LAST-MINUTE DRAMA IN COUNTDOWN TO REEM ACRA World Cup FINAL

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Jan Ebeling and Rafalca at the 2011 World Cup Final in Leipzig, Germany. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news

A Report by LOUISE PARKES from Europe

With the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final 2011/2012 now only a few short weeks away, the line-up of riders who will represent North America and Central Europe at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands April 19-22 has been confirmed. The USA’s Jan Ebeling and Shawna Harding will fly the North American flag, while Poland’s Katarzyna Milczarek and Michal Rapcewicz have clinched the two spots for Central Europe.

In total there are four geographic regions in which horse-and-rider combinations battle it out for a place at the annual Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage final, with a variety of qualification formats.  In the Western European League, now in its second season of sponsorship by New York fashion designer Reem Acra, there is a points-for-placings system, while competitors in the Central European and Pacific regions qualify through a league final and in North America, which embraces both the USA and Canada, the result is achieved by averaging the top two results.

HAPPINESS AND HEARTACHE

It’s been a long and winding road, and not without the usual sprinkling of happiness and heartache that accompanies equestrian sport every step of the way.

There was tremendous excitement in the US camp when it was announced last Wednesday that 49-year-old Jim Koford, who is based in Wellington, Florida, would make his championship debut alongside the considerably more tested Jan Ebeling. But just three days later Koford’s dream was shattered when his 13-year-old Belgian gelding, Pharaoh, sustained a minor injury at the IHS Champions Cup CDI3* at Loxahatchee, Florida.

Typically stoic however, Koford, who has been described as one of the most popular high-performance riders in the US, explained at the weekend that “the injury is no big deal, caused by a hyperextension. He (Pharaoh) didn’t feel right in the Grand Prix Friday and he was ultrasounded this morning (Saturday). Disappointing it may be, but I am so much more relieved that the horse is alright.” Pharaoh will now take up to six weeks rest on veterinary advice.

GIVEN THE CALL-UP

So, lying next in the rankings, Shawna Harding answered in the affirmative when given the call-up.  The 43-year-old from Aiken, South Carolina, who competed alongside Ebeling at the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Leipzig, Germany, last year, said she felt “so bad for Jim (Koford)…he’s such a good guy”, but is delighted to take her place at the Dutch venue where she worked as a groom for the late, great German legend Dr. Reiner Klimke some years ago. She will partner the 13-year-old Danish gelding Come On III, a horse she bought for just $30,000, and which has been producing excellent results in recent months.

Ebeling will be riding in his third FEI World Cup Dressage final.  The 53-year-old from Moorpark, California, trained in his native Germany with Herbert Rehbein and worked as his assistant before moving to the USA in 1984. He was US Intermediate 1 Champion in 2000 and a member of the gold-medal-winning US team at the Pan-American Games three years later.  He will compete the 15-year-old Oldenburg mare, Rafalca, which is jointly-owned by his wife Amy, and by Anne Romney whose husband, Mitt, is candidate for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination in the United States.

BOOKED THEIR TICKETS

The FEI World Cup™ Dressage Central European League final took place in Warsaw, Poland last weekend (March 22-25) and when league champion, Sviatlana Loika from Belarus, had to settle for third spot it was Poland’s Milczarek and Rapcewicz who booked their tickets to The Netherlands.

Warsaw is Milczarek’s home-town, and the experienced 46 -year-old clearly dominated the scoreboard when awarded a mark of 77.700 by Ground Jury members Waclaw Pruchniewicz (POL), Peter Hansaghy (HUN), Stawomir Pietrzak (POL), Peter Holler (GER) and Maria Avonimirova Todorovska-Omari (BUL), as her powerful 12-year-old Polish-bred stallion Ekwador danced his way to success to the sound of their panpipe-themed Freestyle sound-track.

QUALITY

There were moments of inattention in trot half-pass, but the quality of the big grey horse’s movement, including his extravagant extended trot, ensured a four-point advantage over Polish counterparts Michael Rapcewicz and the 15 year old gelding Randon – the horse which has brought his ebullient rider to the very top of his sport.

Rapcewicz, who celebrated his 30th birthday earlier this month, is a three-time Polish National Dressage Champion and a regular at major international events including the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong (Beijing) and the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.  From Walbrzych in Poland, he has trained with Marc Peter Spahn in Belgium and produced the best-ever Polish result when finishing eighth at the FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Las Vegas in 2009.