The Domain Equestre de Grands Pins, at Vidauban in the south-east of France, plays host to the opening leg of the much-anticipated first season for FEI Nations Cup Dressage on Friday.
Five countries will field teams for this CDIO3* competition which will be followed by three further events over the coming months. The CDIO5* fixtures at Rotterdam (NED) and Aachen (GER) will stage legs on 20 and 27 June respectively, and the series will draw to a close at Hickstead CDIO3* (GBR) on Sunday 4 August.
The pilot project has been initiated in an effort to assess the attractiveness of this type of event to organisers, athletes, National Federations, spectators, the media and potential sponsors. If there is a positive evaluation at the conclusion of the 2013 season, then an official long-term series may be created.
For this trial season, each FEI Nations Cup Dressage fixture must host either a Grand Prix or Grand Prix Freestyle competition in which the athletes can earn points towards the FEI Nations Cup Dressage Ranking. It has been left to the show organisers to decide which competition they would prefer to run, and while Vidauban, Rotterdam and Aachen have chosen to use the Grand Prix to decide the team result, Hickstead has opted for the phenomenally popular Freestyle to Music which continues to draw increasing numbers of new fans to the sport.
Each event is of equal standing, and the best two results for each nation over the four events will decide the overall result.
A minimum of four teams will take part in each event, and National Federations must have at least four athletes on the FEI World Rankings list at time of entry. There is no maximum limit to the number of FEI Nations Cup Dressage events in which athletes and horses can take part, and organisers have the right to invite a limited number of additional home or foreign individual competitors.
Prize money for each event must be not less than €20,000 for the team classification (in addition to the standard prize money for individual classification) for CDIO 5*, €15,000 for CDIO 4* and €10,000 for CDIO 3*. If a team is eliminated it is not entitled to either prize money nor FEI Nations Cup points.
A team consists of a minimum of three and maximum of four athlete/horse combinations, and although the British come to Vidauban with just three in their side, this is a country that has been buoyed up by superb results over the past few seasons, including the spectacular performances of their team and individual gold-medal-winning partnership of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro at the London 2012 Olympic Games last summer.
As elsewhere, the enthusiasm and excitement surrounding the sport of dressage in Britain has never been greater, and with only the top three scores counting towards the final team total, Kay Maxted (Privaldi), Sarah Milis (HP Frontier) and Daniel Watson (Fideramber) will be determined to make every move count.
The French side consists of Jacques Albeck (Collin 73), Claire Gosselin (Karamel de Lauture), Catherine Henriquet (Paradieszauber) and Karen Tebar (Florentino 47), while The Netherlands will be represented by Katja Gevers (Thriller), Danielle Heijkoop (Kingsley Siro), Stephanie Peters (Unlimited) and Laurens van Lieren (Hexagon’s Welnetta). Elizabeth Eversfield-Koch (Rokoko N) will fly the Swiss flag alongside Melanie Hofmann (GB Cazzago C), Gilles Ngovan (Solid Brown) and Hans Staub (Warbeau).
But the Swedish team looks particularly strong, with star performers Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven, third in the Grand Prix and fourth in the Freestyle at the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final 2013 on home turf last month and triumphant in both the Grand Prix and Freestyle at Munich last weekend, and Minna Telde, who finished seventh and 10th in Gothenburg, heading up the side. Vilhelmson-Silfven brings Divertimento to Vidauban, while Telde rides Don Charly on a team that also includes Caroline Darcourt (Paridon Magi) and Jeanna Hogberg (Liza Minelli).
Trond Asmyr, FEI Director Dressage and Para-Dressage says: “this new FEI Nations Cup Dressage series will provide National Federations with a fantastic opportunity to train up new athletes for teams, and offers many more riders a chance to develop their experience and skills. It is very exciting, and a whole new concept, to have team dressage running throughout the summer season, and Hickstead will present the first official team competition in Freestyle, so will be breaking new ground.”
“We are testing different models to find the way forward for our sport and to capitalise on the enormous popularity of the Freestyle in particular. We will learn a great deal over the coming months about the future of dressage as a Nations Cup sport”.