By Karen Robinson
With their resounding team victory and individual near sweep of the medals at the 2009 European Dressage Championships, the Dutch are poised to make history at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG). The Dutch have never won team gold in world championship dressage, but with record-breaking horses, such as Totilas and Parzival, cantering down centerline at the Kentucky Horse Park this September, that era may finally be coming to an end.
In spite of the evidence pointing toward gold for his country, Dutch team trainer Sjef Janssen is reluctant to make such a prediction. "We never talk about the medals because it brings bad luck," he says. "We always live day by day; horses and people can get hurt or sick. We don't speculate." Janssen has been the team's trainer since before the 2006 WEG in Aachen, where the Dutch team won the silver medal, just ahead of the United States and right behind Germany. He may not yet have coached the Dutch team to WEG gold, but Janssen has coached his wife, Anky van Grunsven, to multiple Olympic, World Championship and World Cup victories.
A committee from the Dutch federation (KNHS) oversees the selection process to ensure that rules and statutes are followed, but Janssen is solely responsible for naming the team. It will be chosen based on a combination of results at two selection trials as well as past history and other competitions. "I will use all the impressions I get from training and shows," he says. "A former team trainer, Jurgen Koschel, also had the power to make the decision by himself, and I also wanted it that way. I want to take full responsibility. If I flunk, they can fire me. But I don't want to work with committees. I want to take the strongest team possible."
All of the Dutch A and B Cadre horses and riders will compete at Rotterdam. (The term "Cadre" is used instead of "short" and "long lists.") A team of four will participate in the Nations' Cup, and the others will compete in the national Grand Prix with the same judging panel as the Nations' Cup. A second team trial is at Hickstead at the end of July. The WEG team, with one or two reserves, will be named shortly after that competition, and a training camp for the team will be held before departure to Kentucky in mid-September.
Many, but not all, of the top Dutch riders train with Janssen already. But for those that have their own trainers, he has always had a policy of inclusiveness.
"We are all in the same system," he says. "I keep an eye on them and give advice." In addition, Dutch riders also draw on the expertise of physical trainers and sports psychologists. This multifaceted approach to athletic excellence is widely believed to have contributed to the rise of the Dutch team internationally, and several other countries have now copied the practice. However, Janssen points out, "It is all those things that make the final positive result, but you do need a good horse and a good rider. Without that, nobody can win."
As of May 31, the Dutch A Cadre listed six riders and eight horses; another four horses were on the B Cadre list. The A Cadre includes two of the world's current dressage stars: Edward Gal and Adelinde Cornelissen.
Gal and Moorlands Totilas have been shattering world records over the past year, winning team and individual gold at the European Championships and taking the World Cup Final. He and the 10-year-old KWPN stallion have brought dressage to a new level with scores in the freestyle breaking 90 percent for the first time in history. Their appearance in Kentucky will be one of the most anticipated performances of the WEG. Gal also has a second horse on the A Cadre--Totilas' half-sister, Sisther de Jeu.
The only horse and rider to have beaten Gal is his probable WEG teammate, 31-year-old Cornelissen on the 13-year-old Jazz son Jerich Parzival. Cornelissen was victorious in the Grand Prix Special at the 2009 European Championships, setting a new world record of her own with 84.042 percent. She and Parzival also won the Grand Prix test at the 2010 World Cup Final, finishing second behind Gal in the freestyle.
The third member of the Dutch triad that finished one, two and three at both the European Championships and the World Cup Final is Imke Schellekens-Bartels on Hunter Douglas Sunrise. This will be the second WEG for the 16-year-old Sunrise, who was also Schellekens-Bartels' mount at the 2008 Olympics, where the Dutch team won silver.
Another Olympic pair is Hans Peter Minderhoud and Exquis Nadine, who were fifth individually at the 2008 Games. Sander Marijnissen with Moedwil is the final member of the A Cadre.
The B Cadre lists the following four pairs: Marlies van Baalen on BMC Ojay, Christa Laarakkers on Ovation, Hans Peter Minderhoud on IPS Tango, and St?phanie Peters on Jeff.
The reigning World Champion, Anky van Grunsven, was listed on the A Cadre with her 2006 WEG mount, Salinero, and the KWPN stallion IPS Painted Black, but she has withdrawn. An injury to Salinero's withers has sidelined the 16-year-old World and Olympic champion, and a minor injury, coupled with inconsistent competition results, has led van Grunsven to also decide not to campaign Painted Black toward the WEG. In the past, her absence from the team would have meant a dip in the results for her country, but with the great depth and strength of her teammates, the prospects for gold for Holland and its thousands of orange-clad fans remain strong.
