Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW recorded an impressive victory in the third leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Western European League series at Stuttgart, Germany, on Saturday, where the host nation dominated the line-up.
With a smooth Freestyle performance that oozed confidence and teamwork, the winning partnership finished more than four full marks ahead of German counterparts Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH in second place. And it was a big day for Italy’s Valentina Truppa. She registered runner-up spot at the previous leg in Lyon, France two weeks ago, but although she had to settle for third with Eremo del Castegno this time around, she has risen to the top of the Western European League table with a significant margin of advantage after the latest result.
The placings of the top three mirrored those of Friday’s Grand Prix in which Langehanenberg’s score of 82.766 was a personal best. But fourth place went to Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven thanks to a much-improved effort with Don Auriello who inched The Netherlands’ Imke Schellekens-Bartels and the gigantic black gelding, Toots, down to fifth.
First to break the 70 per cent barrier were Finland’s Terhi Stegars and her appealing black stallion Axis TSF who put 72.925 on the board. But they were immediately replaced at the top of the order by the French partnership of Jessica Michel and Riwera de Hus who scored 73.475. This horse oozes power and potential, and the French rider is clearly growing in ring-craft and courage with every outing during her debut season at this level of the sport.
Two horses later, the first of the three-strong German contingent moved out in front as Uta Graf’s black stallion, Le Noir, posted a mark of 73.525, but then Vilhelmson-Silfven showed that Friday’s ninth placing in the Grand Prix was only a blip as she steered Don Auriello, who is still only ten years old, to a score of 77.300 which really raised the bar for the rest of them.
But the winning partnership were more than ready to take that on. From the moment Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW entered the arena they worked seamlessly together. The stallion showed poise and elegance in passage, and tremendous rhythm and drive in extended trot as he played out his floor plan to their new musical theme. His canter was big and bold, and although he broke into trot instead of canter due to a brief misunderstanding in transition after a pirouette, it was clear this would be a high-scoring test. As they left the arena the enthusiastic crowd went wild with delight, even before the new leading mark of 86.775 was announced.
Italy’s Truppa and her 11 year old gelding, Eremo del Castegno, posted 80.600 to pose no threat to the leading pair, but the last of the German contingent bettered that when Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH were awarded 82.275 at the end of a performance that included some lovely moments along with some slightly over-enthusiastic ones to overtake the Italian for runner-up spot.
And that was how it would stay, despite a thoroughly entertaining test from the penultimate Danish duo of Sidsel Johansen and Schianto whose crowd-pleasing qualities were such that their mark of 77.100 was greeted by noisy disagreement from the spectators. This 13 year old gelding showed lots of suspension and floated through extended trot. But it was his final ride up the centre line that completely captivated the audience – he looked like he was skipping with enjoyment, and when he drew to a halt the smile on Johansen’s face was equally as delightful.
Their mark left them temporarily in fifth place, but when the final partnership of Imke Schellekens-Bartels and the massive 12 year old gelding, Toots, who is, according to his rider, over 1.80cms tall, squeezed in ahead of them, the Danish pair had to settle for sixth in the final analysis.
Talking about the performances the Ground Jury saw, judge at C, Dr Dieter Schule, said “the standard was really high and the top riders produced really good tests. We looked at the quality of the performances, the difficulty of each Freestyle and how well the horses and riders worked with their music along with the technical aspects – and Helen and Damon Hill were exceptional,” he said.
Langehanenberg talked about what Damon Hill has been up to since the pair helped take team silver for Germany before finishing just outside the individual medal placings when fourth in the Freestyle at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“He had a break, going out into the paddock and hacking and jogging a bit, and then three or four weeks ago he started back to work again and I’ve been amazed. It feels now like he is doing things, the difficult movements, by himself instead of waiting to be asked, and he’s so happy to back competing again. To be honest it all just feels really easy with him right now, he is so active and so fresh,” she said. “I thought I might have to motivate him, but after giving me all he had yesterday he was happy to do it again today!”
Describing the stallion’s character, she said the thing she likes most about Damon Hill is “that he always fights for me” and that he is, apparently, super-intelligent. “I’m pretty sure he can read and he can write, he knows exactly what’s going on all the time, and of course he just loves attention, so he gets lots of it! In fact he’s sometimes more like a big dog than a horse, he is so affectionate and friendly. If he could sit on the sofa beside you and cuddle up, then he would!” she said.
He can look forward to another break before returning to the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage 2012/2013 series action in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in January, and Neumunster, Germany in February. “After that I will see how it is looking for qualification for the Reem Acra final in Gothenburg next April,” said the rider who has now moved into equal-sixth place on the leaderboard ahead of the next leg of the series which takes place in Stockholm, Sweden on 2 December.
Result: Damon Hill NRW (Helen Langehanenberg) GER 86.775; 2, Desperados FRH (Kristina Sprehe) GER 82.275; 3, Eremo del Castegno (Valentina Truppa) ITA 80.600; 4, Don Auriello (Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven) SWE 77.300; 5, Toots (Imke Schellekens-Bartels) NED 77.150; 6, Schianto (Sidsel Johansen) DEN 77.100; 7, Le Noir (Uta Graf) GER 73.525; 8, Riwera de Hus (Jessica Michel) FRA 73.475; 9, Akeem Foldager (Joachim Thomsen) DEN 73.325; 10, Axis TSF (Terhi Stegars) FIN 72.925; 11, Uzzo (Patrick van der Meer) NED 71.975; 12, Ekwador (Katarzyna Milczarek) POL 69.550; 13, Smeyers Molberg (Marcela Krinke Susmelj) SUI 65.375;14, Orion (Pia Fortmuller) CAN 64.375; 15, Sini Spirit (Emma Kanerva) FIN 62.725.
Standings after Round 3 at Stuttgart (GER):
1. Valentina Truppa ITA – 52
2. Marcela Krinke Susmelj SUI – 45
3. Kristina Sprehe GER – 34
4. Edward Gal NED – 33
5. Pia Fortmuller CAN – 29
6. Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven SWE – 26
6. Helen Langehanenberg GER – 26
8. Sidsel Johansen DEN – 23
9. Karin Kosak AUT – 22
9. Anabel Balkenhol GER – 22
11. Marlies van Baalen NED – 20
11. Stefan Peter AUT – 20
11. Lyndel Oatley AUS – 20
14. Joachim Thomson DEN – 18
14. Jessica Michel FRA – 18