Great Britain’s Charlotte (Lottie) Fry and her Tokyo 2020 Olympic ride, Everdale, were convincing winners of today’s sixth leg of the FEI Dressage World Cup™ 2023/2024 Western European League in Mechelen, Belgium.

Scoring 84.980 they pipped The Netherlands’ Marlies van Baalen and Habibi DBV for top spot, while two rising stars – Belgium’s Flore de Winne with Flynn FRH and Germany’s Rapahel Netz with Great Escape Camelot – filled third and fourth places.

The event attracted a truly international line-up, with Singapore’s Caroline Chew (Blue Hors Zatchmo) and India’s Anush Agarwalla (Sir Caramello OLD) amongst the first group of eight to come before the judges panel of Eduard de Wolff van Westerrode (NED), Jacques van Daele (BEL), Freddy Leymann (BEL), Isobel Wessels (GBR) and Christof Umbach (LUX). And it was de Winne and her fabulous nine-year-old stallion Flynn who were the first-half show-stealers when putting it right up to the rest of the field with a great performance that set the second-half target at better than 80.330 percent, much to the delight of her home crowd.

Threaten the lead

It came down to the final three to threaten that lead, van Baalen and the 11-year-old Habibi producing a lovely test for a mark of 81.160 that put them out in front, only to be immediately overtaken by Fry and her 14-year-old stallion who were next into the ring.

In a ride that oozed precision, supreme confidence and class this pair presented a picture of coordination as they threw down strong half-pass and canter pirouette along with multiple big-scoring flying changes and, of course, Fry’s particular speciality – extended canter that lives up to its name. The spectators knew they had seen something special as they roared their approval when the score went up on the board.

Last into the ring, German 24-year-old Raphael Netz didn’t let that un-nerve him or his new partner Great Escape Camelot, the multiple U25 gold medallist steering the former ride of Switzerland’s Estelle Wettstein to the last of the over-80-percent scores of the day when earning 80.215 with the 12-year-old horse he has only been competing internationally since March of this year.

The Netherlands’ Thamar Zweistra and Hexagon’s Ich Weiss slotted into fifth place ahead of Belgium’s Charlotte Defalque and Botticelli in sixth and Morgan Barbançon and Habana Libre A from France in seventh. Eighth place went to Belgium’s Larissa Pauluis who made little short of a miraculous recovery after her 13-year-old gelding Flambeau threw a bit of a tantrum at the very start of his test only to settle into some lovely work that pulled back their score to a very respectable 77.905 in the end.

Great joy

There was great joy at the Belgian results during the post-competition press conference in which Jeroen van Lent declared that Flore de Winne’s score was “another mark in the history of Dressage in Belgium getting the first 80 (percent) in history, so as manager of Belgian Dressage I am a happy man!” he said.

De Winne agreed. “Yes, we’re back! It is unbelievable, nobody could have dared to dream that!” she said.

The excitement around herself and the very elegant stallion Flynn is growing with every outing. In London (GBR) just a couple of weeks ago the pair were already hugely impressive when finishing sixth in the Freestyle. At only nine years of age the horse is still developing, and the partnership he has established with his 28-year-old rider suggests there is so much more to come.

Asked if she thinks they could reach the level of today’s winners, Fry and Everdale, de Winne replied with honesty and conviction, “That is everyone’s childhood dream and also my dream! We are slowly growing, we are both green at this level but I hope to get close in the future, or even better!”

And asked if she found the atmosphere created by the packed arena of spectators difficult to handle she added, “We came from London and London was huge already but Mechelen is definitely on the same level as London. It was even more impressive to come through the corridor and enter the arena, it made my hair stand on end and I can’t wait to be back!” said the third-placed rider.

Full house

Runner-up van Baalen said the “the crowd here is amazing, it was a full house and you feel the great atmosphere!”

And today was a special day for the Dutch star, too.

“Habibi and I rode a fantastic Freestyle. He had a break after the European Championship and we rode our first indoor again in Kronenberg (NED). That was a very good warm-up for Mechelen, and we rode a Personal Best in the Freestyle today so that was just great!”, she pointed out.

And of course Lottie Fry was also a happy lady. “It’s my third time here in Mechelen but my first time winning so that’s always more fun! I had a great ride yesterday and today on Everdale, I think these were two of his best ever tests, and he’s just improving all the time. And the atmosphere in there today was pretty incredible!

“Even for the Grand Prix there were so many spectators which we don’t always get so that was really nice to see, and the prize-giving was insane – it was like the roof was going to be lifted off!” said the 27-year-old who is second in the world rankings and who took double gold at the 2022 World Championships.

As 2023 draws to a close, the Western European League table still shows Sweden’s Patrik Kittel out in front while French rider Morgan Barbançon is second and young German, Netz, has moved into third following today’s result which has also boosted Fry into joint-sixth place.

With five more qualifiers to go before the series Final in April 2024 there is still plenty more action to come and the next leg in Basel, Switzerland in two weeks’ time will get the New Year underway. So don’t miss a hoofbeat….

Results here.