The Secret's out ! Germany's best kept secret, when it comes to young stallions, has finally crossed borders and shown himself to an international audience at the biggest stage in his age division, the World Championships for Young Dressage Horses.
Swedish Jessica Lynn Thomas (née Andersson) and the Baden Wurttemberger bred stallion Secret (by Sezuan x St. Moritz) became the winners of the 5-year old preliminary test at the 2019 World YH Championships in Ermelo, The Netherlands, on Thursday afternoon 1 August 2019.
The WCYH is the most important and most celebrated young dressage horse event of the year and a highlight on the calendar. For the fourth year in a row, it has been beautifully hosted at the Dutch KNHS and KWPN national equestrian centre in Ermelo, where the show has a true Championship aura to it, unlike in Verden, where it was wonderfully set but the look of the main stadium was tarnished each year with ugly white tents and cramped feel.
The 2019 World YH Championships kicked off early on Thursday morning with mild temperatures that were ideal for the horses to compete in, but in the afternoon several rides got spoilt by heavy rain but short rain showers. The judges' panel for the preliminary test included Hamoen (NED), Schwennesen (AUS), Lopes (POR) and Van Daele (BEL). While the judging was very consistent and transparent in the morning, the lunch break had clearly caused a sugar spike amongst the judges whose notes went through the roof and their generosity for certain horses became hard to follow.
The Secret is Out
Thomas and the black stallion Secret, who is owned by stallion owner Eckhard Wahlers in partnership with Christine Feichtinger, ended up at the top of the board with a massive 9.54 point final score.
Secret has been one of the most hyped stallions in Germany, whose entire breeding career was based on a private, behind closed-doors licensing followed by a 10-second video on Facebook that prompted 600 breeders to select this stallion for their mares. The first time Secret actually presented himself to a large audience was at the 2017 Bundeschampionate in Warendorf where he became the reserve champion after the test rider decided to place him second over the judges' first place. In 2018 Secret was kept behind closed doors for an entire year and in 2019 he showed at four local events (Ankum, Elmlohe, Dotlingen, Bremen) before earning a ticket to Ermelo at the trials in Warendorf.
The black is a chunky, sizeable stallion with a big neck yet with a questionable conformation. Nonetheless today he showed much knee action and was very expressive in front. He tracked up well behind but could be a bit more electric. He broke into canter in the serpentine and tilted with the head. Still the trot was elastic. The extended walk had much overtrack but the rhythm was mediocre. Thomas rode the walk fast in the tempo. Secret had a big canter, but still leaned on the forehand despite his big jump. He actually improved in the counter canter. The horse had a better self carriage on the right lead. In the given reins in trot at the end of the test, Secret could have stretched a bit more forward into the contact. The horse produced a secure and confident round with much quality in the riding.
The judges loved the horse and scored him 9.9 for trot, 9.5 for walk, 9.7 for canter, 8.8 for submission and 9.8 for general impression, which totaled into 9.54 points and the victory. The 9.5 for the walk was inflated.
Valverde and Johnny Depp on 9.28
Two horses tied with the same final score - 9.28 points - but it was Eva Möller and and the Westfalian licensed stallion Valverde (by Vitalis x Ampere) that finished second.
The bright bay stallion, bred by Eugene Reesink and owned by Andreas Helgstrand, is a very popular breeding stallion and has been presented in numerous stallion shows this year. Just six days ago he won the 2019 Westfalian Young Horse Championships in Munster before being trailered to Ermelo for an even heavier programme. This could have been a bit too much on the 5-year old's plate because today Valverde looked deflated.
Normally Valverde is stellar in his trot, but he began the test by crossing the jaws and sticking his tongue on the right. Fortunately he kept his tongue tucked away for the rest of the test. He had the hindquarters consistently to the left in trot and was not crisp regular in the extensions, shuffling in the corners and half voltes, even though he has a naturally uphill posture and showed an expressive way of moving. The extended walk was outstanding with much ground cover and very secure in the rhythm. In canter he lost swing and elasticity in the top line which made the gait look not so clear in the 3-beat rhythm despite the uphill tendency.
