Germany's Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW pipped defending double-champions Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival at the sixth leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Western European League in Amsterdam (NED) today. There were eight Dutch competitors amongst the start-list of 15, but Germany claimed two of the top-three placings when Isabell Werth and Don Johnson slotted into third ahead of Italy's Valentina Truppa and Fixdesign Eremo del Castegno in fourth.
Langehanenberg's form in recent months had suggested that it would not be long before she and her lovely stallion would find the key to finishing ahead of the Dutch duo who have dominated the prestigious indoor series over the last few years. At last year's Final in 's-Hertogenbosch (NED) where Cornelissen came out on top for the second successive season, Ground Jury President, Great Britain's Stephen Clarke, told the German rider that she had only a little more polish to find in order to improve from runner-up position, and Langehenanberg has worked hard to bridge that gap ever since.
At the World Dressage Masters in Mechelen, Belgium last month she beat Cornelissen in the Grand Prix only to fall victim to a problem with her music, which stopped during her Freestyle, but it was clear she was now a real threat. Today she showed that result was no fluke as she produced a sparkling test on an afternoon when many others failed to show their very best in the electric atmosphere of the Amsterdam Rai arena. It was a watershed win for Langehanenberg, marking another turning point in her steady march to the very top of her sport.
Sweden's Minna Telde and Santana went into the lead with a new personal-best Freestyle score of 77.700 with just six horses left to go, but Cornelissen swept that aside when next into the arena with Parzival who racked up 85.425, receiving a colossal 94 per cent artistic score from the Judge at C, The Netherlands' Ghislain Fouarge. The big chestnut gelding produced lovely, rolling one-time changes on his third start in the current Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage season but was tight and tense at times, his trademark pirouettes not always coming off as smoothly as usual, and it was clear Cornelissen was working to keep his attention.
Despite a couple of naughty moments from Eremo del Castegno, long-time league leader Valentina Truppa from Italy then posted 80.775 to slot into second, but Isabell Werth and Don Johnson FRH immediately relegated them with a lovely performance that demonstrated the growing strength of this partnership. Werth looks like she is really enjoying her riding these days, and harnessed her horse's natural power to great effect with deliberate passage, athletic half-pass and a great walk for a mark of 82.050.
Second-last into the ring, things didn't go quite so smoothly for Dutchman Edward Gal and his relatively new ride, the stallion Glock's Romanov who never really settled as they put 79.200 on the scoreboard for eventual fifth place.
But Langehaneberg and Damon Hill NRW were super-cool when bringing the class to a close, the 13 year old stallion really rising to the challenge and helping his rider snatch the opportunity they have both been waiting for. "Before I went in, I knew it wasn't impossible for me to beat Adelinde, but I also knew that I could not afford to lose one point. I had to focus on my ride, to be strong and to think forward".
Following her instincts to the letter she did just that, never pushing for too much yet producing work of the highest calibre, always balanced and correct and a joy to watch. Spectators held their breath as the judges marks were gathered, and even the home crowd couldn't resist a gasp of delight as the German lady clinched it with a score of 86.025.
Cornelissen was not disappointed however. "Parzival was good, but very spooky, yet I could handle him during the test although I had to work more to keep him focused" she explained. The horse has matured dramatically over the last two years, having often been overwhelmed by excitement during prize-giving ceremonies in his early career. Yesterday however he took fright after winning the Grand Prix, in which Langehanenberg and Damon Hill lined up second, and today he still seemed to be a bit unnerved by the atmosphere of the ring. "He didn't settle", Cornelissen admitted afterwards.
Langehanenberg was quietly delighted with her result. "We were here to try to win, and it's a really good feeling" she said, adding with typical modesty "and it's an honour to finish ahead of Adelinde. She has really dominated our sport over the last years and has won so much. Now to be able to the in the same league and to be even better is really great!"
Asked if she had been worried that the atmosphere might blow her chances, Langehanenberg replied, "luckily he (Damon Hill NRW) really always like a big noisy arena and a lot of audience - he feels quite good with that!" she pointed out. And when asked if she realised that she has earned herself a big fan-club in recent times she said, "I didn't notice it until after London (Olympic Games). It is incredible how many people talk to me and come to me to ask for an autograph now, and it's very nice. I enjoy my sport and my horse, and if that gives other people some pleasure then that's even nicer!" she added.
Langehanenberg plans to compete in the penultimate qualifying round of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2012/2013 Western European League at Neumunster, Germany on 17 February next. "After that it's Gothenburg!" said today's winner whose sights are now clearly fixed on the very top step of the podium when the Final takes place in Gothenburg (SWE) in April.
The next leg takes place at Neumunster (GER) on Sunday 17 February.
The results are already send to you by www.dressagedirect.com.
Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2012/2013 - Standings after Round 6 at Amsterdam (NED):
1.Valentina Truppa ITA
2.Edward Gal NED
3.Kristina Sprehe GER
4.Minna Telde SWE
5.Helen Langehanenberg GER
5.Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven SWE
7.Marcela Krinke Susmelj SUI
8.Isabell Werth GER
8.Sidsel Johansen DEN
11.Marlies van Baalen NED
12.Anna Kasprzak DEN
12.Patrik Kittel SWE
14.Pia Fortmuller CAN
15.Lyndal Oatley AUS
16.Anabel Balkenhol GER
16.Karin Kosak AUT
18.Charlotte Dujardin GBR
18.Stefan Peter AUT
20.Hans Peter Minderhoud NED
20.Patrick van der Meer NE