Winyamaro and I are on our way to Leipzig! This will be an exciting part of our ongoing journey together. The Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Finals will be held in Leipzig, Germany, April 28-30, and we are going to take part!
I would remind you, Rita, that W will be competing in THE WORLD CUP FINAL before he has completed his first year in international Grand Prix competition. I sit back and smile at that.
W started in his first CDI in May 2010 at the Hamburg CDI3* (Germany). An average performance in the Grand Prix left me satisfied with 64 percent, but I didn’t tell W that he was average. I told him he was a superstar. On the very next day, W, undaunted by his lack of notoriety in the Grand Prix, stepped into the dressage stadium at Hamburg and promptly brought the house down with his cheeky P!nk Funhouse Freestyle. He placed second (his highest international placing in Europe to date) and came home with the respectable score of 70 percent.
That was just the beginning. A fourth-placed finish in the freestyle at the Lipica CDI-W (Slovenia) a few weeks later made me start to think about the possibility of riding a few qualifiers with W in the coming year although at that point I still thought he was too young and underdeveloped to be successful on the tour in Western Europe.
W’s Grand Prix career took off by the fall of 2010. In October, he won both the Grand Prix and the freestyle at Devon, Pa., in the United States. Due to a fortuitous change in the World Cup rules for 2010/2011, his win at that show counted for a full 20 points in the Western European League. Combined with our 13 points from Lipica, I headed back to Germany with modest hopes of at least holding our own in that insanely competitive league.
In December 2010, W made his mark on the WEL. He placed fourth at the London CDI-W with a score to rival his marks at Devon and proved with that 74 percent that he could do a bit more than just hold his own on the European continent. Another 15 points made nomination to the Final possible.
W had arrived, and in doing so he actually led the ranking list of the WEL ahead of Isabell Werth, Ulla Salzgeber and Adelinde Cornelisson for a whole three days!
I did some deep thinking after London and decided to give W almost eight weeks off from the intense training schedule we had maintained for more than nine months. I knew it was a risky move to back off from the momentum we had created. We needed one more top 10 placing to cinch our nomination, and coming back after a break has never been my forte. But even if we missed the January qualifier at Amsterdam, we would still have two chances to put in our final score (only four of the best count) in February and March at Gothenburg, Sweden, and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands.
Now here’s the deal, Rita, W did some hacking, some aqua training and some basic work from mid-December to mid-February. He hung out. He got fat. In the same time period, I lost 10 pounds with two bouts of the flu—the second one turning into pneumonia—and ran off to get married before I had even recovered my health.
Somehow, we both ended up in the Gothenburg arena by the end of February—healthy, happy, fit and ready to compete!
Gothenburg CDI-W did not go as well as planned. I had a fantastic, fresh, elastic and powerful horse under me at that show. Unfortunately, my concentration was not as strong as it had been before the training break, and some freaky errors caught us both off guard. I was disappointed in our eighth-placed finish because the competitive field at Gothenburg was light compared to other qualifiers. But the few points it added to our score left us tied for fifth place in the League and assured us of a start at Leipzig!
So I knew going into ‘s-Hertogenbosch that I could relax and concentrate on a ”training round” at that qualifier. At the same time, it would not behoove us to land somewhere outside the top 10 placings just one month before the Final. So while I had specific training goals in mind for the show, I still wanted to make the best impression possible.
W and I TRAINED for ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
Our efforts paid off! I kept him a little quieter in the Grand Prix, sacrificing a bit of impulsion and expression for obedience and reliability after our Errors of Enthusiasm in Gothenburg. But his collection and self-carriage were good, our canter tour is getting better, and I was very pleased to score a solid 69+ percent at such a competitive show.
I was a bit confounded to land in TWELTH PLACE with that good score! But the starting field at ‘s-Hertogenbosch looked very much like what we will see at the Final in Leipzig. For the most part, the top 12 placings were separated by less than 1 percentage point.
Now Rita, I had to remind myself that last year I sat in the stands and watched the 2010 World Cup Final as a spectator at ‘s-Hertogenbosch. So I was pretty damn lucky to be competing against the top horses in the world at the same show even if it was just a qualifier this year. The key word in that last statement: “competing.”
‘s-Hertogenbosh or Den Bosch (German) is still one of my favorites venues. This is the video from last year:
So, back to the mats for the freestyle competition and WHAMMY, W hits a junior home run that catapults him out of 1th and into eighth for the freestyle. Another Top 10 placing! This is how ranks of the Western European League shook out after our final qualifier:
1. Adelinde Cornelissen (the Netherlands), 80
2. Ulla Salzgeber (Germany), 77
3. Isabell Werth (Germany), 74
4. Hans Peter Minderhoud (the Netherlands), 63
5. Catherine Haddad (USA), 58
6. Richard Davison (Great Britain), 57
6. Patrik Kittel (Sweden), 57
8. Helen Langehanenberg (Germany), 56
9. Tinne Vilhelmsson Silfven (Sweden), 55
10. Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (Denmark), 53
10. Christa Laarakkers (the Netherlands), 53
12. Jeroen Devroe (Belgium), 44
13. Nina Hofmann (Sweden), 37
14. Matthias Alexander Rath (Germany), 35
15. Mikaela Lindh (Finland), 33
Because W and I landed on the fifth rung, the FEI nominated us for a start at the Final as an “Additional Rider” in the WEL. The U.S. Equestrian Federation has approved our nomination, so it’s “Leipzig or Bust!”
Not bad for a horse that started at 64 percent last May. For those of you who have already seen the fantastic film, “Secretariat,” you will understand when I say, “I have already won my race. Now it is time for W to run his.”
Leipzig 2011. Be there or be square, Rita.
I’m Catherine Haddad, and I’m sayin it like it is from Vechta, Germany.
Training Tip of the Day: Set small goals for each horse show. Steady progress will pay off in the future.