Continuing with our blog series about the Evolution of the Equestrian World Championships—and as we look ahead to the FEI Dressage World Cup 2023 in Omaha—we’re diving into the history of the Dressage World Championships and sharing some fascinating facts and captivating rides from over the years
Of all the FEI disciplines, dressage has the longest World Championship history, with official FEI dressage championships held on non-Olympic years between 1930-1939; the final competition concluded just days before the start of World War II.
Since the first modern iteration of the FEI Dressage World Championships, held in 1966 in Bern, Switzerland, one country has dominated beyond all others—Germany. With 12 team gold medals and 21 team/individual medals combined, this nation’s horses and riders have set the standard for excellence in dressage competition.
1974 Copenhagen, Denmark
This year marked not only the debut of Team USA but also the first time the legendary German rider Reiner Klimke would win an individual title, riding Mehmet. Klimke, who passed away in 1999, had formerly represented Germany in eventing. However, he became a dressage master, eventually earning eight medals (6 of them gold) in five Olympic Games, and a total of seven medals at World Championships. He is also the father of Ingrid Klimke, an eventer/dressage rider (and my personal equestrian idol), who rode Franziskus 15 on Germany’s dressage team in Herning.
1986 Cedar Valley, Ontario
The first dressage World Championships held outside of Europe. At these championships, teams were represented by four riders, but only the best three scores counted toward the team total. This would prove to be just one of many scoring and format changes to follow.
1994 The Hague, Netherlands
Another new format was introduced. The full Grand Prix test determined the team medals, but two separate individual medals were up for grabs, one for the Grand Prix Special and one for the ever-popular freestyle. Longtime rivals Isabell Werth riding for Germany on Gigolo FRH, and Anky van Grunsven, riding for the host country on Olympic Bonfire, would go on to split these titles; Werth took gold in the Special, while van Grunsven rode away with top honors in the freestyle.
1998 Rome, Italy
The dressage format was changed yet again. The Grand Prix test determined team medals and was a qualifier for the Grand Prix Special. The individual championship was earned by the rider having the highest overall percentage in the Grand Prix, the Special, and the Freestyle, with Werth and Gigolo FRH again claiming the gold.
2006 Aachen, Germany
Dressage returned to presenting two individual medals, one for the Special and one for the freestyle. Riding before sold-out crowds, van Grunsven and Keltec Salinero won both gold medals. But it was Danish rider Andreas Helgstrand and his floppy-eared grey mare Blue Hors Matine that captured the most hearts; a video of their silver medal winning freestyle ride still makes the rounds on social media today.
2010 Lexington, Kentucky
Despite winning a team silver for the first time in 2006, the USA had never had an individual medalist at the dressage World Championships. Premier Equestrian Ambassador Steffen Peters and Ravel wrote history when they earned individual bronze in both the Special and the freestyle.
2014 Normandy, France
A record number of attendees looked forward to a showdown between reigning 2012 London Olympic gold medalists Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro (Britain) and the 2010 World Champions, Edward Gal and Totilas (Netherlands). Unfortunately, Gal and Totilas had to withdraw at the last minute, leaving the door wide open for Dujardin and “Blueberry” to dance their way to individual glory—which they did in both the Grand Prix Special and the freestyle. This gave the dynamic duo the “full complement of world dressage titles” to add to their legacy.
2018 Tryon, North Carolina
While Werth again won an individual gold medal in the Special riding Bella Rose 2 (and Premier Equestrian Ambassador Laura Graves riding Verdades captured individual silver), the freestyle competition was cancelled due to Hurricane Florence.
2022 Herning, Denmark
Team USA in Herning included Katie Duerrhammer/Quartett; Ashley Holzer/Valentine; Premier Equestrian Ambassador Adrienne Lyle/Salvino; and Premier Equestrian Ambassador Steffen Peters/Suppenkasper. Holzer’s sensitive mare struggled to settle in the big arena, but the remainder of the team delivered solid performances, with Lyle and Peters advancing to the individual Grand Prix Special. Lyle and Salvino also competed in the individual freestyle. Though Team USA garnered no medals, their 6th place team finish does qualify us for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Of course, we love all the American riders, but at these Championships (as they say in Hollywood), a star was born, and her name is Charlotte “Lottie” Fry. Everyone is still talking about the 26-year-old British Olympian’s stunning performances aboard the stallion Glamourdale, which helped earn the UK team silver and Fry the individual gold in both the Special and the Freestyle. Admit it: you can’t help but clap along to her piaffe-passage tour set to music by Queen, and don’t bother to stifle a gasp when you see an extended canter earning straight 10’s. This is what dressage is meant to be—harmony, beauty, power, and art, all rolled into one.