|The statistics are stacked against them, but the five male athletes competing at next week’s FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2018 Final in Paris (FRA) won’t be intimidated by that….|
|by Louise Parkes
Defending champion, Germany’s Isabell Werth, may be the clear favorite to reclaim the title with her fabulous mare Weihegold, but as the lady, herself so often says, “with horses you just never know what’s going to happen!”, and there isn’t an equine expert in the world who will argue with that.
A total of 18 combinations from 12 nations will be strutting their stuff at the AccorHotels Arena when the FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2018 Final kicks off in the heart of the City of Lights on 11 April. Today’s final start-list (HERE) shows a single change, as Australia’s Mary Hanna has withdrawn with Calanta and is replaced by Great Britain’s Hayley Watson-Greaves and Rubins Nite. This means that four countries, Great Britain, Netherlands, Sweden, and USA, will field two riders each, but Germany continues to have the largest representation as Werth is joined by Dorothee Schneider riding Sammy Davis Jr., and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl with Unee BB, giving their country a very strong hand. Making waves as the very first rider from the Philippines to qualify for the Final will be the 26-year-old former model, Ellesse Jordan Tzinberg, whose captivating back-story includes a determined recovery from a life-threatening accident, and who is likely to attract plenty of attention throughout the week.
In the history of the FEI World Cup™ Dressage series, which is celebrating its 33rd Final, only four men have ever claimed the coveted title.
First was Germany’s Sven Rothenberger with Andiamo in 1990, and it would be another 19 years before America’s Steffen Peters followed suit with Ravel in 2009. Edward Gal and the amazing stallion, Totilas, were champions in 2010 and then his Dutch counterpart, Hans Peter Minderhoud, came out on top with Glock’s Flirt in 2016.
Otherwise, however, the ladies have been the dominant force, and the most dominant of all was the incredible Anky van Grunsven who posted nine victories over an extraordinary 13-year period between 1995 and 2008, a record unlikely ever to be challenged. To a large extent, she is responsible for bringing the sport to the level of popularity it enjoys today, as she championed the early development of Dressage Freestyle to Music which has become so popular with audiences all around the world over the intervening years.
Watching horses “dance” to the rhythm of their Freestyle musical score is quite an experience, the sense of symmetry and the depth of understanding between man and horse is spine-tingling stuff. Edward Gal and Totilas were one of those mesmerising partnerships that left audiences with goose-bumps during their relatively short, but hugely successful, career together, and the Dutchman, the only previous male FEI World Cup™ Dressage champion in contention this time around, brings another really exciting horse to Paris next week, Glock’s Zonik whose extravagant movement has been delighting spectators throughout the winter season.
At 27 years of age, Denmark’s Daniel Bachmann Andersen will be one of the youngest competitors at the Final, earning his place with three great performances from the stallion, Blue Hors Zack. And although Britain’s Emile Faurie just squeezed into a qualifying spot after having to withdraw at the last leg in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (NED), he has been showing tremendous form with Delatio who shot to center-stage when runner-up behind Sweden’s Patrik Kittel at Olympia in London (GBR) in December.
Kittel, of course, is a master show-stealer. If you want to easily understand the appeal of Freestyle Dressage then he’s your “go to” rider right now, as his gift for combining crisp, quality choreography with the most toe-tapping music is second to none. And his unbounded enthusiasm is, quite simply, infectious. It was no surprise when he galloped to the top of the Western European League table this season, and he brings the brilliant Deja to Paris in a few days time where the host nation will be represented by Rio Olympians Ludovic Henry and After You.
Girl-power will be out in force, but while the boys will be fewer in number they won’t be overwhelmed.
The FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final 2018 – bring it on!!