Equestrian: British dressage riding high despite sales
LONDON (Reuters) - Their gold medal mounts may be for sale, but the groundwork laid by Britain's Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin should keep dressage from sinking back to obscurity in a nation more keen on show jumping than the sitting trot.
Dujardin, Hester and Laura Bechtolsheimer won team gold this week, Britain's first Olympic dressage medal of any color, and Dujardin and Bechtolsheimer added more on Wednesday - Dujardin individual gold, Bechtolsheimer bronze.
It was a landmark achievement in a discipline for decades dominated by continental Europe.
The success of the trio is the result of a virtuous circle of great horses, improved training and talented riders.
"British dressage is on a massive high at the moment," said Horse and Hound Olympic correspondent Catherine Austen.
Now two of those horses, Dujardin's record-breaking mount Valegro and Hester's Uthopia, are likely to be sold. Valegro is jointly owned by Hester and by Roly Luard, Uthopia by Hester and Sasha Stewart.
"So we could be on a high that might not last much longer. But I think having Carl and Charlotte and Laura has so improved recognition of dressage in Britain and how good you can be that hopefully it will have a lasting effect," Austen said.
Dujardin told reporters that Valegro had not yet been sold yet and that any decision on his future lay with Hester and Luard. Right now, he is destined for a well-earned holiday.
Bechtolsheimer said her own Mistral Hojris, fondly known as Alf, will never be sold, particularly since at 17 he is a senior citizen among dressage horses.
"Alf's part of the family, part of the furniture," she said.
THE NEXT GENERATION
The loss of such great horses may take the British out of the very top ranks for a while, but the success of the team has laid the foundations for a resurgence.
While Dujardin may be riding one of best horses in dressage, she is a talent in her own right, one worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Dutch rider Anky van Grunsven, record holder for the most Olympic equestrian medals.
"Charlotte - she knows how to ride. She knows how to perform. So she'll be a superstar," said Ken Braddick, owner of website dressage-news.com.
Trond Asmyr, International Federation of Equestrian Sports (FEI) director of dressage, said although Dujardin only started competing at the top levels last year, he noticed her many years ago when he was a dressage judge.
"I've also seen her now during the last year and it's a pleasure to see her ride not only Valegro but other horses."
Dujardin and Hester's relatively humble backgrounds and massive success may convince children it is possible to do well in dressage without wealth.
Hester rose through the ranks after leaving the tiny Channel Island of Sark at 16 to seek a horsey fortune.
Dujardin left school at 16 to train and show ponies and then became a groom. With an inheritance from her grandmother, she ought a horse called Fernandez that she trained up in dressage and took to a horse talent day at Hester's.
Hester, recognizing her huge potential, offered her a job and gave her the ride on Valegro - a pivotal day for the double gold medalist.
Bechtolsheimer said there was also a next generation of very good British horses on the rise.
"Carl and Charlotte have a string of young horses that they're bringing on at home. And I have a few young horses at home, including some home-breds which I'm really excited about," she said.
"And so I think for sure the future of British dressage is looking pretty rosy at the moment."
She has 2016 Olympic aspirations for a horse called Polar Bear bred on her family's farm and fathered by a stallion she competed on as a junior.
"He is an extremely talented and very exuberant horse so I have high hopes for him."
Braddick cited the young British-bred mare Woodlander Farouche, ridden by Michael Elberg. The horse this month won her age class at the FEI's young dress sage horse competition for the second year running.
"The horse may be, unless they make mistakes, the best young horse in the world," he said. "It'll be nine at the European Championships in 2015 to help them qualify for 2016 in Rio."
(Editing by Alison Williams)
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