Helen Langehanenberg Crowned Queen of Dressage at 2012 German Championships
The 2012 German Dressage Championships on the idyllic property of the late Count von Landsberg-Velen in Balve, Germany will be remembered for two reasons: the torrental downpours of rain on three of four days of competition and the amazing girl power which manifested there. Helen Langehanenberg became Germany's new dressage queen and launched herself as hopeful for an individual Olympic medal.
On the first day of the Championships the Grand Prix counted as first official German Olympic selection trial and warm up class for the Special and Kur which counted for the national title and medals. Thirteen combinations rode in front of the judges' panel which included Peter Holler, Katrina Wüst, Dr. Dietrich Plewa, Dr. Dieter Schüle and Martin Richenhagen. Isabell Werth and Anabell Balkenhol each rode two horses whereas riders such as Nadine Capellmann, Hubertus Schmidt or Brigitte Wittig (who competed at CDI Achleiten instead) were absent from the event.
The Grand Prix was the first time the three German giants -- Desperados, Totilas and Damon Hill -- met each other in competition in front of national coaches Johnny Hilberath and Jürgen Koschel and the judges.
Christian Beck's highly popular breeding stallion Damon Hill (by Donnerhall x Rubinstein I) was the first to enter the ring, surrounded by surprisingly crowded tribunes and tents despite the non-stop rain showers. The not too big liver chestnut stallion matured tremendously the past few months and is now ready to contest with the very best in the world. Unlike with other pairs that are able to show a high degree of technical perfection yet fail to impress with harmony, 'Dami' and Helen Langenhanenberg display what dressage is all about: Beauty of movement, unison between man and animal creating the impression of absolute lightness. Trained to Grand Prix level by Ingrid Klimke and fine-tuned to perfection by Langehanenberg, Damon Hill is very light in the bridle with the poll most of the time as the highest point. The Westfalian has no major flaws, his piaffe and passage work are of exceptional quality, with a lot of sit and much push off the ground, always in rhythm and with very elastic hindlegs. In the Grand Prix he lost important points on the final centre line when he stalled in passage. The rider scored 9s and 10s throughout the three days of competition for her seat and aids. After their second place in the Grand Prix, in which no medals were awarded, Helen Langenhanenberg and Damon Hill built on their Grand Prix performance and won gold in the Special as well as in the kür, well ahead of the horse that was heralded as Germany's next Olympic gold medal bearer after his sale in autumn 2010.
"It was perfect, Damon Hill gave me an unbelievable feeling," the 30-year old Langehanenberg said after her Special gold. "I don't worry beforehand, so I never thought of the idea that I would become German champion. I always try to do my best."
Totilas and Matthias Alexander Rath had won the Grand Prix and kür at their first show in 2012 some weeks ago at the CDI Hagen and immediately cancelled their entry at the CDI Munich in order to stay afloat on the inflated Hagen high scores they had obtained. Their Hagen appearance caused quite some drama in the German media because of Rath's minute-long rollkur warm up and at Balve the young rider continued preparing his fit-looking KWPN stallion in the hyperflexed positionfor minutes. However, in the course of the weekend he shortened those training phases. In the Grand Prix the 12-year-old performed quite faultlessly with clear highlights in his piaffe and passage and a first canter pirouette which was absolutely exemplary, earning him several 10s and the victory with 83,23%. In the Special as well as in the kür both dropped to silver. In the Special the horse was visibly resistant in the canter half-pass kicking to the spur, but the movement still earned him a 10 from judge Richenhagen, who also awarded Rath's special a jawdrapping 88%, at least 7% off from his other colleagues who all scored the ride with 81%. The discussions surrounding Rath's performances in Balve continued with his updated version of his Michael Jackson kur, which now included the eye-brow raising vocals "Totilas is my best friend" in several movements. Rath's freestyle focuses strongly on the piaffe-passage-work in which Totilas excelled, but mistakes in the flying changes brought the technical mark down a bit.
