The dressage competitions of the Olympic equestrian events started in Hong Kong on Wednesday evening. Fourteen squads, each comprising three rider and horse combinations, were taking part in the team competitions.
Defending champion Germany has dominated the Olympic team dressage ever since 1928, winning 11 of the total 17 gold medals, including the last six Olympic team dressage golds in a row. They look equally promising this year despite a post-Athens rule change that allows only three riders for each dressage team.
Isabell Werth, riding Satchmo, was leading the German team with rich experience. She was on the gold medal squads for team dressage at the Sydney, Atlanta and Barcelona Games. She was also winner of the 1996 Olympics dressage individual gold and finished with individual dressage silvers at the 2000 Sydney and 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The 39-year-old rider and her Satchmo, 14, were obviously in good shape, too. They clinched both the grand prix special and the team champions at the 2006 Aachen World Equestrian Games. The combination was No. 2 in the latest FEI dressage rankings.
Nadine Capellmann, on Elvis Va, and Heike Kemmer on Bonaparte, were respectively world's No. 6 and No. 12 in dressage rankings. Capellman, 43, finished 4th individually at the Sydney Games, contributing quite a share of the effort for team gold. Kemmer, 47, was on the Athens and Sidney team gold squads. They both took parts at Aachen.
The Dutch team will be the leading challenger, with superstar Anky van Grunsven, who finished with individual golds at both the Athens and Sydney Games. The Netherlands finished 4th in the team dressage competitions at Athens Games and took home three consecutive silvers at the Olympics in Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney.
Van Grunsven was riding on Salinero, a 14-year-old Hanoverian warm blood that has performed beautifully at the FEI World Cup dressage final in March in Holland.
Van Grunsven, world No. 1 in the latest FEI rankings, was joined by her 2007 European Championship winning teammates Hans Peter Minderhoud, riding Exquis Nadine, and Imke Schellekens- Bartels, on Hunter Douglas Sunrise. The Minderhoud combination was the lastest FEI ranking No. 42, while Schellekens-Bartels was No. 4.
Sunrise was widely recognized as one of the very best dressage horses.
George Jong De, deputy chief of the Dutch Olympic equestrian team, has said his team was aiming at three Olympic medals, including two golds in dressage and jumping.
However, there might be plenty of surprises as each team now is allowed to enter only three riders in team dressage, making it impossible to drop the one with the poorest performance. Any fault by any rider, therefore, could prove costly.