It was ladies first in the spectacular Grand Prix class at the 2018 CDI Nieuw en St. Joosland on Thursday 5 April 2018. With no less than seven combinations making their international GP debut in a field of 36, including the long awaited come back of double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin, the CDI Joosland became a true debutante ball with golden girl Dujardin on the mare Mount St. John Freestyle having lost nothing of her flair.
The CDI Nieuw en St. Joosland is the Western European opener of the outdoor season and scheduled early in April, which means that the weather can still be unpredictable. This year the weather gods had unwelcoming, chilly and windy weathered in store for Grand Prix day with here and there a sprinkle of rain. Joosland is located close to the North Sea on the flattest part of The Netherlands and with its dikes and stretching flat pastures visitors of the event certainly get a taste of the essence of Holland. As one drives to the venue the shoulders of the motorway were covered with daffodils heralding a coming spring.
The fortunate annual dates for Joosland and its dedicated organization have turned this event into an absolute crowd magnet with over 200 entries from pony level to Grand Prix. No wonder that A-list European riders have chosen this event as the stepping stone for the 2018 show campaign.
Dujardin and MSJ Freestyle Enchant Judges and Crowds
A huge amount of visitors flocked to Joosland to witness the rising star, Emma Blundell's 9-year old Hanoverian mare Mount St. John Freestyle (by Fidermark x Donnerhall). Three weeks ago the pair did its first national Grand Prix in Hartpury, U.K., and scored a whopping 81% in a test of choice class with two judges (including 5* judge Isobell Wessels). That result sent a tidal wave across the dressage world and made it the biggest talk of the town in months.
After an almost full two year absence from CDI competition on the European continent since the retirement of Valegro -- Dujardin only competed once internationally at small tour level in the safe capsule of the British isle in 2017 -- the time had finally come for Dujardin to put herself out there again, against the world elite. As soon as the pair headed to the main stadium for their Grand Prix test in Joosland, a massive audience, a black mob, almost surrounded the arena and it reminisced the hype Totilas caused when Matthias Rath showed him in Germany.
Dujardin impressed the world with her fine, friendly riding on Valegro and the big question was if she could replicate such a harmonious partnership and delicate riding on another horse. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and that pudding was being served in Joosland! Charlotte had her game face on: full concentration and not a hint of emotion, but as soon as she steered the mare on the first diagonal for the extended trot and Freestyle broke into canter and once more at the end of the diagonal, it was evident that Dujardin was very nervous for this ride!
Charlotte recovered in the trot half passes and rode a lovely first passage, but the transition into the first piaffe was via walk. Freestyle has very good sit in piaffe but gets a bit narrow at the base, which signals a lack of balance still. The transition out was better. The extended walk had one hoof overtrack and could be scopier. The second transition from passage into piaffe was better, but then the transition out was difficult again. In canter, Freestyle swung in the hindquarters in the two's and she tends to loose swing in the back with a loss of clarity in the three beat rhythm as a result. It particularly showed in the extended canter. The one tempi changes were lovely. The zig zag tense but ground covering. The pirouette left did not show enough taking the weight on the hindquarters and in the right one the mare got unbalanced and then lost the canter. In the third extended trot, in which the mare can be very scopey, she broke into canter yet again. The final passage was engaged, the piaffe at X wide behind. At all times Dujardin had the mare soft and steady in the bridle and she was nicely chewing and foaming.
Despite Freestyle displaying some high quality training and tons of potential for the future, Dujardin's test was riddled with mistakes. The judges' panel, which consisted of Clive Halsall (GBR), Magnus Ringmark (SWE, Katrina Wuest (GER), Eduard de Wolf van Westerrode (NED), and Peter Holler (GER), had no problem to go low on the movements with errors, but they immediately shot back up to 8s and 9s and even one 10 on the other movements, an opportunity lesser known riders never get in a lifetime. The judges' score tendencies revealed much optimism from their part for this ride and the overall of 75.152% (with little fluctuation between the five judges) was slightly over enthusiastic.
It is a pity that Dujardin and MSJ Freestyle will now return back to England for a string of three home CDI's (Windsor, Bolesworth) before the world can see them again, most likely at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. It is a clever strategy from Team Hester to avoid real competition on the continent, but this is part of the game. One thing can be said: 2018 will be a very exciting year for dressage with a new star on the horizon that could be a top five player in six months time!
Classy Come Back for Ramel and Buriel K.H.
The rider which could have won the Grand Prix was Swedish Juliette Ramel on the 12-year old Dutch warmblood Buriel K.H. (by Osmium x Krack C). The combination has had an interesting path in life. In 2016 they made a stellar debut as one of the hottest pairs of the moments, but at the 2016 Rio Olympics Buriel was already showing signs of irregularity and in 2017 there was almost a year break to recover from injury. They returned at the 2017 CDIO Rotterdam and then did Aachen, but Ramel struggled to ride her bay, who was just not himself, dropped dead in the contact. And then of course there was this stewarding incident, where the bridle accidentally came off during the bit check and the horse took off racing across the warm up arenas in Aachen...
In Joosland, Ramel and Buriek KH seemed to have found their former selves again and they were on point! The pair rode quite a conservative test and lacked fine tuning, but there was spectacular work in there. There was no bending whatsoever in the corners and also the right half passes lacked bending. All trot extensions were ridden very safely with no real lengthening in the frame but there was sufficient ground cover. The first passage was gorgeous though, with smooth transitions in and out of piaffe. The second piaffe-passage was stellar and also in canter Ramel upped the bar. Very good tempi changes, uphill extended canter (although the flying changes was early before the marker), solid zig zag, a fantastic left pirouette, the right one was a bit unbalanced and then she aced the final centerline. The halts were not immobile though (scores 7 - 8!?). They finished on 74.087% for second place
Dream Boy, Keeping the Dream Alive
For Hans Peter Minderhoud his path towards the 2018 World Equestrian Games will be on fresh new material, it seems. He has announced the retirement of 2017 World Cup winner Flirt and was not very clear on Johnson; if the stallion will make a come back to the show ring, just do the two mandatory team selection trials, or be retired from sport. However, he has openly spoken about Dream Boy and Casper being two hot new Grand Prix rides for 2018. Both were entered for Joosland, but he only competed Dream Boy and third option Zanardi.
