The knowledgeable crowd in the Holstenhalle in Neumünster, Germany showed their appreciation today when Denmark’s Nanna Skodborg Merrald and the fabulous Blue Hors Zepter reigned supreme at the ninth leg of the FEI Dressage World Cup™ 2022/2023 Western European League.
The 15-year-old gelding, previously competed by both Sweden’s Patrik Kittel and Denmark’s Daniel Bachmann Andersen, has quickly established a strong relationship with Skodborg Merrald since she took up the reins just a few short months ago. “He’s simply wonderful!”, she said today after pinning Germany’s Ingrid Klimke and Franziskus FRH into runner-up spot while The Netherlands’ Kirsten Brouwer slotted into third with Foundation.
These same horse-and-rider combinations filled the top three places in yesterday’s Grand Prix but today’s margins were wider, with Skodborg Merrald posting an impressive 86.060 for victory while Klimke’s 83.550 left her well clear of Brouwer who scored 81.375.
Eyecatchers in the first half of the competition were Germany’s Bianca Nowag-Aulenbrock and the attractive light chestnut 11-year-old mare Florine OLD who produced the most pleasing passage on their way to putting a mark of 77.225 on the board. However they were immediately overtaken by the penultimate partnership before the break, Finland’s Emma Kanerva and Greek Air whose score of 78.540 led the way when the action resumed.
With five of the 15 starters left to go, Klimke then charged out in front with the fabulous Franziskus who was a winner for the multi-talented German horsewoman on home ground at the third leg of the series in Stuttgart last November. Expressive extended trot, extraordinary extended canter and lovely tempi changes were all rolled out before their regal one-handed ride up the final centreline that saw them awarded 83.550, and the lead, to the delight of the spectators.
But Skodborg Merrald and Zepter were not going to be outdone.
The Danish athlete who, partnering Zepter’s sire Blue Hors Zack, was a member of last year’s gold-medal-winning team at the ECCO FEI World Championships has found another kindred spirit in Zack’s son. Zepter’s self-carriage, confidence and self-belief ensure a consistency in his work, and his piaffe/passage and pirouettes all reflect that.
Scoring 86.060 they rocketed into pole position and couldn’t be ousted despite great efforts from Brouwer who would slot into third and her Dutch compatriot Marieke van der Putten with the charming gelding son of the great Totilas, Torveslettens Titanium RS2 who slotted into fourth on a score of 80.580.
Skodborg Merrald feels she is still in the early stages of developing her partnership with Blue Hors Zepter, and she’s very excited about that. “He just really wants to do his very very best but I still have the feeling there is so much more I can do with him! Now he is performing without any big mistakes but I can improve the quality of a lot of things and that makes me even more hungry!”, she said today.
And she is delighted that Zepter has accepted her as his new rider. “It’s important for me that he feels comfortable with me because then in the end I can ask for even more from him”, she explained.
She loves his character too. “He is a little bit like a big puppy, so sweet in the stable! Also when he is in the ring he knows that he has to do the job and he’s fighting until the end, he never gives up and that’s what makes him really, really special. When he has the trust in you then he is really fighting for you!”, she said.
With 69 points, and currently in third place, on the Western European League leaderboard she looks well set for a ticket to the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final in Omaha (USA) in April, and she’s spoiled for choice about which horse she should take there. She will compete with Blue Hors Zack at the penultimate qualifier in Gothenburg, Sweden next weekend before making her decision.
Klimke lies second on the league table and having competed in five legs of the series said today that perhaps she has done enough in the lead-up to the Final. “I thought I might do Den Bosch (’s-Hertogenbosch in The Netherlands where the last qualifier will take place in three weeks’ time) but we will see. We have done five good rounds and if it is not necessary then we will take a break”, she pointed out.
Kirsten Brouwer will definitely compete in ’s-Hertogenbosch “because it’s my home town, so it’s special” she said today. She was delighted with Foundation’s third-place finish. “It’s only our third World Cup to compete in, and I’m super proud of him. In a World Cup you compete against the best so it’s special, and it’s even more special to get a great result!”
And she was full of praise for her horse. “I love everything about him, he’s beautiful, he’s a stallion - he may get tense in the prizegiving but he knows when to focus and that’s a great quality about him”, she said.
Next weekend’s penultimate qualifier in Gothenburg promises more great sport as the battle for those coveted tickets for Omaha comes to a boiling point, so don’t miss a hoofbeat…..
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