When the Fédération Equestre Internationale awarded the 2017 World Cup Finals to Omaha, Nebraska, I was one of the many people who were surprised at the move from Las Vegas, which had been our American go-to venue for several previous years. And what a completely different experience from the glitzy city of gambling it was!
The CHI Health Center, where the show is held, offers 346,000 square feet of indoor facilities. The center hosts athletic events of every kind, such as Olympic swimming trials, figure skating championships and basketball championships. It easily can accommodate the entire World Cup Finals with room to spare.
Weather being unpredictable in April is not an issue if you stay in the convention hotel, which is attached to the center and is accessible to the event via covered bridges and elevators. A large and selective trade show surrounds the arenas, and the schooling area gives ample room for the spectators to view their favorites warming up at the rail or from a seat nearby while sipping coffee or having a glass of wine.
Try to make time to visit the nearby Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. The old town gives you a real, almost palpable feeling of what the heart of America was like a hundred or more years ago. Plus, there are a number of unique restaurants where rumor has it the steaks are some of the best on the planet.
World Champions And Young Stars
As the 2022/2023 qualifying competitions for the World Cup Finals in Omaha progressed, the atmosphere around the arenas at the various venues the world over became heated.
Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, the present world champion, started her journey to the World Cup Finals a mere 11 weeks after giving birth, and she has been victorious in every qualifier to date. The mare TSF Dalera BB is a miracle of suppleness and generosity, and the partnership is a dream to behold, which makes all riders wish they could share a moment of the harmony this pair exhibits in one movement after another with never-failing flexibility and smoothness.
At the very first look at the conformation of this mare, one could think that her topline looks somewhat weak in the neck and light in the hindquarters. By comparison to the silhouette of most finished Grand Prix horses, you would not expect Dalera to possess the strength and power she exhibits when she is in motion. As Dalera sails around in perfect balance, you admire her rider even more for what her training has produced.
In a video seminar on freestyle put together by the International Dressage Officials Committee, Jessica enthusiastically told the viewers about how she always chooses her own music and helps choreograph every detail. During her last pregnancy, she created her new freestyle from different songs made famous by Edith Piaf. It is as charming and suitable as her Olympic music from “La La Land,” and of course tailormade with Paris 2024 in mind!
So, besides Dalera and Jessica, who are the most “dangerous” combinations now having successfully completed their qualifying requirements?
No. 1 threat to the one on top will likely be the Dutch stallion Hermes, ridden by Dinja van Liere, who earned the individual bronze medal at last year’s Blue Hors FEI Dressage World Championships in Denmark. The shining bay and spicy Hermes is only turning 11 this year, and sometimes his youth and macho attitude shines through in slight miscommunications with his rider. Therefore his progress is sometimes unpredictable, which, in a way, makes him even more interesting to watch.
In the Grand Prix in Denmark, Hermes, to me, appeared a bit tense and offended. As the competition progressed, the communication with his rider improved, and his ability to collect and take weight behind started to impress. By the freestyle, Hermes was all in, and after three intense days of competition appeared to look around for the next test.
In the Amsterdam CDI-W, Hermes easily won the Grand Prix, gathering points in active and balanced piaffes and pirouettes, seamless transitions and uphill, clear flying changes. Then he turned the tables in the freestyle, where the extended trots tended to become grounded and hurried, and there was a tightness in the poll and some difficulty in down transitions. Hermes was victorious in both classes, and his youth and athleticism, in combination with strong opinions, make him especially interesting to watch from test to test. In his earlier years he could be a handful just getting to enter the arena, and I marvel at the strong and supple seat of his rider, not to speak of her determination and bravery! Hermes and Dinja are on a mission, and they may just be back on the podium in Omaha.
Right on their heels is another Dutch combination: Törveslettens Titanium with Marieke van der Putten on board. Their signature move is a very active and balanced piaffe with crisp transitions and an overall confident display of all the Grand Prix movements. They won the Grand Prix, ahead of Hermes, in Mechelen (Belgium).
A third Dutch rider knocking on the door is Thamar Zweistra with Hexagon’s Ich Wiess, a short-bodied, high-stepping gray with a lot of well-harnessed energy and a secure grip on the lessons. He had a clean and energetic go in den Bosch (the Netherlands) and is a clear possibility for Omaha.