The 10-year old Dutch warmblood Dream Boy (by Vivaldi x Ferro) has not done a CDI since the 2014 World Young Horse Championships in Verden under previous owner Gerdine Maree (they won bronze) and Joosland was their CDI Grand Prix debut. The black licensed stallion is drop dead gorgeous and is a very gifted mover, without a doubt, but the horse looked uncomfortable in the Grand Prix work. While the potential for the piaffe is certainly there - he seeks elevation in the rhythm - he is still very unbalanced and you can see him finding balance, by either getting wide in front, or wide behind. He just needs more time and strength. The stallion needed a lot of motivation from rider, who was very visible giving aids to keep him forward with a helicopter tail as a result. Minderhoud asked for tons of energy and that is what he got in the trot and canter extensions and half passes. The stallion swayed in the two tempi changes, the ones were much straighter but could be more uphill oriented. In the extended walk, there was sufficient overstep but the clarity of rhythm was compromised. The collected walk was better. In passage Dream Boy showed much scope and lift in the forehand, but the young stallion needs to develop more power to track up behind.
Dream Boy has all the ingredients for a Grand Prix horse, but simply needs more time in the oven! In Joosland he got 73.870% for the effort and placed third. (video click here)
Rookies Expression and Ben Johnson Complete Top Five
The top five had two further Dutch Grand Prix rookies: Expression and Ben Johnson.
Diederik van Silfhout's 2017 Dutch European Championship team horse Four Seasons seems to have lost his stride over the winter, and all hope is now lying on G.W. Van Norel's 9-year old Dutch warmblood licensed stallion Expression (by Vivaldi x Vincent) with whom he last crossed Dutch borders in 2015 for the World Young Horse Championships in Verden (6th place).
The bright bay stallion became the Dutch Small Tour Champion last year and has made a sprint for Grand Prix. The stallion has an incredible amount of knee action, almost like a hackney, and little stretch forward in the limbs, but he charms with his work ethic, listening carefully to the rider. While his mouth was a bit frozen during the test, he obediently carried out the work. The rein back was very nice, with big steps and the passage work had nice elevation. In piaffe, however, he creeps forward as he gets incredibly narrow behind stepping on his coronet bands otherwise. The transitions were still weak. The extended walk barely had overtrack. The zig zag had good ground cover and like most young GP horses, he swung behind in the two tempi's. The ones were straighter but tight in the neck. The pirouettes were tiny and the left one was the best one of the two. The pair scored 72.478% (video click here).
Former Dutch Olympian Marlies van Baalen has been absent from the international ring for quite some time. She rode her last CDI in December 2016, but gave birth to a baby girl in the summer of 2017. Joosland was only her second CDI on the 12-year old Ben Johnson (by Johnson x Ferro) and her return to Grand Prix since the sale of Ratzinger. The bright bay gelding showed little bending in the corners and the trot extensions were a bit cautious. Marlies rode one step too many in the rein back. Ben Johnson overall is not entirely straight in the body with the hindquarters swinging to the right in passage. The piaffe however was one of the best shown on the day! True sit and collection, off the forehand, and on the spot. The horse showed no overtrack in the extended walk though and also the tempi changes lacked ground cover, but were fault-free. The extended canter had much power and the pirouettes were small, although Ben Johnson could have more lift in front. They scored 70.761% for fifth place.
And then there was...
Antonia Ramel could not copy her sister Juliette's high point ride, but still snatched seventh placed with 70.609%. Her refined 12-year old Dutch bred Brother de Jeu (by Voice x Jazz) was overcollected throughout the test and therefore open the mouth, but the extended walk was very nice and the passage on this tall gelding elegant.
One of the loveliest pairs of the day were Dutch Robin van Lierop on Cupido. For the 35-year old Van Lierop Joosland was his career CDI Grand Prix debut and the same counted for Saskia Lemmens' 11-year old Cupido (by Rhodium x San Remo). Van Lierop rode a very soft, friendly and harmonious test with no flash but just good training. The piaffe was lovely but the transitions needed tweaking. It was beautiful, "forceless" riding. They scored 69.370% for 10th place.
Fiona Bigwood was back on the continent with her newest acquisition of three months, 14-year old Danish warmblood gelding Kjaerholm's Abutsiaq (by Michellino x Limelight). She rode her first CDI on the confirmed Grand Prix horse three weeks ago at the CDI Keysoe. In Joosland the horse showed its talent for piaffe, passage and trot extensions, but the combination has not truly gelled yet and you could see Abutsiaq trying to figure out his rider's aids and messages. As soon as they get on the same wavelength higher scores will be in store. Now they got 67.152% for 18th place.
Dutch team rider Patrick van der Meer rode the 11-year old licensed KWPN stallion Chagall D&R (by Jazz x De Niro) in his first international Grand Prix, but it was not their day. The beautiful chestnut was very unsteady in the rhythm in trot and in the contact with the bridle. The passage has potential, but Van der Meer was unable to get the stallion closed and balanced in the frame. For the piaffe, a return to the drawing board is in order as the stallion took no weight on the hindquarters and just put the frontlegs in brake mode. The horse showed his ability to collect and sit in the canter pirouettes though. They got 63.326% to finish 28th.
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