Dorothee Schneider: the top dressage rider who has bounced back from injury into Tokyo contention *H&H Plus*

  • Dorothee Schneider has won team silver and gold at the past two Olympics, and is three-pronged for Tokyo – but competition is hot for a spot on the brilliant German team, says Alice Collins

    WITH more than 400 results on the FEI database, Germany’s Dorothee Schneider is one hard-working lady. Add her national results to that, and she’s ridden a dizzying number of centre lines.

    For someone who competes so much, the past year has been anything but normal for Dorothee. But she – and everyone else – is slowly emerging from the world’s weird Covid year and she has three irons in the fire for the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

    At the time of going to press, Dorothee’s top horse Showtime FRH had just made a stellar return to competition with a plus-82% grand prix special at Munich CDI4*, albeit under unexpected circumstances: Dorothee broke her collarbone in a horror accident when grand prix horse Fohlenhof’s Rock N Rose collapsed and died at a national show in April.

    But her impressive comeback just three weeks later proved that Showtime, ranked fourth in the world, is in the form of his life.

    Her other two top horses at the level, DSP Sammy Davis Jr (ranked 19th) and Faustus 94 (36th) are also raring to go.

    “Only once in my life will I have such an amazing horse as Showtime,” says Dorothee, who has been riding Gabriele Kippert’s 15-year-old by Sandro Hit since he was three. “I prepared ‘Showy’ over the past year and he is in great condition. He adores food – particularly bananas – so I have to be careful he doesn’t get too fat, but he is really ready for the Olympic qualification process now.

    “With so many good horses and riders in Germany it is very difficult to be one of the best three combinations, but we will do our best.”

    ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - AUGUST 24: Dorothee Schneider of Germany riding Showtime FRH competes during Day 6 of the Grand Prix Freestyle, Longines FEI Dressage European Championship presented by Rabobank at Foundation CHIO on August 24, 2019 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images for FEI)

    Dorothee and Showtime FRH competing at the 2019 Europeans. They produced a spectacular performance to claim double individual silver, breaking the 90% barrier in the freestyle

    The pair are well positioned for their best to be good enough for a team spot: Isabell Werth fills the top two spots on the rankings with Bella Rose 2 and Weihegold OLD, while Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl is third with TSF Dalera BB. The Germans are looking hot prospects for team gold.

    DOROTHEE has been to two Olympics before – London and Rio – and each time has won a team medal riding a very young horse.

    When she rode Diva Royal – the charming black mare with oversize ears that flopped out to the side – to team silver and individual seventh in 2012, Dorothee had never even ridden at a championship before.

    “We came late to the team before London and it was a big experience for me to ride for Germany,” says Dorothee, who borrowed the 10-year-old mare from her student Stella-Charlott Roth. “We were a young team [Dorothee, Helen Langehanenberg on Damon Hill and Kristina Bröring-Sprehe on Desperados] and none of us had been to an Olympics before, so we were really happy with the silver. We were also the first team to live in the Olympic village – dressage riders had never been in it before – so that was very special.”

    London was an incredibly intense introduction to championship riding.

    Germany's Dorothee Schneider riding Diva Royal in the Team and Individual Dressage Grand Prix at Greenwich Park, London.

    Dorothee’s “overwhelming” first championship experience was at the London Olympics – yet she and Diva Royal claimed individual seventh,
    and team silver

    “It was overwhelming,” admits Dorothee. “The arena was amazing and there were 20,000 spectators there. Diva Royal was not the most exuberant, but she had amazing rhythm. She was always swinging with every step and never wary of her surroundings. It was a big feeling to be in the team with this mare.”

    Their Black Swan freestyle soundtrack and performance was one of the crowd favourites.

    Another Olympic moment that stands out for her came four years later in Brazil. She had been selected with Showtime, who was only 10 but had made a big impression at Aachen that summer, posting three plus-80% scores with only a year at grand prix under his belt.

    “In Rio, the grand prix special was amazing,” she says. “Again I had a young horse and there was a lot of pressure for the team medal, so we had to do a really good job. With a young grand prix horse you can’t expect them to be mistake-free in every test, but he got over 82% – a big new best for him. Winning team gold was extremely emotional.”

    Showtime has grown up a lot since Rio, and is now a more confident, reliable partner.

    “He’s really ready for this year,” says Dorothee. “In Rio he was so young, but now he really understands his own ability to perform the movements. When I sit on him, I feel his pride to work with me. Now he’s experienced and knows what comes when we go into a test.

