Power and Grace: An Insider’s Guide to Dressage in 2018

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Looking for a pocket-sized snapshot of the 2018 international dressage season? Look no further. Whether you’re only just discovering the beauty and majesty of this ancient sport (which is based on moves used in mounted hand-to-hand combat, that the soldiers showed off when they returned from battle), or a hardened fan, here’s what you need to know about the big-hitting events of the 2018 dressage season.

Although September might still seem a way off — particularly for the poor Europeans stuck in the clutches of this seemingly interminable winter — for top riders, this year is entirely shaped by the looming FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG), which take place in Tryon, North Carolina, from 11-23 September, with dressage running 12-16 September. It is touted as the fourth largest sporting event in the world by Mark Bellissimo, founder and CEO of Tryon International Equestrian Center, where the colossal eight-discipline event takes place.

The Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida — which lasts 12 weeks and comprises seven CDIs, including a five-star show — has drawn to a close (it began in January and ended on March 31), but it forms the springboard for many competitors’ seasons; Americans and Europeans alike.

Laura Graves and Verdades. Shannon Brinkman photo.

The chance to compete as many times as your heart desires in a three-month window — and under the friendly Florida winter sun — makes this glitzy circuit a magnet for top names (and top parties). America’s answer to Charlotte Dujardin, Laura Graves, competed six times on the 2018 circuit with her Rio Olympic team bronze medallist Verdades, and won every single test.

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This season, Danish Olympian and one of the world’s biggest dressage horse dealers, Andreas Helgstrand, even opened a swanky sales barn just down the road, a place so fancy it puts many a (human) five-star hotel to shame.

Cathrine Dufour riding Atterupgaards Cassidy. Thomas Reiner photo.

 The first CDI4* show outside the USA in 2018 occurred in March, with Dortmund CDI in Germany. It’s one of the last winter indoor shows before spring ushered in the outdoor season in April. Dortmund is Kristina Bröring-Sprehe’s favourite show, and the German rider was entered on her double Olympic partner Desperados FRH. This was the first show appearance for the De Niro stallion since his last outing at Stuttgart CDI in November of 2016. He’s now 17, but this talented black powerhouse is back to full fitness and looked raring to go in the Sprehe Stud stallion show.

The next major milestone on the international calendar was the FEI World Cup Final, this year held in Paris, April 10 - 15. Denmark’s Cathrine Dufour made a valiant bid for a wildcard starting spot — and even beat Isabell Werth (on Emilio 107, so admittedly not her top horse, but on any old donkey she’s still damn hard to beat) in the World Cup leg in Gothenburg in February — getting the better of the five-time Olympian in both the grand prix and freestyle classes.

Isabell Werth and Weihegold. Thomas Reiner photo.

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Net, eyes turn to the two major contests; the five-star shows in Rotterdam (June 21 - 24) and Aachen (July 17 - 22). Both these superb, large-scale events will be litmus tests for the big WEG prize that will by then loom large on the horizon.

As the 2018 season hots up and WEG approaches, we’ll give you the lowdown on the hottest new partnerships, the young shooting stars, the big names to watch and the quirky horses who are perhaps not medal contenders but still worth of your attention — and adulation.

Unlike the poor eventers, who are perpetually at the mercy of the weather, the dressage train rolls year-round, so after the excitement of WEG subsides, competitors look to the indoor season, with the year wrapping up just before Christmas with the cosy, sparkly familiarity of Olympia Horse Show. Then it all begins again in 2019!

Written by Alice Collins

Alice Collins is a freelance equestrian media consultant and journalist, specialising in dressage and sport horse breeding. She has reported from top shows all around the world, from the Rio Olympics to World Cup finals and European Championships. She is a rider and active competitor at Prix St Georges level and splits her time between London and Florida. Fun facts: she is also a qualified equine artificial insemination technician and an HGV driver.