by Louise Parkes
Excitement is mounting as Dressage stars from across the globe polish up their final preparations for next weeks’ Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final in Gothenburg, Sweden.
An intriguing line-up of 18 horse-and-rider combinations from 11 nations will compete in this 31st Final which is always guaranteed to provide sporting entertainment of the highest calibre, and the absence of defending champion, Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin, makes for a wide-open contest for the coveted title. An ongoing ownership dispute about Uthopia, the horse with which she finished second at the qualifying leg at London Olympia (GBR) in December and fourth in Amsterdam (NED) in January, means the 30-year-old world no. 2 Dressage rider will not compete, so a brand new Reem Acra champion will be crowned in nine days time.
The host nation will be well-represented at the Final by three members of the team that finished fifth at last year’s FEI European Championships in Aachen (GER).
Double Olympian, Patrik Kittel, brings the evergreen chestnut stallion, Watermill Scandic, who at 17 years of age seems to have found a whole new lease of life as demonstrated by a brilliant runner-up performance at the Stockholm (SWE) leg of the Western European League qualifying series in November and seventh spot in Amsterdam (NED) in January. Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven has been to six Olympic Games, and with her London 2012 partner, Don Auriello, has also been in sparkling form with a double of wins in the North American League in recent months to easily earn her spot.
At 28 years of age Emilie Nyrerod is the rookie of the Swedish pack but showed immense promise with the gelding, Miata, in Aachen last year and their fourth-place finish at this season’s opening leg of the Western European League in Odense (DEN) got them off to a great start. Only one Swedish rider has ever succeeded in winning the FEI World Cup™ Dressage title throughout its history, and that was Louise Nathhorst with LRF Walk on Top in Gothenburg back in 1998, so another Swedish victory at same venue would be timely.
For Kittel it’s going to be a real family affair, because his wife, Lyndal Oatley, will be flying the Australian flag alongside Mary Hanna who, at 61, will be the oldest competitor at the Final. Hanna, a four-time Olympian who has also competed at three World Championships, didn’t travel to Las Vegas (USA) for the 2015 Final despite qualifying, but has made the trip this time after another great season with the 15-year-old Umbro with whom she posted five fantastic victories to clinch the Asia/Pacific League series title yet again in convincing fashion.
The two US representatives will be Gunter Seidel who finished fourth in the North American League with Zero Gravity and Charlotte Jorst who finished sixth with Kastel’s Nintendo, while Switzerland’s Marcela Krinke Susmelj earned her spot with Smeyers Molberg when finishing sixth in the Western European League standings.
Russia’s Inessa Merkulova (Mister X) and Tatiana Dorofeeva (Kartsevo Upperville) have made the cut by clinching the top two places in the Central European League but all the remaining contenders are from Western Europe.
Ones to watch
Denmark’s Anna Kasprzak and Agnete Kirk Thinggaard will be ones to watch, Kasprzak no doubt hoping for better luck than she enjoyed at last year’s FEI European Championships where she was forced to withdraw after getting a nasty kick from her 17-year-old gelding Donnperignon, while Kirk Thinggaard finished her League outings on a very positive note when lining up sixth with the appealing JoJo AZ in the highly-competitive last qualifier at ‘s-Hertogenbosch (NED) last weekend.
Germany is the only other country with multiple representation, and with 2015 European team bronze medallist and world no. 5 Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and Unee BB joined by reigning World and European team gold medallists Fabienne Lutkemeier with D’Agostino, the German challenge looks formidable.
But Ireland’s Judy Reynolds is on a career-high after posting back-to-back Irish record scores with Vancouver K in recent weeks while Belgium’s Jorinde Verwimp and Tiamo are also on an upward curve. Meanwhile Poland’s Beata Stremler and Rubicon D pinned Lutkemeier, Kittel and Oatley into the minor placings when finishing fourth at the hard-fought eighth leg of the Western European League at Neumunster (GER) in February so this pair most definitely can’t be discounted, and that just leaves The Netherlands’ Hans Peter Minderhoud, who may well prove to be the man they all have to beat.
Brilliant winter season
The 42-year-old Dutchman finished second on the final Western European League standings after a brilliant winter season which saw him take a double of wins including a confidence-boosting pole position at the last qualifier on home ground in ‘s-Hertogenbosch just six days ago. So the 2008 Olympic team silver medallist who claimed team gold and individual bronze at the FEI European Championships last summer is heading to Gothenburg with Glock’s Flirt in a winning frame of mind.
Charlotte Dujardin, who with the great Valegro claimed the Reem Acra title both at Lyon (FRA) in 2014 and again last year in Las Vegas (USA) is disappointed she can’t defend it this time around, “but I wish everyone the best of luck and I look forward to campaigning again to be at the 2017 Final” she said this week. And she’s very happy that New York fashion designer, Reem Acra, is extending her sponsorship of the series and Final as announced recently.
“I’d like to say an enormous thank you to Reem Acra for continuing her support of the FEI World Cup Dressage Series for another three years. As riders, we value the FEI World Cup competitions, and to have such an iconic brand behind us is invaluable”, the British star added, knowing that the crown of indoor Dressage is destined to be worn by a new champion in just over a week’s time.
Facts and Figures:
New York fashion designer, Reem Acra, presents the 31st FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final
18 athletes from 11 nations will compete.
The countries that will be represented are: Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and USA.
Defending champion, Great Britain's Charlotte Dujardin, will not compete.
The Netherlands holds the record for most wins in the FEI World Cup™ Dressage series with 12 in total, and nine of those were recorded by Dutch Freestyle queen, Anky van Grunsven.
The next most prolific winners are Germany, with eight victories to date.
The Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final 2016 will begin on Friday 25 March with the Grand Prix which is open to all 18 horse-and-rider combinations.
All participants who finish the Grand Prix with a score of at least 60% will continue to the Grand Prix Freestyle which will decide the destination of the 2016 title on Sunday 27 March.
FEI World Cup™ Dressage, the only worldwide series in this discipline, is now in its 30th season. The series, created in 1985, comprises four leagues: Western European, Central European, North American (including Canada) and Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, Asia). Each FEI World Cup™ Dressage qualifier consists of a Grand Prix test, which in turn is a qualification for the Freestyle to Music competition, where league points are accumulated towards places in the Final. Judged on both technical and artistic merit, the FEI World Cup™ Dressage combines art, sport and partnership between horse and rider at the highest level and consistently proves a winning formula with audiences all over the world.
The complete rules, calendar, updated ranking and results are available here