Having watched the early drivers navigate their tests on the first of two days of Dressage at Pratoni, Chester Weber (USA), who anchored his team to win gold as well as securing individual silver at the FEI World Equestrian Games TM in Tryon four years ago, entered the glorious grass arena during the mid-afternoon slot with intent. Clocking the day’s lowest score of 41.52 to top the leader board, he set out his stall to be in the medals at a World Championship.
With his team of well-matched and lithe bay KWPN geldings, he satisfied the five judges with a smooth and correct test. Despite that, he didn’t end with the sort of score that pleases him.
“I’m not happy, as only the first half of the test was really on point….I live in Ocala, Florida which is a beautiful area for driving horses and we can show at different venues in the area all winter, so it’s a good place to train. My horses are all Dutch Warmbloods and two of them were in my Tryon team, the left leader and right leader. Typically, I’m trying to score in mid 30s but that’s the score now and everyone else has to beat it.” Chester Weber said.
A performance that impressed from start to finish came from Anna Sandmann, making her horse fours debut for a strong German squad as an individual. More accustomed to competing at international level with a horse pair, having won individual bronze and team silver at last year’s Pairs World Championship in Kronenberg (NED), she ended only one point behind Chester on 42.52. From one of Germany’s leading driving families, she and her fine quality horses produced an even test which showed plenty of flair through the 22 movements. Aged 27, she is the youngest competitor alongside Belgium’s Dries Degrieck, and she firmly laid down her gauntlet as one to watch for the future in the horse fours.
“This is my first FEI World Championship with the team so I’m really happy with the score. This was the best test I’ve ever done with my horses; the extended trot and the rein back were really good. I’ve had this team two years now, they all have a lot of movement and I think that makes them special. The family is here, my father took the horses just now and my mother (Karin Sandmann) is a groom on the carriage. I’ve been training with Boyd Exell since 2016, I’m based in Lehden near the Dutch border. I drive also in Pairs competitions, and I have competed in five World Championships for Pairs, but this is my first Four-in-Hand Championship and it’s very exciting!” Anna Sandmann explained.
Anna’s German compatriot, the vastly experienced Georg Von Stein, who reopened proceedings after lunch, put his national team on track for a near certain medal finish as he was the first of the day to break the 50 mark, ending on 49.44 and opening the challenge to the dominance of the Dutch team. Going into day two lying third, Georg is a German national champion and regular member of the team since 2010.
“In the beginning we had a bit of a mistake with the left leader. I think he had flies on his head, and he went too fast, so I stopped a little bit. After that he was good, and my team was perfect and nice and easy to drive. It’s a young team; three horses are seven-year-olds and the other two have been together for two years at this big level. My best discipline is normally the Marathon. The course here is fast and technical but it’s similar to my home terrain near Frankfurt so we will see.” Georg Von Stein said.
The first starry name to enter the arena during the morning session was Koos de Ronde with his athletic team of KWPN geldings. Although ranked number two going into the competition, he has had a season of ups and downs and surely hoped for a lower score than 54.24, which placed him in sixth. However, Koos can always be counted on to lead the charge during the Marathon and no doubt he will be climbing up the places on Saturday. Another of the big names who won’t have ended where he hoped is Hungary’s József Dobrovitz. Closing the morning programme, his leaders were unsettled and did not produce a balanced test, which resulted in a score of 63.63.
One of the happiest drivers of the day was the sole representative of a traditional stronghold in the sport, Sweden’s Fredrik Persson, who finished fourth on 49.98.
“This is a completely new team and three of my five horses here are at their first international show! I bought them two years ago and stayed home training them. Three of them are American-Dutch harness horses. Today is a big relief; coming here was a very late decision but I’m so emotional now we are here. I had the goal to go under 50 and I got 49.98 so I’m delighted!” Fredrik Persson explained.
Showcasing the variety of horse breeds that can be harmoniously driven together, day one set the tone for what is already an exciting championship. It remains to be seen where the judges scale their marks tomorrow as day two promises to be even more captivating with reigning World Champion Boyd Exell (AUS) launching his bid for a record sixth world title. But amongst those determined to break the cycle will be the Dutch supremos, father and son Ijsbrand and Bram Chardon, who know all about what it takes to win championships.
It’s all to play for in Pratoni!