Record entry for FEI European Dressage Championships

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Germany bidding for 23rd team title: superstar horses Valegro and Totilas to take centre stage

Fabienne Lutkemeier, Kristina Sprehe, Helen Langehanenberg and Isabell Werth clinched yet another team victory for Germany at the FEI European Dressage Championships at Herning, Denmark in 2013.

when it comes down to the individual medals the question seems to be whether anyone can truly challenge the world no 1 partnership of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro

Germany bidding for 23rd team title: superstar horses Valegro and Totilas to take centre stage. The host nation is hotly tipped to claim the Dressage team title for the 23rd time when the FEI European Championships 2015 get underway next Tuesday, 11 August, in Aachen, Germany. With five equestrian disciplines, including Jumping, Vaulting, Reining and Driving also taking place, it’s going to be a hectic schedule running right through to 23 August. A total of 30 nations will be represented by 475 athletes across all events, and the Dressage figures are at an all-time high, with the definite entries revealing the participation of a massive 20 nations and 72 horse-and-rider combinations.

The record books show that the host country has never lost a European Dressage team title on home soil. This is only the fourth time for the Championships to take place on the hallowed ground of Aachen however, and it is 32 years since the legendary Dr Reiner Klimke joined Uwe Sauer, Herbert Krug and Uwe Schulten-Baumer in the team lap of honour around the Soers Arena back in 1983.

The record books also show that the German grip on the team title has only been broken three times in 50 years, The Netherlands winning through in 2007 and 2009 before Great Britain suddenly emerged at the top of the sport with victory in 2011. Normal order was restored at the last Championships in Herning, Denmark in 2013 however, and the strength in depth of the current German side suggests they will be the ones all the rest have to beat once again this time around.

Sense of occasion

This edition of the FEI European Dressage Championships has a particular excitement and sense of occasion about it, partly because the public has been waiting a long time to see the two mighty equine gladiators who have carried the sport onto a whole new level in recent years going head-to-head for only the second time. And also possibly because one of those horses will be competed by Germany’s Matthias Alexander Rath whose grandmother, Liselott Linsenhoff, and mother Ann-Kathrin Linsenhoff were both European champions during their highly successful careers.

Riding alongside Ann-Kathrin when she claimed team gold and individual bronze at Mondorf in Luxembourg in 1989 was a young lady called Isabell Werth whose record in these Championships is nothing short of sensational. Now the most medalled competitor in the sport, Werth was only 20 years of age at the time, and she would help take eight consecutive European team titles over the following years along with four individual medals.

This exceptional athlete is still right at the top of her game, and partnering Don Johnson FRH joins 31-year-old Rath, 29-year-old Jessica von Bredow-Werndl (Unee BB) and 28-year-old Kristina Bröring-Sprehe (Desperados FRH) as Germany steps up to the plate once again. Bröring-Sprehe and Werth were on the side that brought the title back to Germany two years ago, adding yet another team medal to Werth’s already extensive haul. And Bröring-Sprehe’s recent performances with Desperados FRH suggest this pair could be one of the show-stealing partnerships next week.

A total of 18 countries will be represented by teams, and the battle for gold is expected to be played out between the host country and the 2013 silver and bronze medallists from The Netherlands and Great Britain, with Sweden and Denmark in hot pursuit.

Individual medals

However when it comes down to the individual medals the question seems to be whether anyone can truly challenge the world no 1 partnership of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, holders of all three world records in Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and Freestyle and defending European Champions in both Grand Prix Special and Freestyle.

Where the double-gold medallists at the London 2012 Olympic Games are concerned it almost seems a “done deal” for the number one spot every time they enter the arena. However it was at the CDIO5* in Aachen last summer that the British pair looked most vulnerable, posting a score that, by their normal standards, was relatively poor in the Nations Cup won by the German team that was led to victory by Rath and Totilas. However Dujardin and Valegro showed exactly what they are made of when bouncing back at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy two months later to claim individual double-gold.

Mental strength

It takes mental strength to bounce back, and Rath also knows a thing or two about that. It hasn’t been easy to take over one of the most adored horses in the world as Totilas was following his super-successful career with The Netherlands’ Edward Gal in the saddle. Here was a creature that cast a magical spell with his power, presence and extravagant movement at the FEI European Championships in Windsor Park, Great Britain in 2009 where he took individual gold and silver before going on to add the FEI World Cup™ Dressage title and double-gold at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ to his list of achievements the following year.

With Rath on board he was on the silver-medal-winning team in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in 2011 but the story of the German partnership’s career together has been fragmented ever since, due to illness for the rider and injury to the horse. However Rath is looking forward to next week’s challenge. He recently said he knows that coming up against Dujardin and Valegro will be very difficult, “but Aachen proved that everything is possible a year ago” he said. The atmosphere in the Main Arena at Aachen will be electric next week, but the German rider believes Totilas won’t be intimidated in the slightest. “The bigger the setting, the bigger and more alert Totilas is!” he pointed out.

The pair have been relatively unexposed at the very top level in recent years, but if Totilas is back to his best then the FEI European Dressage Championships 2015 look set for a scintillating week of super sport.

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Louise Parkes
Fédération Equestre Internationale
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