Ulla Salzgeber riding Herzuf's Erbe led a home-country trifecta in the eighth dressage World Cup leg in Neumunster, Germany, yesterday.
Ulla Salzgeber and Herzuf's Erbe.
Isabel Werth and Satchmo.
Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW. © Thomas Hellmann/FEI
It was the combination's second victory in the Western European League of the 2010/2011 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage series, and yesterday Isabell Werth and Helen Langehanenberg slotted into second and third places. Salzgeber has been in formidable form all season, placing herself in a prominent position on the leaderboard when winning the Central European League qualifier at Kaposvar in Hungary last October before coming out to win again at Frankfurt, Germany in December. And the 52 year old rider did it in style once more today, getting the edge over Werth with a performance that oozed professionalism, confidence, control and harmony and which restored her to pole position on the league table ahead of the final two qualifying rounds.
It was The Netherlands' Christa Laarakkers who had the advantage going into the half-way break having reset the target-score at 73.125% with Divoza Horseworld Ovation, but that was immediately dismissed by a mark of 74.275% from Germany's Anja Plonzke who steered the 12 year old Le Mont d'Or through an energetic and rhythmic display as the action resumed. And from there it just kept getting better.
Jeroen Devroe and Apollo van het Vijverhof produced a most elegant passage during their calm and polished performance to raise the bar to 76.350% and that was always going to keep the Belgian duo in contention. Next to go was Werth with Madeleine Winter-Schulze's 17 year old Satchmo and the 41 year old rider was smiling even before she began. Patting Satchmo both in front and behind the saddle as she put in her final preparations, the four-time Olympic team gold medallist set off with gusto and quickly picked up big marks for fine pirouettes and expressive trot half-passes during which the horse really stretched for his stride. Not content with having clearly made a big impression already, Werth finished with one-handed piaffe and extended trot down the centre line for another leading score of 80.850%.
That was now always going to be the one to beat, but Salzgeber would not be intimidated. She followed the 76.200% from Denmark's Princess Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein and Digby with a spell-binding ride that earned the only artistic mark of 90.00 handed out by the judging panel - from judge at B, Leif Tornblad - as she soared ahead with a score of 81.350%. Her strong chestnut with his big, deep chest and powerful shoulders seems designed perfectly for this job and created fabulous extended trot and piaffe along with controlled and balanced passage as the clear messages from Salzgeber's experienced hands and perfectly-positioned legs invited him to give of his best. As she also finished with a one-handed flourish there was no doubt that the lead had changed once again.
And it would be for the final time, although The Netherlands' Hans Peter Minderhoud and Exquis Nadine's mark of 77.100% was good enough for fourth behind the final competitor of the day - Helen Langehanenberg - who scored 77.665% with Damon Hill NRW to slot into third. Langehanenberg, who with her husband runs a string of 20 horses from their base at a rented stable-yard near Munster in Germany, has been enjoying a great season with her top two rides Damon Hill and Responsible and is now well-qualified for the World Cup Dressage final which kicks off in Leipzig, Germany on 27 April.
"I only ever dreamed of having a season like this!" Langehanenberg said. And she must now decide whether to campaign at one or both of the last two legs of the qualifying series. "I will talk with my trainer Klaus Balkenhol - maybe I will go to Goteborg or Den Bosch but I'm not sure. Perhaps Den Bosch would be good because then I have about a month before the final, but its great to be in this position right now," she said.
Werth was also delighted with her result - "I'm really pleased with Satchmo, he did a great job. There was a little mistake in the two-tempis, but the result was quite close. Satchmo is brave and I decided to really go for it at the end of the test today - it might have been a bit over the top but dressage should be fun too, and not always so serious!" she said with a laugh.
For Salzgeber there was also a huge sense of achievement. The rider who won back-to-back FEI World Cup Dressage titles with the great Rusty in 2001 and 2002 was already happy after heading the line-up in Saturday's preliminary Grand Prix.