To say that the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG), to be held in Normandy, France, on August 23-September 7, is going to be exciting is an understatement. A record 76 National Federations have declared their intention to participate, which is 15% higher than any WEG in the past! In the dressage competition, a total of 39 national federations have entered – 28 countries will have Team representation, and 11 countries will have athletes competing as Individuals. Over 300,000 tickets have been sold for WEG thus far, and the dressage finale, the Grand Prix Freestyle to Music competition, is already sold out!
With the official nominated entries due in later this month, top dressage riders from around the world are still competing ferociously for their chance to compete at WEG. The last major WEG qualifying competition, the Aachen CHIO Equestrian Festival in Germany, is in full swing as I write this, and most of the world’s the top horses and riders are there in attendance. Aachen is a required outing for many nation’s short-listed riders, but for those who have already secured their team spot, it is an excellent dress rehearsal for next month’s WEG.
The U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) selected a short-list of eight horse-and-rider combinations for the dressage competition at WEG, all of whom travelled to Europe weeks ago to prepare and attend the two final mandatory outings. The first was the Fritzens CDI4* that took place in Austria earlier this month, and the second is the on-going competition in Aachen. The U.S. contingency made a strong showing in Austria, with seven members of the Short List participating at the event. Laura Graves and her own Verdades, took second place in the Grand Prix and also the Grand Prix Special in which four of the top seven placings went to U.S. riders. Team veteran Steffen Peters and Legolas 92 claimed second place in the Grand Prix Freestyle while Tina Konyot and her own Calecto V took third. Adrienne Lyle with Wizard, as well as Caroline Roffman riding her own Highness O also proved competitive at Fritzens, and have been named to the U.S. team for the Nations’ Cup CDIO5* competition at Aachen this week along with Graves and Konyot. Roffman will replace Peters who was slated to compete with Legolas 92, but he has withdrawn from the competition due to personal illness. However, the pair have completed their one compulsory mandatory outing (Fritzens), so are still assured of a place on the WEG Team by U.S. team Chef d’Equipe Robert Dover. Unfortunately Jan Ebeling’s 2012 Olympic partner Rafalca suffered a minor injury upon arrival in Europe, and over the weekend it was announced that the 17 year-old mare has been withdrawn from contention for WEG, and is now officially retired from competition.
The Americans will have their work cut out for them at WEG. The world’s top-ranked horses and riders will all be going for Gold, and no one more so than Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain who is seeking to make history aboard Valegro by winning their fourth major title. The duo won individual and team Gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics, took Gold at the 2013 FEI European Championships, as well as the 2014 Reem Acra FEI Dressage World Cup Final held last April. They are ranked number one in the world, and have broken the world record (even their own!) in the Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special, and Grand Prix Kur to music. No rider has ever held all four titles concurrently, and although the dancing pair seem unbeatable, there are quite a few that are going to try!
Dujardin’s mentor and British Olympic teammate, Carl Hester, is causing a stir with fans in regards to which horse he will ride at WEG. It may be a last minute decision by Hester whether he rides Dances With Wolves or Nip Tuck, a horse that is fairly new to the Grand Prix scene, but who won the Grand Prix Special at the WEG Test Event in Caen just a few weeks ago, and dominated the Hartpury CDI 3* in England over the weekend.
The Netherlands will be looking to claim another WEG, having won team Gold at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky. Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival, her Silver and Bronze medal winning partner at the 2012 Olympics, have come back into flying form after the big chestnut was successfully treated for cardiac arrhythmias last year, and the pair have won their last three outings. Edward Gal will be making his third WEG appearance, this time with his 2012 London Olympic partner Glock’s Undercover. Gal won both individual and team Gold at the 2010 WEG aboard his former ride, Totilas, the famous black stallion that set the dressage world on fire with his exuberant movement, and has been at the center of controversy ever since he was sold to Germany for Matthias Alexander Rath to compete.
The Germans are historically top equestrian competitors, and are well-known for their arsenal of fantastic horses and riders. After a two-year hiatus due to injury, Totilas and Rath have only just recently returned to competition and they are in winning form already, their partnership seeming to come together under the watchful eye of Dutch coach Sjef Janssen, trainer and husband of Dutch Olympic rider Anky van Grunsven. Helen Langehanenberg, currently ranked number two in the world, will be seeking to take the center spot on the podium aboard champion stallion Damon Hill NRW. The pair have been out of the spotlight for the past couple months since their Silver Medal winning performance at the 2014 FEI World Cup Final, and will most certainly have used their time away from the show ring to perfect their performance. The duo won a team Silver medal at the 2012 Olympics, along with Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH who took third place last month in both the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special at the Perl CDI4*, the first German WEG Selection Trial. They also have their sights on a German team spot.
With so many of the world’s best horses and riders heading for Normandy, combined with the thought of Valegro and Totilas going head-to-head, dressage fans around the world are already on the edge of their seats. It should also set the stage for a fabulous FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas next April!