By Louise Parkes
The Netherlands came out on top in the hotly-contested fourth leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ Dressage 2016 series in Rotterdam (NED) tonight. And the home hero was 28-year-old Diederik van Silfhout whose Freestyle performance with Arlando NOP helped pin Team USA into runner-up spot in the closing stages. Sweden finished third ahead of France in fourth and Great Britain in fifth place in the final analysis.
The result was decided over three classes, and a total of seven nations started in Thursday’s Grand Prix after which Germany and Belgium were left on the sidelines when only the top five countries progressed to today’s Grand Prix Special and Freestyle. The format worked like a dream, with the Dutch holding the lead as the Special got underway this evening, and a fierce fight to the finish when America’s Laura Graves and Verdades came out on top in this competition.
It was touch-and-go all the way through the closing Freestyle, with Steffen Peters and Legolas posting a big score to further boost American chances and really pile on the pressure, but van Silfhout clinched it for the host country when second-last into the arena.
The Dutch got off to a great start when Hans Peter Minderhoud and Glock’s Johnson produced a personal best score of 79.420 to win Thursday’s Grand Prix in which all four riders from each team competed. Van Silfhout finished third here and Adelinde Cornelissen and the evergreen 19-year-old Jerich Parzival finished fourth to cement the home side total at 77.2017 percent with Danielle Heijkoop’s 70.780 with Siro the discard.
However the second-place finish for Laura Graves and Verdades and fifth for Steffen Peters and Legolas ensured that Team USA were breathing down the necks of the Dutch when just over 1.5 points adrift on a tally of 75.640, and the Swedes were also in hot pursuit, less than a single point further behind.
Just two riders from each team competed in the Special and Freestyle, and the judges panel of Susanne Baarup (SWE), Eddy de Wolff Van Westerrode (NED), Raphael Saleh (FRA), Thomas Lang and Peter Holler (GER) put Graves and Verdades in pole position in the Special on a mark of 77.314. Cornelissen and Parzival lined up second on 76.725 while Sweden’s Juliette Ramel and Buriel KH finished third on 73.431.
Talking about her test, Graves said, “I thought my score was really fair considering the couple of mistakes I made. My horse felt really good down the centre line and there was never a point in test where I got worried - he gave me a really nice feeling in all three gaits. And I learned something new about him this weekend - this guy loves a big stadium!”
The results of both riders from each country counted in this competition, but in the closing Freestyle the best score for each nation would be the decider, and the tension lasted to the very end of this quality class which provided high-level sport and tremendous entertainment for the crowd.
Always the showman, Sweden’s Patrik Kittel led the way into the final five with a brilliant Freestyle performance from the 12-year-old mare Deja who swung to the strains of Stevie Wonder and raised the bar to a whole new level when rewarded with a mark of 78.675. But there was plenty more excitement to come, with America’s Peters and Legolas forging a new lead with a mark of 79.650. Karen Tebar from France steered Don Luis to a score of 78.375 with her trademark calmness and elegance, but the crowd were holding their breath when Van Silfhout followed her into the ring.
Team-mate Heijkoop had posted 73.675 with Siro, but that left the Dutch lying second after Peters’ high scoring result. Van Silfhout knew he needed to deliver a solid performance to clinch it for his country, and he didn’t falter, advancing up the centre line with determination and confidence as Arlando drummed out piaffe and passage for a score that almost matched his American rival as he put 79.475 on the board. That pushed the Dutch finishing total up to 460.167, and the USA would have to settle for runner-up spot on 455.649.
But before the Dutch celebrations began there would be one more moment of magic, this time from Swedish star Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven. Like some others today she was testing a new Freestyle programme, and although her 14-year-old gelding Don Auriello was reluctant to halt at the start, he totally lived up to his reputation for quality of movement and pure class. To the accompaniment of The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” the pair lifted the spirits of the crowd and threw down the winning individual score of 79.750 which rounded up the Swedish tally at 444.573 for third place.
Dutch Chef d’Equipe, Johan Rockx, was delighted. “I’m very excited because this is the first time for me to be Senior Chef d’Equipe so to get such a result, winning a Nations Cup right away, is fantastic! I’m so happy and so proud to have such good riders in my team - I really enjoyed it all!” said the man who also led a young Dutch side into silver medal spot at the inaugural U25 FEI Dressage Championships in Hagen (GER) just a week ago.
Talking about van Silfhout’s Freestyle performance the team manager pointed out, “Diederik has done so much fine tuning, it’s very impressive how he can refine the nice communcation he has with his horse.” He said this weekend’s FEI Nations Cup™ Dressage competition was part of the Dutch team selection process for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “We have two observation competitions - this one in Rotterdam and then the Dutch Championships at Ermelo - so this is an important part of selecting people and we now have an idea how things are at the moment. We don’t want to select too early, we want to decide as close as possible to Rio” he explained.
Sweden’s Vilhelmson Silfven was very happy with her individual success in the Freestyle. “This was a new Freestyle, new choreography and new music so I’m really excited! It’s always difficult to know if you can do it all in competition mode, but it was really nice to ride. I was very focused on the music and it was great being able to compete without mistakes because I could give him (Don Auriello) a proper chance to prepare for every movement. It was never rushed, and this has given us both a lot of confidence ahead of Rio!” she said.
It was a big day for the Dutch, but this weekend’s result has further extended Team USA’s lead on the FEI Nations Cup™ Dressage 2016 series leaderboard ahead of the next leg in Falsterbo (SWE) in just over a weeks’ time. And it was an important weekend for the American contingent too, as this was the last of their three observations trials. As Graves explained tonight, a decision will now be made about which American horse-and-rider combinations are destined for Rio and which will go to CHIO Aachen (GER).
1. Netherlands - 460.167: Siro (Danielle Heijkoop), Jerich Parzival (Adelinde Cornelissen), Arlando NOP (Diederik Van Silfhout), Glock’s Johnson TN NOP (Hans Peter Minderhoud).
2. USA - 455.649: Doktor (Shelly Francis), Goerklintgaards Dublet (Kasey Perry-Glass), Legolas (Steffen Peters), Verdades (Laura Graves).
3. Sweden - 444.573: Zuidenwind (Rose Mathisen), Buriel KH (Juliette Ramel), Deja (Patrik Kittel), Don Auriello (Tinne Vilhelmson Sillven).
4. France - 429.981: Amorak (Stephanie Brieussel), After You (Henry Ludovic), Badinda Altena (Pierre Volla), Don Luis (Karen Tebar)
5. Great Britain - 423.600: Rubin Al Asad (Lara Griffith), Woodlander Dornroschen (Michael Eilberg), Rosalie B (Laura Tomlinson), Classic Briolinca (Gareth Hughes)
Full results are available here