Defending champion, Germany’s Christian Ahlmann, returned to the scene of his 2010/2011 triumph to win the ninth qualifying round of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2011/2012 series at Leipzig, Germany this afternoon.

Host-nation competitors filled the top-three places, but both the winner, and third-placed multiple champion Marcus Ehning, had to take a back seat in the aftermath as the spotlight shone brightly on rising star Katrin Eckermann who was pipped for pole position by only the narrowest of margins.  The 21 year old from Muenster, who has just emerged at Senior level after a highly-successful career in Young Riders, produced a thrilling and polished performance to take runner-up spot and has put her name firmly on the German radar.  She said afterwards that today’s competition will be her last indoor outing of the season as she has other plans for her lovely grey gelding Carlson.  But everyone, including her German counterparts, agreed that this self-effacing young lady’s name will feature prominently in future years.  A new German jumping star has announced her arrival.

Course designer, Frank Rothenberger, didn’t hold back on the challenge he set for the 37 starters today.  Big, bold oxers with back bars that stretched many horses to the limit were the order of the day, and while poles fell all around the arena it was the triple combination at fence four and the double at fence eight, quickly followed by a massive oxer at nine, that took the heaviest toll.

The latter line proved tricky as, having opened horses up over a series of oxers, Rothenberger asked for maximum control over the double of tall verticals which had a tight two-stride distance inside before pushing to the next.  It was here that Frenchman Olivier Guillon’s round came, literally, unstuck when the 13 year old Lord de Theize appeared to catch the falling top pole at the second element of the double between his front legs and pitched forward, firing his rider from the saddle.  Three others decided to retire, but 13 jumped clear to go into the jump-off against the clock.

There were gasps of disbelief however when reigning FEI European Champion and newly-crowned No 1 rider on the Rolex Rankings, Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, didn’t join them after picking up an uncharacteristic single time fault with his 2008 Olympic silver medal winning partner, Ninja la Silla.  The course indeed demanded a consistent rate of speed, and somehow the Swedish rider, who has hardly put a foot wrong in recent months, had simply miscalculated that in an otherwise sublime round.

The jump-off track was another fascinating test, with temperament playing a big role as obedience and rideability would be key to success.  Sweden’s Henrik von Eckerman, who had produced a masterful opening effort with Hans Gunther Winkler’s elegant Allerdings, set the pace with a clear run in 43.02 seconds and it always looked good enough for a strong finishing spot.

With seven of the 15 German starters through to the timed round, it was Florian Meyer zu Hartum who was next to go with Heidegirl Wichenstein CH, but three fences on the floor put paid to their chances and then Eckermann entered the arena.  Her father, Karl, bought the grey gelding Carlson as a yearling, and Katrin has competed the horse throughout his career.  Their absolute belief in each other was abundantly evident as the horse and rider attacked the course with courage and conviction, the wide Rolex oxer three fences from home followed by a sharp turn to the penultimate vertical before the long gallop down to the final vertical and a racing finish that broke the beam in 40.77 seconds to reset the parameters.

Two horses later however, Ahlmann squeezed ahead when the horse with which he took the 2010/2011 Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping title at the same venue last April took a slightly tighter line to the third-last to stop the clock on 40.66 seconds.  And that would be as quick as it could get.  Angelica Augustsson’s speedy mare, Mic Mac du Tillard, ducked out at the second fence during the Swedish rider’s tour of the track, but Marcus Ehning’s clear with Sabrina in 40.86 seconds would be good enough for third.  Ireland’s Billy Twomey steered the ever-reliable Tinka’s Serenade into fourth when fault-free in 41.73 seconds but the home crowd were disappointed when their favourite, Ludger Beerbaum who was last to go, brought Gotha home in the leisurely time of 52.24 seconds after hitting the triple bar early on the course.

There were plenty of smiling German faces in the aftermath however.

“I like it here in Leipzig!” said Ahlmann in something of an understatement. His track record at the venue is a particularly pleasing one, and his performances throughout the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final last year were exemplary.  Asked about his reasons for wearing the blue jacket of Zangersheide Stud today, he explained that he had been unable to do so previously because of contractual arrangements with other sponsors, but that this has now been “sorted out”.

It was Eckermann who stole the post-competition limelight however, and Ahlmann pointed out that he was not at all surprised at her success.  “Katrin is well-known here in Germany and she is a very strong rider. I always knew that she could compete at the highest level – I just didn’t think she would do it so soon!” he said.  Third-placed Marcus Ehning agreed – “she’s very competitive and she has a super horse”, but he joked “I would have preferred if she had stayed in Young Riders a bit longer!”.

For Eckermann it was a very special afternoon indeed.  She works for former German jumping star Hendrik Snoek and is trained by former German Chef d’Equipe Kurt Gravemeier.  She already has a career-record that would be the envy of many.  Last year she finished second to Ludger Beerbaum in the battle for the prestigious title of German Rider of the Year, and she followed the Individual silver and team gold medal won at the Young Rider European Championships in 2010 with Individual bronze last summer.  She has developed a powerful relationship with the 11 year old Carlson during their time together – “in the beginning he behaved a bit stupidly and wasn’t so good but he really began to improve when he was about six years old and at seven he was great – since then he has just continued to get better and better!” she explained.

Asked about her plan for today’s jump-off and what she was thinking about before returning to the arena she said – “I didn’t really have one and I wasn’t thinking at all!  I just wanted to take all the risks – this is the last show for Carlson before I give him a break so I just went for it!” she answered.

She now has her sights set on a strong outdoor season.  “I will look at how he is feeling and talk with my trainer when he comes back into work” she explained.   So with no more indoor jumping on the horizon, what is her target for the rest of the year – “just one thing” Eckermann replied when asked this question.  There is a logic to her concentration on performing well outdoors over the coming months it seems.  “My one target is to compete at Aachen – for me that is my biggest dream!” she said.  On current form, it seems that dream may, very soon, become a reality.

For further information on the ninth leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League 2011/2012 at Leipzig, German go to website The next leg of the series takes place at Zurich, Switzerland on Sunday January 29, 2012.  For all information on the Swiss fixture go to website

 1, Taloubet Z (Christian Ahlmann) GER 0/0 40.60; 2, Carlson (Katrin Eckermann) GER 0/0 40.77; 3, Sabrina (Marcus Ehning) GER 0/0 40.86; 4, Tinka’s Serenade (Billy Twomey) IRL 0/0 41.73; 5, Allerdings (Henrik von Eckermann) SWE 0/0 43.02; 6, Wisconsin (Sergio Alvarez Moya) ESP 0/4 42.13; 7, VDL Groep Verdi (Maikel van der Vleuten) NED 0/4 44.92; 8, Gotha FRH (Ludger Beerbaum) GER 4/52.24; 9, Ulysse (Pius Schwizer) SUI 0/8 42.07; 10, D’Avignon (Mario Stevens) GER 0/8 45.25; 11, Cornet Obolensky (Marco Kutscher) GER 0/8 50.66; 12, Mic Mac du Tillard (Angelica Augustsson) SWE 0/9 57.97; 13, Heidegirl Wichenstein CH (Florian Meyer zu Hartum) GER 0/12 46.41.

Full results here