It’s tricky, sometimes, to remember that this week isn’t just about scoping out the facilities and set-up for this September’s World Championships in Pratoni, south-east of Rome — it’s also a busy Nations Cup CCIO4*-S. Today, the nine teams came forward to produce their dressage tests, giving us all a chance to see the first of the week’s competition locations in action.
Though many of the officials this week are the same ones who’ll fill those roles come September, including Technical Delegate Marcin Konarski, Chief Steward Nicki Kelly, cross-country course designer Guiseppe della Chiesa and showjumping designer Uliano Vezzani, as well as a full roster of assistant stewards, there’s one pertinent difference in the line-up: the ground jury. This week, we’ve got a ground jury that’s made up of president Peter Gray (CAN) and members Marina Sciocchetti (ITA) and Laure Eslan (FRA), but in September, we’ll see Christina Klingspor (SWE) step into the president role at C, joined by Peter Gray (CAN) and Christian Steiner (AUT). That’s part and parcel of a reasonably new FEI ruling: in order to avoid other events bringing in the championship ground jury as a draw for competitors, thus limiting the available workload for other ground jury representatives, a championship ground jury cannot work together in the period between their selection and the championship itself.
That is, of course, far from the only difference between the two events: this week’s competition is a CCI4*-S, though will feature the showjumping on the final day as in a long-format competition. That means that the dressage test is different — this week, we’re using CCI4* B, while September’s competition will use the CCI5* B test that we saw at both Kentucky and Badminton — as are both the cross-country and showjumping challenges. We’ll be taking a closer look at this week’s course — and finding out from designer Giuseppe what we can expect to change this September, wherein the course will be significantly longer and at championship level, which is effectively a ‘four and a half star’ track — and we’ll be looking at a bigger showjumping course on grass at the World Championships, too.
But first of all, let’s focus on the dressage: while it may not be the same test, nor the same full ground jury, today’s Nations Cup face-off has been a great opportunity to test out the 100x62m surfaced main arena, called the Merano arena. Situated in a beautiful sun trap and surrounded by the Roman hills so characteristic of Pratoni, it’s already a stunning spot to watch a day’s sport unfold — even without the extensive grandstands, VIP spectator area, and arena fencing we can expect to see when we return. It’s also a super chance for the nine assembled teams to practice some team tactics, particularly as there’s no rule to say that a horse that’s done the test event is ineligible for the World Championships. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s meant that the German team pathfinder and reigning Pratoni CCI4*-S champion, Ingrid Klimke, has taken an easy day one lead on 24.8 with her superb SAP Hale Bob OLD, a horse we could well see repeat the feat in September.
Though world-beaters Great Britain are conspicuous in their absence, as is the USA, we’re seeing many other nations bring forward some serious heavy-hitters – Germany, who currently lead the way after the culmination of the team tests, is filled with names who will certainly be aiming for the WEG, with Andreas Dibowski and FRH Corrida, Anna Siemer and FRH Butts Avondale, and Boekelo winners Sophie Leube and J’Adore Moi joining Ingrid on the team. With three of the four team riders sitting in the top ten after this first phase, it looks like the country is well on track to aim for a return to former glories come September, particularly as Olympic gold medallist Julia Krajewski and Michael Jung aren’t here this week.
Here’s a look at how the leaderboards stand after the first, team-oriented day of dressage:
So what have we learned so far? Mostly that even in its semi-constructed state, there’s plenty for fit, sharp competition horses to spook at — and even with a different ground jury, the standards here are high. The dressage arena is well-placed in close proximity to the stabling, and the ten-minute ring and warm-up arena sit opposite the competition arena, which can make for quite a busy environment if you happen to be sitting on an unfocused horse, as it’ll be able to see other horses working in and team representatives bustling around. This will be helped somewhat by the construction of an arena fence — this week, the arena is simply roped — and as I write, a number of other sand schooling arenas are being built further away from the main arena, which will help to reduce horse traffic in the championship itself. There’ll also be a large grandstand along one long side of this main arena, while the grass showjumping arena next to it will be hemmed in on three sides by grandstands.
For now, here’s a visual look at the action in the Merano arena — we’ll be back with plenty more info from the ground here at Pratoni, including visitor guides, advice on ticketing, a look at the final layout for the site in September, and much, much more. Until then: vai a fare eventi!