Dressage Competition Begins Wednesday, but Doping is No. 1 Topic at CHIO Aachen

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Danish coach Rudolf Zeillinger, U.S. Chef d'Equipe Jessica Ransehousen and U.S. team leader Gil Merrick. © 2009 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com
Danish coach Rudolf Zeillinger, U.S. Chef d'Equipe Jessica Ransehousen and U.S. team leader Gil Merrick. © 2009 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

AACHEN, Germany, June 29–America’s Steffen Peters and Ravel and Catherine Haddad and Cadillac are scheduled to ride in the Nations Cup as individuals on Thursday, the second day of the hotly contested team competition at the World Equestrian Festival CHIO in Aachen.

U.S.-based Danish rider Mikala Gundersen on Leonberg, owned by Horses Unlimited of Albequerque, New Mexico, will kick off the two-day team competition Wednesday that has been thrown wide open with the absence of German superstar Isabell Werth suspended for discovery of an illegal medication in her small tour horse, Whisper.

The absence of Werth and the new Dutch Grand Prix combination of Edward Gal and Moorland Totilas has robbed this event, the world’s premier horse show, of a much anticipated rivalry between Peters and Ravel, Werth and Satchmo and Dutch superstar Anky van Grunsven and I.P.S. Salinero.

Germany's Ulla Salzgeber and Wakana at Aachen. © 2009 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com
Germany's Ulla Salzgeber and Wakana at Aachen. © 2009 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

On opening day Tuesday, 36,000 spectators came to watch a day of jumping and the colorful and spectacular opening ceremony.

Also, Catherine Haddad, based in Vechta, Germany, drew attention when she and Cadillac had a test ride in the Deutsche Bank Stadium that seats 5,000.

She said that she had trained twice in the past month with Morten Thomson of Denmark as well as showing on the French Riviera at St. Tropez and the Exquis World Dressage Masters in Cannes.

“Both Cadillac and myself have made great steps forward in the past month,” she said.

“We’re really looking forward to competing against the best.

“It hits me every year I come to Aachen just how amazing is the organization for this show for the number of horses and the number of spectators that are handled here. The footing is perfect, stabling is fabulous the organization is amazing that what is left to use is to concentrate solely on our riding.

Mikala Gundersen told dressage-news.com: “Like every rider you don’t want to go first. But I will go out and do my best. I want to show that our results in Rotterdam were no fluke.” She was the top finishing international rider after Dutch combinations in the Netherlands’ top dressage competition.

“Our goal is to qualify for the European championships.” Those championships will be held at Windsor, England at the end of August.

While CHIO Aachen is a show a level above anywhere else in the world, on the first day, Tuesday, the major topic of conversation was not about the quality of competition but about the state of the horse show world stemming from a virtual non-stop deluge of doping controversies beginning with last year’s Beijing Olympics. Several jumper riders and one dressage competitor were suspended for varying periods for use of illegal substances.

While the Aachen organizers have implemented the tightest security and anti-drug measures ever undertaken at a horse show, the effect of the Isabell Werth suspension at a show where she has been dominant for years was exacerbated by more bad news on the doping front.

German-based Irish jumper rider Cameron Hanley was under a cloud after a jacket he had left behind at a show was searched for identification and a used syringe was found in a packet. Because of the issue he withdrew from Ireland’s team at the Nations Cup at Aachen.

Even more startling was the disclosure that a horse ridden by Michael Whitaker of the world famous Whitaker jumping dynasty had tested positive for a banned substance at La Baule, France in May and he was provisionally suspended by the International Equestrian Federation.

Although the issue of doping and the seemingly differing testing standards by laboratories in different countries was the prime topic of conversation of most riders, opinions differed sharply on the impact. None of the riders wanted to talk on the record.

Most agreed that testing standards should be identical at all laboratories with base levels established so that miniscule amounts of a substance that may remain in a horse’s system after treatment for injury or soreness, for example, would not automatically lead to suspension.

Many riders and veterinarians, including vets for some national teams, said that similar procedures to those followed for human athletes should be applied to equines in that some mediations are allowed depending on the type of drug so long as it does not contain banned substances and does not enhance perforance.