World Cup Freestyle, against all the odds

Against all the odds, it has been possible to hold two World Cup qualification events in the Western European League for dressage during the 2020/21 winter season. A further qualification round is planned to be held in the classic venue of Brabanthallen in ’s-Hertogenbosch, which is situated a few hours’ drive from Amsterdam.

The sport of dressage has found a way to continue holding events of a high standard. The competition itself is held with relatively few functionaries on site, the judges and writers maintain a safe distance, and the riders are accompanied by just one assistant. The length of time taken by the riders means that there is never the need for any congestion at critical points of the competition arena. If there is any discipline that exercises distancing by its very nature, it is dressage, and this has proved to be crucial during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The nine qualification places that have been cancelled have all been dependent on the income generated by audiences and accompanying fairs, and in this regard dressage is no better placed than show jumping.

 The first qualification that did take place was at Vilhelmsborg, just outside of Århus – a venue that could be described as Denmark’s equivalent of Sweden’s Flyinge or Strömsholm. The World Cup qualification event was moved here when it became clear that it would not be possible to hold the event in Herning in October 2020. In Århus, 15 equipages competed, and the very popular winner from Scandinavium in February 2020, Cathrine Dufour, was victorious with her promising young horse Bohemian. This was something of a sensational result, as the Dane finished ahead of ‘Die Queen’ Isabell Werth with Emilio – perhaps not by a huge margin, but it was enough to ruffle the feathers of the world number one Werth. Hot on her heels was a young rider with her own aspirations to the throne, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, who, with her mare Zaire-E, equalled the personal best that she’d achieved in Stockholm in December 2019, with a little over 85%. It was a very strong starting line-up, with seven equipages above 80%, including Patrik Kittel and Delaunay.

 In January, the Salzburg Exhibition Center in Austria hosted the second qualification, which was also held behind closed doors. Once again, this was dominated by Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, this time with her mare TSF Dalera BB, with whom she’d won medals at the 2019 European Championships in Rotterdam. By a margin of almost 4%, Jessica and Dalera won the qualification place and beat the reigning champions – Isabell Werth and Weihegold. Also present in Salzburg were Patrik Kittel with Dude, and his prodigy Antonia Ramel with Brother de Jeu. Both have achieved significant feats this season – two completed qualifications with the same horse.

 For the 2020/21 season, a clarification of the regular rules (as a result of the COVID­19 situation) will regulate who will have the opportunity to reach the final. With two qualifications completed and a third planned, a rankings table has been established for the Western European League, which will determine who will ride at Scandinavium.

 Perhaps two Swedish equipages will be allowed to feature in the final – by mid-March we will know what will be in store for the World Cup finals at Gothenburg Horse Show.

 Author: Kim C Lundin