No Holding Down Germany at 2017 European Dressage Championships

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 00:52
2017 European Dressage Championships

There is no holding down team Germany. The "Mannschaft" claimed the team gold medal with overwhelming dominance at the 2017 European Dressage Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Wednesday 23 August 2017. While Germany had already secured gold after three team members had gone, the medal chasing for silver and bronze lasted until the penultimate rider. Denmark and Sweden pushed long-time podium subscribers Great Britain and The Netherlands off the podium and swept through the Ullevi sports stadium like a breeze of fresh air.

Can't Hold Us Down

Team Germany already made clear that they were ruling the roost after the first day of competition on Tuesday 22 August with Helen Langehanenberg and Dorothee Schneider covering the top two places in the provisional Grand Prix ranking. Sönke Rothenberger and Isabell Werth swiped all further doubt off the table with two inspiring rounds that placed them first and second in the overall ranking, while Helen became fourth and Dorothee sixth.

Sönke Rothenberger and his 10-year old Dutch gelding Cosmo (by Van Gogh x Landjonker) have truly come of age this 2017 show season and while they have not yet mastered the absolute faultfree ride, the sensitive bay gelding has come in his own in the competition ring and shines as never before. The passage work and trot extensions are phenomenal, the piaffes on the spot. The collected walk was still a bit tense. The canter work has real highlights in the tempi changes and extensions, but there was a counting error in the zig zag and a mistake in the ones. They ended with 78.343% in total. 

The judging panel, consisting of Susan Hoevenaars (AUS), Annette Fransen Iacobaeus (SWE), Isobel Wessels (GBR), Evi Eisenhardt (GER), Anne Gribbons (USA), Francis Verbeek v. Rooy (NED), and Hans Christian Mattiesen, had marks ranging from 77.600 to 80.300%.

Isabell Werth and Christine Arns-Krogman's 12-year old Oldenburg mare Weihegold (by Don Schufro x Sandro Hit) have been the last rider to go at any competition pretty much the entire show season and it was no different in Gothenburg. The best was saved for last and Werth rode an effortless and breath taking test. Weihegold is definitely not the most impressive mover, Cosmo outshines the black mare by far, but the correctness and smoothness with which the horse executes all the movements are amazing. The trot half passes had good crossing, even though the mare bared her teeth when she put effort into it. The trot extensions are underwhelming but correct. The first passage was phenomenal, but in the first piaffe she has a bit of a backwards tendency with the right hind leg. The extended walk is mediocre with limited ground cover and not the best rhythm (scores 7 - 8) and the collected came dangerously close to being lateral (still scores 7s and 8s!!). The canter work was high class: superb zig zag, extended canter and two tempi changes. In the ones Weihegold lacks ground cover, but the pirouettes were top. The audience could not contain its excitement and already started clapping in the final passage on the centerline. This was the first time this happened in Werth's career in a classical Grand Prix test.  The judges were thrilled and rewarded the number one with 83.743%. The marks were very much in unison. 

The German team was beaming with pride during the medal ceremony and they were more than ready to throw a party after the press conference at 23h00. "This has been my latest and driest press conference ever," Isabell Werth joked, but then explaining more seriously how she prepared for the season highlight of 2017. "Weihegold is in really great shape. It is always the question if you can bring it to the competition. Now the hardest part will be to keep her in shape until the end of the week. I didn't expect (team gold) at the beginning of the year with two of our team horses out (Desperados, Show Time) and still be so dominant here." When asked if the unbeatable Werth is actually afraid of any competition, she replied frankly, "I'm not a dreamer on a horse. There will be a day (that I get beaten) but hopefully not this weekend."

Isabell's team mates shared in the excitement. "My horse is the best he has ever been," Sönke said. Schneider stated that she is "very proud of my horse. He did a good job. He did his first CDI Grand Prix in March and only did five competitions with constant result." Langehanenberg said that "happy is the only word to describe it. At the beginning of the summer I didn't even expect to be here."

