The CDI5* dressage competition got underway at the CHI Al Shaqab in Doha, Qatar, on Friday, March 14th. This is the second year a CDI has been held here; in 2013 it was a 3*, but was upgraded and bolstered with huge prize money, offering a 40,000-euro Grand Prix, a 60,000-euro Special and a 100,000-euro Freestyle – unheard-of prizes in the sport.

A field of 21 from 11 European nations took part in the Grand Prix. Most seemed to handle the overwhelming atmosphere in the enormous air conditioned indoor arena quite well, although the scores were all in the sub-70 range until the 15th rider, Isabell Werth of Germany, upped the ante by posting a 71.440 aboard Der Stern Old. That mark was soon toppled by Patrick Kittel (SWE) and Toy Story (73.460) and Lone Bang Larsen (DEN) with Fitou L (74.420). Then Digby entered the ring and turned in a marvellous test that belied his 17 years, earning 75.740 and putting Nathalie zu Sayn Wittgenstein of Denmark on top of the leaderboard.

Sayn Wittgenstein won both the Grand Prix and the Freestyle here last year as well, and hardly thought twice about returning to defend her title. “I’ve been to a lot of places, but I haven’t been to a place like this before. We told the other riders last year that this was a really nice show, and you see there are 23 [21, as one withdrew and one did not start] riders this year that came. I would think that next year, more would come, and better ones would come.”

Digby, however, will be staying home. He was retired in a ceremony at the European Dressage Championships at Herning in 2013, but Sayn Wittgenstein explained, “I always said that I was going to retire him from the team, not entirely retire him. He’s too fit to go on complete retirement. I felt that it was the right time to take the pressure off him. It’s time to let him have fun.”

Other top horses such as Bonfire, Salinero, and Satchmo did some of their best work in their senior years. “He’s like a good red wine – he gets better with age!” she said of the home-bred Dutch Warmblood gelding. “I think he’s in really good form. We did not have such a hard winter back home; he hates the cold. When he went to Hong Kong in 2008 he came off the plane and was just in heaven.” No wonder Digby likes the climate in Qatar.

Sayn Wittgenstein said he got a little bit behind her leg on the last line and she had to remind him to stay in front. “The last part of the passage was very nice again. But that’s animals; they’re not a computer. It can happen, blips and small mistakes. I’m really pleased with him – I think it’s one of his best performances.”

Commenting on the atmosphere in the massive arena, she speculated, “It is a very open arena and I think in one way the horses think ‘ah, there’s space’ and they have room to move. Digby likes this arena. When you come in through the tunnel into this huge arena with the lights on it’s spectacular, it really is.”

Note: For complete results, or to watch live online, go to