Competitors and observers got their first taste of the new Olympic formats for equestrian sports Saturday as Olympic dressage kicked off at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park in Tokyo, Japan.

With the team final still a few days away (Tuesday, July 27), the jury is surely still out on whether three-rider teams are here to stay. But even with empty stands, Saturday’s individual and team qualifier proved that top sport prevails over all. There is much to look forward to after the first three groups of seeded riders competed for places in the team and individual finals—Saturday was undoubtedly thrilling.

Three groups of 10 riders took their turns in the arena Saturday for the Grand Prix, with a final three groups scheduled for Sunday ride times. These groups have been seeded by World ranking so that the top-ranked riders are spread throughout each group.

The groups are incredibly important when it comes to individual qualifying. The top two athletes from each group qualify for the individual final, the Grand Prix Freestyle, along with the six athletes with the next best scores (including ties). Meanwhile, the best eight teams (including all teams tied for eighth place) qualify for the final team competition, in which the test will be the Grand Prix Special.

The very last rider down centerline Saturday produced the best score. Germany will once again be gold medal contenders following Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and TSF Dalera’s huge score of 84.379 percent—a personal best. There was just one other rider to produce a score above 80 percent, and that was Cathrine Dufour (DEN) and Bohemian.

Where it Stands: Individual Dressage

Here’s who’s in so far for the Grand Prix Freestyle, the individual final for Olympic Dressage:

  • Group A
    • Charlotte Fry (GBR) and Everdale — 77.096 %
    • Therese Nilshagen (SWE) and Dante Weltino OLD — 75.140 %

Charlotte Fry (GBR) provided an early highlight with her 77.096% score aboard Everdale, whom she has produced to this level, having ridden the 12-year-old KWPN stallion since he was seven. Fry, 25, is making her Olympic debut. This pair’s extended trot and extended canter work were most certainly highlights of their Grand Prix test. Fry gets extra marks (unofficially) for her music choice, a beautiful compilation of Ed Sheeran songs.

  • Group B
    • Cathrine Dufour (DEN) and Bohemian — 81.056 %
    • Edward Gal (NED) and Total U.S. — 78.649 %

What a treat it is to watch the legendary Edward Gal. His Olympic partner is the nine-year-old Hanoverian stallion, Total US, who has only made six (!!) starts at the international Grand Prix level, all this year. Total US is sired by none other than Gal’s former mount, the great Totilas. Even more special is that Gal’s teammate Marlies van Baalen is also competing with a horse by Totilas, the 10-year-old KWPN gelding, Go Legend.

  • Group C
    • Jessica von Bredow-Werndl (GER) and TSF Dalera — 84.379 %
    • Sabine Schut-Kery (USA) and Sanceo — 78.416 %

Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo were the first U.S. combination to compete, and they did not disappoint, putting up a score that earned them direct qualification to the Grand Prix Freestyle. This is especially noteworthy, given that Carl Hester (GBR) and Hans Peter Minderhoud (NED) were also in this group. It was a personal best score for the pair in FEI competition, and their test was mesmerizing to watch. Their piaffe and passage—tested twice in Grand Prix—were “wow” moments, earning several nines from the judges.

This partnership, also a part of the 2015 gold-medal winning team at the Pan American Games, has a wonderful story, with Schut-Kery acquiring the now-15-year-old stallion as a three-year-old and developing him herself. That’s 12 years of partnership. They set a great tone for the U.S. team heading into Day 2—I for one will certainly be cheering them on!

Where it Stands: Team Dressage

The Netherlands currently holds the lead, having had two riders compete thus far (Von Bredow-Werndl was the only German dressage rider to compete Saturday). After Day 1, here’s how things currently stand for team qualifying:

  1. The Netherlands
  2. Denmark
  3. Great Britain
  4. Sweden
  5. Portugal
  6. Spain
  7. ROC
  8. Germany

Sunday’s final day of qualifying kicks off at 6:00 p.m. JST / 5:00 a.m. EDT. Groups C, D and F will include the remaining two riders of Team USA, Adrienne Lyle (Salvino) and Steffen Peters (Suppenskasper). Follow along at HN for comprehensive Olympic equestrian coverage!

Feature image: Photo by FEI/Christophe Taniere