Category Archives: Dressage

When Brentina Rocked the House

In looking ahead to next year’s FEI World Cup Dressage Finals, I want to flashback to the 2005 Finals in Las Vegas and remember the mesmerizing performance by U.S. rider Debbie McDonald and her superstar mare, Brentina, owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas, for whom Las Vegas’s Thomas & Mack Center is named.

Based on their record, Debbie and Brentina are one of the most successful combinations in US dressage history. The pair won the 2003 World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, the first U.S. pair ever to do so. They competed at two Olympic Games – 2008 in Hong Kong and 2004 in Athens, where they were part of the U.S.’s Bronze medal team. They also participated in the 2002 World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Jerez, Spain, and the 2006 WEG in Aachen, Germany, where they also won a team Bronze medal.

Brentina's retirement ceremony in Las Vegas 2009 (PMG photo)

Brentina’s retirement ceremony in Las Vegas 2009 (PMG photo)

Brentina was formally retired in ceremonies at the 2009 World Cup Finals in Las Vegas. There was barely a dry eye in the house as a scarf of roses was laid over Brentina’s neck in celebration and appreciation of the much-loved Hanoverian mare and her contribution to the sport. However, with all their winning performances, Brentina and Debbie are in many ways most remembered for their groundbreaking performance at the 2005 Finals in Las Vegas when, performing in front of a sold-out crowd, the duo virtually ‘rocked the house” with their Grand Prix Freestyle, forever changing the way dressage is watched.

The general rule of thumb in dressage is for the spectators to remain silent from the start of the performance until the finish, but in this case the crowd could not contain itself. The choreography and music choice could not have been more perfect for the big chestnut mare, as each of Brentina’s footfalls struck the ground in perfect timing.

Debbie McDonald & Brentina wow the crowds at the 2005 FEI World Cup Dressage Finals in Las Vegas

Debbie McDonald & Brentina wow the crowds at the 2005 FEI World Cup Dressage Finals in Las Vegas

As Debbie and Brentina performed to a medley of Motown hits, the crowd got totally involved and as Brentina performed her last piaffe pirouette and passage down the center line, the packed stadium found itself clapping along to the music which was reaching its climax with Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T. With McDonald grinning from ear-to-ear, Brentina floated to her final halt after which the crowd erupted in cheers. What an amazing moment!

Although Debbie and Brentina didn’t win that Final, winding up in third place, the world will forever remember that performance as one that changed the direction of the sport. For the way the crowd reacted to the upbeat performance changed the way people watch dressage, a fitting and lasting legacy for one of the sport’s most beloved combinations.

I spoke with Debbie earlier this year about that night and she agreed that it truly was an incredible moment. “People still bring it up when they see me,” she said. “And I have to say that I smile every time they do. It was something special that I know I will never forget!”

If you’ve never seen this remarkable performance, give yourself a treat and click on the video below to watch the night Brentina and McDonald ‘rocked the house’ at the 2005 FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas. And be sure to listen as the end of the performance nears to hear the crowd join in like it never had before!

The 2015 FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas feature both the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final and the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final. The event promises to be bigger, better and more exciting than ever, and who knows what magical moments lie in store! So if you haven’t ordered your tickets yet, you should do so now. What a perfect holiday gift!

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Las Vegas Showdown: Valegro and Totilas

Two of Dressage’s All-time Best Horses Set Sights on 2015 World Cup™ Final in Las Vegas

Well, it looks like the showdown we have all been dreaming about is finally set to happen! The word is out that two of the greatest horses in dressage history plan to compete at the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final in Las Vegas next April 15-19.

Reigning Olympic and World Champion Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain will bring Valegro while Germany’s Matthias Alexander Rath will bring Totilas. Both have scheduled the qualifying competitions in which they plan to compete and announced that they are targeting the Final in Las Vegas. It is going to be a historic showdown and there is no better setting for this clash of the titans than the “Entertainment Capital of the World!”

Dressage fans from all around the globe are anxiously awaiting this encounter. Both horses are mesmerizing to watch and are almost freaks of nature in their talent. Their performances in recent years have helped catapult the sport of dressage into the limelight and projected the sport’s popularity beyond equestrian sports’ fans and right into the mainstream media.

