Helen Langehanenberg had the biggest smile of all as she headed a German whitewash at the eighth leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2011/2012 Western European League series at Neumunster, Germany today. Host nation riders filled five of the top six places, led by the 29-year-old from Havixbek and her popular stallion, Damon Hill NRW, while yesterday’s Grand Prix winners, Isabell Werth and El Santo NRW, had to settle for runner-up spot this time out. One of the biggest cheers of the morning was reserved for third-placed Uta Graf and her very handsome stallion Le Noir who really rose to the occasion in the intense atmosphere that undermined many of the other contenders, while Dorothee Schneider and the mare, Diva Royal, slotted into fourth. Last of the 15 horse-and-rider combinations into the arena, it was Denmark’s Lone Jorgensen and FBW De Vito who broke the German stranglehold at the top end of the scoreboard when lining up fifth ahead of Germany’s double Olympic team gold medallist Nadine Capellman riding Girasol.
Today’s competition provided the penultimate opportunity to qualify for the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage final at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands in April, and the battle for those invaluable qualifying points was fiercely fought. Langehanenberg has no worries however, as today’s result has boosted her to the very top of the leaderboard, while Werth’s second-place finish has moved her into joint-second on the series table alongside long-time leader Valentina Truppa from Italy.
The Neumunster venue provides for only 2,200 spectators, but every one of them are connoisseurs of the sport of dressage, and, long before the competition began just before 9am local time this morning, the hall was packed to capacity. Even the Ground Jury panel felt the pressure in the ring - “the spectators were so close, we could feel them breathing down our necks!” said President, Mariette Withages, afterwards.
Great Britain’s Laura Bechtolsheimer and the 12-year-old Tellwell were first of the 15 starters and put 68.80 on the board, but it was Capellmann and Girasol who produced the first really settled test when fourth to go for a mark of 73.55. This remained the target until Graf took centre-stage after the break, but Norway’s Cathrine Rasmussen and Fernandez came close when earning 72.80, while Finland’s Terhi Stegars and Mikaela Lindh also produced some eye-catching work.
Stegars’ 13 year old Trakehener stallion Axis TSF was relaxed, yet responsive, and finished his performance with an impressive extended trot for 70.525, while Lindh’s 14 year old gelding Skovlunds Mas Guapo also presented a picture of uncomplicated and willing compliance as 72.800 went up on the board.
Graf and Le Noir were third to go after the half-way break, and as they pumped out nice passage and impressive one-handed canter pirouettes they racked up the scores to forge into the lead with 77.475. Schneider followed with another harmonious effort from her 10 year old mare that saw them slotting temporarily into runner-up spot, but then Langehanenberg gave the class a whole new dimension. There was a look of real determination on the rider’s face as she entered the arena - she meant business.
Yesterday Langehanenberg lost marks with a messy finish. “I had to correct myself a bit afterwards!” said today’s winner with a laugh. “I felt too safe and too sure coming down the centre-line at the end, and I didn’t close him down properly before the piaffe and he (Damon Hill NRW) misunderstood me. So today I told myself - ‘the test is only ended when you stop’ - I was much more concentrated and I couldn’t have been happier with how he went!” Langehanenberg explained after earning the winning score of 83.30.
Werth followed and, as usual, didn’t hold back, allowing El Santo NRW to flash his fabulous extended trot and showing some extraordinary canter pirouettes. But once again the piaffe was weak, and with Langehanenberg almost foot-perfect it was impossible to catch her. “I took a step forward with improving the piaffe yesterday, but today we took a step back”, Werth admitted. “The question is how to solve this problem, and I do have one idea - maybe Hannes (her other top ride Warum Nicht) can show him how it should be done!” she said with a giggle.
Last to go, Jorgensen certainly didn’t allow the long wait to get in her way, the 39 year old Dane providing the perfect finale to a great day of top-class sport with a charming test from FBW De Vito. Still only 10 years old, this gelding has the sweetest attitude and while his gentility and calmness contrast with the more extravagant performers, those elements of his character make his work all the more appealing. The judges mark of 76.250, which put this partnership in fifth place in the most exalted company, suggests that this horse is one for the future.
Today however was all about Langehanenberg who could hardly believe it when she found herself topping the hotly-contested Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Western European leaderboard. “I’m so happy with how things went, my horse was great in everything - his piaffe and passage work, his canter, his pirouette - it was all great!” she pointed out. Talking about the tense atmosphere around the arena which appeared to unnerve a number of the other horses, she commented “my horse is normally not worried about things like that, he stays with me and trusts me - even though he’s a stallion he really listens to me. He is like me in that when he goes into the arena he doesn’t really notice anything at all - he just concentrates on what has to do” she added. She is really looking forward to the Final in two months’ time. At the moment she is unsure which horse she will take, admitting that she is spoiled for choice as her other top ride, Responsible, is also in great form.
“I gave Responsible a little break after Mechelen in December, but we are ready to go again now - I will decide about the final a little closer to the time” Langehanenberg explained. Her work for this Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage season is almost over. But for the riders still trying to make the cut, there is one last chance to earn those last few qualifying points at the Scandinavium Arena in Gothenburg next Saturday night.
For further information on the eighth leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage series at Neumunster, Germany check out website http://pstmarketing.de/index.php/neumuenster.html
Result: 1, Damon Hill NRW (Helen Langehanenberg) GER 83.300; 2, El Santo NRW (Isabell Werth) GER 80.975; 3, Le Noir (Uta Graf) GER 77.475; 4, Diva Royal (Dorothee Schneider) GER 76.500; 5, FBW De Vito (Lone Jorgensen) DEN 76.250; 6, Girasol (Nadine Capellmann) GER 73.550; 7, Skovlunds Mas Guapo (Mikaela Lindh) FIN 72.800; 8, Fernandez (Cathrine Rasmussen) NOR 72.800; 9, Axis TSF (Terhi Stegars) FIN 70.525; 10, Donnerfee (Claudia Fassaert) BEL 70.525; 11, World Performance Washington (Luis Principe) POR 70.400; 12, TSF Rudi's Memory (Michelle Hagman) SWE 69.700; 13, Fabriano (Renate Voglsang) AUT 69.124; 14, Tellwell (Laura Bechtolsheimer) GBR 68.800; 15, Belissimo NRW (Hayley Beresford) AUS 67.400. Full result here