The Maimarkt show in Mannheim is one of the traditional spring shows in Germany, held annually in May. Though it is a just a national competition, foreign guest riders can attend and the number of famous names from the German national teams creates an almost CDI -atmosphere.
Besides the excellent facilities on the showground this location is renowned for the two European Show Jumping Championships it has hosted so far.
Stars of the future
Twenty-six upcoming youngsters competed in an S-level class on Saturday morning. Some entered pairs were aiming for the Nürnberger Burgpokal qualification the next day, some like the 7-year old Baden Württemberger gelding Birkhof’s Dave were having their debut at S- level.
It became a little triumph for this renowned Birkhof stallion station in south Germany. Though it did not win the class three Birkhof horses placed in the top 10.
A future star in Isabell Werth’s string of horses could be her 9-year old Hanoverian Don Johnson (by Don Frederico x Warkant). The bay gelding, owned by Madeleine Winter-Schulze, showed himself in high spirits in the warm up ring, but settled down to show a beautiful test. The movements of this young hopeful have extraordinary elasticity.
In the competition Don Johnson’s ability to step under and his shoulder freedom in the trot wowed the crowds. He stayed nicely in front of the vertical and showed a smooth contact with the bit throughout his test to win the class 9 points ahead of the 8-year old handsome stallion Birkhof’s Meraldik (by Münchhausen x Caramel xx) under Falk Stankus.
This pair is a pleasure to watch in the warm up as well as in the show ring. The Baden Württemberg branded 174 cm tall liver chestnut cannot hide his Trakehner sire Münchhausen, an international Grand Prix horse under Dane Fie Skarsoe. His dam Herka xx is the full sister to the world-class thoroughbred sire Heraldik xx, whose son Ekwador competed at the World Cup finals this year.
Another one of Birkhof Stud’s high quality youngsters is the beautiful dapple grey stallion Birkhof’s Denario (by Denaro x Fair Play), who managed to place 4th with an almost faultless round. This Bavarian bred double Bundeschampion is only 7 years young and not very experienced at S-level, but his performance showed his talent.
Masterly guided by Nicole Casper, who gained fame at Grand Prix in the 1990s with the chestnuts Ricardo and Bela Bartok, Denario impressed with his tension free and supple ride, the picture of a dressage horse who loves the job and can show himself to an audience. Casper surprisingly finished a good 7th place with the 7-year old Württemberg gelding Dave (by Denaro x Rehberg). It was the first S- level competition for the half brother of Denario.
Ranking at the top amongst the victorious Isabell Werth and the Birkhof stallions was another impressive horse, one who may not be that well known outside Baden-Württemberg region. FBW Don Johnson, a lovely liver chestnut gelding with long blonde mane, came a close third, only a point behind Meraldik.
The gelding became the Württemberg young dressage horse champion three times as a 4, 5 and 6-year old under the Ludwigsburg based professional Renate Gohr-Bimmel. The 9-year old FBW Don Johnson is by the Württemberg sire Dr. Jackson D and showed a mature performance with the talent to reach out for more.
El Santo NRW Shines in the Grand Prix
No doubt there may be quieter dressage arenas than the one of Mannheim, because right behind is the motorway and the venue is next to the Maimarkt exhibition. People are coming and leaving the stands, also non-horsey people, to have a look at the action going on.
Isabell Werth couldn't have picked a better horse to rely on than her Grand Prix youngster El Santo NRW, who is known for his great character and relaxed attitude to life.
The 9-year old Rhinelander gelding by Ehrentusch, a former Nürnberger Burgpokal winner, won the Grand Prix with only slight mistakes in the canter and with piaffes which could not be matched by a Lipizzan of the Spanish Riding School! Madeleine Winter-Schulze’s horse carries the weight beautifully on lowered hindlegs and still holds the rhythm like a clockwork, a picture rarely to be seen.
But maybe even more impressive is the great contenment the horse showed, not only in his ride but also in the warm up ring and outside. He wins everybody's hearts with his happy expression and friendly eyes. There is a double joy to watch El Santo. Though he was a deserverd winner the judging differed quite a lot from first place to eighth.
Only five points behind them was Ulla Salzgeber with her 10-year old chestnut mare Wakana. The Wolkentanz II-daughter showed athletic trot half passes in which she crossed widely. In the extended trots the Thuringian bred horse could have come a bit more in front of the vertical. In her canter pirouettes she was able to carry a lot of weight on her active hindlegs and demonstrated the high quality of her collected work. All in all the mare is an attractive horse and a strong support to Salzgeber’s no. 1 horse, Herzruf’s Erbe.
A familiar face on the scene and a regular visitor to the Maimarkt Show is the coloured Hanoverian Wellington and Olympian Alexandra Simons-de Ridder, whose talented daughter Jill could be seen training in the warm up ring under the supervision of her parents. Alexandra's 15-year old (by Wanderer x Garibaldi II) showed a very good ride in which his great ability to collect could be clearly seen in his sitting piaffe and the beautifully performed canter pirouettes. They earned a 3rd place just ahead of an obviously ever improving pair: Christoph Koschel and the Finnish warmblood gelding Donnperignon.