Matthias Alexander Rath (GER) and Totilas at CHIO Aachen 2014 © Hippo Foto - Dirk Caremans/FEI

Germany’s Matthias Alexander Rath and Totilas
© Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans/FEI

Totilas, the legendary black stallion, first set the dressage world on fire about 5 years ago when he seemed unbeatable with his former rider, Edward Gal of The Netherlands. Together they were the first ever to break the previously unthinkable score of 90%, and they won all three gold medals at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. Following those Games, Totilas was sold to Germany to become the new ride for Matthias Alexander Rath, a sale that caused an uproar in the dressage world.

With all eyes on the new pairing, Totilas suffered an injury and disappeared from competition. He even wound up missing the 2012 Olympic Games. However, after a two-year hiatus and some changes in training regime, Totilas and Rath made a very successful return to the competition arena this past spring looking for a spot on the German Team for the 2014 World Equestrian Games.

The pair had wins in Kapellen (Belgium), Wiesbaden (Germany), and Perl (Germany) prior to competing at the last team qualifier in Aachen (Germany) last July. That was to be the site of the highly anticipated showdown with Valegro, who swept double gold at the 2012 Olympics; however, it was a showdown that began but didn’t have the climax everyone was longing to see.  More on that in a moment.

British superstars Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro  © Kit Houghton/ FEI

British superstars Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro
© Kit Houghton/ FEI

Meanwhile, Dujardin and Valegro are the reigning sweethearts of the sport and have become household names in Europe. The duo has set world records (previously held by Totilas) in all three tests (Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and Freestyle), are ranked number one in the world, and are the first to hold four titles simultaneously as they are the reigning Olympic, European, World Cup and World Champions!

 

Since the beginning of 2012, Dujardin and Valegro have never placed lower than second, although their invincibility started to be questioned last July at Aachen where they had an uncharacteristic lackluster performance due to higher than usual temperatures at the competition. Totilas and Rath, who now seem to have gelled together, made their way into the winner’s circle after claiming both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special with Dujardin and Valegro placing second. However, the much anticipated climax of the showdown, in the Grand Prix Freestyle, didn’t take place as Totilas was withdrawn from the competition “to be saved for another day.”

Another face-off was set for the 2014 World Equestrian Games (WEG) this past summer with the title of World Champion on the line. There was an incredible sense of excitement and speculation as to which of the two legends would win the gold. However, misfortune struck again as Totilas incurred another injury prior to WEG and was withdrawn from the competition.

The dressage world was excited to see Dujardin and Valegro back in top form, however, as they executed near-perfect performances which received high scores. The pair helped Great Britain to the team silver medal and they won both individual gold medals and the prestigious title of World Champion. However, the long-awaited match-up between the sport’s two all-time greats was put off yet again.

Well, now it looks like those at the 2015 World Cup Finals in Las Vegas next April will be the lucky ones who get to see this historic face-off.  Much like the famous ‘Match Race of the Century’ between Thoroughbreds Seabiscuit and War Admiral, or other big sports showdowns like Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady in football or the famous basketball battles between Bird and Magic in the 1980s, this competition between the two ‘heavy weights’ of the dressage world will be of historic proportions. I hope you’ve ordered your tickets because this “Dressage Showdown of the Century” is surely one that you will not want to miss!

Impressive Slate of Officials On Board For Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Finals

When the stakes are as high as they are for the 2015 FEI World Cup Finals, it is important that the officials overseeing the competition be worthy of the world’s best horses and riders. Well, an impressive slate of officials is in place for the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Finals in Las Vegas next April. The officials for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Finals will be announced shortly.

Heading the list of officials for dressage is Lilo Fore of the United States who will be President of the Ground Jury. She will be teamed with Stephen Clarke of Great Britain, Francis Verbeek of The Netherlands, Peter Holler of Germany, Isabelle Judet of France, Annette Fransen-Iacobaeus of Sweden, and Maria Schwennesen of Australia. Hans-Christian Matthiesen of Denmark is the Reserve. Freddy Leyman of Belgium will serve as Technical Delegate and Elisabeth Williams of the U.S. will be Chief Steward.

The Finals will be managed, as was the case for the Finals’ previous appearances in Las Vegas in 2005, 2007 and 2009, by Glenda McElroy and Jennifer Killinger of Cornerstone Event Management.

