Germany’s Isabell Werth and Don Johnson FRH produced one of the finest performances of their career together to win today’s fifth leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2015/2016 Western European League at Salzburg in Austria. From a distinguished field of starters that included many of the sport’s top stars, they emerged for a convincing victory ahead of The Netherlands’ Edward Gal and Glock’s Voice while the only other German contender, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, lined up third with Unee BB.
“I’m feeling really, really happy, Johnny was fantastic today and I’m very proud!”, Werth said after claiming the maximum 20 points and moving into equal-seventh spot on the league leaderboard alongside Gal and Portugal’s Goncales Carvalho.
Raised the bar
The start-list from nine nations included Palestine’s Christian Zimmermann and Cinco de Mayo who got the competition underway with a score of 68.875. But, sixth to go, Hans Peter Minderhoud and Glock’s Romanov raised the bar considerably when posting 75.875 which would eventually be good enough for seventh place. It was a pleasing test from the Dutch duo, as the 15-year-old stallion is not long back in work after more than a year of an injury-break and looks set to return to top form.
It was Switzerland’s Marcela Krinke-Susmelj who led the way before the interval however when scoring 77.225. And she stayed out in front until von Bredow-Werndl set off with Unee BB who was first to break the 80 percent barrier. The German horse-and-rider partnership who finished third at last season’s Reem Acra Final in Las Vegas, USA threw down a score of 80.075 which was always going to be competitive.
Italy’s Valentina Truppa and Fixdesign Eremo del Castegno were also highly impressive when posting 79.400 which would earn fourth spot at the end of the day. There is something very different about this pair since they have returned to action following a very nasty accident suffered by the Italian rider earlier this summer. Everything looks lighter and more relaxed, and the 14-year-old horse is showing much more expression, and this is being reflected in higher marks this season as they continue to sparkle.
It was Gal’s score of 80.900 that Werth was chasing when she entered the arena as last rider to go, the Dutchman producing powerful trot extensions and great elevation in passage and trot half-pass from the 13-year-old stallion with which he won the opening leg of the current Reem Acra series in Odense, Denmark in October.
But from the moment Werth set off she had winner written all over her, the often-naughty Don Johnson completely under her spell and responding to every instruction with enthusiasm and accuracy as he racked up a massive score of 84.125. High artistic marks were the order of the day, with the Ground Jury recognising the harmony between this pair who have sometimes missed out on the big moments because Johnny was in cheeky mood and just wouldn’t concentrate. It seems those days are over now, and at last the 46-year-old rider is being repaid for her patience.
She said today that she has now enjoyed three great performances with this horse, at the FEI European Championships in Aachen (GER) this summer, at the third leg of the new Reem Acra series in Stuttgart (GER) where they finished second behind Spain’s Beatriz Ferrer-Salat and Delgado, and then again today. She puts it all down to maturity in the horse in which she never lost faith.
“He has a bit more experience with age so he has become more serious. He has settled down and he are I are growing together now – we know each other really, really well” said the 46-year-old athlete whose extraordinary list of career accomplishments includes double-gold at the Atlanta and Beijing Olympic Games, five gold medals from the FEI World Equestrian Games™ and eight from FEI European Championships.
She said the horse she calls “Johnny” has matured in both body and mind. “He’s in great shape and he’s much easier to ride now because he has become one horse. A year ago it was difficult for him to carry his whole body in balance, but now he’s really one complete horse and the picture is totally different to how he was two years ago” she added.
“I said it felt really good two weeks ago in Stuttgart and now we have done three great Freestyles in a row which is just fantastic. I’m especially happy because Johnny has often been in the shadow of my other horses but now he’s standing in his own light! He has a very strong personality and he’s really special. He is always positive, and yes he has been a bit naughty but he can always make me laugh. It has been a case of trying to balance his big character with his body so that he could do his best work. He’s right there now, and he feels settled, so for me this feels just great!”
Don Johnson FRH can now look forward to an eight-week holiday before Werth brings him back out for an run or two ahead of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2016 Final in Gothenburg, Sweden next March. With 37 points on the board she’s now confident she’s going to get there and she’s already looking forward to it. But today she was just feeling happy and grateful – “Johnny’s given me the very best Christmas present!” Werth said this afternoon.