Omaha, Neb. – March 30, 2017 – Isabell Werth prevailed in the first day of competition of what is shaping up to be a very competitive FEI World Cup Final in Omaha, Nebraska. The German rider rode the 12-year-old Oldenberg mare, Weihegold OLD, to victory in Thursday’s Grand Prix, holding off determined American rider Laura Graves who was following hot on their trails.
The world’s #1 ranked rider, Werth saved the best for last earning an 82.3 percent despite having a handful of bobbles throughout her test.
“I was very happy with the last few days and today warming up was really nice,” Werth said. “Weihegold felt a little tense when I came in and of course there was big applause for Laura so I had to start a bit careful.
“There was a mistake with the two tempis — definitely my fault,” Werth continued. “Always it’s the riders fault when you have mistakes. I felt safe after the first three two tempis. The rest was really good, really fantastic. I’m completely happy with today.”
Two-time FEI World Cup™ champion Werth, the most decorated dressage rider in Olympic history with a total of 10 medals, hopes to have a cleaner test when her time to perform the final Grand Prix freestyle rolls around.
“We’re looking forward to the next days,” she said. “Today, I was feeling well prepared, but you never know what could happen.”
The United States’ top rider heading into the Finals, Laura Graves was impressed by her 15-year-old KWPN gelding, Verdades’ performance in such a large and bustling indoor venue, as he has not competed in such an environment since the last FEI World Cup.
“This is not a regular competition for us,” Graves said. “We don’t have an indoor season, so it’s very unusual for our horses to come here and have this be a final. We don’t change anything, we just stick to our routine and if I can keep him on my aids, no matter the environment he should feel confident enough to do his job.”
They had a sticky first piaffe and had a problem in the right canter pirouette, both of which were double coefficients, but the pair finished in second place with a 79.8 percent.
“He’s an extremely hot and timid horse, and to go in there as confidently as he did, I am very proud,” Graves continued. “He did not put a foot wrong. You have to put your blinders on, and just stay focused on what’s inside that 20×60, which is sand. It’s just me, my horse, and a box full of sand. And that’s the same everywhere in the world. If you can count on that, then you can pretty much stay focused and true to your training.”
“I came here to win —finishing second to Isabell still feels a lot like winning,” Laura Graves smiled. “This is only my second World Cup. Compared to Vegas, I was super, super proud of my horse and how he’s developed in the last two years. He is extremely spooky and is a lot to manage in that kind of environment. He felt really honest. We had a couple of mistakes, mostly rider error, and they were both unfortunately in double coefficient movements. It puts me in a place to be very excited about Saturday. If we ride clean, it could be a really good show.”
When asked if she thought it was possible for her to overcome Werth, Graves stoically answered. “I think anything is possible! Our sport is so interesting to me. To compare two completely different horses. I watched Isabell’s horse go and I think of how talented she is with things, and I think about how equally talented my horse is at some things. If you stood them next to each other it’s really kind of a dynamic contrast.”
Great Britain’s Carl Hester and Nip Tuck, the horse with whom he won a Team Silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, laid down a solid test to finish in third place with a 76.671 percent.
“I’m very happy,” Hester said. “I always try to give him an easy ride in the Grand Prix. I try to coast around and get a clear round so he’s relaxed and ready to go because I have a difficult test on Saturday. It’s only my second World Cup. I don’t expect to be too far behind. I’m going to make sure that I put my foot on the pedal on Saturday. Today gave me a platform to do that, and I’m very happy.”
In addition to Grave’s success, the U.S. team fared well during the first day of dressage competition with all three riders qualifying for the World Cup Freestyle on Saturday, which will decide the champion. Kasey Perry-Glass was the first American rider to head down centerline in the Final, and she was aboard her 14-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding, Goerklintgaards Dublet. The pair earned a 73.829 percent and finished in seventh place.
“It was good — he was a little bit spicy, but he was really with me and trying really hard as always, so I’m really proud of him,” Perry-Glass explained. “I didn’t really know what to expect just because it’s his first indoor event and his first time at the World Cup, my first time, my first indoors, so I wasn’t going into it with a lot of expectations for him. We wanted a positive experience, and this is a big environment for him that we’re not used to.”
“My main goal this time was to really work on my own relaxation and make this a positive experience for him,” Perry-Glass continued. “No matter where we place, how well we do or don’t do, I just want to make it a positive, fun experience. The World Cup is supposed to be fun, so I think we’re doing that. Everything has been very light-hearted and he’s been really relaxed.”
Fellow American Steffen Peters was granted the extra qualifying spot to compete in the World Cup and he rode a clean test on Rosamunde, a 10-year-old Rheinlander mare. ‘Rosie’ handled the electric atmosphere well, and the duo finished in eighth place with a 72.257 percent.
“We would always like a better score than 72, but that’s perfectly fine to start out for a young horse at the World Cup,” Peters said. “There were a lot of wonderful things in the test — beautiful trot half-passes, clean changes, lovely pirouettes. She actually stood still which is a huge luxury for us. It’s a great start for her!”
“Any time you have a World Cup in in the United States, it’s just incredible!” Peters concluded. “I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world where you get a louder, more excited fan base than the stadium, so that was certainly the case here today. We heard so many wonderful things about the venue, and honestly, when we came here, it exceeded my expectation. The stalls are great, wonderful vendor area, warm-up is public — I love it.”
New Zealand’s first dressage rider to qualify for the World Cup was eliminated after her ride when blood was found in her mount’s Dejavu MH mouth by the FEI steward at the mandatory post-competition equipment check.
“Elimination under this rule does not imply that there was any intent to injure the horse, but it is so important that the rules are enforced in order to ensure that horse welfare is protected,” the judge at C Katrina Wuest of Germany explained. “It’s a real shame as the horse and rider had come such a long way to compete here, but the rule is in place to protect our horses, and there can be no grey areas when it comes to health welfare.”
The dressage competition will conclude on Saturday, April 1st with the Grand Prix Freestyle at 2 p.m. CST. Only riders who earned a score of 60 percent in Thursday’s Grand Prix will be moving on to the Freestyle.
Results: FEI World Cup Dressage Finals Grand Prix
1. Isabell Werth/GER/Weihegold OLD/82.300
2. Laura Graves/USA/Verdades/79.800
3. Carl Hester/GBR/Nip Tuck/76.671
4. Edward Gal/NED/Glock’s Voice/74.486
5. Judy Reynolds/IRL/Vancouver K/74.443
6. Madeleine Witte-Vrees/NED/Cennin/73.900
7. Kasey Perry-Glass/USA/Goerklingaards Dublet/73.829
8. Steffen Peters/USA/Rosamunde/72.257
9. Inessa Merkulova/RUS/Mister X/71.929
10. Kristy Oatley/AUS/Du Soleil/71.829
11. Marcela Krinke-Susmelj/SUI/Smeyers Molberg/71.529
12. Mai Tofte Olesen/Rustique/69.757
13. Joao Victor Marcari Oliva/BRA/Xama Dos Pinhais/68.214
14. Maria Florencia Manfredi/ARG/Bandurria Kacero/66.500
15. Hanna Karasiova/BLR/Arlekino/58.886
16. Wendi Williamson/NZL/Dejavu MH/Eliminated