Day one of the Olympic dressage competition went to script for Britain’s riders, with Carl Hester finishing top on Uthopia, and Laura Bechtolsheimer in second place on Mistral Hojris.
The British team was drawn fifth of ten teams on Tuesday which meant team pathfinder Carl Hester, competing in his fourth Olympics, was relatively early in the running order at seventh to go.
He entered the arena on his own and Sasha Stewart’s dark bay stallion Uthopia to rapturous applause, countless waving Union Flags and an electric atmosphere.
An expensive mistake came when Uthopia changed in the extended canter across the diagonal but this was the only major error in an otherwise fabulous performance for a score of 77.72% to take the lead.
“That’s my second international show of the year so I’m very happy, it felt like a good performance; I know it’s not the highest mark I’ve had but I have to take into account it’s the Olympics, it’s the toughest standard, and I’m obviously in the first group," said Carl.
"I’m delighted, we had one mistake where he changed in the extended canter which was costly, that took me down under the 78% which would have been my ideal score I think to start with but hey, 77% is still great. The horse felt good, he’s moving well and you can’t prepare a horse for what we’ve just done. There’s nowhere in the world that I’ve been on a young horse that could prepare for the noise and the feeling and the atmosphere, so all that taken into account I’ve had a great ride and it’s a good start for us.”
The second Danish rider suffered the worst of the showery conditions when Anna Kasprzak performed in a monsoon with Donnperignon but they still managed 75.289%.
The tension rose the turn of the first team riders from the Netherlands and Germany came around. Dutch rider Anky van Grunsven made history by becoming the first dressage rider to compete in seven Olympics, and is the defending Champion.
With Salinero she put in a strong performance for 73.343%, which was not enough to take the lead, but certainly a good start for the Netherlands.
On to Dorothee Schneider and Diva Royal for the biggest team challengers, Germany. The combination was strong throughout but a combination of small mistakes made an impact to give them a final score of 76.277%.
It was then the turn of Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris, who certainly belied his 17 years in looking better than ever.
The pair certainly projected a different picture to that four years ago in Hong Kong, as they were a picture of true harmony. Laura looked overjoyed with her test, and as she left the arena the score sat at 71% but with final marks and collectives, the final total was 76.839% which gave them second overall.
“Amazing, the crowd are very, very supportive and it’s unbelievable to ride in front of a home crowd like that - I felt very much carried by that the whole way through," said Laura. "I felt Alf put in a really solid performance as usual, I had one little mistake at the end of the extended canter - I copied my team mate Carl Hester we seemed to have made exactly the same mistake.
"In parts he got a little bit strong but I was always able to bring him back, he never got away from me. He concentrated and focussed the whole way through the test and I’m pretty gutted for my team that the mark didn’t reflect what we thought it would be. Some days [the draw] turns out to be a great advantage, other times a disadvantage, at the end of the day it’s one of those things you can’t control as a rider and you just have to focus on your performance and give your best in the ring and forget about the rest of that stuff as its really not something you can influence.”
Full results and times for tomorrow: http://www.london2012.com/equestrian/event/dressage-individual/index.html