Ground Jury President Lilo Fore (USA) photo (c) PhelpsPhotos.com

Ground Jury President Lilo Fore (USA) photo (c) PhelpsPhotos.com

Liselotte ‘Lilo’ Fore (USA) – President

Lilo Fore has been involved with top level dressage in the U.S. and around the world for decades. She is an FEI 5* judge, and has been a member of the Ground Jury for numerous international competitions including the Olympics, Pan American Games, and World Equestrian Games (WEG) including the recent 2014 WEG in Normandy, France. Fore is also a 3* Judge for Para-Equestrian and a United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) “R” Sporthorse judge. Fore has also has been successful as a rider, coach and breeder, and she has trained many horses to national and international victories.

 

Stephen Clarke (GBR)

Stephen Clarke has always been interested in training horses for every discipline. He was a show jumping and eventing rider prior to concentrating fully on dressage starting in the late ‘70s. He was team reserve rider for the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games with his horse Becket. Clarke is an FEI 5* judge. He is legendary for his leadership and was unanimously elected as FEI Official International Judge General. Clarke travels virtually all over the globe, and has been on the Ground Jury at numerous international competitions including the World Equestrian Games, European Championships, FEI World Cup Finals, and was President of the Ground Jury at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Francis Verbeek (NED)

Francis Verbeek of The Netherlands is also an FEI 5* judge, and has been successful as a trainer and clinician. Verbeek has been a dressage official at several FEI World Cup Dressage Finals and was President of the Ground Jury in 2010 at s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. She has also officiated at Nations’ Cups, European Championships, and most recently, at the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.

Peter Holler (GER)

German judge Peter Holler has trained and educated dressage riders worldwide. He is an FEI 5* judge and also an FEI Dressage Mentor Judge. He has been an official at top international shows and Championships across the globe including the German Championships, Bundeschampionate, World Championships for Young Horses, and European Championships for Juniors and Young Riders. Most recently, he was the President of the Ground Jury at the Asian Games in Korea.

Isabelle Judet (FRA)

Isabelle Judet is well known worldwide as a FEI 5* judge and as a trainer for over 20 years. She has judged at the FEI Dressage World Cup Finals, European Championships, CHIO Aachen, and was the President of the Ground Jury at the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France. She served as the French Equestrian Federation’s Chef d’Equipe from 1991 to 1994 including for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. From 1999 to 2002, she was France’s National Trainer. Judet is also on the long list for the Ground Jury for the 2015 European Dressage Championships.

Annette Fransen-Iacobaeus (SWE)

Annette Fransen-Iacobaeus is an FEI 5* judge for both dressage and Young Horses. She was a member of the Ground Jury for the 2014 FEI European Pony Championships in Ireland, as well as for the 2014 FEI/WBFSH World Breeding Championships in Germany. She is also on the long list for the Ground Jury for the 2014 European Dressage Championships.

Maria Schwennesen (AUS)

Maria Schwennesen resides in Brisbane, Australia. She retired from the workforce and from competitive and professional riding which allows her to dedicate more time to her passion of dressage. Schwennesen is an FEI 4* judge and has worked on many national and state committees and boards including the Australian Dressage Committee. She was an Australian selector for the past two Olympics and for the WEG. She has been involved with the sport for over 30 years, and officiates at many international shows including the FEI World Challenge Tour each year.

Hans-Christian Matthiesen (DEN) – Reserve

Hans-Christian Matthiesen of Denmark became an FEI 5* dressage judge last June. He is also a FEI 5* judge for Young Horses. He is a veterinarian, and has been a member of the Danish Equestrian Federation Board of Directors. Matthiesen was a member of the Ground Jury at the 2014 FEI European Young Rider & Junior Championships in Arezzo, Italy last July.

Freddy Leyman (BEL) – Technical Delegate

Freddy Leyman is passionate about dressage and traveling. He is an FEI 4* Dressage Judge and FEI Dressage Technical Delegate, and has been an official at many international competitions. He was a member of the Ground Jury at the 2014 FEI European Young Rider & Junior Championships and the 2014 Asian Games, as well as Foreign Technical Delegate at the FEI/WBFSH World Breeding Championships in Verden, Germany in August.

Elisabeth Williams (USA) – Chief Steward

Elisabeth Williams was extensively involved with the US Pony Clubs and managed part of their National Championships for many years. Elisabeth has been a US Equestrian Federation Technical Delegate since 1981, and an FEI Chief Steward for Dressage since 1994. She has officiated at many prestigious competitions, among them the 1995 FEI World Cup Finals in Los Angeles, the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the 1997 North American Senior Championships in Maryland, and the 1999 Pan-American Games in Winnipeg. She has also been the moderator for many US Equestrian Federation and USDF Technical Delegates Forums.

