Following a predictable scenario, Isabell Werth and Weihegold OLD captured the gold medal in the Grand Prix Special at the 2017 European Dressage Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Friday 25 August 2017. The winner in hearts, however, was silver medalist Sönke Rothenberger on Cosmo, while Danish Cathrine Dufour finished with the bronze. The second bang of the day came from fourth placed Swede, Therese Nilshagen, who is ready to break through at the top.
Isabell Werth and Christine Arns-Krogman's 12-year old Oldenburg mare Weihegold OLD (by Don Schufro x Sandro Hit) are on top form. They have dominated the entire 2017 World Cup circuit, won the Finals in Omaha, and bagged the 2017 CDIO Aachen overall victory. They have only been unsettled once by Laura Graves in the Grand Prix Special in Aachen, but the American is not in Gothenburg to upset the European order this week.
Werth and Weihegold were strong, very strong, today, but not sensational. While the passage was without a doubt phenomenal, as were the passage - extended trot transitions, the trot extensions themselves fail to overwhelm, especially the last one came short. The walk extension had two hooves overtrack, but Weihegold could march more. The first piaffe lacked impulsion at the onset, the second was better though still timid. Werth was playing it safe and definitely going for a fault-free ride, which seemed to give her plenty of security for gold. In canter, the black mare was obedient and attentive to the aids and performed all movements in a safe and correct way, but she was never really impressive. All tempi changes were clear, the right canter half pass a bit flat. The left pirouette went well and was small but lacked elevation, the right one was better. The last centerline had spectacular passage and a decent piaffe. Werth's riding skills are unquestionably supreme and it was a brilliant display of riding, but it must be said that the mare's flat basic gaits made it all look a bit without shine. Their Grand Prix test had more sparkle.
The judges, though, seemed unshaken in their belief and scored it as if this was Werth's best Grand Prix Special ride they had ever seen. The panel for the Special included Isobel Wessels (GBR), Anne Gribbons (USA), Annette Fransen Iacobaeus (SWE), Francis Verbeek van Rooy (NED), Hans Christian Matthiesen (DEN), Susie Hoevenaars (AUS), and Evi Eisenhardt (GER). They rewarded Isabell's test with a winning 83.613%. Six judges had her first, one second, and the marks ranged from 82.353 (Wessels) to 84.314% (Eisenhardt).
"It can't be better," Werth said at the press conference after winning team gold and her first individual gold of the weekend. "Weihe is in the best shape ever. She's really constant, focused and honest during the competition. My focus was to do a clear test without mistakes. I could take risk. She was like a metronome in passage. OK, the first piaffe could have been better, but it was enough."
Silver Sönke Rothenberger, Winner in Hearts
The 22-year old German Sönke Rothenberger and his 10-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Cosmo (by Van Gogh x Landjonker) have been knocking at the door for a year now. The bay gelding is probably the best moving horse in the dressage world at the moment but youthfulness and über-sensitivity have stood in the way of really cracking the 80% barrier. In 2017 the bay seemed to have come of age and today in Gothenburg all pieces finally came together.
Rothenberger, who thankfully got rid of his habit of half halting with shaking hands, steered Cosmo through the test with amazing feeling, concentration and quietness and on the marker (he was not cutting corners like so many do). Only in the downward transitions, the length in the neck should stay more consistent. The horse showed fantastic trot extensions and regular passage that truly floated. The extended walk had two hooves overstep, but the neck should have stretched more forward. The collected walk was ok, but still a bit tense in the back. The onset of the piaffe was not ideal - first a bit tense and then forward - before finding the correct rhythm, the second piaffe was much better in rhythm and more relaxed. The tempi changes were superb: uphill, ground covering and straight. The only bobble came at the end of the extended canter when the horse anticipated the flying changes and did it in two phases. The pirouettes were lovely and the final centerline was spectacular. Despite the mistake in the change the feeling after the end halt was clearly that Rothenberger should win the class.
Not so! The judges ranked the combination second with 82.479%. Only Dutch judge had the pair first with 85.588%, while the others kept their marks round 80.588% and 83.333%. It is interesting to observe that with this scoring behaviour today the judges chose to keep Isabell Werth untouchable by preferring an average moving horse with impeccable training and a stellar passage (ridden by an absolute master!) over being brave and allowing a shooting star to shake up the establishment too quickly, too soon. We'll see what happens in the freestyle!
"It's an amazing feeling," said a beaming Rothenberger. "I know my horse can do it and beat anybody. Today we were very close to doing what we can. There still were one of two bobbles. It's always a different story to bring it on the day, but we are getting closer and closer. We're not there yet."
Danish Delight Dufour Earns Bronze
The 25-year old Cathrine Dufour sandwiched routinier Werth on the other side of podium as she took bronze aboard her 14-year old Danish warmblood gelding Atterupgaards Cassidy (by Caprimond x Donnerhall). The chestnut gelding is sharp as a razor with a quick and very active hindleg, but he does not always step under. Nevertheless, the lightness and effortless with which Dufour rides this fire cracker is stunning.