Another reason Janssen doesn't like to predict results for his team is for the benefit of the riders themselves. "I don't concentrate on goals that are very far away but on those in the near future so that it's more of a step-by-step program," he says. "It's easier on the athletes because it puts less pressure on them." The teams he will be watching closely include the British, who won silver at the 2009 European Championships: "They will be good again, I expect," he adds. Germany is, of course, also on Janssen's list of main rivals. How could it not be when it is the one country they have yet to beat at a WEG?
By Karen Robinson
It is no exaggeration to say that Germany has been a titanic force in Olympic and World Championship dressage. The German team has won Olympic gold eight times and is undefeated since 1992. The first World Dressage Championship was held in 1966, and since then 11 team gold medals have been awarded, of which Germany has won 10. The team was beaten only once, in 1970, by the Soviet Union. Germany has a long cultural tradition of breeding and training the world's best dressage horses, but the emergence of superstars from their Dutch neighbors to the west has shaken the Germans' hold on the podium. Germany regained its superior position at the 2008 Olympics, one year after an unfamiliar silver medal result at the 2007 European Championships. At the 2009 European Championships in Windsor, England, Germany slipped to bronze--behind the Dutch and an ecstatic silver-medal-winning British team.
Klaus Roeser is the head of the German team selection committee for the WEG 2010. He will be the team's chef d'?quipe. Realistic about his team's greatest rivals, he has faith in his country's riders and horses to rise to the occasion yet again. "Totilas and Parzival are incredible horses. There is absolutely no doubt about it," he says. "For us this is a new situation and we have to face it. For the sport itself, it's the best thing that could happen. Every day it's a new game and a new chance. The only thing we have to do is go for it."
Immediately before the 2009 European Championships, the German team lost several key pairs to unlucky circumstances, the most high profile of which was the doping suspension that sidelined Isabel Werth. Werth's ban with the German Federation was lifted in time for her to ride on the German Nation's Cup team at CHIO Aachen in early July. It was an important outing for potential WEG team members with the selection committee watching performances closely as the date for announcing the team approached. Roeser says that Werth's suspension didn't affect her relationship with the members of the selection committee: "I think everybody will be happy to see her back on the team. We really need her. There is no doubt about it." Werth is one of the most successful international dressage riders in history with five Olympic and six world championship gold medals.
A member of the gold medal WEG team in 2006, she is also the defending world champion in the Grand Prix Special with Satchmo. She has been competing both of her top horses Satchmo, who is now 16, and Warum Nicht, 14, and could be headed to Kentucky with either horse.
In response to the Dutch threat, the Germans have revised the structure of their selection process and have added trainers to the team program. The selection committee consists of Roeser, team trainer Holger Schmezer, veterinarian Dr. Cordula Gather, Reinhardt Wendt, of the German Federation, and breeder Ulrich Kasselmann. "The riders from the Netherlands are really in front of it, and that's a new situation for us," says Roesler. "As long as you are successful everything is good. If not, you have to work hard and look after the structure and know what must be changed to have success in the future again."
Schmezer remains as the team trainer, but he is now in charge of two other team trainers who work on a daily basis with the riders: Jonny Hilberath is in charge of the top riders and Jurgen Koschel is responsible for riders under 25 years old. Roeser says the Germans are also working with the German Sport University in Cologne. "One point is the mental fitness and the other is the physical. The sport is getting more and more complex," he says. If the Germans have been lagging behind the Dutch in this respect, they are making every effort to catch up.
In the past, up-and-coming riders in Germany often had the impression they had no chance to make teams because the cadre structure was quite rigid. But when so many of the senior combinations were unable to compete at Windsor, Germany had to turn to its younger talent. The new Cadre lists will now be revised more often, according to riders' recent results. As of April 2010, the first level of the German Cadre, the Championship Cadre, included only the names of the four riders who competed at the 2009 European Championships: Susanne Lebek on Potomac, Ellen Schulten-Baumer on Donatha S, Monica Theodorescu on Whisper and Matthias Alexander Rath on Sterntaler Unicef and Triviant. At 25, Rath represents the future of the German team, and Windsor was his first team appearance.
With Werth back in competition in June (she also gave birth to a son last October), she is sure to return to the first tier of the Cadre once she is again permitted onto the German team.