First held in 1986, the FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final features the world’s best dressage horses and riders. The United States has won the championship twice – in 2003 (Debbie McDonald with Brentina) and 2009 (Steffen Peters with Ravel). The Final has been held in the U.S. previously in Los Angeles (1995) and Las Vegas (2005, 2007, 2009). There is a sense of great anticipation for the Finals’ return to the U.S. next April and I urge everyone to order their tickets today!

The FEI World Cup™ Finals — How It Works

The world’s best riders in show jumping and dressage have their sights set on the 2015 FEI World Cup™ Finals and they are gearing their horses to be part of equestrian sport’s biggest annual event when it is held in Las Vegas next April!

This will be the sixth time that Las Vegas will host the FEI World Cup™ Finals. The Jumping Finals were held there in 2000 and 2003 and combined Finals in both Jumping and Dressage were held there in 2005, 2007 and 2009; those were the first times that the world’s premier annual championships in the two Olympic disciplines were held together, and each one was more fantastic than the one before. Qualifying for the 2015 Finals has already begun and the qualifying process assures us that only the best will make it to the ‘Entertainment Capital of the World’ for what will surely be a week we will remember forever!

Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final

Started in 1979, the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final has been held 36 times. Besides those in Las Vegas, Finals were held in the United States in Baltimore (1980), Tampa (1989), and Del Mar, CA (1992). The US has won the most titles, 9, including seven in the Finals’ first nine years. However, it was 25 years before the US won again, coming when Rich Fellers re-claimed the title in 2012 with Flexible. Beezie Madden and Simon then made it back-to-back wins for the US in 2013 when she became just the fifth woman to win.

Three-time FEI World Cup champion Marcus Ehning (GER) won the 2014 FEI Jumping World Cup Qualifier in Bordeaux, France with Cornado NRW (c) Fred Chehu / FEI

Three-time FEI World Cup champion Marcus Ehning (GER) won the 2014 FEI Jumping World Cup Qualifier in Bordeaux, France with Cornado NRW (c) Fred Chehu / FEI

Three riders have three Finals wins: Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Marcus Ehning of Germany, as well as Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil. Pessoa is the only rider to win three in a row with the last of his three-peat coming in Las Vegas in 2000 aboard the famed stallion Baloubet du Rouet on whom he won all three.

Expect to see 40-45 riders in next April’s Jumping Final. They will get there by earning points at Qualifying competitions held in 16 FEI Leagues: Western Europe, Central Europe, North American (East Coast), North American (West Coast), Central America & Caribbean, South America North, South America South, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Central Asia, SouthEast Asia, Arab, South Africa, Caucasus, and China.

The Western European League is allowed 18 riders in the Final, and North America is allowed 14 (7 US riders from the East Coast League; 3 US riders from the West Coast League; 2 Canadian riders from the East or West; and 2 Mexican riders from the East or West). The number of finalists from the other Leagues is determined by the FEI Jumping Committee according to the overall standard of their League. If the country hosting the Final does not have a qualified rider, they may nominate a ‘Wild Card’ competitor to represent them in consultation with the FEI Jumping Committee.

In the Final, riders must ride horses on which they have completed at least one Qualifier. The Defending Champion (this year, Germany’s Daniel Deusser) is allowed to enter two horses of his choice.

Belgium's Nicola Phillipaerts & Donatella win the 2014 FEI Jumping World Cup Qualifier in Gothenburg, Sweden (c) Roland Thunholm - FEI

Belgium’s Nicola Phillipaerts & Donatella clinched the 2014 FEI Jumping World Cup Qualifier in Gothenburg, Sweden (c) Roland Thunholm – FEI

The First Competition at the Final is a speed class held on Thursday night with jumps set at a maximum height of 1.50 meters (just over 4’11”). It is designed to give a rider with a rail down a chance to stay in the running. The Second Competition is held the following night and involves one round with a jump-off against the clock, with fences at a height of 1.50-1.60 meters (approximately 4’11” – 5’3”).

