There is nothing like Aachen. Even on a quiet year, even without Isabell Werth, the excitement of being at the number one horse show in the world surpasses all events except perhaps the World Equestrian Games. Dressage at Aachen began with the Prix St Georges class where many of the up and coming horses for the future were presented to the judges’ panel with Stephen Clarke at the helm at C. We did not see earth shattering scores but there were moments of brilliance in several of the horses presented with German Brigitte Wittig on Blind Date, a Hannoverian mare by Breitling X Donnerhall winning the class with a 73.474.
But it was the start of the Grand Prix, the first leg which would determine the team winners of the Aachen Lambertz Nations’ Cup, where the competition kicked in, with Heike Kemmer and her longtime partner Bonaparte a 16 year-old gelding by Bon Bonaparte by Consul leading the way after the first half of competition with the only score of the day topping 70 percentile, with a 70.723.
There were no mistake free rides today, as Bonaparte himself missed the changes and got a bit deep in the final passage, but the test was strong enough to go to the top of the sixteen rides present to the judges’ panel of Anne Gribbons (USA) Isabelle Judet (FRA) Francis Verbeek-van Rooy (NED), Eric Lette (SWE) and Katrina Wust (Ger).
Mikala Münster Gundersen and Horses Unlimited’s Rheinlander stallion Leonberg started the party being the first to go. In spite of a disappointing score of 63.915, Gundersen who lives and trains in Florida with Lisa Wilcox was philosophical. “I’m here at Aachen, riding for Denmark, and it is a great honor.”
Gundersen and Leonberg have been having a successful European tour which so far has been highlighted by her fifth place win at Rotterdam behind the Dutch contingent, an exciting accomplishment for the lovely rider with the serene smile. Gundersen is training in Europe with Ernst Hoyos. Close by in the warm up was the Danish coach Rudolph Zeilinger, and Gundersen’s husband Grand Prix jumper rider Henrik. “I train with Lisa in Florida who trains with Hoyos so it is the same system.” Gundersen said. Gundersen and Leonberg started off strong, but mistakes in the changes and zig zag dropped their percentage.
Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven and the Danish Stallion Solos Carex (by Castro by Lagano) were second with a 69.957. Solos Carex is the sire of American rider Catherine Haddad’s Cadillac, and is stables across from him in the barns.
Andreas Helgstrand of Denmark finished third on the beautiful and expressive stallion Tannehof’s Carabas. The 11-year-old Holsteiner by Carnaby was owned by Gestut Tannenof and won the Developing Horse class in Germany in 2008, and then was sold to Helgstrand’s sponsors the Vagner family, where Helgstrand is now training after leaving the Blue Hors Stud. This will be an exciting combination to watch as Denmark continues to build a strong team headed for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
American riders Catherine Haddad, who is based Vechta, Germany, and World Cup Champions Steffen Peters and Ravel had an easy day today, with a soft warm up, in preparation for tomorrow’s class where the Nation’s Cup winning team will be decided. America is short one rider, so Catherine and Steffen will be going as individuals and are looking forward to qualifying for the Freestyle which will be on Sunday.
Peters who picked up his wife Shannon today from the airport is enjoying the opportunity to focus on Ravel. “It is not often I get to focus on just one horse, and I am enjoying it.” Peters said. USEF Assistant Executive Director of Sport Programs Gil Merrick working closely with US Chef D’Equipe Jessica Ransehousen noted that this year's Aachen is certainly a break from the last time he was here. With temperatures reaching ninety degrees today, temperatures are expected to remain high for the next two days. But everyone agrees it is better than rain, and the outlook for the rest of the show is bright.