While avidly following pre-Olympic coverage the last few months I have noticed an emerging trend: more and more stallions seem to be contenders for team spots and individual medals this year than in the past. I can only actually remember watching two Olympics, so my personal knowledge is hardly dependable for drawing any conclusions. However upon further research I was able to find some compelling evidence that this could be a unique year in terms of the prominence of stallions in the Olympic Dressage Competition. The last time a stallion won the individual gold medal was in 1972. The horse was named Piaff, and his rider was the first female to ever achieve Olympic Gold. In the 40 years since her victory there has been only one occasion that a woman has not won the individual gold, which was in 1984 when Reiner Klimke stood at the top of the podium. So who was this woman who shattered the proverbial glass ceiling?
Her name was Liselott Lisenhoff; and if her surname rings a bell it is because of the circuitous way that life works. Liselott’s daughter, Ann Kathrin Lisenhoff, now owns Totilas; the horse that very well may be the first stallion to wear gold since her mother’s horse.
The 2012 London Olympics will have eleven nations sending dressage teams in addition to thirteen nations with individual representatives. The nations that are currently the strongest contenders for team medals in this year’s Olympics were also among the highest ranked teams at the World Equestrian Games. The top six teams in 2010 at WEG were, in order: The Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, United States, Denmark and Spain. The individual gold medalist will most likely come from one of them.
Starting with the WEG champions, the Dutch (who famously lost their world record holding stallion to the Germans) have another stallion that might step in to pick up the mantle. Hans Peter Minderhoud and the 12-year-old chestnut I.P.S. Tango (Jazz x Contango) are likely to be members of the A-team. Mr. Minderhoud has been a stalwart of the Dutch team since 2007 on the mare Exquis Nadine. Together they went to the 2008 Olympics and the 2010 World Equestrian Games. However Nadine was retired from competition last year thereby opening a spot for Tango.
On the home front, the lovely American rider Tina Konyot and her powerful black stallion Calecto V by Come Back II are strong contenders for our team. Konyot and Calecto shot onto the scene in 2009 with their freestyle win at Devon. The following year the pair was USEF National Grand Prix Champion, earning them a spot on the U.S. team for the 2010 World Equestrian Games. In 2011 they were National Grand Prix Reserve Champion, and they are still going strong with a major win a few months ago in the Olympic Grand Prix Special at the Wellington Dressage Classic CDI***. The U.S. sent the stallion Relevant 5 to the 2004 Olympics, under rider Lisa Wilcox. Hopefully our team will have another stallion representative this year in the form of one tall, Danish-bred horse.
The Spanish team has often included stallions and this year is no exception. In 2004 they won Team Silver in Athens with no less than three of the four riders on studs (two were PRE’s, one was a Lusitano). However this year is unique for the Spaniards because they have a serious contender for an individual medal in Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz and his 12-year-old PRE stallion Fuego XII. Most dressage enthusiasts have seen the video of Fuego’s resplendent WEG freestyle, complete with a standing ovation from the 25,000-person crowd. They did not receive a medal for that performance in 2010, however the horse has been polished up since then. I saw Munoz Diaz warming up Fuego at the Sunshine Tour last year and that horse is formidable.
Denmark had a team of all geldings at the World Equestrian Games (Digby, Clearwater, Casmir and Seduc), however they sent the famous breeding stallion Don Schufro to the 2008 Olympics under rider Andreas Helgstrand. This year Helgstrand may be bringing another stallion, Tacolando Triple R, who was trained to Grand Prix by American Robert Dover. Helgstrand and Tacolando were put on the first Danish Olympic long list released this past December.
Much of the hype about this year’s Olympics has focused on the competition between two black stallions: Totilas and Uthopia. The latter is a shoe-in for the British team with his rider Carl Hester. Mr. Hester was on the British team at both the 2004 and 2000 Olympics. In his first Olympics he rode a stallion, the Dutch-bred Argentille Gullit, but they did not place very highly. This time around he’s sitting on a horse that is the British Grand Prix record-holder (with an 83.29%). If this pair continues as they are they could be the ones to take the wind out of Totilas’ sails.
Which of course brings us to the most famous dressage stallion, or more accurately the most famous dressage horse, of all time. He needs no introduction and there isn’t very much left to say about him. Except in the case of injury, Totilas will undoubtedly be representing Germany at the Olympics in August. In addition to the Dutch-bred stallion, there are also two German-bred stallions vying for the team. The first is the Westfalian-licensed Damon Hill NRW. This striking liver chestnut recently returned to rider Helen Langehanenberg, who rode him to the 5-year old World Champion title in 2005. The duo has been performing extremely well and recently came in second at the 2012 World Cup with the massive score of 85.214%. Another German stallion—the Holsteiner Le Noir, ridden by the admirable Uta Graf—is another possible team member. Le Noir has not achieved the same scores as the other two, however he is an accurate competitor and with an experienced rider.
In 2008 the German gold medal winning team consisted of four geldings: Isabell Werth on Satchmo, Nadine Capellman on Elvis VA, Heike Kemmer on Bonaparte, and Monica Theodorescu as the reserve on Whisper. The silver winning Dutch team consisted of two mares and one gelding. The US team had two geldings and one mare. The Brits had one stallion, Lancet ridden by Emma Hindle. While the pair placed a respectable seventh individually, they never had the competitive potential that Hester has with Uthopia. While stallions have come and gone over the decades as representatives on these teams, what seems to be unique this year is the possibility that all of these teams could be fielding stallions and a few teams like the Germans may have two or more.
As everyone who rides know, nothing is guaranteed in this sport. However the odds are certainly more favorable this year for a stallion to win an individual medal than they have been in a long time. All in all we cannot draw any conclusions until the 2012 Olympics have come and gone. In the meantime, mare-owners and stallion-riders everywhere can eagerly anticipate the possibility of having a “real boy” lead the victory gallop for the first time in forty years.
Individual Olympic Gold Medals: 1972 to present
2008: Anky van Grunsven, NED (Salinero, gelding)
2004: Anky van Grunsven, NED (Salinero, gelding)
2000: Anky van Grunsven, NED (Bonfire, gelding)
1996: Isabell Werth, GER (Gigolo, gelding)
1992: Nicole Uphoff, GER (Rembrandt, gelding)
1988: Nicole Uphoff, GER (Rembrandt, gelding)
1984: Reiner Klimke, GER (Ahlerich, gelding)
1980: Elisabeth Theurer, AUT (Mon Cherie, gelding)
1976: Christine Stuckelberger, SUI (Granat, gelding)
1972 Liselott Lisenhoff, GER (Piaff, stallion)