Belgium, a small dressage nation squeezed in between power houses Holland and Germany, was granted the honorable permission of sending four horses to the 2005 World Championships for Young Dressage Horses.
Its two five-year olds both qualified for the Finals, so Belgium's mission was accomplished!!!
Belgian LRV eventing champion Nick van Laer is a versatile horseman. He does eventing, prefers show jumping, but once in a while he rides dressage up to Prix St Georges level. With the Oldenburg stallion Hennessy Xo (Hohenstein x Welt Hit II) he won the Belgian selection trial. In Verden, he immediately rode himself into the finals, by scoring 8.36 and placing eight in the qualifier. Hennessy was very rhythmical and kept a good tempo throughout the test. His simple flying changes were a highlight in the test.
In the Finals, Hennessy ran a bit out of steam even though he remained rhythmical and loose through the back in the trot. His walk was well ridden, but could come more out the shoulder. The canter was adequately uphill, but should be more groundcovering. Nick van Laer and Hennessy scored 7.72 and placed twelfth in the finals. "It was a long journey for Hennessy," owner Jean van Laer told Eurodressage afterwards. "The weekend before Verden, he became Belgian LRV Young Horse Champion and on the way to Verden we were in a traffic jam and it took us 8,5 hours to get there. By Sunday, Hennessy was tired."
The second Belgian in the 5-year old Finals was Ludo Verbraeken and the black Belgian Warmblood gelding Aros (Saros van het Gestelhof x Donnerschlag). In the qualifier the duo rode a very nice trot tour, in which Aros showed a nice trot that moved through the shoulder, but which was a bit conservative. The trot could have been more expressive and powerful. The canter showed much potential but the first transition to canter was hesitant. Verbraeken scored 7.58 (20th) and had to go to the consolation finals, in which he spiced up his act and raised his score to 7.82 with a braver ride in which the trot and canter stood out. The walk was still mediocre as the horse did not relax in the back and only had one hoof overstep. Nevertheless, with 7.82 they finished third and qualified for the big finals
"It was so nerve wrecking. I couldn't watch anymore of the rides," Aros' owner Andre Joosten said. "Even Verbraeken stayed away from the show ring because he got so nervous watching the score board.
Verbraeken really wanted to go for it in the Finals, but by focusing so much on improving the walk in the final test, he made a program error. "During the consolation award ceremony, Aros got so scared from the applauding audience and the horses freaking out, that he was tense to go back into the ring for the Finals," Verbraeken commented. "I want to get a good walk and was so focused on walking that I started the walk part right after the pirouette." The judges seemed to have missed the program error as well, as they didn't ring the bell until Verbraeken was at the other side of the arena. The rider got confused, corrected the mistake and continued his test with much bravura. Aros was trotting the best he did in all three rides, but Verbraeken made another program error. It was very sad to see it happen, especially as the horse was showing himself so well. "I wasn't nervous, I just had a black out and forgot the test," he said.
In the canter, Aros showed incredible engagement and bounce. At the end of the ride, the judges awarded Aros' trot with an 8.2 and his canter with an 8.5 which was the fifth highest mark for canter of all horses in the Finals. The walk only got a 4.5 as Aros did not show any but lightly trotted his way over the diagonal. Verbraeken and Aros placed 14th in the Finals with a 6,30
I have to share the beautiful part of the story about Aros. Unlike major stars such as Damon Hill, Donnerhall, and Rusty who have been actively competed since they were three years old, Verbraeken's Aros has only been in professional training four weeks before the World Championships. "I sat six times on him before the Belgian selection trial, and 26 times in total before the World Championships. I couldn't have asked for more," Verbraeken said.
Aros did show incredible potential and if he gets more routine and feels more relaxed in the ring, he's definitely a horse that would place in the top five at the World Championships. I'm sure of that and then I can overhear big German horse dealers mocking this combination for its program errors without feeling an itch in my fist with the urge to smack someone.