Points are awarded to each rider based on their finishes in each of the first two rounds. Those points are then converted into penalties that riders carry into the Third Competition which takes place on Sunday afternoon. The Third Competition has two rounds with a Grand Prix course set at 1.50-1.60 meters (approximately 4’11” – 5’3”). The top 30 riders (plus ties) after the Second Competition are eligible for Sunday’s first round. Then the 20 best-placed riders (plus ties) move on to the second round. The winner of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final is the rider with the lowest number of penalties after all three Competitions. If there is a tie, there is a jump-off to determine the winner.

Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final

First held in 1986, the FEI World Cup Dressage Final has been held in the U.S. four times, in 1995 in Los Angeles and in 2005, 2007 and 2009 in Las Vegas. The United States won the title in 2003 when Debbie McDonald won on Brentina, owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas (for whom the Thomas & Mack Center is named), and in 2009 when Steffen Peters won in Las Vegas on Ravel. The Netherlands has won the most titles, 12, with 9 of those by Anky van Grunsven with her two famed horses, Bonfire and Salinero.

Germany's Helen Langehanenberg & Damon Hill NRW win the FEI Dressage World Cup Qualifier at Neumunster on home turf (c) Karl-Heinz Freiler /FEI

Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg & Damon Hill NRW scored a personal best score to win the FEI Dressage World Cup Qualifier at Neumunster (GER) (c) Karl-Heinz Freiler /FEI

In order to compete in the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final, riders and horses qualify through one of four FEI World Cup™ Dressage leagues: Western Europe, Central Europe, North America, and Pacific (Australia and New Zealand). In any League, a rider/horse combination may start in only six qualifying events, with the four best results to count.

To be eligible for the Final, each rider/horse combination must meet the minimum qualification score of at least 68% in the Grand Prix Freestyle to Music in two different Qualifiers (CDI-W), at least one of which must be in a foreign country. For riders that don’t belong to one of the recognized Leagues, they must score at least 68% in a Grand Prix Freestyle in a CDI3/4/5*/CDIO on two different occasions. The defending Champion (in this case, Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain) is automatically qualified with a horse of her choice, but still must compete in the Freestyle in at least two Qualifiers during the qualifying season.

Denmark's Anna Kasprzak & Donnperignon won the 2014 FEI Dressage World Cup Qualifier in front of the home crowd at Odense (c) Annette Boe Ostergaard / FEI

Denmark’s Anna Kasprzak & Donnperignon won the 2014 FEI Dressage World Cup Qualifier in front of the home crowd at Odense (c) Annette Boe Ostergaard / FEI

A maximum of 18 riders and horses may participate in the Final. The Final consists of the compulsory FEI Grand Prix and the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle to Music, and all competitors who finish the Grand Prix with at least 60% may continue through to the Freestyle. The Final results in the Freestyle determine the FEI World Cup™ champion!

With the Qualifiers for Las Vegas already underway, the world’s top riders in both dressage and jumping have marked their calendars and set their sights on a trip to the Finals next April. The good news for you is that you don’t need to qualify to be part of the big event – all you need to do is buy your tickets! And it is my recommendation that you do so right now so that you are part of next April’s incredible happening as the world’s best riders try to turn their dream of winning the FEI World Cup™ Finals into a reality!

World Equestrian Games Dressage Medalists Shine In Normandy

The 2014 World Equestrian Games (WEG) got underway in Normandy, France, last week and the world’s best dressage riders and horses headlined the first week of competition at the d’Ornano Stadium.

Packed stands at the  d'Ornano Stadium for the Dressage competition

Packed stands at the d’Ornano Stadium for the Dressage competition – photo (c) Nicole Graf Ussher

There were trials and tribulations, along with cheers and tears, over the four days of competition, and spectators were treated to phenomenal performances of which they couldn’t get enough. The stands were filled and the stadium was abuzz, just as it will be next April for the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Finals in Las Vegas when the FEI World Cup Finals in both dressage and jumping return to the Entertainment Capital of the World!

At WEG, there was drama before the Games even started. Germany’s Matthias Alexander Rath had to withdraw his superstar Totilas due to a last-minute injury. It was a great disappointment for fans who were looking forward to a rematch between the famous black stallion and the Olympic Champion Valegro, ridden by Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin, who was beaten by Rath just the month before at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany.  The Dutch Team also had to make adjustments to their roster as Danielle Heijkoop’s Kingsley Siro and Edward Gal’s Glock’s Undercover were also placed on the injured list, and Gal had to call upon his second horse Glock’s Voice to step in.

