In an impressive display of strength just three weeks before the Olympics get underway, Team Germany produced a superb performance on home ground in Aachen to win the final leg of the FEI Nations Cup Dressage series. However it was Team USA that took home the inaugural title, overtaking their rivals from Sweden at this final event of the six-leg series that has spanned the Atlantic.
There was never much doubt about where the Aachen honours would go after a sensational result for the host nation in the Grand Prix, in which Isabell Werth posted a personal-best score of 83.271% with the mare Weihegold, and team-mates Kristina Bröring-Sprehe (Desperados) and Dorothee Schneider (Showtime) lined up second and third with marks of 82.314% and 80.70% respectively. The youngsters in the side, 21-year-old Sönke Rothenberger and his nine-year-old gelding, Cosmo, posted 75.60% for fifth place, with America’s Steffen Peters preventing a complete German whitewash when steering Legolas into fourth .
A total of nine nations – Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Spain, Sweden and USA – fielded teams, and there were many riders still hoping to impress their Olympic selectors.
The Germans already had a vice-like grip at the head of the leaderboard after the Grand Prix, with a combined score of 246.285. Team USA was second on 218.404 and next best were the Danish foursome on a tally of 214.242.
Spain, Sweden, Great Britain, Belgium, Japan and Australia lined up behind them in that order, but only the top six teams went into the Grand Prix Special in which, once again, none came close to the on-form Germans.
Judges Peter Holler (GER), Eduard de Wolff van Westerrode (NED), Maribel Alonso (MEX), Gary Rockwell (USA) and Stephen Clarke (GBR) gave their first big mark of the Special to Dorothee Schneider and Showtime, the first to break the 80% barrier when putting 81.902% on the board.
Dorothee was delighted with her horse. “He trusts me more and more. He has never been in a stadium like that before, but it is as though he asks me when he is insecure: ‘Can I do this?’ And I tell him, ‘Yes, you can!’ and then he does it!” she said.
Team-mate Sönke was next into the ring with Cosmo who showed superb balance and suspension in passage but had mistakes in the one-tempi changes for a score of 76.412%. “We made a good start, but my horse got a bit tired in the canter and that’s why we had the mistakes,” he said.
Third-last to go was Isabell with Weihegold whose test was not quite as perfect as it had been on Thursday but who still managed to put 80.686% on the scoreboard. Normally piaffe is one of the mare’s strongest movements, but today there were two mistakes and Isabell blamed herself for those. “I did something different in our warm-up and I think it unsettled her a bit so she lost a bit of power and confidence and we got a bit stuck. But it’s important that things like this happen so we can learn from them!”
Kristina and her black stallion, Desperados, had some mistakes in their canter tour, but the pure quality of the work produced by this fabulous horse was good enough to earn a mark of 83.725% which put them way out into the lead. As always, the 29-year-old world number-one was a woman of few words when describing her successful afternoon: “I’m very satisfied,” she said, having posted what was always going to be the winning score.
America’s Steffen Peters finished fourth again, this time on a mark of 76.627, and Team USA’s combined total of 437.139 saw them line up second ahead of Denmark in third on 430.418 and Spain in fourth on 425.316. When the overall calculations were done, the Americans were declared the first-ever FEI Nations Cup Dressage series champions. Just four points separated them from the runners-up from Sweden in the final analysis, while Denmark was another seven points adrift in third.
In total, 15 nations lined up in this first season which followed three years of a pilot scheme. National federations used the series in a number of ways, from providing invaluable exposure for less-experienced riders to testing the form of potential championship candidates, and for Team Germany this final leg of the first official series worked out like a dream as they clearly demonstrated their formidable strength at a very important time.