Cream rises to the top but in Aachen that idiomatic coffee turned into a latte macchiato as there were quite a few riders that could easily have fishined in the number one position, despite the absence of the Dutch, British and American elite riders. The 25-year old Kristina Sprehe and her Hanoverian stallion Desperados scored the winning percentage of 79.702% to help Team Germany win the 2012 Nations' Cup in the CDIO Grand Prix.
Kristina Sprehe and Desperados are Germany's shooting stars of 2012 but Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill are the pair tipped for a potential Olympic individual medall. In their third dual of the season at Aachen, it was the black Desperados who beat the liver chestnut Damon Hill even though the latter had tons of room for improvement due to a few small mistakes while Desperados stayed error free.
Sprehe's Desperados (by De Niro x Wolkenstein II) is an absolute world class horse but the combination needs to gel more so that the rides become more flowing and automatic. Too many small issues such as an unsteady contact with the bit and many uneven steps in passage and in the trot work meddle with the overall harmony. Sprehe started her test with a good halt at entry and great trot extensions but in the half pass right he made a few funky, uneven steps at the start. The passage is super expressive and off the ground but failed in regularity. The piaffe has super sit and lift but the horse bopped his head a bit in the first piaffe. The extended walk had very good relaxation, the collected walk was clean in rhythm. The canter work was strong: very nice zig zag, two tempi's, big one tempi's, and a ground covering extended canter. The pirouette left was a bit big, the pirouette right better. In the final piaffe at X he took one big step to the right, losing his balance, but overall it was a strong ride which earned them 79.702% with the individual judge's scores not too far apart.
The CDIO Grand Prix took place all day Thursday with gorgeous, sunny weather and 26° C temperatures giving the show a summer atmosphere. Gradually during the day thunder clouds formed and hell broke loose during Helen Langehanenberg's ride. Fortunately there was no storm like two years ago, but Helen got the brunt of the rain. It poured during her test which didn't make the task of scoring an 80% Grand Prix ride easier.
Helen Langehanenberg and Christian Becks' Westfalian stallion Damon Hill (by Donnerhall x Rubinstein) looked confident. Good trot extensions, nice half pass right, a bit quick in the half pass left. The first passage was superb but in the first piaffe Damon Hill sat so deeply on the hindquarters that he started to claw with his front legs. Helen remained calm and patiently steered him back into passage. The extended walk was very nice. The second piaffe-passage was super again even though the horse once again took one big step in the piaffe, making the crowd gasp for air. The canter work was excellent: super zig zag and straight two tempi's, but in the one's the rider was struggling to complete the line as each change became shorter and shorter behind. The final piaffe at X was good, but the last stretch of passage became over collected and Damon Hill made a funky leap out of passage to finish with the end halt.
Langehanenberg had not yet peaked in the Grand Prix but she seems confident she can manage the stallion to greatness in the next few days, like he was at the World Cup Finals and German Championships. The judges' panel, which included Stephen Clarke, Wim Ernes, Gary Rockwell, Leif Tornblad, and Evi Eisenhard, awarded the test with 78.426% but there was a major discrepancy between Rockwell (82.766%) and Eisenhardt (75.532%).
The judging in Aachen was tough, but overall correct and consistent in the final percentage. There was no room for inflation (like in Hagen or at national championships) and the panel awarded straight scores for straight rides. Some judges had a different view on things and disagreed with one another, causing unwanted differences of more than 5% for a few rides, but in general the ranking was not really disputable.
The progress Austrian Victoria Max-Theurer has made since being trained by German coach Wolfram Wittig is staggering. A new rider has been born, woken up from hibernation. On her strong Oldenburg stallion Augustin (by August der Starke x Rohdiamant), Victoria is no longer a passenger, but she has turned into the rider finally piloting her horse!
Victoria rode Augustin with pezzazz. For the first time in years there were proper trot extensions which were powerful and ground covering at the same time! The half passes were strong, the exteded walk was good. The passage had buoyancy and regularity. In piaffe the horse takes the weight on the hindquarters and has a good rhythm but the transitions can still improve. The canter work was expressive with a good zig zag and extension. Only in the one tempi's the horse could improve on ground cover and uphill tendency. The left pirouette was the best of the two. At all times Augustin was nice in the bridle and constant with his head position. Max-Theurer earned 77.894% and placed third. Well deserved!