Dufour Secures Silver for Denmark

Brand new team trainer Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein brought four European Championships newbies to Gothenburg and reaped silver. With the youngest team of riders in Gothenburg, she had aimed for bronze and secretly hoped for silver. "It's been a great way to get here. I knew we were going for silver when I got here and saw the other riders train their horses, but I didn't dare to tell them," zu Sayn-Wittgenstein admitted at the press conference after the medal ceremony. 

Danish anchor was Cathrine Dufour. Also praised as one of the most talented dressage riders in the world since she was a Young Rider, Dufour continues to show talent, skill, resilience, and nerve on her 14-year old Danish warmblood Atterupgaards Cassidy (by Caprimond x Donnerhall). They horse is always lightfooted, electric and willing. Light in the bridle and this time with the mouth more closed, Cassidy showed good trot extensions and elegant half passes though the rhythm was not always pure. Cassidy's piaffe is certainly not the flashiest but is always ridden on the spot, the passage is bouncy with much airtime, but the hindlegs never truly step under and on the final centerline he clearly swung the hindquarters to the left. The extended walk was good, but there can be even more lengthening. Cassidy got a bit tight in the topline in the collected. In canter, Dufour lost a few points in the tempi changes which did not really cover enough ground, and in the zig zag the horse got slightly deep, but overall the entire test was so incredibly well ridden with lightness and harmony. They scored 78.300 and placed in anticipated third position. 

Danish Anna Kasprzak and her golden oldie Donnperignon, an 18-year old Finnish warmblood by Donnerhall x Mozart, produced good trot and canter extensions and fresh passage work. In piaffe he's a bit cramped in the topline and pushes himself high in the bridle. The zig zag was very nice as well as the sweeping trot half passes. There was an issue in the two tempi changes and with the balance in the left pirouette. Still the combination thrived on routine and scored 73.386% to place 9th. They were the second contributing score for Denmark with team mate Anna Zibrandtsen and Arlando right behind them in 10th place (72.957). 

"It's was our dream to win bronze so I said 'come on girls, let's do it'," Dufour said about the original team's goal coming to Gothenburg, which they bettered with silver. For Zibrandtsen just getting to this show was an achievement in its own right. "We were in such a hurry to get the scores and the qualification, so now that I got here I was actually able to relax and do my best," she said about handling the pressure. Kasprzak added that she was "happy with the test, but we had some expensive mistakes. For me it's important that Donnperignon is fit and happy going into the ring. He's 18 now and getting better and better." Team scratch score rider Agnete Kirk Thinggaard already did the Olympics with Jojo AZ, but this was her first European Championship. "I was very happy until the zig zag, then I had a bad mistake. It was the best test I had ever ridden until then. It took me a few hours to shake it off, but then we were biting our nails when Cathrine went in."

Homeside Heroes Get Bronze

For home team Sweden the bronze was highly celebrated after a 10-year gap from podium. Their last team medal at a European Championship was in 2007 and since then the country has been working hard at closing the gap again with the fast developing nations such as Great Britain. Team captain Bo Jena spoke with a combative voice: "Bronze is fantastic. We came here with four new team horses."

Sweden's best ride came from the German based Therese Nilshagen on Dressage Performance Centre Lodbergen's 10-year old Oldenburg stallion Dante Weltino (by Danone x Welt Hit II) who was selected on the team for the Rio Olympics but substituted when the stallion injured himself in Brazil. In Gothenburg the pair was finally able to represent Sweden for the first time at a continental Championships and they did it with style. 

Nilshagen and Dante Weltino rode a beautiful halt at entry and a very expressive medium and extended trot. The half passes were sweeping but could have been more uphill oriented. The first passage was springy, but the second lacked some collection. The piaffe has much sit and especially the one at X was nice. There was a mistake in the two tempi changes but the ones were well executed. Also the left pirouette was a highlight. Sometimes, Dante Weltino flashed his tongue, despite being light and unpressured in the contact.  They scored 74.429% to finish seventh. 

Patrik Kittel and the Oatley family's 11-year old Oldenburg gelding Delaunay (by Dr. Doolittle x Feinbrand) were the last pair to go for Sweden. They rode good trot lengthenings and elegant passage work even though it was not always entirely regular. The first piaffe was on the spot but could have been more forward thinking. The walk was well regulated but in the collected Delaunay got a bit deep and the horse kept dropping in the contact in several movements afterwards (piaffe, two tempi changes). The passage on the final centerline was lovely, but the piaffe at x laboured. The pair finished on 73.857% and an 8th place. Both Swedish born judges (Fransen, Gribbons) scored Kittel the highest with 75%. The others were between 72.300 and 74.100%.

