by Louise Parkes
In an impressive display of strength just three weeks before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games get underway, Team Germany produced a superb performance on home ground in Aachen to win the final leg of the first official FEI Nations Cup™ Dressage series yesterday. However it was Team USA that took home the inaugural title, overtaking their rivals from Sweden at this final event of the six-leg series that has spanned the Atlantic.
There was never much doubt about where the Aachen honours would go after a sensational result for the host nation in Thursday’s Grand Prix in which Isabell Werth posted a personal-best score of 83.271 with the mare Weihegold, and team-mates Kristina Bröring-Sprehe (Desperados) and Dorothee Schneider (Showtime) lined up second and third with marks of 82.314 and 80.70 respectively. The youngsters in the side, 21-year-old Sonke Rothenberger and his nine-year-old gelding, Cosmo, posted 75.60 for fifth place in the overall classification, with America’s Steffen Peters preventing a complete German whitewash when steering Legolas into fourth in this opening competition.
A total of nine nations - Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Spain, Sweden and USA - fielded teams, and there were many riders still hoping to impress their Olympic selectors.
The Germans already had a vice-like grip at the head of the leaderboard after the Grand Prix, with a combined score of 246.285. Team USA’s Peters, Katherine Bateson-Chandler (Alcazar), Shelly Francis (Doktor) and Arlene Page (Woodstock) were in second on 218.404 and next best were the Danish foursome of Daniel Bachmann (Blue Hors Hotline), Anders Dahl (Selten HW), Agnete Kirk Thinggaard (Jojo AZ) and Cathrine Dufour (Atterupgaards Cassidy) on a tally of 214.242.
Spain, Sweden, Great Britain, Belgium, Japan and Australia lined up behind them in that order, but only the top six teams went into yesterday’s Grand Prix Special in which, once again, none came anyway close to the on-form Germans.
The American side was reduced to just three members when Bateson-Chandler’s Alcazar had to undergo colic surgery overnight, but the 11-year-old gelding was reported to be on the mend yesterday and plans were already being put in place for recovery-time in Europe before he begins to make his way home to Florida.
Judges Peter Holler (GER), Eduard de Wolff van Westerrode (NED), Maribel Alonso (MEX), Gary Rockwell (USA) and Stephen Clarke (GBR) gave their first big mark of the Grand Prix Special to Dorothee Schneider and Showtime, the first to score above 80 percent when putting 81.902 on the board.
Schneider was delighted with her horse. “He trusts me more and more. He has never been in a stadium like that before, but it is as though he asks me when he is insecure: ‘Can I do this?’ And I tell him, ‘Yes, you can!’ and then he does it!” she explained.
Team-mate Rothenberger was next into the ring with Cosmo who showed superb balance and suspension in passage but had mistakes in the one-tempi changes for a score of 76.412. “We made a good start, but my horse got a bit tired in the canter and that’s why we had the mistakes” Rothenberger explained afterwards.
Third-last to go was Werth with Weihegold whose test was not quite as perfect as it had been on Thursday but who still managed to put 80.686 on the scoreboard. Normally piaffe is one of the mare’s strongest movements, but today there were two mistakes and Werth blamed herself for those. “I did something different in our warm-up and I think it unsettled her a bit so she lost a bit of power and confidence and we got a bit stuck” said the multi-medalled Olympian. “But it’s important that things like this happen so we can learn from them!”, she added.
Bröring-Sprehe and her black stallion, Desperados, had some mistakes in their canter tour, but the pure quality of the work produced by this fabulous horse was good enough to earn a mark of 83.725 which put them way out into the lead. As always, the 29-year-old world no. 1 was a woman of few words when describing her successful afternoon - “I’m very satisfied” she said, having posted what was always going to be the winning score.
America’s Steffen Peters finished fourth again, this time on a mark of 76.627, and Team USA’s combined total of 437.139 saw them line up second ahead of Denmark in third on 430.418 and Spain in fourth on 425.316. Sweden finished fifth on a final tally of 425.186, and when the overall calculations were done, the Americans were declared the first-ever FEI Nations Cup™ Dressage series champions. Just four points separated them from the runners-up from Sweden in the final analysis, while Denmark was another seven points adrift in third.
In total, 15 nations lined out in this first official season which followed three years of a pilot scheme. National federations used the series in a number of ways, from providing invaluable exposure to less-experienced riders to testing the form of potential championship candidates, and for Team Germany this final leg of the first official series worked out like a dream as they clearly demonstrated their formidable strength at a very important time.
Shortly after yesterday’s competition concluded, German Chef d’Equipe Klaus Roeser announced that the four riders on the winning team at Aachen will represent their country at the 2016 Olympic Games.
1. Germany 492.598: Cosmo 59 (Sonke Rothenberger) 75.600/76.412, Showtime FRH (Dorothee Schneider) 80.700/81.902, Weihegold OLD (Isabell Werth) 83.271/80.686, Desperados FRH (Kristina Broring-Sprehe) 82.314/83.725.
2. USA 437.139: Alcazar (Katherine Bateson-Chandler) 66.314/DNS, Woodstock (Arlene Page) 68.971/71.451, Doktor (Shelly Francis) 72.200/70.647, Legolas 92 (Steffen Peters) 77.243/76.627.
3. Denmark 430.418: Blue Hors Hotline (Daniel Bachmann) 71.071/70.686, Selten HW (Anders Dahl) 70.057/71.078, Jojo AZ (Agnete Kirk Thinggaard) 72.171/71.176, Atterupgaards Cassidy (Cathrine Dufour) 71.000/73.922.
4. Spain 425.316: Altaneiro (Sergio Martin Palos) 68.586/68.529, Wolk (Jose Manuel Lucena Estrada) 68.786/62.922, Don Diego Ymas (Juan Matute Guimon) 69.743/67.725, Lorenzo (Severo Jesus Jurado Lopez) 74.357/76.176.
5. Sweden 425.186: Languedoc (Kristian von Krusenstierna) 67.357/65.667, Di Lapponia T (Paulinda Friberg) 65.543/68.176, Happiness 26 (Michelle Hagman) 71.214/70.118, Pardon Magi (Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven) 74.086/74.235.
6. Great Britain 420.419: Amadeus (Daniel Watson) 66.886/65.588, Hofjuwel (Sarah Millis) 64.229/65.784, Marakov (Michael Eilberg) 72.000/72.216, Weekend Fun (Emile Faurie) 72.886/69.843.
Full results here
FEI Nations Cup™ Dressage series 2016 - Final Standings:
1. USA - 51
2. Sweden - 47
3. Denmark - 40
4. Germany - 38
5. Netherlands - 29
6. Great Britain - 23
7. France - 20
8. Spain - 16
9. Australia - 14
10. Belgium - 12
11. Russia - 11
12. Canada - 8
12. Costa Rica - 8
14. Switzerland - 4
15. Finland - 3
Detailed standings here
More information about the FEI Nations Cup™ 2016 Dressage series can be found here