The drama continued -- Italian opera style -- in the Grand Prix Special at the 2015 European Dressage Championships in Aachen, Germany, on Saturday afternoon 15 August 2015. There virtually were 'casualties' with an unfortunate retirement and an elimination of two top combinations and several super stars making mistakes to drop down on the ranking. Charlotte Dujardin confirmed her number one status with an almost faultfree test and grabbed a well earned gold medal. Kristina Bröring-Sprehe got silver with an overscore ride and Hans Peter Minderhoud captured his first senior individual medal with Special bronze.
The Team Championship test on Thursday was quite scandalous with jawdropping riding and judging bringing sensation to the centre stage in the Aachen grand show jumping stadium, where dressage takes place this week. For the Grand Prix Special the suspense certainly was no less as the last pair to go on the day, the Grand Prix second place getters and medal candidates Edward Gal and Undercover, were eliminated for blood in the horse's mouth. While the day started with nice mild weather, it began to pour with rain during Victoria Max-Theurer, Jessica von Bredow and Fiona Bigwood's rides. One could hardly see the horse-and-rider combinations in the ring with the rain thrashing down so hard.
Right after the deluge, Patrik Kittel's beautiful young mare Deja threw the tongue over the bit and reared in two piaffes, forcing the rider to retire. Russian super star Mister X became a victim of his rider's unfocused, wobbly riding so that they dropped to the bottom of the ranking instead of producing a top seventy percentage mark. There was much ado in the show ring and the crowd of 28,000 people in the stadium got their money's worth.
Dujardin's biggest rival has so far always been Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill but when this pair ceased to exist in September 2014, the British duo felt little competition breathing down their neck. Today Damon Hill certainly was greatly missed and with Totilas' early retreat from Aachen the way towards more gold and glory was cleared. Dujardin still had to deliver a top ride with Edward Gal coming very close on Thursday after Charlotte made two mistakes in the Grand Prix. It was interesting to see whether the Brit would be back on best form.
And she was! Besides one short change at the end of the one tempi diagonal, Dujardin and Valegro were flawless. The trot extensions were stunning, the half passes floated and there was a lot of power and suppleness in trot. In the passage the horse could still engage more from behind, but he was super regular. The first transition to passage was slightly hesitant. The extended walk had good overstep. Two brilliant piaffes followed: on the spot, regular and harmonious. The passage in between could have been more ground covering. The canter half passes were huge, the two tempi changes lovely. A big extended canter and outstanding pirouettes followed. The test was all prim and proper with grace and harmony radiating from the pair.
For the Grand Prix Special, the same panel of judges was repositioned with at K: Eduard de Wolff van Westerrode, at E: Annette Fransén-Iacobaeus, at H: Katrina Wust, at C: Andrew Gardner, at M: Susanne Baarup, at B: Jean-Michel Roudier, and at F: Anne Gribbons. They unanimously placed Dujardin first with 87.577%. De Wolff even had her at 90.490%.
"I wasn't so happy after Thursday. I was too relaxed and made small mistakes," Dujardin explained. "When I saw Kristina's score on the board I was thinking, "I'm going to get you." It doesn't make me afraid but fight harder."
Bröring-Sprehe Gets Silver
The score Charlotte had to beat was a whopping 83.067% with 79.314% as low score (Baarup) and 86.863% (De Wolff) as high score. Sprehe and her 14-year old Hanoverian stallion Desperados (by De Niro x Wolkenstein II) put in a very strong test but were unable to show the refinement in the aids that makes the top pair stand out.
There was a mistake in the rhythm in the first trot extension, but the half passes were huge and uphill moving. In the first passage the steps were not entirely even and in the right passage the horse was slightly bent to the right. In the piaffe the horse really sits behind but can not always keep that deep sit consistently throughout the movement. The piaffe-passage half serpentine looked strong but could even be better if it all looked a bit more smoothly. The tempi changes were big but lacked total straightness in the body. Also in the ground covering extended canter Desperados was bent to the right. The pirouettes were beautiful even though the exit of the right one was a bit laboured. The horse was very expressive in the final piaffe-passage centerline but appeared a bit wobbly from behind in the piaffe at X.
"He was easier to ride today," Sprehe commented. "The pressure was high on the first day and now I was riding for myself. I had a good feeling, especially in the passage and pirouettes."
First Individual Senior Medal for Minderhoud
Dutch Hans Peter Minderhoud won his first individual medal as a senior Grand Prix rider when he got bronze for his 79.034% earning test on the 13-year old Dutch warmblood stallion Johnson (by Jazz x Flemmingh). The medal was bitter sweet as his life partner and ring-rival Edward Gal were eliminted, freeing up space at the top of the leader board.
