The British short list for the Olympic Dressage team is out. With team silver and individual gold medals to defend in Tokyo and little European dressage competition in which to see the hopefuls compete, the question is, which of the riders will make the cut?
Charlotte Dujardin (35) riding the 12 year old mare Mount St John Freestyle needs no introduction. The reigning Olympic champion with the now retired Valegro, Dujardin is a certain selection—on a donkey if she cares to ride one!
Her first choice ride was the silver medalist at the last World Championships. But reserve horse Gio looks like he might be a potentially better horse than Mount St John Freestyle. Although younger and less experienced, he has not been out of top two since he began international career.
The next choice is likely to be Carl Hester (53) with En Vogue. He and the dark bay 12-year-old gelding have barely been out internationally because of COVID-19, but En Vogue made a solid start to his international with four top five placings from six starts. He is also Dujardin’s mentor and friend and a well-regarded trainer so he has value as team member far beyond just riding ability.
In my opinion, the third rider is most likely to be Charlotte Fry (25) with the black stallion Everdale. Fry has come through the British ‘World Class’ system, and has notched up a string of top ten placings at internationals since joining senior classes in 2019. Everdale is only 12, open to improvement, and Fry has plenty of international championship experience.
The choice for the final place is a hard one, as most of the remaining combination are lacking experience either at the level or as a combination. Gareth Hughes (50) and the 11-year-old bay gelding Sintano Van Hof Olympia have been super consistent at lower levels before the pandemic stuck but have limited experience since, and none at 4* or higher. The Olympics might be a year too soon for this combination.
American readers will be familiar with Susan Pape (58) now based in Hamburg, Germany and the 12-year-old black stallion Harmony’s Eclectisch. Prior to moving to Germany this year, she had been competing in the USA and was not disgraced in Florida at the Wellington 5*. Top ten finishes in both Grand Prix and the Special in Mannheim have followed and the horse is spectacular. But the pair lack any championship runs, which will probably be a consideration. On the other hand, the selectors know this combination can travel and work in high temperatures, so are not without a chance of making the cut.
Laura Tomlinson (36) and DSP Rose of Bavaria had some very good performances in 2020 and made the top ten at Compiegne in 2021, but this is another horse for whom the Olympics might come a year too soon even with the Bechtolsheimer name behind them!
Richard Davison (65) and the 15-year-old bay gelding Bubblingh were eighth at Wellington in England and then ninth and tenth at Compiegne this year. Before that they had two top ten finishes 5* Henning right before COVID-19 restrictions began and are probably the most experienced combination of the entire shortlist.
Davison is not far ahead of Emile Faurie (57) in terms of experience. Aboard his long term partner, Dono di Maggio OLD, a 14-year-old chestnut gelding, Faurie rode for the team at the 5* Nations Cup at Compiegne, finishing sixth in the Special, which was solid form and might have given them the edge for the fourth spot.
The last of the squad shortlist is Fiona Bigwood (45) with Hawtins Delicato. She and the 13-year old bay gelding were sixth at the Wellington, UK 3* and then 12th at Compiegne. Bigwood was a member of the team in Rio Games in 2016 and WEG in 2010 and so a very experience team member. But it’s a relatively new partnership. The horse was formerly ridden by Carl Hester and has only been at his new yard a matter of months. Under the special circumstances of these Games, however, with so little contact for athletes outside their team bubble, a team member (and a horse) with which the others are very familiar will be a big advantage and that might be the thing that swings the choice in her favor.
Once the team is announced, the squad of four plus two reserves will make their final preparations at Royal Windsor Horse Show before departing for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Watch for the livestream schedule on HN LIVE!