The Netherlands’ Dinja van Liere won the eighth leg of the FEI Dressage World Cup™ 2022/2023 Western European League on home ground in Amsterdam (NED) partnering her double-bronze-medal-winning ride from last summer’s ECCO FEI World Championships, the stallion Hermes NOP.
However, it is five-time World Cup champion and longtime legend, the extraordinary German star Isabell Werth, who has moved into pole position on the leaderboard going into the closing stages of this hard-fought 11-leg series.
Werth set today’s target with a sparkling performance from the 17-year-old Emilio for a score of 86.595. But to the delight of the home crowd, van Liere and Hermes bettered that when putting the winning score of 87.055 on the board when last to go. It was the second victory of the season for this pair who also came out on top in Mechelen (BEL) in December.
“I’m really happy, yesterday he was already great and today again he was really on fire! I’m so proud, he’s getting better and better. The crowd was fantastic today and it really made me emotional!” said Dinja van Liere.
The 15-strong field of starters included World double-gold medallist Lottie Fry from Great Britain who, partnering the 12-year-old Lars van Hoenderheide who was competing in only his third international competition, posted a mark of 78.335 in the early stages. Dutchman and 2016 series champion Hans Peter Minderhoud then moved the target score up to 81.970 with a test filled with energy from Glock’s Dream Boy, but it was Sweden’s Patrik Kittel who led the way at the halfway stage with Touchdown.
The light-moving 11-year-old gelding showed super-soft passage, and ‒ in classic Kittel style ‒ the three-time Olympic rider and showman extraordinaire whipped the crowd into a frenzy of excitement with his final line of extended trot that was greeted with wild applause. When 82.645 went up on the board he went out in front, although there was still a long way to go.
Werth blew the competition wide open when rocketing out in front when third into the arena after the break, posting 86.595 for a lovely test with Emilio. The 17-year-old gelding has been showing superb form of late, and he seemed to have an extra air of authority and confidence about his work today, demonstrating fantastic piaffe/passage as he strutted his way to the top of the scoreboard with four more still to go.
Next in, fellow-German Ingrid Klimke then produced a fearless performance from Franziskus FRH that ended with one-handed extended trot to the delight of the spectators for a mark of 84.960, before Denmark’s Nanna Skodborg Merrald and Blue Hors Zack edged them down the order.
Zack has always been super-consistent throughout his career with both Skodborg Merrald and his former rider Daniel Bachmann Andersen, and at 19 years of age continues to deliver his work with the greatest of ease including fabulous passage and canter pirouettes.
The successful stallion looked rightly satisfied as he swaggered out of the ring after putting 85.220 on the board ‒ a combination-best score and a personal-best for Skodborg Merrald whose smile was as wide as an ocean. Van Liere and Hermes would alter the scoreboard one more time however.
When the Dutch pair won yesterday’s Grand Prix, Hermes was much more settled. Today the 32-year-old rider had a different horse on her hands. Hermes was strong and sensitive at the beginning of the test, but after relaxing into the loveliest extended walk he seemed to recover his focus.
After the judges awarded them the winning score of 87.055, Van Liere said, “He was very on fire today and very powerful, but it was power I could manage well enough to ride a nice test without making any big mistakes!
“Yesterday he was really relaxed but today was a lot more crowds and he felt the difference. But now I can manage him better and better,” she pointed out.
As every rider knows, there’s nothing quite like a home win, even if there is a lot of pressure. Their great performances at last summer’s World Championship ensured there was plenty of that for van Liere and Hermes today.
“The crowd expected a lot but it worked out well and it was really cool at the end. The spectators were so enthusiastic and so crazy! It is so cool to ride here at Jumping Amsterdam!” she added.
Second-placed Werth said that the close result made for super competition and a great atmosphere. “I’m completely happy with Emilio, and to be back again in Amsterdam is a pleasure, the public and the atmosphere were fantastic.
Emilio is in a really good form, since last autumn in Lyon and then Frankfurt where he was great ‒ I’m delighted with him!” she pointed out.
Third-place Skodborg Merrard was really pleased with her result too. “I didn’t expect it when I saw the line-up here, my horse really surprised me ‒ he’s 19 years old but still so fit and ready to compete!” she said of the brilliant Blue Hors Zack.
Paul Riemens, Chairman of the Organising Committee for Jumping Amsterdam, was a happy man today. “It’s very special to be here. It’s been tough for the last few years, but seeing the faces of the winners and the faces of the crowd today is the payback for the bad years. I’m really proud to be here, so many people behind the scene have worked so hard to make this possible”, he said.
On the horizon
With the Longines FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final 2023 in Omaha (USA) in April now looming large on the horizon, the battle for one of the nine places available to athletes in the Western European League is really hotting up. But having moved to the very top of the standings after today’s competition, five-time champion Isabell Werth has easily booked her place at what will be her 20th Final.
With three more qualifiers left to run, at Neumünster (GER) and Gothenburg (SWE) in February and ’s-Hertogenbosch (NED) in March, there is still plenty of time for others to bid for a place, but as it stands this evening Werth is well out in front followed by compatriots Ingrid Klimke and Benjamin Werndl in second and third while van Liere has moved into fourth ahead of Skodborg Merrald in fifth place. Patrik Kittel lies sixth, The Netherlands’ Thamar Zweistra lies seventh, Morgan Barbancon from France is in eighth place and The Netherland’s Emmelie Scholtens and Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg share ninth spot.
Round nine at Neumünster will take place in three weeks’ time, on 19 February.