This very dark liver chestnut is a very good type of dressage horse, almost looking like a stallion. He appears to be happy in his work and Koschel is an elegant yet effective rider who guided his top horse to a respectable 4th place. The ride was without major flaws which once again proved the reliability of the gelding. He has very engaged hindlegs but only the piaffes could have been more off the ground.
Undoubtedly an attractive pair to watch is Helen Langenhanenberg and her black lady Responsible. Already in 2008 the now 11-year old Rohdiamant mare was on the Olympic short list as a young Grand Prix horse, but she had a break last year.
The overall picture is the one desired in the sport of dressage: Elegance, beauty, harmony. Where other top horses swoosh their tails with almost every aid given the Oldenburger mare showed her relaxed attitude with an almost non moving tail. Her piaffe could have had a bit more push off the ground and expression in general, but the total image is so much nicer from the many horses that show spectacular steps produced mainly by tension. This mare reminded some of the necessity of re-thinking what one should look for in dressage.
Another talented mare finished sixth behind Responsible OLD. Rom, a bay Rotspon x Wolkenstein II offspring, had come into the limelight earlier this year, placing 2nd in the GP and Special at the Leipzig indoor show in February. After losing the ride on her Grand Prix horses Hinnerk and Insterburg within 12 months time, Carola Koppelmann fortunately still has Rom, a great horse she has trained for many years.
Rom is a horse of overall high quality and is also able to show a classical piaffe with nicely lowered hindlegs. In Mannheim she performed very good extended trots, but could have been a bit more in front of the vertical. She became croup high at the canter strike off, but settled immediately to show straight flying changes.
Susanne Lebek’s Baudolino is such a lovely type. Like her championship horse Potomac, the bay gelding has an interesting pedigree being sired by Convoi out of a Dux dam and owned by Eric Schwab. Already quite impressive a week earlier at Hagen the 12-year old showed a solid program with active piaffe, super rhythm in the extended trots and good flying changes. The canter pirouettes are settled, but could be a bit higher and more impressive in front. Though his walk is rather mediocre Baudolino was supple and relaxed in all his work.
The young Hanoverian liver chestnut Watteau is a horse with impressive trot work. He is only 9-years old and in his first Grand Prix season so his 14th place should not be overestimated. Ridden by Ulrike Stadelmayer from Baden- Württemberg, who competed Sven Rothenberger’s Olympic bronze medal winning Hanoverian Weyden 15 years ago, Watteau moved with outstanding lightness in the trot, yet he has to mature in the piaffe and avoid coming too deep in the passage.
Outside the Show Ring
Mannheim is a great show for horse loving teenagers as they can watch all their heroes behind the scenes in the warm up area. So not surprisingly mainly girls between 10 and 16 besieged the two warm up rings behind the dressage arena and stadium, carrying digital pocket cameras and camcorders and having the excited joy one their first all I experienced at Mannheim in 1990 when I attended the German dressage championships as a 13-year old girl in the same mental state.
Many things have changed in equestrian sport since then, but not the inspiration it gives to the (new) generation of young riders to see their equestrian heroes. Isabell Werth's Satchmo drew special attention. Satchmo had come to Mannheim just to be trained. As soon as the bay with dark brown bandages and saddle cloth entered the warm up arena rumours among the audience started: “Isn’t it…? But it cannot be, he is not on the start list…” and so on. Satchmo looked fit and happy while executing some Grand Prix movements and it all looked rather like playing than hard work.
The riding in the warm up ring draws hot discussions now and then, but this year there was little to complain about in Mannheim. No excessive riding could be seen, fortunately, but the way and styles to train a horse still differ much, of course.
Birkhof's riders Falk Stankus and Nicole Casper displayed textbook style horse training and riding. Stankus, who was already very successful as a young rider and in the Piaff Förderpreis series with a Holsteiner named Lancelot, is one of the finest riders I have seen for a long time. He is blessed with everything it needs to make a top athlete and I did not see one harsh aid the whole day while he rode his two different horses. His style is like a pianist playing the piano. Stankus and Casper set their focus on properly loosening their horses rather than exercising the movements over and over again. The relaxation their horses showed in the warm up wias still there in the competition ring later on.
Susanne Lebek is also a pleasure to watch in the warm up. She was asking the movements, but again and again allowed her horse to relax with walk periods in between.
Much has changed since I have last been to the Maimarkt Show. One thing is the increased number of equestrian tradestands offering the usual range of horse gear and fashion for the riders. The “polo style wave” has also reached this show and sometimes I had the feeling to attend an equestrian fashion event rather than a dressage show. Though nothing compares to Aachen!
Dogs are never out of fashion in the equestrian world, but obviously the Jack Russell breed has to struggle to remain the be the leading one! In Mannheim you could see every type of dog strolling around, from the German favoured Rhodesian Ridgeback and Golden Retriever to miniature red and wire haired dachshounds, poodles and fox terriers.
On my way to the exit after a long day I had another opportunity to admire El Santo NRW’s great character. Isabell Werth rode him along the crowded and noisy row of tradestands opposite the show jumping ring, lorries and cars crossing constantly. Right behind me, the bay moved with an interested look in his kind eyes and I never had a second of fear he would spook and land on my heels. On long reins “Ernie” fought his way through all the “traffic” to his well earned prize giving ceremony and lap of honour.
By Silke Rottermann