Grand Prix Team Competition

The Grand Prix Team competition got underway under ominous skies that continued throughout both days of the Grand Prix, and several unlucky riders had to perform their tests in torrential rain.

Germany win Team Gold - photo (c) Hippo Foto Team - Leanjo de Koster / FEI

Team Gold for Germany – photo (c) Hippo Foto Team – Leanjo de Koster / FEI

Germany, which uncharacteristically took only the Bronze medal at the 2010 WEG in Kentucky, reclaimed their Gold. Fabienne Lutkemeier, who was called upon last minute to replace Rath, got the unlucky draw as first rider to go with D’Agostino FRH, but the 24 year-old kept her cool and scored 73.586%, while teammate Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH received the best score of the first day, 78.814%, which gave the Germans a head start.  Helen Langehanenberg put in a top performance with Damon Hill NRW to score 81.357%, while Isabell Werth and Bella Rose 2 earned 81.529%. Werth’s dreams of an individual medal were unfortunately dashed, as she had to withdraw the mare from the rest of the competition after slightly injuring herself.

 

Great Britain takes the Silver: (l-r) Carl Hester, Michael Eilberg, Charlotte Dujardin, Gareth Hughes - photo (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV

Great Britain takes the Silver: (l-r) Carl Hester, Michael Eilberg, Charlotte Dujardin, Gareth Hughes – photo (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV

Great Britain once again proved their well-deserved placement at the top of the sport, and repeated their Team Silver medal from WEG 2010. The Brits have become sweethearts of the sport, as the former underdogs have fought their way to the top and are now regulars on the podium. Olympic gold medalist and 2014 Reem Acra FEI World Cup champion Charlotte Dujardin and her dancing horse Valegro didn’t disappoint their fans or the judges, earning the top Grand Prix score of 85.271%. Her teammate and trainer Carl Hester and Nip Tuck earned their own personal best score of 74.186%, which added to the continuation of their fairy tale. The big gelding was purchased by Carl and friend Jane de la Mare as an unattractive yearling for only 1,000 Euros and he lives out in a field – not the usual story for a top international Grand Prix horse! Teammates Michael Eilberg on Half Moon Delphi along with Gareth Hughes and DV Stenkjers Nadonna also performed well, earning 71.886% and 69.714% respectively.

The Netherlands wins the Bronze medal and Selfie of the day! (l-r) Adelinde Cornelissen, Edward Gal, Diederik Van Silfhout and Hans Peter Minderhoud (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV

The Netherlands wins the Bronze medal and Selfie of the Day! (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV

Despite losing two top horses from their original lineup, the Dutch fought valiantly, but in the end had to settle for the Bronze. A super performance from Hans Peter Minderhoud and Glock’s Johnson in the pouring rain received a 74.357%, while Diederik van Silfhout and Arlando NH N.O.P., also put in a fantastic effort which earned 73.414%. On the second day of competition the heightened atmosphere seemed to rattle Glock’s Voice a little, but the 2010 WEG triple gold medalist Edward Gal expertly guided him to a 72.414%. Two-time World Cup champion Adelinde Cornelissen and her Olympic partner Jerich Parzival N.O.P. showed their expertise, earning a 79.629%.

Team U.S.A.’s fourth place finish was impressive after a superb performance by Olympic veteran and 2009 World Cup champ Steffen Peters and Legolas 92, who scored 75.843%. Team ‘newbie’ Laura Graves and Verdades performed amazingly well under pressure, and scored 74.981% in her first-ever WEG appearance and her first European tour. Spectacular! Adrienne Lyle and her Olympic partner Wizard had a solid test which earned 72.000%, as did Tina Konyot and Calecto V, who received 69.643%.

Grand Prix Special

With team medals decided, the riders focused on their individual performances and the Grand Prix Special proved exciting indeed, as the top 30 competitors moved forward. Great Britain’s golden girl Dujardin came to WEG on a mission – to win both of the individual Golds and to become the first rider to hold Olympic, European, World Cup, and World Champion titles at the same time – the first three of which she had already won. Although they didn’t put in a mistake-free test, the duo scored a fantastic 86.120% in the Special to clinch the Gold. One down and one to go!

