Sunday, Apr. 14, 2024

Werth And Rath Claim Individual Titles At German Dressage Championships

The championships offered a preview of the country’s strongest candidates for the Olympics.

Isabell Werth’s win in Balve, Germany, June 5-8, came as no surprise in the German Dressage Championships, but there was much more at stake than the individual championship.
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The championships offered a preview of the country’s strongest candidates for the Olympics.

Isabell Werth’s win in Balve, Germany, June 5-8, came as no surprise in the German Dressage Championships, but there was much more at stake than the individual championship.

In Germany, the men and women are pinned separately at the national championship. Werth, who’s dominated every dressage competition she’s entered this spring, took home the women’s prize with Warum Nicht FRH, while Matthias Rath earned men’s glory aboard Sterntaler-UNICEF.

And on Sunday, Holger Schmezer, the German team dressage coach, announced the big news of who would ride for Germany on the CDIO team at the CHIO Aachen, Germany.

Werth headed the list with Satchmo, as well as Rath and Sterntaler-UNICEF, Heike Kemmer on Bonaparte 67 and Nadine Capellmann with Elvis VA.

“The performances at Balve, even considering that Isabell Werth misfired in her freestyle and Nadine Capellmann did the same in her Grand Prix, have confirmed the impressions of the last weeks and months,” said Schmezer. “For the German dressage committee, Satchmo is the first choice of Isabell Werth at this time for the Hong Kong Olympics, and therefore we nominated him for the CDIO team at Aachen.

“If the Olympic Games took place tomorrow, these four combinations would fly to Hong Kong,” he added. “But the final decision will take place after Aachen, and the past has shown that combinations from the CDI tour at Aachen can still make it onto a championship team. Monica Theodorescu still has a chance to make it to Hong Kong with Whisper.”

Werth proved she has an alternative to Satchmo waiting in the wings by scoring 76.50 percent with Warum Nicht FRH in the Grand Prix. The piaffe and passage tour is becoming more and more of a highlight for the maturing 12-year-old, Hanoverian gelding by Weltmeyer.

Although Werth looked unbeatable after the Grand Prix, she opened the door to the competition with mistakes in her freestyle.

“Hannes” got tense as he went around the ring because he saw some puddles left by the heavy thunderstorm the evening before. When someone removed the water from a nearby tent roof, the gelding completely lost his composure. Werth managed to finish the test in a pretty ordered manner. In spite of the tension, Hannes still showed a great extended walk, an expressive piaffe-passage tour with good transitions and a closed, motionless final salute.

They placed eighth with 74.20 percent, and that secured Werth her eighth national title.

There’s A New Kid In Town

Rath and Sterntaler-UNICEF stood up to the immense pressure and confirmed their claim for a place on the German Olympic team with a second-placed finish in the Grand Prix (73.95%). Sterntaler-UNICEF broke to canter briefly before going into the extended walk, but Rath kept his cool and continued his ride with an extended walk worth a 10.

Two and a half months ago only dressage insiders knew his name, but now all eyes are on Rath, 23, after his win in the men’s division.

Rath has only been riding “Sterntaler” for nine weeks. He took over the ride on the 13-year-old, Oldenburg (by Sion) gelding from his stepmother, Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff, after she had to give up competing because of Lyme disease.

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Despite their short time together, the pair’s partnership and communication were never in question as they showed off the extended gaits as well as the canter pirouettes and zigzags.

It was Rath’s first time competing in a senior championship, and he didn’t even have time to practice his entire freestyle with Sterntaler before the competition.

They put in a very pleasant performance with further improved piaffes and earned fourth with 76.50 percent.

They Were Forced Into The Freestyle

In the 2008 Olympics, the Grand Prix results will count for the team ranking. For the first time since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the individual medals will not be decided by summing up the results of the Grand Prix, the Special and the freestyle. Instead, individual medals will be awarded for both the Special and the freestyle.

This was also the first time since 1995 that the German Championships were decided by only two scores, but the decision was made to save the horses, since they have Aachen and the Olympics coming up.

Several riders, such as Isabell Werth, would have preferred to ride the Grand Prix Special as the second test instead of the freestyle.
But team coach Holger Schmezer insisted on the freestyle.