The bay stallion showed an energetic extended trot and active passage work. The extended walk had two hooves overtrack but could have shown a bit more relaxation and stretch over the back. In the first piaffe the right hindleg made a few steps backwards but the passage was forward and quick off the ground. The transition back to piaffe was abrupt though, but the second piaffe was executed well on the spot with a good rhythm yet narrow behind. In the two tempi changes the horse was straight but needed to be more up in the bridle. In the ones one change was short behind. The extended canter was powerful but rushed. The left pirouette was the best one. Johnson started to show tongue by opening his lips towards the end of the test. The final centerline was very expressive with better transitions. Minderhoud is an experienced Grand Prix rider with a huge string of horses that he has competed internationally at Grand Prix level the past ten years. Nadine was his best one so far, but now with Johnson he finally has been able to get individual medal glory. The combination could improve even more if the horse would be more eager to do the work without the rider having to motivate him so much with aids.
Minderhoud's day was full of mixed emotions. He suffered from food poisoning during the night and felt weak all day. "I have been in the lorry all day and my legs were like spaghetti. During the test I was thinking, two more movements and then I'm at the end," Minderhoud admitted. "It's not a great feeling. I'm happy with the medal but would have been more if Edward wasn't eliminated."
As last rider to go in the Special, Edward Gal was in the best position to score the highest and grab an individual medal, especially after he received the favour of the judges in the team test with his strong 82.229% Grand Prix score.
However, his hyper sensitive and powerful 14-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Undercover (by Ferro x Donnerhall) felt ill at ease in the Aachen mega-stadium today. The horse built up a lot of tension while travelling around the arena and went down the center line on edge like a loaded gun. There was no halt at all; Undercover reintroduced the "Anky halt" from the 2000s - piaffing one's way through a halt. The first extended trot was on edge but Edward was still able to keep the lid on the cooker. The half passes were fantastic but so tense. The passage was hyper electric and the extended trot on the right lead was flying circus legs. That was the moment when the horse began to show pink foam. The walk had 1 or 2 hooves overtrack but was tense and hurried. The first piaffe was a cat on a hot tin roof, the transition super stressed and then the bell rang as the foam had developed into reddish-pink. The horse had bitten on his tongue and bled from the mouth which means elimination from the class, as well as the inability to qualify for tomorrow's freestyle. An unfortunate ending to what looked like a very promising 2015 European Championships for Gal and Undercover.
Delgado Deserves a Medal
It is no secret that Spanish Beatriz Ferrer-Salat has a super star in her 14-year old Westfalian gelding Delgado (by De Niro x Weltmeyer). The chestnut gelding made a smashing impression on the show scene in 2012 but had to be withdrawn from Olympic contention due to an injury. It took an operation and three years for the gelding to recover and come back to full form this year. Delgado showed mega potential in the team test and today in the Special he easily could have earned a spot on the podium had the judges been more willing to give high scores for absolutely beautiful, harmonious, soft and elegant riding!
The ride looked so effortless with nice trot extensions, fabulous half passes and a regular and light-footed pasage. The first piaffe was early on the marker but had nice sit and rhythm. The passage was floating. Delgado may not be as spectacular and electric but he is obedient and regular, soft in the bridle and makes dressage look like ballet. Just like many De Niro's, Delgado's extended walk is very limited and he barely achieved the minimal ground cover required. The two tempi changes were big though, but there was a mistake in the ones. The extended canter was forward, the pirouette left small. The ones on the centerline could have been straighter in the body and the right pirouette lacked a bit of bending. The final centerline was lovely.
Ferrer-Salat and Delgado scored 77.395% with 75.588% as low score (Fransen-Iacobaeus) and 80.000% as high score (Roudier).
Hester Shows Masterful Riding
Carl Hester is a master at making a not so super gifted dressage horse look like a star. Jane de la Mare's 11-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Nip Tuck (by Don Ruto) is a bit long in the back and not the quickest behind. His hind legs could show much more egagement towards the point of gravity, but Carl brings out the best in this horse. He has Nip Tuck pleasantly in the bridle, obedient to the aids and he takes this gentle giant for a graceful Vienna Waltz in the arena.
In the Grand Prix special the left half pass needed more crossing behind and the first extended trot was ridden too conservatively, but the passage had great suspension and regularity even though the hind legs don't reach under body. In the piaffe Nip Tuck got bum high but the rhythm was lovely. The two tempi changes were extremely secure as well as the single tempi changes. In the pirouettes the big bay could collect more from behind and take the weight on the hindquarters, but Carl still makes the pirouettes look good. The final extended trot needed a bit more power and push, but the last centerline with piaffe and passage was soft and sweet. They scored 77.003% to finish fifth.