Germany's Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH win the Bronze medal in the Grand Prix Special  © Hippo Foto Team - Leanjo de Koster - FEI

Germany’s Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH win the Bronze medal in the Grand Prix Special
(c) Hippo Foto Team – Leanjo de Koster – FEI

Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill, another crowd favorite, took the Silver with 84.468%, while teammate Kristina Sprehe and the elegant Desperados FRH took the Bronze with 79.762%. It was a tough day for Holland’s Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival who had a super test, but unfortunately had entered the arena after the allotted 45 seconds which meant extra penalties and a finish just out of medal contention with a score of 79.328%.

Laura Graves and Verdades, a horse her mother bought for her as a foal which she then trained to Grand Prix herself, were the highest placed American duo, finishing in 8th. Steffen Peters and Legolas 92 finished 10th.

Grand Prix Freestyle

Golden girl Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro claim their second gold medal at WEG in the Grand Prix Freestyle - photo (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV

Golden girl Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro claim their second gold medal at WEG in the Grand Prix Freestyle – photo (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV

It was a perfect day for the individual medal finale as the sun shone down on the sold-out stadium of 20,000 and the excitement in the air was palpable. The crowds cheered with each rider that came through the tunnel into the arena, and when you thought it couldn’t get any louder it did – especially when Dujardin and Valegro trotted in. This was only the third time they had performed to their ‘new’ music, but it seemed like old hat and this time the pair was foot-perfect, and they scored a whopping 92.161% to win Gold and make Dujardin’s wishes for two WEG Gold medals come true.

Dutch rider Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival N.O.P. take the Bronze -  (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV

Dutch rider Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival N.O.P. take the Bronze – (c) CO Normandie 2014PSV

A dazzling performance from Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW earned 88.286% to secure the Silver, which will be added to their collection of Olympic, European, and World Cup Final medals. It was a much brighter day for Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival, as the pair danced their way to a well-deserved Bronze medal with a score of 85.714%.

The U.S.’s Graves and Verdades had the performance of their life with a beautifully harmonious Freestyle which earned them an 82.036% and fifth place among the greatest riders in the world. What an exciting combination to have for Team U.S.A.’s future! The top stars of the 2014 WEG and their amazing accomplishments promise to make the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas a historic event you won’t want to miss; be sure to reserve your tickets today!

WEG fairy-tale for U.S. rider Laura Graves and Verdades who finished 5th in the world! photo (c) Susan J Stickle

WEG fairy-tale for U.S. rider Laura Graves and Verdades who finished 5th in the world! photo (c) Susan J Stickle

Best Riders Show What They Have at Aachen World Equestrian Festival

The World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany is arguably the world’s biggest equestrian event held each year. The world’s best come together to compete in five disciplines including jumping and dressage, the two disciplines whose World Cup Finals we will be hosting in Las Vegas next April.

Given that this year’s World Equestrian Festival at Aachen was just six weeks before the upcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Normandy, France, the top riders in the world were on hand with their horses primed to perform their best. The results give us a hint of which horses and riders may be ready for medal-winning performances at Normandy and which ones we might be seeing next April in Las Vegas.

In dressage, most of the attention coming in was focused on Great Britain and its record holding duo of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, winners of double Gold at the 2012 London Olympic Games and also this year’s World Cup champions. The world was stunned to see Dujardin and Valegro turn in a sub-par performance in the team competition’s Grand Prix and receive a score of only 76.900%, their worst score since 2012. This was only good enough for a sixth place finish individually and left the British team in fourth place.

Germany's Matthias Alexander Rath and Totilas<br /> claim victory in the Dressage Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special at 2014 Aachen CHIO © Hippo Foto - Dirk Caremans/FEI

Germany’s Matthias Alexander Rath and Totilas
claim victory in the Dressage Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special at 2014 Aachen CHIO © Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans/FEI

While there was disappointment, and maybe some concern, among the Brits, there was elation for the hometown German team as they saw not only a win by Germany, but also the long-awaited emergence of rider Matthias Rath with the former record-setting horse, Totilas, the 2010 World Cup champion and WEG triple Gold Medalist when ridden by Holland’s Edward Gal. Rath and Totilas scored a spectacular 82.300% in the Grand Prix, and also won the Grand Prix Special, showing that they may finally have found their groove.

