Lausanne (SUI), 30 July 2013
FEI European Dressage Championships
By Louise Parkes
In the final countdown to the Blue Hors FEI European Dressage Championships, one of the three disciplines to be contested at the ECCO FEI European Championships 2013 in Herning (DEN), the stage is set for another intriguing encounter in the history of a sport that has undergone radical changes in recent years. It was at the last European Championships in Rotterdam (NED) in 2011 that the British bounced to prominence, claiming their very first team title and sending a warning shot across the bows of the other nations that had previously been so dominant.
Germany had long towered like a Colossus over the sport, taking the team title on 21 occasions since the first event took place in Copenhagen (DEN) back in 1963 and undefeated in the battle for the team honours right up until 2005 before the Dutch managed to break their spell at La Mandria (ITA) in 2007. Thanks to sparkling partnerships like Anky Van Grunsven and Salinero, Edward Gal and Totilas and Adelinde Cornelissen with Jerich Parzival, the Dutch then became the ones to beat, but another new era began with the British breakthrough two years ago that has set the template for everything that has followed ever since.
The fluid, forward-going, light-contact riding style demonstrated by Britain’s Carl Hester and his pupil, Charlotte Dujardin, has now become the desired objective, with judges clearly rewarding those who are prepared to follow suit. Now many riders have effectively used the time since Rotterdam to put even more emphasis on lightness and harmony, and the tidal wave of change has been rewarded by renewed and expanded interest in the sport, which is thriving like never before.
The interest in the British team and Dujardin’s individual triumph at the London 2012 Olympic Games has been little short of phenomenal, but yet another new order has been establishing itself over the intervening months. The 28-year-old rider and the lovely gelding Valegro displaced Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival as the superstars in the aftermath of their success in the British capital, but working quietly away in the background was Helen Langehanenberg, a member of the silver-medal-winning German team in 2011 who was just squeezed out of a medal placing in London last summer. Langehanenberg and the gorgeous stallion, Damon Hill had finished as runners-up to Cornelissen at the 2012 Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final a few months before that, and the German was determined to take the top step of the podium at the Reem Acra Final this spring and did so in convincing style. She comes to these FEI European Dressage Championships as a formidable threat, and with a powerful back-up team that includes Anabel Balkenhol (Dablino FRH), Kristina Sprehe (Desperados FRH) and Isabell Werth (Don Johnson FRH), putting Germany in a very strong position indeed.
The British aren’t intimated however, despite a relatively modest performance from Dujardin and Valegro during the pilot FEI Nations Cup™ Dressage series in Rotterdam (NED) last month. The pair showed flashes of their usual brilliance as they helped their side to victory with the biggest score of the day, but the Olympic champion admitted: “there are a few things I have to sharpen up”. She will need to be at her very sharpest to keep Langehanenberg at bay this time, and the battle between Germany and the British, who send out three of their 2011 gold medal winning side, promises to be fascinating.
Dujardin’s mentor, trainer and friend, and the man she calls “Grandad”, Carl Hester, took individual silver in both the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle in 2011, while Laura Tomlinson (formerly Bechtolsheimer) took Grand Prix Special bronze. The Olympic gold medal trio will be joined by Michael Eilberg with Half Moon Delphi in Herning.
They must know that expectations are great, with Dujardin awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) following her double Olympic gold medal victory, and Hester and Tomlinson each earning an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire), for their contributions to last summer’s glorious Olympic result. Living up to those expectations will be no mean feat.
Meanwhile the Dutch have been regrouping despite a health scare for Cornelissen’s Parzival who had to be treated for arrythmia last month. The big chestnut gelding missed the Dutch National Championships as a result, but he has recovered so well that he has been selected to join Glock’s Undercover with Edward Gal on board, Glock’s Romanov ridden by Hans Peter Minderhoud, and Kingsley Siro with Danielle Heijkoop in the saddle for the forthcoming Championships.
There was a real buzz about Gal and Undercover during the Dutch Championships, and with Minderhoud in flying form and Cornelissen and Parzival back in business, it seems there is a fascinating three-way contest for the team title in prospect, while it is also very open for the individual medals. Cornelissen of course will be on an additional personal mission in this context, as she will be hoping to top the Grand Prix Special for the third consecutive time and perhaps also make it a double of Freestyle titles.
Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven and Don Auriello will also be ones to watch, their recent results suggesting they will challenge strongly. They will be joined by team-mates Minna Telde with Santana, Patrik Kittel with Watermill Scandic HDC and Malin Hamilton with Fleetwood. The host nation of Denmark will be competitive with Andreas Helgstrand (Akeem Foldager), Anna Kasprzak (Donnperignon), Lone Bang Larsen (Fitou L) and the always-reliable Nathalie zu Sayn Wittgenstein (Digby) flying the home flag.
A total of 15 countries have entered teams – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. And five nations will be represented by individual riders – Armenia, Ireland, Poland, Russia and Ukraine.
The action will begin on Wednesday 21 August with the first part of the Team Competition and the team medals will be decided the following day. The individual Grand Prix Special will take place on Friday 23 August and, following a rest day on Saturday, the Freestyle will bring the entire ECCO FEI European Championships 2013 to a close.
The task ahead of the Ground Jury will not be a simple one. Led by President Leif Tornblad (DEN), judges Susan Hoevenaars (AUS), Dietrich Plewa (GER), Gustav Svalling (SWE), Isabelle Judet (FRA), Francis Verbeek (NED) and Andrew Gardner (GBR) must choose their champions from a wide-ranging wealth of talent this discipline has never witnessed before. Testament to the level of excellence now almost commonplace in this ever-changing sport, they too will be tested to the limit before the new champions are crowned.
Facts and Figures:
The FEI European Dressage Championships 2013 will take place at Herning in Denmark from 20 to 25 August.
Competitors from 20 nations will participate.
15 countries have entered teams: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
5 nations will be represented by individual riders: Armenia, Ireland, Russia, Poland and Ukraine.
A total of 69 horse-and-rider combinations are listed in the definite entries (17 July 2013).
This is the 26th edition of the FEI Dressage Championships and the fifth time for the event to take place in Denmark.
The Danish capital city of Copenhagen hosted the first two Championships in 1963 and 1965.
Germany has won the FEI European Dressage Team title on 21 occasions, undefeated between 1965 and 2005.
The defending team champions are the British who made history with their very first victory in these Championships at Rotterdam (NED) in 2011.
This year The Netherlands’ Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival will be chasing their third consecutive title in the Grand Prix Special and a back-to-back win in the Freestyle competition.
The full list of entries for the FEI European Dressage Championships 2013 is available HERE