Isabell Werth made it very clear at the end of her ride. After she saluted she lifted one stretched finger up in the air and signalled to all that she is the number one in the world. At the 2017 World Cup Finals in Omaha, NE (USA), German Isabell Werth consolidated her World Number One ranked position by winning the Kur to Music on Weihegold OLD. Laura Graves was second and Carl Hester third.
Werth and Weihegold have been on a conquest. After team gold and individual silver at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and three World Cup qualifier victories on Weihegold this winter, there was no doubt about it that she was going to grab the title. With her 80%+ Grand Prix scores and 90%+ Kur scores Werth and Weihegold (by Don Schufro x Sandro Hit) are currently a league of their own and not even the bubbly and brilliant Laura Graves on Verdades can come close.
Werth rode her Rio freestyle based on the Latino sounds of "Tanze Samba mit mir" (Dance the Samba with Me). The music is very fitting to the horse and certainly grows on you with the nice assisted beats in the tempi changes and the dramatic tunes for the mare's rhythmical piaffe and passage.
Werth began her ride with super piaffe-passage work, but the first trot extension had no overstep. The rhythm in the half passes was good, despite a lack of real airtime, but the combination between trot and passage half passes worked smoothly. Once in a while the mare would get slightly more engaged with the right hind leg in passage. The extended walk had good overtrack, even though the mare's clarity in the 4-beat rhythm is not ideal. The strike off to canter from walk was a bit laboured, but the zig zag that followed was very rhythmical. The mare doesn't have the prettiest silhouette in the pirouettes but she executes them small and with good activity. The tempi changes all went well and the final piaffe-pirouette was lovely. Werth's self-confidence radiated at the end of the test and her finger in the air said it all.
The panel of judges, which included Alonso, Saleh, Wust, Gribbons, Sanders, Gardner and Tornblad, confirmed Isabell's feeling with a 90.704% score and put her first unanimously.
"I am really thankful and happy," said a beaming Isabell at the press conference. "I am proud of Weihe. She was so focused." Werth felt confident that the victory was hers even at the start of the day. "I felt really safe. It was our day at this competition. There was the perfect fine-tuning (with my horses). I was enjoying the ride and happy to go on the last centerline."
Isabell bagged her third World Cup victory in her career. Her first was 25 years ago on Fabienne, her second 10 years ago in Las Vegas on Warum Nicht. "It's special to win again after 10 years," said Werth. "I know how it is downstairs. I am very thankful to be upstairs again."
Werth definitely made this victory count and turned the prize giving ceremony into a fun festivity. First her groom forgot to join her so she could hold the horse. She had to run over from the sideline, but then Werth didn't hear that she had to dismount her horse and when she finally did she burst out in laughter and walked straight to the podium to take the top step. Protocol has it that normally the third placed rider first mounts the podium. Her groom bawled while playing the national anthem. And finally after the trophy was given, Isabell got a bottle of champagne which she sprayed all over Hester and Graves, then drank from it and served it to Carl, Laura and all three grooms as well.
American duo Laura Graves and Verdades (by Florett As x Goya) landed second place after a spectacular freestyle. The big Dutch warmblood really improved into the test and got better and better. At the beginning the first passage half pass lacked collected, but the second set of trot and passage half passes flowed well. The horse was insecure in the rhythm in the first piaffe and the mouth was slightly restless. The extended walk certainly had tons of overtrack, but the neck could have stretched out slightly more. In the collected walk he was briefly short-long in front. The canter tour was fantastic with exceptional two tempi's on the half circle, followed by ones on the short diagonal. The canter half passes were lovely and the extended canter powerful. Only the piaffe fan at the end was a bit of a struggle, with the horse failing to sit behind, but the last trot extension on the centerline made the crowd go wild. They scored a well earned 85.307%.
"I was super excited, I couldn't even hear my music," said a proud Laura at the press conference. She felt sure that a good score would be on the board for her. "I knew coming out," she said. "I hoped the judges were going to reward it."
At the Grand Prix press conference, Laura had her game face on and openly expressed that she was going to give Werth a run for her money and try for the title herself. "I didn't realize how competitive I am. I badly wanted to win," Laura said after the freestyle. "I was a little disappointed but coming second to Isabell still feels an awful lot like winning. This is my first time on the podium as an individual."
British Carl Hester had his Dutch warmblood Nip Tuck (by Don Ruto x Animo) back to his usual form: a textbook example of what beautiful, classical dressage training can do. The horse was always consistent in the contact and head position, always dead straight in the body and so accurate in the movements. While one could wish for a bit more pep in his step, Nip Tuck is like the maths profession: spot on and faultfree. The first piaffe pirouette was ridden a bit carefully, but the tempi changes on the curved lines were accurate. Especially the line with the double pirouettes - one tempi's on the centerline - double pirouette was a high scoring element in the ride. One piaffe got a bit wide in front though. The walk was strongly ridden with a clear rhythm in the collected and good ground cover and relaxation in the extended, even though the horse could stride a bit more energetically. The final trot extension had plenty of overstep but missed spring and elasticity. Hester stood out with his beautiful, calculated riding and was a deserved third place finisher. They got 83.757%.