Germany's shooting star Kristina Sprehe placed 3rd on her father's 11-year-old Hanoverian stallion Desperados (by De Niro x Wolkenstein II) in the Special and Kur and took her two bronze medals. At the beginning of their partnership last year there were some critical voices doubting whether a petite young lady like Kristina might manage to ride a licensed breeding stallion formerly trained by professional Falk Rosenbauer, the student has proved them all wrong. This black power house has carried Kristina successfully from victory in the U 25-tour to a place on the Olympic short-list with a realistic chance of competing at London within less than a year. Trained by Jürgen Koschel Kristina not only showed an exemplary warm-up, but three very pleasing rounds. The horse's forté is the piaffe in which he moves like a metronome. Like Helen Langenhanenberg and Damon Hill the 25-year-young Kristina and her horse convinced judges and crowds alike with their harmony and suppleness, but probably need to make some changes to their freestyle to increase the level of technical difficulty.
Expected top scorer and 4-time Olympic veteran Isabell Werth was unable to live up to the expectations and probably had one of the most disappointing shows in her career. Even though she rode two horses (El Santo, Don Johnson) in the Championship, she returned home to Rheinberg with an injured horse (Don Johnson) and was unable to place higher than 8th in the Kur to Music finals. Balve, where Werth once celebrated triumphs with her unforgettable Hanoverian Gigolo FRH, turned out to be a nightmare. Already in the Grand Prix luck was not on her side, even though she managed to place 5th. El Santo NRW did not show the solid piaffe he executed in the warm-up, losing valuable points which couldn't be compensated sufficiently by his powerful extensions and the general impulsion this gelding is able to produce. When it rains, it pours as Don Johnson had to be retired early in his programme, having strained a fetlock in front in the trot half pass right. He was transported home the same day. El Santo is usually able to fascinate with his floating, impulsive movements, appeared lacklustre in the Special and even more so in the freestyle, leading to unusually low placings 9th (GPS) and 8th (kür).
Anabel Balkenhol with Dablino was fourth in the Special and fifth in the Kur. This earned her the fourth spot on the German team for the 2012 CDIO Aachen, the final German Olympic selection trial. The talented Hanoverian chestnut was already on the 2010 WEG but missed out on 2011 European Championship team selection due to an injury. In Balve the sensitive Dablino showed three good rounds. The harmony between the 12-year-old De Niro-son and his rider was dominating in each ride with the horse supple and attentive. In the Special Anabel was riding a bit too careful, resulting in timid piaffes, but both were back in the freestyle. Dablino's flying changes, his very correctly developed extended trots and the wonderful frame in which he performed were amongst the best in the field and earned him a 5th place with room left for more.
Dorothee Schneider's performances on her Under 25 student Stella-Charlott Roth's black Hanoverian mare Diva Royal (by Don Frederico x Warkant) was the positive surprise of the championships. The 10-year-old black mare first came into the spotlight when Stella-Charlott became the 2010 European Young Rider team champion after which the mare successfully moved to Grand Prix-level. Since then Diva Royal has been presented either by trainer Schneider or student Roth in the U 25 competitions. Even though Schneider and Diva Royal have had remarkable successes so far, at Balve both really came into their own. The mare is a paragon of correct training. She is able to show diligently collected piaffes and a nice passage, consistently scoring 8s in many movements with room left for further improvement.
After their 6th place in the Grand Prix Schneider and Diva Royal moved on to 5th in the Special and even 4th place in the kür.
Uta Gräf's massive Holsteiner stallion Le Noir (by Leandro x Caletto I) and Monica Theodorescu's former team horse Whisper (by Welt Hit I x Weltstar) were in for the two places behind the top scoring pairs. Le Noir, a 12-year-old black stallion owned by Christiane Herzog, had won the kur at Wiesbaden only days before the championships kicked-off and now placed seventh throughout the championships. The horse impresses with his very correct training and the way he always tries for his popular rider, more than with his spectacular movements. At Balve „Leo“ showed one of the best piaffes in the field, joing the elusive club of horses earning 9s (or higher) for one of the most difficult Grand Prix- movements.
This is exactly this movement that seems to hinder Ann-Kathrin Linsenhoff's Württemberger Whisper to place higher. The now 14-year-old bright chestnut often struggles to find a clear rhythm in piaffe, but on the other hand is a muster of correctness and throughness in most of the Grand Prix movements. Theodorescu's horse is always in harmony with his rider and presented in a nice uphill frame. After a mediocre 8th in the GP Whipser climbed to a 6th place in the Grand Prix Special and kur.
After three amazing days of German national championships, the conclusion is that German dressage seems well prepared to face the tough battle expected at the Games in London, not only for the medals, but also for show-casing high quality riding.
Photos © Barbara Schnell - Eurodressage