“Our top riders prefer to ride the Special if they have the choice,” said Schmezer. “Therefore, we had to force them to ride the freestyle to see what needs improvement in this test. Furthermore, the freestyle is very much appreciated by the public as we could see at Balve!”

“I used Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff’s old freestyle test,” said Rath. “I consider the classical music very fitting for Sterntaler-UNICEF. I will also ride it at CHIO Aachen, but maybe I’ll try to increase the level of difficulty.”

Shuffling In The Ranks

Like Werth, Capellman suffered some ups and downs throughout the competition. She came into the competition with Elvis VA in second place behind Werth for the German team. But Capellmann
suffered a setback in the Grand Prix.

Her dilemma started in the first piaffe, as the 12-year-old, Hanoverian gelding (by Espri) fell into walk and then started cantering instead of passaging. After that mistake, Capellman struggled to get Elvis really in front of her. Seventh place with 70.70 percent was disappointing but still a quite bearable outcome.

In Sunday’s freestyle, Capellmann and Elvis reversed the shaky impression from the day before with a win. Capellmann got Elvis in front of her, showed off his immense self-carriage and impulsion from the hind legs and piloted him through a foot-perfect test to the melodies of his namesake. With a score of 78.80 percent, they earned the victory to finish in the bronze medal position in the ladies division behind Werth and Kemmer.

Kemmer put in solid performances both days with Bonaparte to earn her place on the team. She lost points in the Grand Prix with a fault in the one-tempis and a big first canter pirouette to place fourth (72.29%). But the pair put in one of their best freestyles for 77.80 percent and second place, which left Kemmer in the silver-medal position.

Theodorescu also rode well, placing third aboard Whisper 128 in both the Grand Prix and the freestyle. The 10-year-old, Baden Wurttemberger gelding (by Welt Hit I) looked more mature and muscled than last year when the pair rode for Germany at the European Championships in La Mandria, Italy. He looked more closed overall, and his piaffes showed improvement.

The Opportunity Of A Lifetime

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When Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff had to give up competing, she had no intention of handing her best mounts over to her stepson, Matthias Rath. Linsenhoff had consistently ridden on the German team since 1988, and she continued to ride her two top horses, Wahajama-UNICEF and Sterntaler-UNICEF, at home for pleasure.

“I will never send Sterntaler-UNICEF out of our barn,” said Linsenhoff in December of 2007. “My husband Klaus-Martin Rath and I agree that it is better for Matthias to make his way into the top Grand Prix sport with his own young Grand Prix horses.”

But around Easter of 2008, Linsenhoff asked Matthias to sit on Sterntaler-UNICEF to get a better feeling for piaffe, passage and the one-tempis on an experienced horse, so he could train these movements better with his young Grand Prix prospects.

Matthias had already competed Linsenhoff’s former mount Renoir-UNICEF and won the Piaff-Foerderpeis final (a series with a special Grand Prix test for young riders) for two years in a row before Renoir was retired last year.

And Linsenhoff was impressed with the harmony and sensitivity with which Matthius rode Sterntaler.

“After just three days, she offered to let me ride Sterntaler-UNICEF at a horse show,” said Matthias. “I was totally surprised, and I am just tremendously thankful that I am allowed to ride this wonderful horse.”

Klaus-Martin, who is both father and trainer to Matthias, makes no secret of how happy he is that his son may now compete this outstanding horse, and Linsenhoff shares his pride.

“To be forced to renounce the top sport, when you have the best horse you ever had, was not so easy for me. I needed some time to process that situation and to let Sterntaler-UNICEF go,” said Linsenhoff.

Although the pair hasn’t had much time together, Matthias knew Sterntaler well from watching his stepmother ride him.

“It certainly helps me,” said Matthias. “We haven’t changed the way we warm him up at a show.”

Matthias originally hoped to take his exams this year to graduate from college, but now he’s postponed that.

“I wanted to concentrate on riding and performing with Sterntaler-UNICEF,” he said. “It’s just unbelievable. I’ve only been riding Sterntaler-UNICEF for nine weeks. I was tremendously satisfied with his performances at the first show, but I would never have believed that I would be standing on the highest platform already.”

He also said that the pressure of competing at the top level isn’t a burden for him. “I am used to this kind of publicity and attention,” he said. “I already took over a successful horse from Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff with Renoir-UNICEF. This is not a problem for me.” 

Birgit Popp

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