"He was really hitting the music and the transitions in the right place," said Carl at the press conference. "I think he did the best he's done. He gave the maximum. I can't be disappointed with a horse at its absolute best."
Hester will give Nip Tuck a longer break than usual and spare him this outdoor season. They pair, however, will be back to represent Great Britain at the 2017 European Championships in Gothenburg if they get selected. "He will go into the field for a month. The point was to compete him now so I can focus on the young ones in the spring. I'll do Hickstead to show he's ready for the Europeans." Britain might no longer be a medal contender with the retirement of Valegro and sale of Atterupgaards Orthilia. Carl admitted that the country will have a "slightly depleted team" but told Eurodressage that "this will give other riders a chance to make it on the team."
Ireland's Judy Reynolds and her Dutch warmblood Vancouver K (by Jazz x Ferro) finished fourth with 79.571% on the board. She rode a freestyle of very high technical difficulty, with one movement coming fast after another. Although her music with Turn Back Time, I'm So Excited, It's Raining Men and One Moment in Time are funky and familiar, the compilation is almost too high tempo. One movement and one tune are switched with another at such speed that a smooth flow is missing. Nonetheless, Reynolds rode accurately and guided her obedient horse through the spaghetti of difficult movements; tempi changes, double pirouettes, piaffe pirouettes, canter half passes and then again double pirouettes follow one after the other. The walk was very nice with good clarity, the last piaffe got quite tense. Reynolds pulled a historic feat for her country with this fourth place.
Dutch Madeleine Witte-Vrees and her Dutch stallion Cennin (by Vivaldi x Donnerhall) upped their game in the freestyle and rode to Tango tunes. The horse spooked right after the halt at entry, but then was on the aids with his rider. They produced elegant passage work in which the hind leg still needs to push more. The horse kept a good rhythm in the piaffe pirouettes but leaned on the forehand. The trot extensions were powerful, the extended walk top class. In the two tempi's the horse swung a lot with the hindquarters but he was straighter in the ones. They were ahead of their music and the piaffe at G appeared a bit messy. Overall it was a much improved ride compared to Thursday and their score of 79.046% was slightly optimistic, but it certainly brought much joy to the rider.
Country mate Edward Gal and his Dutch stallion Voice (by De Niro x Rohdiamant) landed sixth place. The black stallion always had the nose behind the vertical but still showed some powerful work. The trot half passes were very ground covering, the extended walk had good overtrack (but no stretch in the neck) and the pirouettes were tiny. The passage was very lightfooted and with much airtime, but the piaffe is problematic with the horse consistently moving the hindlegs backwards and out, even on the track. Gal got slightly behind on his music and the end halt was not immobile. They scored 78.921%.
American Kasey Perry-Glass and the Danish warmblood Gorklintgaards Dublet (by Diamond Hit x Ferro) were seventh with 77.068%. Perry rode to wonderful Celtic drumbeats and produced a very light and precise test in which the piaffe and passage work were top class. The trot half pass to the right was not entirely regular and in the first trot extension there needed to be more overstep. The pirouettes were small, the tempi changes dead straight. The extended walk was fairly limited and the collected got lateral. The final piaffe fan was delicate and lovely.
Russian Inessa Merkulova brought Russian marching band music with her. Her bombastic kur appealed to the crowds, especially with Mister X (by Egeus) giving it his all in the powerful trot extensions. The Trakehner's piaffe-passage work is brilliant, but the rider's lack of subtlety in her aids is such a shame. The horse jumps big tempi changes, but there was a mistake in the ones. The trot half passes lacked bending. Nevertheless Mister X's freestyle was certainly liked and scored 76.414% for 8th place.
Steffen Peters and Rosamunde (by Rock Forever x Fidermark) rode to a nice mix of Phil Collins, Coldplay and Guns 'n Roses. While the mare was quicker and sharper from behind in the freestyle, compared to the Grand Prix, she was too tight in the neck and always had the nose behind the vertical. She started to curl herself up in all the piaffes as well as in the double pirouettes. Her tightness in the topline also did not benefit the quality of the walk. The combination with trot and passage half passes was very nice. They scored 75.879% to rank 9th.
Australian Kristy Oatley and Du Soleil (by De Niro x Caprimond) completed the top 10 with 75.868%. Drum beats escorted Du Soleil in his major trot half passes and powerful passage work. In piaffe the horse struggled to find the rhythm. The rhythm could improve in the extended walk and the collected got lateral before the canter strike off. The horse jumped big two tempi changes but made a mistake in the ones. Kristy fixed those on the correction line. Her freestyle ended with a double pirouette finishing in a piaffe pirouette before a final trot extension.
As the 2017 World Cup Finals wrapped up in Omaha, the dressage world will nose look ahead to the 2017 European Dressage Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, in August as next season highlight.
Text and Photos © Astrid Appels - No reproduction allowed
Eurodressage Coverage of the 2017 World Cup Finals