Anabel Balkenhol and her Hanoverian gelding Dablino (by De Niro x Wanderbusch II) finished fourth and became the third best scoring German on the team, securing her a place on the German Olympic team! Despite his mediocre walk, Dablino has it all to be an 80% scoring horse. The rider, however, seems often plagued by insecurity as her sensitive, spooky horse puts her on edge. Working with a sport psychologist has done her well and Balkenhol had a confident ride with room to climb on the score ladder.
Balkenhol and Dablino started with fantastic trot half passes, super extensions, a good rein back and a very even passage throughout the test. The first piaffe travelled a bit too much forward. The walk has been Dablino's problem point; on good days he can produce a decent 7 scoring extended walk, on lesser days the rhythm gets compromised and he gets 5s for it. In the Aachen Grand Prix the overtrack and clarity failed a bit and the judges scored the walk between 4 and 7. The second piaffe was forward in the first step but Anabel then kept her chestnut beautifully on the spot. The canter tour was outstanding. Very nice zig zag, two tempi's and extension. The one tempi's were the highlight of the test and she got 8s and a 9 for it, but that could easily have been a 10! Dablino is always soft in the contact and with the head at the vertical. The final center line was very smooth and Balkenhol posted a score of 75.426% to finish fourth. With three German combinations in the top four, team Germany easily won the Nations' Cup in Aachen with a total score of 233.554 points.
Danish Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein is always good for a rock-steady test aboard her Danish warmblood gelding Digby (by Donnerhall x Sandro). When Nathalie enters the ring, you know what to expect: a clean, soft, elegant, velvety round that consistently earns her scores round 75%. The regularity in piaffe and passage are exemplary, the canter work is always so secure and strong. The trot half passes were a bit of a weak point. The legs crossed over well but Digby loses bounce in them. Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein earned 75.426% to complete the top five.
Trained by Richard White, Nathalie was the best scoring Danish rider for whom Aachen was the final Olympic selection trial. Team Denmark finished second in the Nations' Cup with Anna Kasprzak on Donnperignon (by Donnerhall x Mozart II) as second best Dane in 8th place with 73.426%. The 22-year old Anna made no major mistakes and presented a fit and energetic "Pepe". Especially the trot movements and passage were the strong points in her test. The piaffe is getting there but the transition to and from passage are still difficult. Danish Anne van Olst and her long-time partner Clearwater (by Carpaccio x Limebrand) are probably having the best season ever in their career. The powerful and compact bay Danish gelding has a superb passage and shows very strong hindleg usage in all the movements. They scored 72.638% to finish 10th. The Danish team totalled 221.000 points to earn silver.
Dutch team trainer Sjef Janssen made Aachen a last-minute third Olympic observation trial for the Dutch where Patrick van der Meer and Imke Schellekens-Bartels would battle it out for the fourth Dutch Olympic spot. While Van der Meer and Uzzo (by Lancet x Indoctro) have been consistently scoring higher at the Dutch trials, Schellekens hopes to catch up with her 1.88m standing Toots (by Jazz) and Janssen surprisingly created a third selection opportunity. The coach did state that the selection will totally depend on mathematics: all Grand Prix and Special scored at the three trials will be added up and the highest scoring horse goes to London.
Also in Aachen, Patrick van der Meer turned out to be the higher scoring Dutch rider. He ranked 9th with 72.936% but it was not their best test yet. The trot work was lovely, the passage always very elegant and even, but in two piaffes the horse yanked his head up high. The extended walk could have had more relaxation and was a bit quick in tempo. Uzzo has very nice tempi changes and the pirouettes were ok. The final transition from canter to trot didn't work though but the last centerline was good again.
Imke Schellekens-Bartels and Toots were 13th. The black gelding makes an impressive appearance in the show ring and that shows in the great trot extensions and half passes. At several occasions the horse had his mouth open and in the rein back he was resistant. Like all huge horses Toots struggles with true collection and bolstering power and energy from behind. In piaffe he crosses over behind and steps on his own coronet bands. The third piaffe was probably the best in his test. The passage is elegant but shows little push from behind. If the horse gains more strength in the hind quarters - maybe by next year - the picture will be different. Toots executed very nice pirouettes and two tempi changes, his zig zag barely fit into the arena and the ones could have had more ground cover. The duo scored 71.596%. Three judges had the pair at 70.5%, one at 72.4% and judge Clarke went up to 74.255%.
Text and Photos by Astrid Appels - No Reproduction allowed