Photo Caption: Germany's Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH finished at the top of the leaderboard after Day 1 of the Dressage Team Championship at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 at Stade D'Ornano in Caen, France. (Dirk Caremans/FEI)
Germany takes the early lead in Dressage
Germany holds the advantage over the defending team champions from The Netherlands after the first day of Dressage at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Normandy, France today. It could have been a daunting task for competition pathfinder, Fabienne Lutkemeier, who was first into the arena at Stade D'Ornano in Caen early this morning. But the 24-year-old from Paderborn showed great strength of character when posting a score of 73.586, and when German team-mate Kristine Sprehe added the best mark of the day, 78.814, then the country that took bronze in 2010 confirmed their sense of purpose.
A lot has happened in this sport since The Netherlands broke the stranglehold of the long-dominant Germans at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky four years ago. It was a Dutch team gold for the very first time on that occasion when the silver medal winning British also showed their increasing strength by pinning Germany into bronze medal spot. However there is no denying the resurgence of German Dressage, and this week in Caen they, once more, look the ones to beat.
Still all to play for
However with only two riders from each team in action today, it is still all to play for in the Team Championship when the action resumes tomorrow morning. The Dutch lie second following a lovely performance from Hans Peter Minderhoud and Glock's Johnson who posted 74.357 after Deiderick van Silfhout really rose to the challenge to score 73.414 with Arlando NH. Van Silfhout only got his team call-up when Danielle Heijkoop's Kingsley Siro was withdrawn last Thursday, but the 26-year-old rider showed exactly why he was on the reserve list, and with Edward Gal and Glock's Voice, and Adelinde Cornelissen with Jerich Parzival yet to come, the Dutch will be hoping to pull ahead of their German rivals by tomorrow evening.
Great Britain holds third spot thanks to Carl Hester's mark of 74.186 with Nip Tuck. Gareth Hughes was the first Briton into the arena, scoring 69.714 with DV Stenkjers Nadonna, but Hester really raised the British game with his relatively inexperienced ride who charmed the Ground Jury for individual third place. With the multiple record-breaking partnership of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, and Michael Eilberg with the handsome mare Half Moon Delphi still to come it seems the British could rally strongly tomorrow.
But it will be German star Isabell Werth who gets the second half of the team competition off to a start in the morning, and if she can persuade her mare, Bella Rose, to shimmer and sparkle like she did at Aachen (GER) last month then her country's position will be further reinforced. And as if that isn't enough, Germany also has the super-talented partnership of Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW to rely on as anchors. The battle for supremacy will be played out in full as the day progresses, and it promises to be a thriller to the very end.
"I'm very happy after our first two riders today" said German Chef d'Equipe, Monica Theodorescu today. "We are in a good situation at the halfway point and I'm looking forward to tomorrow for our next two team members" she added. With Sprehe in pole position and Fabienne Lutkemeier currently lying fourth, that comes as no surprise.
"I woke up at 5 o'clock this morning, it's a terrible time to start (the dressage test) but I had to be first in this competition!" said Lutkemeier with a laugh after making her 08.00 appearance. Talking about her performance she said "I was very delighted with the trot tour but there was a mistake in the flying changes and I'm disappointed about that. I know we can do better. I wanted to ride fresh but controlled, but I decided to take a calculated risk and I believe it paid off" she explained.
Kristina Sprehe reflected, "I felt very confident today, and Desperados was wonderful to ride. Normally he can be a bit nervous in the first competition at an event, but today he was fantastic. The piaffe could be better, but I wasn't brave enough this morning. The stadium doesn't impress him too much so he was really relaxed".
Every reason to be pleased
Hans Peter Minderhoud has every reason to be pleased. He competed in one of the heaviest downpours that beset the competition programme today and spent a lot of his warm-up time sheltering from the rain before deciding that he just had to go out there and get a soaking. He said the footing in the arena "was not slippy but a bit sticky" and that his horse, Glock's Johnson "felt it a little at the beginning of the test and was not so expressive, but then he went forward as usual after that and went quite well". Asked what he hoped his score might be today he replied "I was looking for a score a bit better than Kristina's (Sprehe)! I was hoping to get a little higher but there were a few small things - overall I am quite happy even though this was not our best test of the season. I had hoped to have that here, but I think I got it a few weeks ago!"
The Dutch rider talked about how proud he is of his 12-year-old stallion who was a real eye-catcher in the ring this afternoon. "I have him since he was three years old so he has been in our stable for almost seven years. He has been breeding a lot so he has two jobs to do. He did his first Grand Prix in January, at the World Cup at Neumunster (GER) he was really good and again at the World Cup Final in Lyon (FRA). He is developing really well and he has a lot more improvement to come in the future. He's not spooky, he's quite a clever boy and he always wants to work with you" Minderhoud pointed out.
Talking about his country's battle to defend the Team title the Dutchman said, "it's difficult, especially since we are without Undercover and Siro, but we still go for it because if you don't then you can never get it! Germany is looking really good, and Carl (Hester) did a good test but we have Edward and Adelinde so there is more to come from us!" he insisted.
British hopes alive
Hester has certainly kept British hopes alive going into the second day. "I'm delighted - we're in the hunt with The Netherlands and Germany and this was a personal best for my horse. He's 10 years of age and he's only just stepping up there. I'm very excited about the competition tomorrow and for the rest of the week" he said.
