FEI Dressage European Championship 2023, written by Louise Parkes
It’s time for Europe’s best Dressage combinations to shine this week when the FEI Dressage European Championship 2023 gets underway in Riesenbeck, Germany.
The pirouettes have been practised and the piaffe has been perfected. A total of 70 horse-and-rider combinations from 23 countries are ready to put on their dancing shoes and show all their best moves as they battle it out for both team and individual medals.
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland will all be chasing down the team medals while individuals will fly the flags of Armenia, Cyprus, Estonia, Israel, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia. The majority of teams will consist of four combinations, but Luxembourg and Norway field just three team members each.
Also on the agenda over the coming days will be the race for the last three team places on offer to teams from FEI Olympic Groups A and/or B for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Already qualified are France as host nation and Denmark, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and The Netherlands who placed in that order at last summer’s FEI Dressage World Championship in Herning (DEN). Poland also made the cut at the Group C qualifier in Budapest (HUN) in June, leaving a total of 16 countries vying for one of those three coveted places this week.
Team Germany has long dominated this championship, claiming individual gold 22 times and winning 25 of the 29 team titles since the inaugural event was staged in Copenhagen (DEN) in 1963. And they arrive in Riesenbeck as defending champions once again after sweeping all before them in Hagen (GER) two years ago.
That team consisted of Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, Dorothee Schneider, Isabell Werth and Helen Langehanenberg but this time around Werth and von Bredow-Werndl are joined by Mathias Alexander Rath riding Thiago GS and Frederic Wandres with Bluetooth OLD. Werth, the most medalled athlete in equestrian sport, will partner the stallion DSP Quantaz while von Bredow-Werndl brings out the mare with which she has swept all before her in recent years, the lovely TSF Dalera BB.
Great Britain filled the silver medal spot in 2021 and exactly the same team of riders will line out again this year, but all with different horses. Charlotte Dujardin will ride Imhotep, Charlotte Fry will bring Glamourdale, Carl Hester partners Fame and Gareth Hughes brings Classic Briolinca.
Denmark took bronze in Hagen, but then went on to take team gold at the FEI Dressage World Championship 2022 on home ground in Herning (DEN) last summer. They are a real force to be reckoned with and although they will be missing Cathrine Dufour this year, they look set to stake their claim to the podium again in convincing style with their side of Daniel Bachmann Andersen riding Vayron, Andreas Helgstrand with Jovian, Carina Cassøe with Heiline’s Danciera and Nanna Skodborg Merrald with Blue Hors Zepter.
Anticipation is at an all-time high ahead of this year’s championship because it will see von Bredow Werndl and Dalera face some serious new challengers.
Together the German pair took all gold at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games before going on do exactly the same at the FEI European Championship 2021 a few weeks later. They claimed the FEI Dressage World Cup™ 2022 title before von Bredow-Werndl took a baby-break which meant they missed the World Championship last summer. But they bounced back to take the 2023 World Cup title in April and they hold the number one spot on the world rankings once again.
In their absence, Britain’s Lottie Fry and Glamourdale won both the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle at the World Championship a year ago, the stunning black stallion stealing the hearts of many in the process. And now Skodborg Merrald and Zepter have stepped under the spotlight with ever-improving results that suggest the Danish pair are going to be big-hitters this week.
The chestnut gelding was previously ridden by Bachmann Andersen and then by Sweden’s Patrik Kittel, but since Skoborg Merrald took up the ride early this year the 15-year-old horse has blossomed like never before and the quality of their work together has been sensational.
Add in the Grand-Mistress of the modern sport, Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin with yet another new horse that, quite unbelievably, looks set to be as good as any of the greats she has ridden before, and we have a recipe for an intriguing week ahead.
Imhotep, known at home as Pete, was only a nine-year-old when helping Britain to last year’s team silver in Herning where he finished fourth in the Grand Prix, sixth in the Special and tenth in the Freestyle. A year later and he was throwing down a challenge to von Bredow-Werndl’s Dalera in Aachen (GER) in July, finishing a close second in the Grand Prix Special and third behind Zepter and Dalera in the Freestyle.
Dalera and Glamourdale have never come head-to-head before, so this week we will see that happen. The power and presence of the stallion who sets hearts racing, especially when he storms into extended canter, will take on the ladylike grace and elegance of von Bredow-Werndl’s mare. And the pureness of Zepter’s quality work along with the rising potential of Imhotep as he continues the learning curve likely to take him to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games next summer will give the panel of judges plenty to think about.
They will all be first put to the test when the action gets underway in Riesenbeck on Wednesday 6 September with the first group of riders in the Grand Prix. On Thursday the remainder will compete and the team medals will be decided.
The Grand Prix Special takes place on Friday 7, and the new Freestyle champion will be crowned on Sunday 9.