By Sarah Edmonds
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain snapped a forty-year German winning streak and took team dressage gold at the London Games after Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin earned Olympic record scores.
This was the first Olympic dressage medal of any colour for Britain, team or individual.
It also marked the 20th Olympic gold for the home team, taking it above the total earned in Beijing. Two more followed in quick succession at the velodrome.
"It wasn't just about beating the Germans, it was about beating everyone else - which in Olympic history, Britain has never done in dressage," said German-born Laura Bechtolsheimer, who has lived in Britain for more than 20 years.
"To come here and win any medal would have been amazing, but to come here and win gold - I don't think it's sunk in yet."
In news that will register outside the sand arena, Rafalca, the horse co-owned by U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's wife Ann, failed to make the cut for Thursday's individual final.
Britain finished with a total average score for last week's grand prix test and Tuesday's grand prix special of 79.979 percent, ahead of silver medallists Germany on 78.216 percent. The Netherlands took bronze.
The British have done superbly in the equestrian disciplines at the London Games, capturing their first show jumping gold for 60 years on Monday and taking a silver in eventing last week.
There's a good chance of more Olympic hardware on Wednesday and Thursday, as top riders such as show jumper Nick Skelton and Dujardin compete in their respective individual contests.
Dujardin and horse Valegro, world record holders for the highest score in a grand prix special test - a staggering 88.02 percent - now also hold Olympic records for the grand prix and grand prix special.
They scored 83.663 percent for the grand prix and 83.286 percent for the more technically demanding special, particularly astonishing given the pair only entered the top ranks of international dressage last year.
Hester, her mentor and employer, joked after his Olympic record test that he expected his protegee to crush his score, which she did handily about 90 minutes later.
TALENT TO SPARE
Dujardin is held up by many as evidence dressage is not the exclusive province of the rich and privileged.
She left school at 16 to show ponies and worked her way up to groom. In 2007, Hester spotted her at a horse talent day and recognised the soaring potential.
Dujardin joked at a news conference that she and Hester are like a bickering married couple. But then she became serious.
"I owe everything to Carl, really - to be in here having the gold medal - for training me, for giving me fantastic horses to ride. He's very special to me."
The British, once an also-ran nation in dressage, are now a major force, partly because of the efforts of Bechtolsheimer and father Wilfried Bechtolsheimer, for whom Hester once worked.
The team won the European Championships last year, the first British victory in the 25-year history of the championship.
Hester confirmed that Valegro and his mount Uthopia are likely to be sold after the Olympics. All of the team are training young horses to keep the momentum going.
Greenwich Park witnessed yet another record Tuesday as a team bronze for Anky van Grunsven gave her the biggest collection of Olympic medals ever earned in equestrian.
In the course of seven Olympics, the Dutch rider has won three individual golds, an individual silver, four team silvers and, with London, a team bronze.
Van Grunsven said at 44 she is far too young to retire, but that Thursday's freestyle will mark retirement for her horse Salinero.
"The kur will be my last competition on him and I am really happy I made the decision to come here and to help for the medal because this colour I didn't have yet," she said.
The German team are all Olympic debutantes and were missing the Dutch-bred Totilas, world record holder for the highest mark in grand prix and freestyle, after rider Matthias Alexander Rath pulled out with glandular fever.
The young German team, however, were delighted with silver.
"Everybody asks us if we have lost the gold medal - no, we have won the silver medal," said Helen Langehanenberg, who with horse Damon Hill had the fourth-highest two-day score.
"We are all new at Olympics. We are young, with young fresh horses and I think in our opinion we have done a good job."
The team event was also a qualifier for Thursday's individual, where horse-rider pairings perform a freestyle routine set to music. The top 18 riders enter on a clean slate, although only three from each country can qualify.
Dujardin finished the two rounds in first while Adelinde Cornelissen of the Netherlands was second and Hester third.
But 28th-placed Rafalca, America's most political horse, didn't make the cut. She was admittedly facing a tough field.
"We knew there was such a strong group of quality horses and riders at the top, we knew this was not going to be easy," said Gary Rockwell, one of the Olympic judges.
"It was an amazing level of competition, really. The best there's ever been."
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)