The German B Cadre is a much longer list and includes the names of both past team members and newcomers: Anabel Balkenhol/Rubin Royal and Dablino, Alexandra Bimschas/Wito Corleone, Gina Capellmann-L?tkemeier/Baldessarini, Carola Koppelmann/Le Bo and Insterburg TSF, Christoph Koschel/Donperignon, Anja Pl?nzke/Le Mont d' Or, Ulla Salzgeber/Wakana, Hubertus Schmidt/Donnelly, and Alexandra Simons-de Ridder/Wellington.
The B2 Cadre includes Sabine Becker/Lamarc WRT, Marion Engelen (Kerken)/Diego, Ingrid Klimke/Damon Hill NRW, Dieter Laugks/Meggle's Weltall VA, and Ludwig Zierer/Weltino. The cadre lists don't include Werth's 2008 Olympic teammates Heike Kemmer on Bonaparte and Nadine Capellmann on Elvis because neither pair has been competing recently. Bonaparte suffered a minor injury last summer, but Kemmer hopes to bring back the 17-year-old for one more World Championship appearance in 2010.
The cadre lists will be revised once the first round of outdoor CDIs is over. As Roesler points out, everyone has a chance to make the team, even those who have not been in the results over the last few months. "Our spirit is that everyone has the same chance, and no one is too young or too old. New names could always come onto the list," he says. Compared to any other country in the world, the Germans are still world leaders in one very important respect, and that's depth.
Selection of the German WEG dressage team members is a discretionary one, based on observation of performances at major CDIs through the spring including CHIO Aachen, and culminating with the German National Championships in early August. The German team will be named a few days after that and will have a training camp in Germany. The horses fly to Kentucky with most of the other European horses just 10 days before competition begins.
Roeser says that while the Germans understand the magnitude of the challenge they face against their rivals, he looks forward to watching this next great contest unfold. "For me personally it is important to have a good team spirit like we had at Windsor," he says. "In spite of our problems, the team stuck together very well, and it was a fantastic atmosphere." Whether Germany successfully defends its world championship title for an eleventh time or not, one thing is certain: It will send some of the world's best human and equine dressage athletes to compete at the WEG.
By Beth Baumert
FEI "I" judge Bo Jen? has been chef d'equipe of the Swedish team since November 2008. That's when he began to plan to build a strong Swedish dressage team--first for the 2009 European Dressage Championships (where they placed fourth) and then for the 2010 WEG. At this point, according to Jen?, there are three top contenders who are able to score over 70 percent: Tinne Wilhelmson-Silfven with Favourit. The 10-year-old gelding by Fidermark scored 72.34 percent at the European Championships and won the Grand Prix Special with a 75 percent against top competition in Hagen, Germany. Patrick Kittel with Scandic, a 10-year-old gelding by Solos Carex, scored 72.25 percent at the Europeans. His showing at the 2010 World Cup was even better, and he scored close to 80 percent in the Freestyle at G?thenburg. Minna Telde on Don Charly, a 12-year-old by Don Gregory, scored 69.95 percent at the Europeans.
"Beyond these riders," says Jen?, "we have a handful of less-experienced competitors, any of whom could end up taking the fourth spot on the Swedish team."
From the beginning, Jen? had his eye on Hubertus Schmidt, of Paderborn, Germany, to be the coach of his team. At first, Schmidt declined because of a lack of time. Later in 2009, Schmidt accepted the position with enthusiasm and has made quarterly trips to Flyinge in Sweden to supervise training. He works with each rider's daily trainer and attends shows, where he gives feedback. Louise Nathorst is the trainer for Wilhelmson-Silfven, Sjef Janssen trains Kittel and Jan Brink trains Telde.
Any discussion of training the Swedish team would be incomplete without mention of Johnny Hilberath of Germany, who has worked with the FEI riders of southern Sweden for more than 10 years, visiting Flyinge for several days eight times per year.
Jen? has also arranged for his team to have assistance with test riding. Dieter Sch?le of Germany has served as judge for the schooling of tests, providing scores and comments to prepare the riders for actual competitions. The plan was for the team to do two outdoor shows in the spring and then attend three shows in which they will compete as a team, including Rotterdam in mid-June and Falsterbo, the global five-star, in mid-July. Four different Swedish riders will compete as a team at Aachen in July.
The Swedish National Championships will be held outside Str?msholm in mid-August and will serve as a selection trial for the WEG. A team of four plans to leave Sweden Sept. 18 and to fly to Kentucky for the chance to make its best showing yet at a WEG.