–becoming the first American combination to finish ahead of U.S. champion Steffen Peters at Grand Prix since her coach, Debbie McDonald, performed the feat on Brentina in 2008 when Steffen was aboard Lombardi II. At the end of November, Laura and Verdades were 22nd in the world.

Laura Graves and Vardades at the World Equestrian Games. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Laura Graves and Vardades at the World Equestrian Games. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Professionals, as in most of life’s endeavors, rule the roost, often provided with fancy horses and supported by gobs of money.

Matthew Johnson is a true amateur who shows up daily at his real estate sales office in Wellington, Florida working to make enough money to pay for training on his Petersborg’s Qasanova that was the leading United States five-year-old in 2014. He hoarded sales commissions to buy the horse.

U.S. results qualified the pair for the World Young Horse Championships in Verden, Germany where the 44-year-old made his European debut. The rider had to pay to get himself and the Danish Warmblood stallion (Quaterback x Kajana I/Calypso II) to Europe as the U.S. federation typically has not covered such expenses, something that Robert Dover, the American dressage coach as well as Matt’s trainer, hopes to change in the future.

Matt Johnson riding Petersborg's Qasanova at the World Young Horse championships. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-nes.com
Matt Johnson riding Petersborg’s Qasanova at the World Young Horse championships. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-nes.com