Dressage riders all across Western Europe are polishing up their pirouette, piaffe and passage ahead of the opening leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2015/2016 League which gets underway at Odense (DEN) this weekend. The series, sponsored by Beirut-born New York fashion designer Reem Acra, will see the best riders from the region join their counterparts from the Central Europe, North America and Asia/Pacific qualifiers in the race for a place at the Reem Acra Final which will be staged in Gothenburg (SWE) next March.
The defending double-champions, Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, who scored back-to-back wins in Lyon (FRA) in 2014 and in Las Vegas (USA) earlier this year, will be looking to make it three-in-a-row this time around. However the sparkling duo, who have raised the bar as never before in this most technically demanding of equestrian sports, will have to be in tip-top form if they are to succeed. Because a legacy of the tremendous success that has seen them set – and reset – world records with remarkable regularity since they burst onto the international stage four years ago, is that the standard of competition has improved beyond recognition as others work to emulate the British pair’s level of excellence.
It is six years now since top Dressage judge, Britain’s Stephen Clarke, said that the scoring system may have to change because “100 percent won’t be enough!” to reward top horse-and-rider partnerships in this sport. That was on a remarkable night when the now-retired super-stallion, Totilas, produced a breathtaking performance with The Netherlands’ Edward Gal in the saddle. And Dujardin’s Valegro has pushed the envelope even further over the intervening years.
Familiar with Super-Stardom
The FEI World Cup™ Dressage series is familiar with super-stardom, and owes much of its ever-increasing popularity to the decision to allow “Freestyle” performances take centre stage. Performing difficult and demanding movements to music has truly engaged audiences all around the world ever since Dutch athlete, Anky van Grunsven, became the first mistress of the art, initially with the brilliant Bonfire and later with Salinero.
During her 13-year FEI World Cup™ Dressage winning spree that began in 1995 and ended in 2008, the now-retired rider lifted the trophy on nine occasions, and The Netherlands heads the leaderboard for most wins in the series with a total of 12.
One of the most remarkable athletes of the modern era however is Germany’s Isabell Werth who was only 23 years of age when winning the first of her two FEI World Cup™ Dressage titles riding Fabienne in Gothenburg way back in 1992. It was 15 years later when she did it again in Las Vegas, this time partnering her much-loved Warum Nicht, and it is testament to her great skill and enormous character that she continues to blaze a trail at the top of the sport and is one of the most decorated equestrian athletes of all time.
Favourite for a Top Spot
Favourite for a top spot in Odense this weekend however may be Dutchman Edward Gal, who has rarely missed a podium placing at a major event in recent years. The man who took three gold medals with Totilas at the 2010 world championships in Kentucky (USA) brings out Glock’s Voice, the horse with which he helped take team bronze at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy (FRA) just over a year ago. With his 2012 Olympic ride, Glock’s Undercover, Gal has finished third at the last three Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Finals and, currently number three in the world rankings, he is always a major force to be reckoned with.
However his life-partner and fellow-countryman, Hans Peter Minderhoud, may prove a strong opponent with Glock’s Romanov, while the Danish contingent also look super-strong. Anna Kazprzak should be well-recovered from the injury that kept her out of the later stages of competition at the FEI European Championships in Aachen in August.
Her horse, Donnperignon, kicked her in the chest after the veterinary inspection at the German fixture, but the talented 25-year-old rider struggled valiantly through the early stages before having to retire. Agnete Kirk-Thinggaard and Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein will also be amongst the squad flying the Danish flag, and there will be plenty of Irish interest as Judy Reynolds, who has rocketed up the world rankings over the last year, lines out with Vancouver K. The 33-year-old Irishwoman, who lies 54th in the world rankings, has an enthusiastic bunch of followers and her success has inspired a dramatic spike of interest in the sport in her home country.
Road to Rio
For many athletes, the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2015/2016 Western European League will pave the road to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Horses and riders will gain more experience and hone their skills ahead of the great event, and audiences across Europe will enjoy the best of top sport as a result.
Following Odense, the Western European League continues at Lyon (FRA), Stuttgart (GER) and Stockholm (SWE) in November before moving on to Salzburg (AUT) and London Olympia (GBR) in December. Amsterdam (NED) opens the New Year followed by Neumunster (GER) in February and ‘s-Hertogenbosch (NED) in March.
The FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final visits Gothenberg for the eighth time when the doors of the Scandinavium Arena open from 23 to 28 March 2016, and all eyes then will once again be on the multiple world-record-breakers and reigning Olympic champions, Dujardin and Valegro, who were pushed so very hard by Germany’s Kristina Broring-Sprehe and Desperados at the FEI European Championships this summer when they came out on top in the Freestyle by a narrow margin of just 0.25 percent.
It’s all part of a recipe for a winter of fabulous sport, with Reem Acra Dressage at the heart of it.
Don’t miss a hoofbeat! Watch it all LIVE on www.feitv.org
FEI World Cup™ Dressage, the only worldwide series in this discipline, is now in its 29th season. The series, created in 1985, comprises four leagues: Western European, Central European, North American (including Canada) and Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, Asia). Each FEI World Cup™ Dressage qualifier consists of a Grand Prix test, which in turn is a qualification for the Freestyle to Music competition, where league points are accumulated towards places in the Final. Judged on both technical and artistic merit, the FEI World Cup™ Dressage combines art, sport and partnership between horse and rider at the highest level and consistently proves a winning formula with audiences all over the world.