The medium trot was very nice, the half passes well balanced. The first right passage lacked understep and got a bit uneven, the left passage had much better regularity. The extended walk had lovely relaxation and good overtrack. Dufour rode a very nice transition from collected walk into piaffe. Cassidy's piaffes do not have much elevation, but the horse keeps a good rhythm. The second piaffe could have had a bit more forward tendency. In canter Cassidy got a bit too overcollected today. The half passes were quite short, but well balanced. The tempi changes were all correct but lacked ground cover. Cassidy started to loose the clear 3-beat rhythm a bit due to this overcollection, but he kept listening to his rider and remained very light and steady in the contact. Also the pirouettes were well ridden, but could have more elevation to score even higher. Dufour finished with a strong final centerline, supported by the clapping of the audience. The eager Swedish spectators clapped with all top finishing horses at the end of each test, which added to the fun atmosphere in the stadium.
Dufour scored 79.762% and ranked between third and fifth place. Her marks ranged from 78.333 to 80.686%.
"I'm super happy with the test," said Dufour at the press conference. "He was more relaxed than in the Grand Prix and was more with me in the canter, so I was able to put more pressure on him without taking risks."
Swedish Therese Nilshagen Close to the Podium
Swedish Therese Nilshagen is another young star who has been growing and developing as a combination with dressage performance center Lodbergen's 10-year old Oldenburg licensed stallion Dante Weltino (by Danone x Welt Hit II). The pair has been showing class and potential for greatness already in 2016 but it took until this year for Dante Weltino to grow into his own as a super star Grand Prix horse. In Aachen a month ago they already gave a taste of being able to move to the top echelon and today in Gothenburg they did it. The pair finished fourth and should definitely be counted as a medal candidate for tomorrow's freestyle.
Dante Weltino showed a dreamy passage and rhythmical trot half passes. The first trot extensions were exuberant with lots of flash in front and could have been a bit more even in the rhythm, but the horse achieves proper overtrack. The extended walk was mediocre though with not enough overstep and quite quick in the tempo. Dante Weltino's passage is very much off the ground but on the s-line he got a bit jerky with the right hind leg. The canter work was lovely with correct tempi changes. The two's could have been straight in the body as the horse swayed to the right, but the pirouettes were brilliant. What made this ride so absolutely special is the fantastic, soft bridle contact. The stallion responds to the lightest of aids and while he could still be even more up in the bridle, the entire test was so effortless and such a joy to watch.
The pair scored 78.585% for fourth place and thrilled the home crowds.
"I'm so proud of my horse. I guess I had a good ride today," said Nilshagen modestly. The German based Swede has been riding the stallion for the past five years and took him from young horse level to Grand Prix. "It's been a nice journey so far."
Brits Fifth and Sixth
Britain's darling Carl Hester has not been having the best European Championships. Although not really reflecting in the scores he's been getting here in Gothenburg, Jane de la Mare's 13-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Nip Tuck is not showing his A-game in Sweden. The tall and lanky bay gelding has not competed in any outdoor show after his last competition at the 2017 World Cup Finals in Omaha and at the Europeans he appeared very tender on the legs.
Nip Tuck's trot extensions have never been the best, but both in the Grand Prix and Special he could not keep a balanced stride in them, although the medium trot was probably the best line. The left half pass was uneven as well as the right passage in which the horse dragged the hind legs. The extended walk was active but the horse could have dropped in the poll even more. The piaffes were nicely on the spot but the second one was a bit on the forehand. Fortunately in canter Hester picked up some more points with several good movements: the extended canter and both one and two tempi changes were very solid. In the 9 one tempi changes on the centerline the first change was short behind. The pirouettes were good. What gives Carl credit is the fact that Nip Tuck is always very consistent in the contact and up in the frame. The horse chews on the bit and is nice in the bridle. They earned a generous 76.723 for fifth place.
British team mate Spencer Wilton and Jen Goodman's 14-year old Hanoverian gelding Super Nova (by De Niro) had some making up to do after a wasted Grand Prix in which the tall bay gelding cooked over. Today Wilton had Super Nova switched on and focused on the rider. He was able to ride his horse. Super Nova showed good trot extensions with his ears pricked, but there was a problem in the transition from passage to extended trot left. In piaffe the rhythm could have been more confident though but it was still nice to watch. The extended walk had good overtrack. Wilton rode the canter work in safe mode and the one tempi's could cover more ground. The pair was solidly at 78% but unfortunately two more hiccups crept into the test. The onset of the one tempi's on the centerline went wrong and then the rider only rode 7 changes instead of 9. Also the onset of the left pirouette was too big, but the passage on the final centerline was very nice. They finished sixth on 76.078% with the British judge having them at 80.196% and the American judge at 74.412%.
The best 15 scoring riders of the Special (only 3 per nation) move on to the Grand Prix Kur, which is scheduled for Saturday 26 August 2017 at 14h30. See the starters' list here.
Text and Photos by Astrid Appels - No reproduction allowed
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Eurodressage Coverage of the 2017 European Dressage Championships