    “I remember the first time I sat on him thinking, ‘Wow, this is an amazing young horse!’ I could directly feel his ability to take the weight on the hindlegs for the higher levels.

    “I did young horse competitions with him and the world championships as a five- and six-year-old. In the beginning he was a little nervous and anxious, but we developed into an amazing team for the grand prix sport.”

    Not only can Showtime get his game face on when required, but he’s sweetie in the stable.

    “He’s very lovely and always friendly,” grins Dorothee. “He’s always motivated, even though he loves eating. He loves bananas so much he has a fake one on his stable door to play with.”

    German dressage rider Dorothee Schneider and horse Sammy Davis in action during the freestyle dressage grand prix of the FEI†European Championships 2017 in Gothenburg, Sweden, 26 August 2017. Photo: Friso Gentsch/dpa

    DSP Sammy Davis Jr, here at the Gothenburg Europeans in 2017, ranks 19th…

    A YEAR of the pandemic has meant that Dorothee has spent more time than usual at her base, Gestüt St. Stephan, a 50-box yard south-west of Frankfurt.

    “The time at home has actually benefited my team,” she says, picking out the positives from a difficult year. “Before, I was away a lot, and I have been able to have a look at my employees and the horses and plan things better. I’ve enjoyed more time with my husband, my stepchildren and the rest of my family.

    “I was also able to ride 10 to 12 horses a day. The young horses are in really good shape now and the grand prix horses well prepared, without too much travelling recently. I was also able to spend more time helping my riders here. Of course I miss the competitions and going out with the horses, though.”

    A seasoned competitor, Dorothee combines the assuredness that experience brings with the reality of always striving to improve.

    “I’m confident in what I do,” she explains. “It’s not that I think I’m perfect, but I know my horses and I are well prepared. We can do the big tests together very well as a team.

    “We’re in an Olympic year and I know I have good horses and they’re fit. I can’t wait for the chance to present them and to try to qualify for the Olympics with good performances.”

    BALVE, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 20: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Dorothee Schneider on Faustus 94 during the Longines Balve Optimum at Schloss Wocklum on September 20, 2020 in Balve, Germany. (Photo by Ralf Treese/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

    Faustus 94 backs up his stablemates in 36th spot globally. All are “raring to go” ahead of Olympic selection

    There is strong competition in this world-leading dressage nation.

    “There are seven combinations in the Olympic squad and all the riders obviously want to be selected, so we have to perform very well in the few competitions we have. Aachen, which is normally one of the big observation shows, is postponed this year so the selection process is a little different, but I’m very motivated and excited.”

    And although Showtime had nearly two years off competition, since the summer of 2019, that was at the Rotterdam European Championships. He was in spectacular form, helping Germany to team gold and claiming double individual silver with plus-85% in the special and plus-90% in the freestyle – just behind Isabell Werth and Bella Rose in both.

    With the 90% barrier broken, Dorothee has no plans to change her The Show Must Go On soundtrack, but she may tweak the floorplan.

    “I’ll stick with that freestyle; I already got over 90%, so what more do you want,” laughs Dorothee. “Showy hasn’t actually done that freestyle many times because he was injured, and the music really suits him.”

    15 June 2019, North Rhine-Westphalia, Balve: Dressage rider Helen Langehanenberg (l) congratulates Dorothee Schneider on her victory at the Grand Prix Special in dressage. The German Dressage and Show Jumping Championships will take place from 13 to 16 June 2019. Photo: Friso Gentsch/dpa

    Dorothee’s team-mate Helen Langehanenberg (left) congratulates her on a national win

    The music served them well in Rio, but Dorothee is realistic about the long and uncertain road to any Olympics and a little reluctant to make any predictions.

    “If we make it to Tokyo, the first step is to perform very well for the team and hopefully to get a medal,” she says. “Anything beyond that…” she trails off.

    “But, in Rotterdam, you could see that the horse has the potential to do an amazing job. So we do have a chance to be up there with the first few riders. It’s a really big target though, and it depends on so many things.

    “With such an amazing horse like him, I think it’s normal to hope. But with horses you can be in a good position and then quickly not in such a good position any more.”

    Dorothee knows that a career in horses always throws up surprises – she highlights her grand prix special test in Aachen in 2018.

    “I was in the test on Sammy Davies Jnr and I could hear the crowd murmuring,” she says. “And then I see that there’s a rabbit running around in the arena. Sammy’s eyes got very big, and I could hear people laughing. You never know what will happen in dressage.”

    This feature is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 3 June 2021

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