Nip Tuck's owner, Jane De la Mare, was tearful with delight as her horse left the arena with the Briish rider. "For both my owner and myself it's very exciting" Hester said. Nip Tuck was not an expensive purchase, so his presence at a world championship is all the more exceptional. "He cost me 1000 Euros, so to me, that he's doing this - that's like my gold medal to be honest. I know he did his absolute best in there for me and did everything I asked" Hester pointed out.
Hester enjoyed the enthusiasm of the spectators who greeted his arrival with a great roar. "You don't really know what to expect with this crowd, they're very enthusiastic and it was such a nice reception going in. It's 24 years later for me, because I rode in Stockholm (at the first World Equestrian Games in 1990), so I'm really happy to be here again on another horse and to get that result."
Kristina Sprehe said Desperados FRH was "very good to ride today". Judge at C, Great Britain's Stephen Clarke, awarded Sprehe's highest mark of 80.400 and all five members of the Ground Jury put her in first place. Talking about her performance she said, "I had a light connection at all times and he was really perfect today. The first piaffe was a bit unbalanced but this was our best Grand Prix for a long time" she added.
Tomorrow however, there are another 50 riders who also have their hopes and dreams, and some of them will be trying very hard to better the German rider's result.
It may be another early start, but the German contingent will be out in force to support Isabell Werth as she prepares to bolster her country's position as the second half of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ Dressage Team Championship gets underway.
The medals are definitely not decided yet....
Team Grand Prix Part 1 (after 2 riders from each team have completed):
1. Germany 152.4: Desperados FRH (Kristina Sprehe) 78.814; D'Agostino (Fabienne Lutkemeier) 73.586.
2. Netherlands 147.771: Glock's Johnson TN (Hans Peter Minderhoud) 74.357; Arlando NH N.O.P. (Diederick van Silfhout) 73.414.
4. Great Britain 143.9: Nip Tuck (Carl Hester) 74.196; DV Stenkjers Nadonna (Gareth Hughes) 69.714.
Individual Standings after Day 1: 1, Desperados FRH (Kristina Sprehe) GER 78.814; 2, Glock's Johnson TN (Hans Peter Minderhoud) NED 74.357; 3, Nip Tuck (Carl Hester) GBR 74.196; 4, D'Agostino (Fabienne Lutkemeier) GER 73.586; 5, Arlando NH N.O.P (Diederik van Silfhout) NED 73.414; 6, Norte Lavera (Jose Antonio Garcia Mena) ESP 72.414; 7, Wizard (Adrienne Lyle) USA 72.000; 8, Santana (Minna Telde) SWE 71.171; 9, Mariett (Lars Petersen) DEN 70.800; 10, Noble Dream Concept Sol (Marc Boblet) FRA 70.686.
Full results and startlists at www.normandy2014.com
Facts and Figures:
49 horse-and-rider partnerships started in Day 1 of the Dressage Team competition today.
Germany's Kristina Sprehe heads the Individual rankings with Desperados FRH going into Day 2, and Team Germany hold the advantage on the team leaderboard.
The Ground Jury consisted of: At C, Stephen Clarke (GBR); At H, Elizabeth McMullen (CAN); At E, Isabelle Judet (FRA); At K, Susan Hoevenaars (AUS); At M, Francis Verbeek (NED); At B, Dietrich Plewa (GER); At F, Liselotte Fore (USA).
100 horse-and-rider combinations will compete in the Dressage discipline.
24 teams are competing for the 2014 World title.
31 National Federations are represented.
6 National Federations are represented by individuals only.
Three sets of medals are up for grabs during the week - Team Championship, Grand Prix Special and Freestyle.
First competitor into the Stade D'Ornano arena tomorrow morning is Germany's Isabell Werth with Bella Rose who start at 08.00.
Tina Konyot USA (currently 17th place): "We made little mistakes but the horse had plenty of energy so it felt like an 80! (% score). My horse (Calecto V) is 16 years old and he's done so much for me, you can't imagine. The highlight of my test was maybe the pirouettes. They were very nice. I had some ups and downs during preparation, that's life, but the training was super, with a super US trainer and individual help from the French trainer too. We are a great team (USA), everyone is also here to help the others".
Jeroen Devroe BEL (currently 14th place): "It's the first time this horse has competed at this level and in such a big arena. I only started to train him two years ago and he's learned everything to top level. This is his 15th Grand Prix competition since March. He'll be showing more, he will be more expressive in another year. It took a lot of work at home to get here and we made it, and it's good to start for the team. This will be my horse for Rio!"
Alexandre Ayache FRA (currently 26th place): "It was an incredible feeling to be the first French rider to enter the stadium, it's all new to me! The applause helped me a lot, but it worred the horse a little bit. I didn't want to take risks in the piaffe/passage, so I didn't get high scores but I'm happy with the horse who performed well in cater. The Grand Prix must not be a test worked at all costs, as we would risk upsetting such a young horse. The objective is to perform with a horse that is willing to be playful, and I think this is the case with mine. I would like to tell the other riders to enjoy themselves - it's an exceptional moment that you can't feel until you enter the arena!"
Marc Boblet FRA (currently 10th place): "I am very happy personally. You could feel the public behind us as the French team. My plan today was to turn up, stay calm and give a consistent performance, and I am happy that I achieved that".