Further Down the Load
There was more great riding to be witnessed outside the top five in the Special. Swedish Tinne Vilhelmson had her 13-year old Hanoverian Don Auriello (by Don Davidoff x White Star) more active and engaged behind in the passage. The piaffe was lovely on the spot and the trot extensions and half passes are beautiful. In the tempi changes the horse sways too much behind. 76.148%(6th)
Isabell Werth and her 14-year old Hanoverian Don Johnson (by Don Frederico x Warkant) made improvement compared to the Grand Prix, but the routinier Werth seemed a bit unfocussed. She went off course and walked too soon and both piaffes are way too early on the marker, but Don Johnson does not cover enough ground in the one tempi changes and also in the trot extensions could step under more. 75.924% (7th).
Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and the gorgeous 14-year old Unee BB (by Gribaldi x Dageraad) had a few issues. While the piaffe was lovely, the hind legs are out in passage. Overall Unee BB does not show enough self carriage to really become spectacular and through the body. There were problems in the tempi changes on both diagonals and there was a loss of balance in the pirouette right. The trot extensions were strong though. 74.790% (8th)
Fiona Bigwood and her 10-year old Danish bred Atterupgaards Orthilia had the misfortune of riding in the pouring rain. The young mare is stunning in the trot extensions and brims with talent for the collected movements. Today, Fiona overcollected the passage a bit staying too conservative in the ground cover. There was an refusal in the second piaffe and one change in the one tempi's was not through. The mare is soft in the bridle but does open the mouth often. 74.510% (9th).
Diederik van Silfhout's ride on the 10-year old Dutch bred stallion Arlando (by Paddox x Mytens) had a few minor issues as well. The dark bay stallion is such an elegant dancer in the piaffe and passage but the smoothness in the transitions was failing today. The horse was a bit too much stop-and-go in the transitions and often hollowed the back. The stallion is incredibly lightfooted but still moves quite mechanically. He sways in the hindquarters in the tempi changes and jumped out of the piaffe at X, but the trot extensions and half passes were delightful. 74.426% (10th). When Van Silfhout's score flashed on the board a jaw-dropping 13% difference was shown between the judges. Dutch judge Eddy de Wolff saw pig fly and had the duo at 83%. Thanks to the 6% deviation rule, which was instated on 1 January 2015, the Judging Supervisory Panel was able to correct this deviation to the next, closest average, reducing the mark to a 77%. This correction had a 0.9% effect on the end result.
Definintely one to watch in the future is French duo Karen Tebar on the 10-year old Hanoverian Don Luis (by Dimaggio x Rubinstein I). The piaffe and passage are outstanding, so light, so effortless and rhythmical. The overall silhouette was lovely. Today the duo scored 73.193% with more in the tank.
Spanish Morgan Barbançon Mestre had her 18-year old evergreen Painted Black (by Gribaldi x Ferro) not as fresh and regular today compared to the excellent form they showed in the Grand Prix. The horse was uneven in the extended trot and some passage steps, which were sometimes crooked as well. A mistake in the two tempi changes and the mediocre extended canter also kept the score down to 71.429% (14th).
Portuguese Gonçalo Carvalho has a world class horse in the 9-year old Lusitano mare Batuta (by Quixote x Icaro) but the rider was more a passenger than a captain today, unable to touch his horse. The bay mare lifts her legs to her tummy and chest in the piaffe and passage and has unlimited potential, but there was a shaky contact with the bridle and the mare was unsteady in the head-neck position. There is much more to come from this duo, when horse and rider get on the same wavelength. Today they earned 71.148% (15th).
One of the most talented horses in the class, the 11-year old Russian Trakehner Mister X (by Egeus), finished at the bottom of the ranking with 67.003 (28th). His Russian rider Inessa Merkulova rides with the thinnest of curbs with incredibly long shanks, and today the horse showed a blue tongue hanging out while his rider weeble-wobbled in the saddle. The canter strike off from passage completely failed and in the tempi changes the rider just stands in the stirrups, leans forwards and swings her legs in the hope of producing a correct line. Mister X has such amazing trot extensions, half passes, piaffe and passage but today there was no unity between horse and rider.
Another top star, Patrik Kittel's 11-year old Swedish mare Deja (by Silvano x Don Schufro), threw in the towel. Although the combination started off their test quite well, in the extended walk the mare became a bit fixed in the top line and built up tension. In the transition from collected walk to piaffe she reared. Kittel gently correctled the movement, rode a nice passage but then in the second piaffe she refused again and the Swede retired from the test. The mare shook her head, briefly stuck her pink tongue out for a moment and then looked relaxed again. She probably got the tongue over the bit and reacted strongly to it.
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