Denmark came out on top at the sixth and final leg of the FEI Nations Cup Dressage series at Hickstead in Britain at the weekend, but it was a close call all the way to the very end of the season.
When the scores were averaged out, with the results of the best three horse-and-rider combinations from each country taken into account, only 0.752 points separated the winners from the host nation in second while Sweden lined up third just 0.689 further behind.
Five nations – Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden and USA – competed at the British fixture, but the 2014 series title went to The Netherlands who also came out on top in 2013. Only Sweden could challenge the defending champions, and it was again a close call when they finished just a single point behind the Dutch in the final standings, with the Danes in third.
This year’s Hickstead format created extra tension and excitement as the FEI Nations Cup Dressage was judged across two separate competitions. Riders lined up in the Grand Prix on Thursday and Friday and those scores were added to the ones earned in the Grand Prix Special to decide the result.
“What made this really work was that the result was completely unpredictable,” said Ground Jury President, Great Britain’s Stephen Clarke.
It was the British who held the advantage after the Grand Prix when star rider Carl Hester boosted their chances with the top score of the competition. Riding Fine Time 13 for a score of 73.640, Hester was judged best by four of the five Ground Jury members, only Denmark’s Susan Baarup putting him in second place.
Nikki Crisp’s 67.289 was the drop score when Lara Griffiths posted 68.080 with Andretti H and Michael Eilberg and Marakov earned a mark of 67.760.
The Danes lined up second, but everything about their end-result was all the more creditable for the fact that there were only three of them. Rikke Svane and Finckenstein RSF posted 68.520, Ulrik Moelgaard and Michigan scored 69.000 and Anders Dahl and Wie Atlantico de Ymas earned their best mark of 70.140.
Sweden’s Juliette Ramel (Ten Points), Charlotte Haid Bondergaard (Triviant 2), Malina Hamilton (Fleetwood0 and Mads Hendelio Witz (Jimmy Choo SEQ) lined up third ahead of the USA in fourth and Germany in fifth place.
On Saturday, however, the sheer consistency of the Danes saw them win through. Svane slotted into individual fourth spot on a score of 71.216, Dahl finished sixth with 790.843 and Moelgaard was ninth on 70.588.
Britain’s Hester topped the individual scoreboard once again, but not with his team ride, Fine Time, who finished just behind Svane in fifth place. Griffiths, Eilberg and Crisp claimed 17th, 20th and 22nd individually, and the difference was enough to leave the Danes at the head of affairs when the scores from the two competitions were combined.
USA team-member Lisa Wilcox finished second individually in the Grand Prix Special with a score of 71.608 from Denzello while Hester topped the individual rankings when posting 71.922 with Dances with Wolves. Sweden’s Juliette Ramel and Ten Points finished third with 71.392. It was super-tight at the top of the scoreboard, with only 1.785 points separating the top 12 individual finishers.
The Danes were delighted their victory. “We are very excited that our little Danish offshore team has won!” said Ulrik Moelgaard. All three riders live outside Denmark, Anders is based close to the Hickstead showgrounds, and Moelgaard lives in the Cotswolds in England, while Svane is based in Luxembourg.
“We rode six very solid performances” Moelgaard said. “We were under pressure with only three on the team but we were determined.” They arrived in Hickstead with a plan. “Anders got married last weekend in England and we talked about it at the wedding and said OK, let’s do it, let’s really go for it at Hickstead! Now we’ve had two fantastic Saturdays in a row!” he added with a laugh.
He has been riding Michigan for the last three years. “My best friend back in Denmark had this horse and it has been amazingly well-produced. Michigan is 13 this year, and I’ve been very lucky to get such a great horse!” he said.
Moelgaard also rode on the Danish team that finished second at the third leg of the 2014 series in Rotterdam (NED) where they also fielded just three riders. He thinks the concept of the pilot team competition is great. “I’m quite into this Nations Cup thing – it gives a whole new incentive to riders in our sport!” he insisted.
Ground Jury President Stephen Clarke was very pleased with this final leg of the series. “Running it over two competitions created added excitement. It was held over three days, with two days of Grand Prix and the Special over one day, and it wasn’t until the very last moment that the team result was decided – it was neck-and-neck right to the finish!” he pointed out.
Such was the success of the double-competition formula that he believes it should be further examined. “It would be an interesting exercise to study this format for its value for future competition – it worked really well, and the riders thoroughly enjoyed it,” he said.
1. Denmark 140.102: Finckenstein TSF (Rikke Svane) 139.736, Michigan (Ulrik Moelgaard) 139.588, Wie Atlantico de Ymas (Anders Dahl) 140.983.
2. Great Britain 139.350: Pasoa (Nikki Crisp) 134.800, Andretti H (Lara Griffiths) 137.256, Marakov (Michael Eilberg) 136.191, Fine Time 13 (Carl Hester) 144.601.
3. Sweden 138.661: Ten Points (Juliette Ramel) 138.172, Triviant 2 (Charlotte Haid Bondergaard) 138.127, Fleetwood (Malin Hamilton) 138.902, Jimmy Choo Seq (Mads Handelio Witz) 138.910.
4. USA 138.204: Currency DC (Susan Dutta) 131.738, Lombardo LHF (Brian Hafner) 139.075, Wellnetta (Katherine Bateson Chandler) 137.109, Denzello (Lisa Wilcox) 138.428.
5. Germany 134.309: Don Androsso (Katharina Birkenholz) 134.466, Spirit of the Ageold (Bernadette Brune) 132.724, Wunderkind (Stefanie Weihermuller) 135.737.
Final Standings after Round 6:
1. Netherlands - 43
2. Sweden - 42
3. Denmark - 36
4. Germany - 26
4. USA - 26
4. Great Britain - 26
7. Belgium - 19
8. Spain - 11
8. France - 11