Hans-Dieter Dreher and the fabulous stallion Embassy ll produced an exhibition of spectacular jumping to win the ninth leg of the Longines FEI World Cup Western European League series on home ground at Leipzig, Germany, on Sunday.
The handsome 14-year-old horse was on top form when clinching victory from last-to-go spot in the five-way jump-off against the clock. And the spectators went wild at the end of a superb but super-tough afternoon of sport during which Frank Rothenberger’s first-round track tested the mettle of the very best.
It was an unexpected final line-up, with Norway’s Geir Gulliksen and Edesa S Banjan finishing second ahead of Italy’s Luca Moneta and Connery in third while Germany’s Felix Hassmann and Horse Gym’s Balzaci was fourth. Sweden’s Douglas Lindelow and Casello filled fifth place while Frenchman, Kevin Staut, was sixth with the quickest four-fault result in the first round.
Rothenberger’s track was typically uncomplicated but big and bold. Key to success, as the winning rider pointed out, was the courage of the horse and the conviction of the rider. “It wasn’t enough to have a good jumper today, you needed a fighter as well,” Dreher said.
Enormous oxers tested nerve from the outset, and the scope required to clear the triple combination at fence six, where the opening triple bar was followed by a massive oxer and then a vertical, was exceptional. And riders then had to gather up their onward-bound mounts to cope with the short three-stride distance to the following 1.60m vertical at seven which hit the floor regularly.
The blue vertical at fence three was influential, with Ireland’s Thomas Ryan eliminated with Quite Zero here, while Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann (Cantinero) and Switzerland’s Jane Richard-Philips (Quister de Guidenboom) also endured a single refusal at this one.
It was a fascinating contest from the outset, with Moneta and Connery lulling onlookers into a false sense of security with a brilliant round when first to go, but those clears would prove very elusive indeed. With the time-allowed set at 70 seconds the Italian was initially awarded a time-fault. However when it was re-set at 72 seconds, the pair were pathfinders against the clock, and they never flinched, setting the target with another great run in 38.40 seconds. However they clearly lost a little time on the rollback to the double at fence nine when the first element didn’t come up on the perfect stride. It came up much better for Gulliksen who went into the lead in 37.72 seconds, and when Hassmann and Lindelow both left two fences on the floor only Dreher stood between the Norwegian and a career-defining success. But the German wasn’t going to let this winning opportunity slip from his grasp.
Embassy ll answered his every call including a big ask at the final vertical to clear the line more than a second-and-a-half quicker than Gulliksen for the win.
Gulliksen, in second, was delighted with his result. “My podium finish today goes to show that if you keep trying you will eventually give yourself a chance to succeed!” he said. “I knew my horse wasn’t going to be as fast as Hans’, but as long as I didn’t knock one down I would have a chance,” he added. Talking about Edesa S Banjan’s career he explained, “he was ridden from the ages of 7 to 11 in 1.30m classes. Marlon Zanotelli then started riding him at Grand Prix level. I actually bought him without riding him first and I actually didn’t like him in the beginning! I was then told by one of the guys working on the sales team that he needs to be taken to competitions. I didn’t believe him at first. I took him out to compete and he was warming up fine, nothing special. As soon as I was 2 meters away from the in-gate, he then woke up and completely transformed. I jumped clear! He really is a competition horse after all!” he said.
Third-placed Moneta continues to add to his growing fan-base. His unusual riding style, with hands held high and reins very short, sets him apart, as does his extraordinary bond with his talented and free-running string. “I am so proud of my horse,” he said of Connery who proved so difficult that his owner gave him “for free” to the Italian horseman. “He was 10 or 11 years old, and at the beginning he was very stressed and emotional, but we built our relationship step-by-step and now he is getting great. It’s still hard for him to compete in such crowded arenas with so much atmosphere,” Moneta explained.
Lying 18th on the Western European League after Sunday’s competition, the Italian still has work to do if he is to make it to the Final in Las Vegas, USA in April but, on 36 points, Dreher has qualification in his sights as does Gulliksen who has now accumulated 38.
The next leg takes place in Zurich, Switzerland on Sunday, January 25.
Result: 1, Embassy ll (Hans-Dieter Dreher) GER 0/0 36.07; 2, Edesa S Banjan (Geir Gulliksen) NOR 0/0 37.72; 3, Connery (Luca Moneta) ITA 0/0 38.40; 4, Horse Gym’s Balzaci (Felix Hassmann) GER 0/8 40.75; 5, Casello (Douglas Lindelow) SWE 0/8 41.62; 6, Reveur de Hurtebise (Kevin Staut) FRA 4/64.46; 7, Lacrimoso (Patrice Delaveau) FRA 4/66.72; 8, Classic Man V (Toni Hassmann) GER 4/66.90; 9, Spirit T (Jessica Mendoza) GBR 4/67.27; 10, Capetown (Wout-Jan van der Schans) NED 4/68.22.
Western European League Standings after Round 9:
- Steve Guerdat (SUI) – 57
- Kevin Staut (FRA) – 57
- Harrie Smolders (NED) – 47
- Marco Kutscher (GER) – 44
- Daniel Deusser (GER) – 43
- Lucy Davis (USA) – 42
- Douglas Lindelow (SWE) – 41
- Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) – 39
- Geir Gulliksen (NOR) – 38
- Marcus Ehning (GER) – 38
- Simon Delestre (GER) – 37
- Hans-Dieter Dreher (GER) – 36
- Bertram Allen (IRL) – 34
- Jur Vrieling (NED) – 33
- Reed Kessler (USA) – 30
- Jos Verlooy (BEL) – 30
- Roger Yves Bost (FRA) – 29
- Luca Moneta (ITA) – 29
- Martin Fuchs (SUI) – 28
- Malin Baryard-Johnsson (SWE) – 28
- Christian Ahlmann GER – 28