If the stunning Freestyle performances that brought week 2 of the FEI Dressage European Youth Championships 2020 to a close at Pilisjàszfalu in Hungary today are anything to go by, then the future of European Dressage is in very safe hands. Both the U25 and Young Riders athletes and their horses presented top sport and demonstrated an abundance of promise all week, with The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark sharing U25 gold but the Dutch completely dominating the top step of the Young Riders podium.
There was a fairytale finish to the U25 Championship today when Denmark’s Anne-Mette Strandby Hansen steered Foco Loco W to Freestyle gold. The 15-year-old gelding made a dream come true for his owner, Dominican Republic’s Yvonne Losos de Muniz, when he carried her to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games where they finished 59th individually. And after sealing victory today, Strandby Hansen said, “I’m so lucky I got to ride this horse and it’s unbelievable what he did for me - he has a heart of gold!”. It was indeed an extraordinary achievement because this was the Danish rider’s championship debut, and she sparkled.
The pair helped Denmark to bronze medal position in Tuesday’s team finale in which The Netherlands claimed gold despite elimination for Mercedes Verweij. It was the top score of 74.765 produced by Jeanine Nieuwenhuis and TC Athene that clinched it for the Dutch when added to 72.882 from Jasmien de Koeyer and Esperanza and 71.647 from Febe van Swambagt and Edison. Germany claimed silver bolstered by the second-ranked score of the competition from Ann-Kathrin Lindner and FBW Sunfire who put 74.588 on the board.
Turned the tables
Lindner, U25 team gold medallist last summer, turned the tables when pipping Nieuwenhuis for the Individual title the following day while Germany’s Raphael Netz steered Lacoste 126 into bronze with a charming ride. Strandby Hansen missed out on a podium placing when lining up in fourth, but a stand-out performance today saw them awarded 79.025 by judges Paula Nysten (FIN), Peter Hansaghy (HUN), Henning Lehrmann (GER), Elisabeth Max-Theurer (AUT) and Annette Fransen Iacobaeus (SWE) for Freestyle gold. Nieuwenhuis claimed silver on 78.450 while Lindner slotted into bronze medal spot on 77.610.
Foco Loco W, whose stable-name is Dobby, simply smiled his way through today’s winning test, making every movement look as easy as can be. He listened to his rider from beginning to end, presenting lovely tempi changes, piaffe, passage and pirouettes and the only time he was the tiniest bit naughty was when he spooked when someone waved a Danish flag in celebration after he left the arena.
He remained at the Helgstrand Dressage stables in Denmark after Yvonne Losos de Muniz last competed him at the FEI Dressage World Cup™ qualifier in Herning (DEN) in October 2019. And in November Strandby Hansen, who has been working at Helgstrand for the last two years, got the ride on the horse who took individual silver for Losos de Muniz at the Central American & Caribbean Games in Veracruz, Mexico back in 2014.
They’ve been building their partnership together ever since, but today’s Freestyle was a first for the Danish rider, and it’s one she will never forget. “I only got the floorplan last Monday and I rode it just once at home before coming here, I never competed in a Grand Prix Freestyle before!” the delighted rider said.
Foco Loco is at Helgstrand “for training and sale”, and Strandby Hansen, who rides everything from three-year-old stallions to top-level horses, says he has a heart of gold and is a bit of a show-off. “He is so well behaved but still has the fire to do his work, and he loves it. When people started whistling at the end (of the test) he just lifted his legs higher and higher! And today it was so warm, over 30 degrees, but he still kept on fighting for me”, said the rider who is now looking forward to moving up to Senior level.
The Netherlands’ Young Rider team was also reduced to just three, this time due to elimination for Thalia Rockx and Golden Dancer de la Fazenda. However, just like their U25 counterparts, the rest of the Riders in Orange didn’t let that stop their country from coming out on top thanks to solid performances from Quinty Vassers, Daphne van Peperstraten and Marten Luiten.
Their score of 222.940 was good enough to edge Germany’s Henriette Schmidt (Rocky’s Sunshine), Luca Sophia Collin (Descolari and Lia Welschof (First Class 88) into silver on a score of 222.030, while 215.794 sealed the bronze for Denmark. And once they got the bit between their teeth the Dutch went on to make it a hat-trick of Young Rider gold when adding the Individual and Freestyle titles.
Judges Kurt Christensen (DEN), Maria Colliander (FIN), Evi Eisenhardt (GER), Eduard de Wolff van Westerrode (NED0 and Eva-Maria Vint-Warmington (EST) were in complete agreement when placing 18-year-old Luiten, a double-silver medallist at Junior level last year, at the top of the Individual scoreboard with the 10-year-old mare Fynona on a mark of 77.559. Germany’s Welschof took silver while Luiten’s team-mate, van Paperstraten, claimed the bronze with Greenpoints Cupido.
However van Peperstraten threw down an extraordinary test for a score of 80.69 when fourth-last to go in today’s Freestyle, and when Luiten was one of several to make mistakes in his tempi-changes he had to settle for bronze behind Welschof.
Van Paperstraten, gold medallist at the FEI Junior European Championships in Fontainebleau (FRA) in 2018 and at the FEI Young Riders European Championship at San Giovanni in Marignano (ITA) last summer, showed great maturity in her riding and was thrilled with the result.
“I was already so happy with how things went this week because the gold team medal was something I didn’t expect, and then yesterday I had a great feeling on Cupido and was super-happy with my test although it was a pity we had a mistake at the end. I was still very satisfied with my Individual bronze medal”, the 20-year-old rider explained. “So today I just wanted to enjoy my Freestyle. It was the first time to ride it in competition and I was excited to see how it would work out and fit with the music. When it all worked out I knew we had done a very good job and that’s the best feeling. I couldn’t be more happy!”
She rode a daring centreline of three-tempi changes to her final halt. “I knew that had to be good because if you make a mistake it’s not possible to win a European medal”, she pointed out. “We did it because it’s something different, and Cupi is always amazing in the canterwork. You have to take the risk if you want to take a medal!”
The action now moves on to the FEI European Pony Dressage Championships 2020 which will take place from 28 to 30 August.