After placing second to Rath and Totilas in the Special, Dujardin and Valegro redeemed themselves in the Grand Prix Freestyle where they rode to victory, although they did not have a chance to beat Rath and Totilas who withdrew from that competition. Finishing in second and third place in the Freestyle were German team members Helen Langehanenberg on Damon Hill NRW and Isabell Werth on Bella Rose 2 respectively.

Given that it is the Freestyle that determines the World Cup Champion, Valegro and Dujardin are probably still considered the favorites, at least until we see what happens at Normandy, but the performances of all the German riders, especially Rath and Totilas, shows that any one of them could be ready to challenge Valegro and Dujardin at Vegas next spring.

The U.S team of Laura Graves on Verdades, Adrienne Lyle on Wizard, Caroline Roffman on Her Highness O and Tina Konyot on Calecto V placed seventh in the Nations’ Cup with Graves placing 13th individually. Lyle and Graves were also impressive in tying for 10th in the Freestyle. One of the U.S.’s other top combinations, three-time Olympic veteran and 2009 World Cup champion Steffen Peters with Legolas 92, skipped Aachen as Peters was hospitalized with pneumonia. They remain strong candidates for the U.S. team for this year’s WEG and to make it to the World Cup in Las Vegas.

Christian Ahlmann and Codex One, winners of the CHIO Aachen Grand Prix (c) Rolex/Kit Houghton

CHIO Aachen Grand Prix winners Christian Ahlmann and Codex One (c) Rolex/Kit Houghton

In show jumping, Christian Ahlmann of Germany, aboard his Olympic mount Codex One, won the Grand Prix with second place going to American Kent Farrington on Voyeur. Farrington had a stellar week with several top performances including winning the Prize of Europe qualifier for the Grand Prix. After his performance in the Grand Prix, Farrington’s Voyeur was awarded the Halla Award, which is given to the “Best Horse of the Show.”

Germany’s Marcus Ehning on Plot Blue and Daniel Deusser on Cornet D’amour placed third and fourth respectively and are both strong candidates to win it all at Vegas next spring. Ehning is a three-time World Cup champion (2003, 2006, 2010) and Deusser is the reigning World Cup champion having won the title on Cornet D’amour in Lyon, France this past April.

Several other U.S. riders also qualified for the Grand Prix and held their own against the world’s best, including Lauren Hough on Ohlala and Lucy Davis on Barron, who finished fifth and sixth respectively. The U.S. also looked strong in the Nations’ Cup team competition, placing second to Belgium with Davis turning in a double clear on Barron and Reed Kessler and Cylana totaling just four faults for the two rounds.

Kent Farrington, leading  U.S. rider at Aachen CHIO

Kent Farrington, leading U.S. rider at World Equestrian Festival Aachen (c) Shawn McMillen

The results from Aachen could well be an indicator of what’s to come next April in Las Vegas and there is one thing that we know for sure – no matter who makes it to Vegas, next year’s FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas will present the world’s greatest riders and horses in exciting competition in the “Entertainment Capital of the World!”

With the completion of the exclusive renewal and World Cup Club ticket periods, all-session tickets for the 2015 FEI World CupTM Finals in Las Vegas are now on sale to the general public. If you haven’t ordered yours yet, be sure to do so today at the World Cup’s website at www.WorldCupLasVegas.com.

Elite Dressage Horses and Riders Prepare for WEG

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.

Adrienne Lyle (USA) & Wizard at 2014 Nations Cup Wellington (c) Susan J Stickle

Adrienne Lyle (USA) & Wizard (c) Susan J. Stickle

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.

Charlotte Dujardin (GBR) and Valegro will be looking to make history © Dirk Caremans

Charlotte Dujardin (GBR) and Valegro will be looking to make history © Dirk Caremans

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!

Carl Hester (GBR)  riding Nip Tuck at the WEG Dressage Test event at Stade d'Ornano, main venue for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™

Carl Hester (GBR) riding Nip Tuck at the WEG Dressage Test event at Stade d’Ornano, main venue for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™

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.

Edward Gal is setting his sights on bringing home another WEG gold for the Netherlands - this time with Glock's Undercover  © Dirk Caremans

Edward Gal is setting his sights on bringing home another WEG gold for the Netherlands – this time with Glock’s Undercover © Dirk Caremans

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.

Helen Langehanenberg  (GER) and Damon Hill NRW © Dirk Caremans

Helen Langehanenberg (GER) and Damon Hill NRW © Dirk Caremans

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!