"My god it's been a great day," said an ecstatic Nilshagen at the press conference. "My first feeling (after the test) was it could have been better. I had a stupid mistake. But it's been a great day. I did not dare to hope (for a medal), but I knew we could do it if we all had a good day." The seasoned team rider Patrik Kittel handled the pressure well as the last one to ride on home turf. "I knew it was a lot of pressure, but that's always the case at a Championship." Tinne Vilhelmson brought her second Grand Prix horse Paridon Magi to Gothenburg and placed eleventh. "I had never ridden him in such a big arena before," she said. Rose Mathisen admitted that "I had been nervous for two weeks before. Then I came here and now I'm not nervous anymore," she said with a big smile.

Great Britain and Holland Bumped Off the Podium

With the retirement of Valegro (Charlotte Dujardin) and the sale of Atterupgaards Orthilia (Fiona Bigwood), Team GB traveled to Sweden with a weakened team. The same could be said of the Dutch team who could not depend on Hans Peter Minderhoud (Johnson, nor Flirt). Edward Gal's best scoring horse Zonik was considered too green for a first Championship (he's 9) and left at home. The fact that the Europeans not really counted as a qualifier for the Olympics served as a consolation, even though Holland could not properly defend its title as they won the 2015 Europeans in Aachen.

After the 2017 World Cup Finals in April Carl Hester initially seemed quite reluctant to make himself and Nip Tuck available for team Great Britain for the Europeans, but in Gothenburg his appetite for a team medal grew again. Aboard Jane de la Mare's 13-year old Dutch gelding Nip Tuck (by Don Ruto x Animo) he rode very safe and conservative trot extensions and half passes, which looked a bit tender on the legs. The passage however was very regular, even though Nip Tuck  need to show more engagement from behind. In the first piaffe the horse was not the quickest to pick up the right rhythm but the other two piaffes were nice with good sit. The tall gelding was eying the corner at M in the collected walk. In the canter work the scores rose with excellent tempi changes, a very nice zig zag and solid pirouettes which were small, but not with much elevation. At all times the horse was nicely up in the bridle and chewing on the bit. The final passage was a bit crooked to the left. Hester scored 74.900% for a fourth place with all judges round 74 - 76% and interestingly the Swedish judge at 72.700%. 

Hester had to crank up Britain's score considerably after second rider Spencer Wilton was not able to perform up to par on the 14-year old Hanoverian gelding Super Nova (by De Niro). The tall gelding was too hot to trot and although Wilton was able to ride a good first part of the test, the horse was retracting the tongue and tension was building up. Spencer could not keep the lid on the cooker and in the canter mistakes crept into the test. They finished on 72.086% and a 17th place.

Holland's highest scoring riding ended up being third team member Diederik van Silfhout on Four Seasons. Team anchor Edward Gal finished right behind him in 14th place on a score of 72.457%. Edward's 15-year old Dutch stallion Voice (by De Niro x Rohdiamant) was fresh and active and showed ground covering trot extensions and half passes, but he struggled with the transitions out of piaffe and had a mistake in the one tempi changes. Team mate Madeleine Witte-Vrees and the 10-year old Dutch stallion Cennin (by Vivaldi x Donnerhall) began very strongly with excellent trot work and fabulous trot and walk extensions, but the horse was on the forehand in the piaffe and made a few big mistakes in the canter (one tempi changes, pirouettes). Witte-Vrees scored 71.643%. The Danish judge had Cennin at 73.800%, the Swedish judge at 68.900%.

In the team ranking, Germany reigned supreme with a total of 237.072 points. Denmark followed in the far distance with 224.643 points, while Sweden was third with 221.143 points. Great Britain finished fourth on 219.272 points and The Netherlands were fifth with 216.628.

Text and Photos by Astrid Appels - No reproduction allowed

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Eurodressage Coverage of the 2017 European Dressage Championships