World Equestrian Games Preview: Dressage

The world's best dressage riders will compete for individual medals in the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle for the first time since 1994 at the FEI World Equestrian Games. Find out about the competition and who the top contenders are.
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The world's best dressage riders will compete for individual medals in the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle for the first time since 1994 at the FEI World Equestrian Games. Find out about the competition and who the top contenders are.
Nadine Capellmann and Farbenfroh win gold at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain. | Photo by Kit Houghton/FEI

Nadine Capellmann and Farbenfroh win gold at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain. | Photo by Kit Houghton/FEI

August 8, 2006 -- An abundance of dressage medals will be up for grabs at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) now that individual medals for both Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Freestyle will be contested for the first time in a championship since the 1994 WEG in The Hague.

By the time definite entries are received by August 15, the organizers expect up to 93 riders from up to 33 countries. Twenty countries have nominated teams with individual nominations from a further 13 countries. In order to compete in Aachen, riders and horse must have qualified by obtaining, as a combination, two scores of 64 percent or over achieved at a three star CDI, FEI World Cup dressage qualifier or CDIO (international team competition). These scores must have been awarded by an FEI official international judge from a nation other than the rider's own.

For the majority of participants, the honor and responsibility of representing their country at world level will focus on six vital minutes in the arena for their FEI Grand Prix test. Five judges will take their places at different stations around the arena. Each judge awards a mark out of 10 for each of the 32 set movements, plus four collective marks, each carrying a coefficient of two. When the marks are added, each rider's score will be announced as a percentage. With a maximum of four riders per team, the scores from the highest placed three riders will be added, with the medals won by the teams with the highest total scores.

Once the team honors have been decided over the two-day Grand Prix test, the top 30 riders will go forward with a clean slate to the next set test, the Grand Prix Special, which includes the same movements but in a more difficult pattern and sequence. At this stage if all four members of a nation's team are qualified, they may all take part. At the end of the Special, individual medals will be awarded. Then, the top 15 riders will move on to the Freestyle to Music. The top three riders will again win individual medals. No more than three riders per nation can take part, however, but the same winner could take all.

"This will without doubt add excitement to the 2006 World Dressage Championship," said FEI Dressage Committee Chairman Mariette Withages, referring to the new medal system.

Local heroine Nadine Capellmann won the CHIO Aachen this year with the stellar Elvis VA, as she did with the late lamented Farbenfroh before going on to win the world title in Jerez in 2002. "It is a lifetime dream to be on a team in my hometown," Capellmann said, whose late father Kurt was president of Aachen show in the early 1990s.

Her colleagues on the German team will be just as anxious to retain the gold for their country and go for the individual honors. Heike Kemmer's Bonaparte made a phenomenal comeback to win the German Championship at Munster. After the disappointment of last year's FEI European Championship, where Bonaparte sustained an injury to his fetlock after the Grand Prix Special, Kemmer has taken it gently with the 13-year-old her father bought as a foal. This is Kemmer's first World Championship call up.

Teammate Klaus Husenbeth got his first German team gold at the 2002 WEG. He won the German men's championship with Piccolino at Munster and both the CDI Grand Prix and Freestyle at Aachen in May.

Isabell Werth is no stranger to championships of any form and as the individual champion at the Rome 1998 WEG and the Special winner in The Hague 1994 with the great Gigolo FRH, as well as team gold on both occasions, no one could doubt she'll be trying to bring a medal or two home with Warum Nicht, who although only 10 years old, has already shown his big occasion mettle as runner-up to Keltec Salinero at the 2006 FEI World Cup Final.

The Netherlands' Anky van Grunsven won her first championship ever when she took the Individual Freestyle title in front of her home crowd at the 1994 WEG in The Hague. What has happened since that landmark win with Bonfire demands its own history book, with more than a few chapters for Keltec Salinero, her partner in two FEI World Cup Dressage titles as well as the reigning Olympic and European champions. With teammates Imke Schellekens-Bartels on Sunrise, van Grunsven's pupil Edward Gal on Lingh and Laurens van Lieren on Hexagon's Ollright, van Grunsven and the Dutch team will be out to win on the German soil.

The U.S. team have made a formidable impression on the world dressage scene for some time. Team bronze medalists in 1994 and silver medalists at the 2002 WEG in Jerez, where team front runner Debbie McDonald narrowly missed an individual medal with Brentina, the U.S. team, under the expert eye of team trainer Klaus Balkenhol (who himself won Team and Individual Freestyle medals in The Hague) will undoubtedly make a big impression.