In an almost nose-to-nose race are two extremely successful and legendary German riders. Between Ingrid Klimke and Isabell Werth, it’s hard to choose who you admire most: The versatility and numerous successes in eventing, jumping and dressage that Ingrid has to her credit as an all-around horsewoman? Or the constant and consistent rule over the dressage arena by Isabell with numerous horses, all trained by her, which we have experienced for at least 20 years? To think that both incredible riders may be taking part in the Omaha finals is fabulous.
Franziskus FRH, Ingrid’s stallion, is full of life and always ready to buck and play, which leaves the rider completely unfazed. In the CHIO Aachen (Germany) last year I had to check his age (14) because he was so fresh and cheeky. Ingrid and her athletic and well-trained stallion had great shows in Stuttgart (Germany), London and Amsterdam and are slowly but surely gaining ground on the front riders. When they got to Gothenburg (Sweden), Franziskus earned the top spot in both the Grand Prix and the freestyle.
Isabell also rides a bay stallion, named DSP Quantaz. The first times I saw him in person, I was not blown away, but that has been my experience with several of Isabell’s previous horses. I have learned to refrain from opinions for a year or so, expecting Isabell to transform her new horse into a unicorn. Quantaz is not quite that yet, but he improves and climbs in the standings with every show. His overall agility is great, and he is starting to display the Isabell touch in transitions in and out of everything, her hallmark in riding. And you know she will fight for every point in the freestyle with perfect precision and total attention to the music.
The U.S. Squad
In the United States, our World Cup qualifying show season has been running somewhat parallel with Europe, and fairly early we knew that Steffen Peters on Suppenkasper looked like a safe bet to be one of our three representatives. They were the clear winners at every West Coast event they competed in.
On the East Coast, Salvino and Adrienne Lyle reigned supreme until, just before his last qualifier, the stallion developed a small splint. The owner, Betsy Juliano, and Adrienne decided not to risk the horse’s welfare by continuing on the World Cup path, and Salvino was withdrawn as a contender.
This is a huge disappointment for all his fans, but the focus must be to keep the horse sound and happy and in good shape for future challenges.
Into Salvino’s spot danced Alice Tarjan on her athletic and elastic mare Serenade MF, who has had a busy and successful run in qualifiers both here and in Europe.
There was another spot available for a U.S. rider, and that led to an exciting contest between the two candidates
Next in line: Sarah Tubman on the East Coast and Anna Buffini on the West Coast. The only qualifying show left in the U.S. was the Palm Beach Derby CDI-W in early March at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, and before we knew it Anna had put her horse FRH Davinia La Douce on a plane heading for Florida.
This head-to-head confrontation over the last spot was exciting to the last drop. In the Grand Prix, Sarah had a short confrontation with First Apple about the piaffe, which proved expensive and affected the order of go in the freestyle the following evening, so the pair went early. The chestnut stallion lost some balance in the right pirouette, and the piaffe work was at times hesitant, but overall it was a smooth and clean performance with clear transitions. After First Apple was rewarded with 77.45%, we waited for a long time until Anna appeared next to last of the evening. Her mare also had some trouble in the right pirouette, and a few of the planned difficult transitions did not work perfectly. To the very end, it looked like a photo finish, but Anna inched ahead with a fraction of a point (78.28%) to win the class—and the opportunity to compete in Omaha.
For the United States, Steffen is the veteran World Cup competitor on a horse that has excelled in many international freestyles, while Anna, who rode in the 2022 Leipzig World Cup Final (Germany), will be partaking for the second time. For Alice, it’s her debut at the finals.
Knowing horses and their fragile nature all we can do now is to keep our fingers crossed until all the competitors have gone through the veterinary check in Omaha before getting truly charged up over waiting for the superstars to appear in the arena. At this time, a few weeks out, the 2023 World Cup Finals looks like it could become the most intensely contested and exciting ever!
Anne Gribbons was the U.S. Equestrian Federation technical advisor for dressage from 2010-2012. She has traveled and shown 15 of her own horses to Grand Prix and competed in 10 national championships and in Europe, including the Aachen CDIO (Germany). Seven of her horses have been named U.S. Dressage Federation Horse of the Year, and she was a member of the 1995 Pan American Games silver medal-winning team for the United States. Anne is a Fédération Equestre Internationale five-star judge, and she was a member of the FEI Dressage Committee from 2010-2013. She was inducted into the Roemer Foundation/ USDF Hall of Fame in 2013. She started contributing to Between Rounds in 1995, and a collection of those columns is now available in the book “Collective Remarks.”
This article appears in the March 27-April 17, 2023, issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. You can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse and our lifestyle publication, Untacked. If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.