There was a new spring in the step of the FEI World Cup™ Dressage Western European League as it began its second quarter-century with the 2010/2011 opening leg at Odense, Denmark last October. The pre-season announcement of a three-year sponsorship deal with fashion designer Reem Acra, who has put her name to both the Western European League and the overall series final in Leipzig, hails the blossoming of a fresh era in the history of this sport which has enjoyed astronomic growth in popularity in recent times.

Largely responsible for the upsurge of interest in top-class dressage has been a single horse-and-rider combination who won their way into the hearts of horse-lovers all around the world over the last two years during a sensational record-breaking spree. The Netherlands’ Edward Gal and the fabulous black stallion Totilas have, in terms of competitiveness, appeal and pure ability, raised the bar beyond all expectations and transformed the once-demure dressage world into a showcase of extreme excitement. The stallion was sold last autumn however, and so his partnership with Gal is ended. But their legacy is a raised profile for the sport on which they have left an indelible impression and the dressage world now eagerly awaits the return of magnificent horse with his new rider, Germany’s Matthias Alexander Rath, sometime in the near future.

The sport has changed a great deal since Denmark’s Anne-Grethe Jensen and Marzog first held the FEI World Cup™ Dressage trophy aloft at the end of the inaugural 1985/1986 season in s’Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. And, down the years, there have been many favourites and crowd-pleasers including double-champions Christine Stuckelberger and Gaugin de Lully from Switzerland (1987-1988), Monica Theodorescu and Ganimedes (1993-1994) and fellow-German Ulla Salzgeber with Rusty (2001-2001). But the unchallenged super-champ was Holland’s nine-time winner Anky Van Grunsven whose successes spanned a 13-year period from 1995 to 2008 with the help of two great horses – Bonfire and Salinero.

Whether Gal and the stallion could have come anywhere close to that record if their partnership had continued we will now never know, but in their wake are a whole range of new target-scores including the 86.457% they registered in the Grand Prix at Aachen last summer and the 92.30% they posted in the Freestyle at the FEI World Cup™ Dressage qualifier at Olympia in London, Great Britain in December 2009, three months before they claimed the 2009/2010 FEI World Cup™ Dressage title.

They dominated the medal podium at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky, USA on their final outing together but the American fixture also highlighted the enormous talent of some other great dressage partnerships including Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris who took team, Grand Prix Special and Freestyle silver for Great Britain. The Championship dreams of The Netherlands’ Adelinde Cornelissen were dashed when her horse, Parzival, bit his tongue leading to heart-breaking elimination on their first visit to the Kentucky arena, but the Dutch rider bounced back from that deep disappointment to clinch a back-to-back double of wins in the early stages of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage series at Stockholm, Sweden and Olympia, London earlier this season.

Cornelissen is likely to feature prominently at the series final, but, coming to this latest leg in Neumunster, following which only two further qualifying rounds remain, German riders are challenging strongly at the head of the leaderboard with Ulla Salzgeber and Isabell Werth both in formidable form. Riders from three other qualifying leagues – Central Europe, North America and Asia/Pacific – will join the best from the Western European series at the final which will take place in Leipzig from 27 April to 1 May and which will decide the fate of the 2010/2011 title.

By Louise Parkes

Online Media Guide