Brentina has only had one competitive outing this year, but her 76 percent Grand Prix victory at CDN Elmlohe was certainly decisive. Guenter Seidel won the Grand Prix Special there on Dick and Jane Brown's former show jumper Aragon, with other contenders for the team right on his heels. Steffen Peters will have a strong claim with Floriano and Leslie Morse, who is in training with Kyra Kyrklund in England, recorded a good second in the CDI grand prix at Hickstead recently. With eight possibles up for team places, the U.S. is showing strength and depth.

Spain and Sweden made history at last year's European Championships when the Spanish team magnanimously offered to share the bronze medal with Sweden. Both nations have won world medals; Spain the silver in Jerez, and Sweden the bronze in Rome 1998. Beatriz Ferrer-Salat won individual silver in Jerez on her wonderful Beauvalais, who at 19 has shown nothing but winning form this year having swept the board at CDI Vierzon and CDI Saumur. Rafael Soto Andrade's Invasor won ribbons in France on his first outing since the 2004 Athens Olympics, and Ignacio Rambla's Distinguido has shown he is fully recovered from a 2005 eye operation.

Sweden's front running pair, Jan Brink and Bjorsell's Briar, endured a hiccup to their preparation when Briar bruised a rib on arrival at CDI Lingen, but the pair had already placed third at the 2006 FEI World Cup Dressage Final and fourth at CDIO Aachen. Counting the vastly experienced Louise Nathhorst and Guinness, Sweden has eight combinations to draw on for their team.

Denmark's Andreas Helgstrand, who won the Danish Championship on Blue Hors Matine, is in the fortunate position of having two possible rides, either this mare or the stallion Don Schufro. He will have support from Lone Joergensen and Hardhof's Ludewig and is expected to be joined by rising star Joachim Thomsen (Mikado Engvang) and Princess Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein on her homebred Digby.

For the first time since Stockholm 1990, Belgium has a team to send. Jeroen Devroe has been successful on Paganini and Carl Cuypers has forged a partnership with the former Sven Rothenberger mount Barclay II. Newcomer Francois Hologne and 2005 European team member Mieke Lunskens with Jade, who was on the 1990 team riding Abner, make up the foursome. Similarly Italy has the three women who took medals at the Italian National Championships to form their first squad since WEG Rome in 1998.

British rider Wayne Channon's luck looks to have turned with the Ferro stallion Lorenzo CH, whose injury kept the pair from this year's FEI World Cup Final. They put in a good performance at CDIO Hickstead as did Sandy Phillips, who won the CDI Grand Prix with her mare Lara and Laura Bechtolsheimer with her parents' Douglas Dorsey. The same weekend Emma Hindle was on winning form at CDI Fritzens with Lancet.

The four women representing Canada are already preparing in Europe as are the Australia contenders, with Mary Hanna training with Hubertus Schmidt, Germany's reserve rider, and other possibles staying with team coach Ulla Salzgeber.

For Slovenia's Igor Maver, the chance to compete his Lipizzaner stallion Favory Canissa XXII is a source of pride in itself. When Lipizzaner horses took part the 1990 World Games in Stockholm, it was on the Yugoslavian team. Since Slovenia gained independence in 1991, it will be the first time a representative has ridden at a World Championship.

"It is a big success for the sport in Slovenia and for our stud in Lipica," said Maver.

Kazakhstan has made a definite entry for Sergey Buikevich and his Akhal-Teke gelding Volan, who qualified with ease at their home CDI Almaty in June. While this will be the first trip abroad for the 43-year-old rider and his 12-year-old mount, they take part in this championship with the weight of history on their shoulders. The ancient breed is part of the growing interest in equestrian sports in this Central Asian country, the birthplace of Absent who partnered Russia's Sergei Filatov to individual gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics and went on to father over 60 breeding stallions.

Finland's individual Kyra Kyrklund has been busy training riders from a host of nations in preparation for the 2006 WEG, but her own progress on Max, the 11-year-old son of her former Grand Prix ride Master will be watched closely. After finishing second overall at Aachen CDIO in May, the odds shortened on Kyrklund repeating her medal-winning performance in 1990 where she took the silver on the great Matador.

The dressage competition will take place in the main stadium that can hold up to 40,000 spectators. Visit EquiSearch.com for in-depth coverage by Nancy Jaffer of the dressage competition August 22-26.