In a double of doubles, Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW recorded a back-to-back World Cup series victory on home turf yesterday at Neumuenster in Germany, where the pair also reigned supreme last season.
The 30-year-old rider and her 13-year-old stallion produced a performance of such quality that the result in the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Western European League qualifier was in no doubt once they posted their score of 87.800. In Amsterdam in The Netherlands four weeks ago, they beat defending double-champions Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival in Freestyle for the very first time. And on Sunday the the dynamic German duo showed even greater confidence and composure as they strutted to success in front of their home crowd.
Cornelissen’s grip on the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage title looks set to be seriously challenged when the series final takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden at the end of April. “When we go to the final we will give our very, very best, and if we keep this form it will be really good sport and very interesting!” Langehanenberg said.
Of the 15 riders from eight nations, Germany fielded four and captured the top three places. Kristina Sprehe, one of the new wave of exciting younger riders emerging into the sport for Germany and a member of the London 2012 Olympic team silver medal side, slotted into second with Desperados FRH while the veteran and former FEI World Cup Dressage champion, Isabell Werth, finished third with Don Johnson FRH.
Danish riders claimed fourth and fifth places, and once again Sidsel Johansen and Schianto won the hearts of the spectators with another joyous and pleasing performance. And, for the second time this season, the crowd expressed their disappointment at the score awarded to the Danish duo. But judges Katrina Wuest (GER), Dr Evi Eisenhardt (GER), Ghislain Fouarge (NED), Leif Tornblad (DEN) and Marietta Almasy (FRA) were very much in agreement as Johansen’s 72.660 left them in fifth place.
The result has rocketed Sprehe up to the top of the leaderboard, with, however, just a single-point advantage over long-time leader Valentina Truppa from Italy going into the last qualifying leg at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands in four weeks’ time. Langehanenberg lies third ahead of Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven in fourth and Dutchman Edward Gal in fifth place.
The result also mirrored that of Saturday’s Grand Prix in which Damon Hill’s score of 83.310 left Langehanenberg almost five full marks ahead of Desperados and Sprehe while Don Johnson and Werth claimed third.
As the Freestyle got under way, it was Finland’s Terhi Stegars and the handsome Trakehner Axis TSF who were the first to score over 70 per cent when achieving 71.150, and then The Netherlands’ Marlie von Baalen and BMC Miciano raised the bar with a score of 73.850. However it was the latter’s Dutch counterpart Patrick van der Meer who held the clear lead before the judging break. He put up a lovely performance from the 11-year-old Uzzo that included elegant piaffe and passage for a mark of 76.425 – a personal-best Freestyle score for this talented partnership.
Third to go of the final group, Langehanenberg and Damon Hill were stunning from start to finish. The stallion’s big, clean and rhythmic passage, his boldness in canter and his stillness in piaffe, their steadiness, fluency and togetherness and their overall air of absolute confidence saw them rewarded with artistic marks of 94.000 per cent by Wuest, 92.000 from both Eisenhardt and Fouarge, 91.000 per cent from Almasy and 86.000 from Tornblad. The crowd erupted with delight and appreciation as 87.800 went up on the scoreboard.
Now it was simply a matter of who could come closest, and multiple champion, 43-year-old Isabell Werth, steered Don Johnson to a score of 83.000 before 23-year-old Anna Kasprzak launched into her floor plan that began with canterwork and earned her a mark of 81.075 with Donnperignon.
The remaining Danish partnership of Johansen and Schianto were second-last to go, and the 14-year-old horse, who always looks as if he is thoroughly enjoying himself in the ring, showed tremendous elevation in passage and piaffe, power and courage in extended canter and a general joyousness that has proven particularly infectious this season. Their mark of 80.050 didn’t please the onlookers, but Johansen’s ear-to-ear grin showed that she knew they had once again produced a crowd-pleasing effort.
Sprehe was last into the ring, and the 26-year-old rider could have been forgiven for a little uneasiness as the crowd’s reaction to Johansen’s score seemed to disturb the concentration of her horse at the very start. But the pure quality of his movement was sufficient to guarantee a strong result for Desperados who recovered to demonstrate strong piaffe and piaffe/pirouette on their way to clinching runner-up spot with 84.425 per cent.
For Langehanenberg, the World Cup series has been pivotal. “It’s true, I have grown up in this series, it has helped me to be better in every way,” said the rider who first came to real prominence during the 2010/2011 season. While well known on the national circuit before that, she only really began to show her potential at international level throughout the winter of 2010 and, over the two subsequent seasons, she has blossomed into a super-star of the sport. Runner-up behind Cornelisen at last year’s World Cup Final, she looks well set to oust her biggest rival this time around if all goes to plan.
But bragging and boasting is not her style. So when asked if she thought she could leave Cornelissen in her wake when it comes to the final in Gothenburg later in the spring, Langehanenberg said with some stoicism, “we all have so many hopes and so many dreams but they don’t always come true. My dreams and my aims have always been clear, but I don’t let them put pressure on myself or on my horse. You just never know how it will work out. We stay focused and we work hard to achieve our goals, I am just very happy that we are succeeding right now,” she said.
That focus is on the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage 2012/2013 title. She was unsure if she would bring out her stallion at ‘s-Hertogenbosch next month. “We will now make a plan for how to use the time in between now and the final. I’m not sure yet exactly what we will do, we will make a decision next week,” she said. One way or another, she looks set to provide formidable opposition to the rest of the world-class line-up as the series final begins to unfold.
Result: 1, Damon Hill NRW (Helen Langehanenberg) GER 87.800; 2, Desperados FRH (Kristina Sprehe) GER 84.425; 3, Don Johnson FRH (Isabell Werth) GER 83.000; 4, Donnperignon (Anna Kasprzak) DEN 81.075; 5, Schianto (Sidsel Johansen) DEN 80.050; 6, Uzzo (Patrick van der Meer) NED 76.425; 7, Smeyers Molberg (Marcela Krinke-Susmelj) SUI 73.875; 8, BMC Miciano (Marlies van Baalen) NED 73.850; 9. Biggles (Kristian von Krusenstierna) SWE 73.850; 10, Rubins Royal (Anabel Balkenhol) GER 72.900; 11, Axis TSF (Terhi Stegars) FIN) 71.150; 12, Heimliche Liebe (Emma Kanerva) FIN 71.000; 13, HP Frontier (Sarah Millis) GBR 70.000; 14, Orion (Pia Fortmueller) CAN 69.500; 15, Charming Boy (Sofie Lexner) SWE 67.625.
Standings after Round 7:
1. Kristina Sprehe GER - 68
2. Valentina Truppa ITA - 67
3. Helen Langehanenberg GER - 66
4. Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven SWE - 63
5. Edward Gal NED - 55
6. Patrick Kittel SWE - 50
6. Marcela Krinke Susmelj SUI - 50
8. Minna Telde SWE) - 49
8. Isabell Werth GER - 49
10. Sidsel Johansen DEN - 46
11. Anna Kasprzak DEN - 43
12. Marlies van Baalen NED - 36
13. Imke Schellekens-Bartels NED - 36
14. Pia Fortmueller CAN - 31
15. Patrick van der Meer NED - 30
16. Anabel Balkenhol GER - 29
17. Kristian von Krusenstierna SWE - 27
18. Lyndal Oatley AUS - 23
18. Silvia Rizzo ITA - 23
20. Karin Kosak AUT - 22