The judges were mesmerized though and rewarded the horse 8.9 for trot, 10 for walk, 8.8 for canter, 9.3 for submission and 9.4 for general impression.
Three months after giving birth to her first child, Dutch Renate van Uytert-Van Vliet was back in the saddle and steered her husband Joop's home bred KWPN stallion Johnny Depp (by Bordeaux x Jazz) to a third place. The bay has incredible elasticity in trot, but needs to improve in the self carriage. He constantly crept behind the vertical or rolled himself with the neck. Van Vliet kept a quiet contact though and gave the reins regularly to obtain more opening in the throat latch, but the horse not always took the opportunity to lengthen himself in the frame, visible in his ground covering, but quite closed extended trot. The extended walk was super nice with massive overtrack. In canter the horse stayed a bit straight in the hindlegs and despite his uphill striding he could lower the croup a bit more. Some lack of detail in the riding (the crooked halt and rein back and the sloppy end halt) did not really have an effect on the submission score. Johnny Depp is certainly a lovely talent for the future with lots of elasticity in trot and a top walk. The judges rewarded him with 9.1 for trot, 9.7 for walk, 9.2 for canter, 8.8 for submission and 9.6 for general impression.
The Dutch warmblood society had a large crop of J-offspring (which means horses born in 2014) performing extremely well in Ermelo and getting rewarded by the judges. Places four and five were taken by two more J-horses with lots of talent but not at their best today.
Andreas Helgstrand and Cathrine Rasmussen's licensed stallion Jovian (by Apache x Tango) finished fourth on 9.26 points. Helgstrand rode the very tall dark bay stallion very cleverly in the test by not overasking him. The horse is far from ideal in the contact, often too tight in the neck and there is no chewing at all, but the rider waited patiently for the horse to give what he has got today. The trot stood out in the lengthenings with much ground cover and bounce, but in the working/collected mode Jovian did not swing in the body with proper back usage. The voltes and corners lacked flow, which he did achieve in the forward lengthenings. The nicest trot, in fact, was when the rein was given at the end of the test. In the extended walk, the horse easily achieved two hooves overtrack but he could have stridden more in front. The relaxation was good. Also in canter a more forward flow was desirable for achieving more ground cover. The simple change was nice. The horse received a 10 for trot, a 7.5 for walk, a 9.8 for canter, and 9.5 for submission and general impression.
Emmelie Scholtens rode Eugene Reesink's Johnny Be Goode (by Dream Boy x Tietse D) in a rain shower and the tall, uphill bay was unphased by the weather. The gelding has a naturally high set neck which helps the overall image of an uphill frame, but he didn't always look content in his work, with some negative earplay going on. The rein back was well ridden and the extended walk was very nice with big rhythmical strides, even though he needed to drop more in the poll. The canter work was solid but on the left lead he lost swing in the back. Also when he was given the rein, he needed to stretch more into the contact. The horse received a generous 9.2 for trot, 9.8 for walk, 8.8 for canter, 8.6 for submission and 9.5 for general impression.
The morning session was led for a long time by the Danish warmblood mare Queenparks Wendy (by Sezuan x Blue Hors Soprano), presented by Andreas Helgstrand for co-owner Bolette Wandt of Chateau de Fontaine. The black mare is Denmark's young horse champion and was one of many hot contenders for a top score. Wendy takes much after her sire Sezuan, a bit sharp in the topline but with a very functional hind leg. In trot she has much knee action but was a bit too electric and got hectic in the extensions and serpentine. She appeared hurried and therefore not entirely regular in the lengthenings. The extended walk had very nice overtrack, but in the collected she got tense and short. The canter was really nice with uphill strides, every single stride, even though she became short in the simple change. The trot with the given rein was lovely. The mare received 8.9 for trot, 9.5 for walk, 9.4 for canter, 8.7 for submission and 9.2 for general impression to finish on 9.12 points.
Probably the favourite for the 5-year old title this year is the Dutch duo Marieke van der Putten with Saskia and Jacques Lemmens' KWPN licensing and performance test champion Jameson RS2 (by Zack x Negro). The impressive black stallion was very sharp in his test and has massive freedom in the shoulder in trot. The extensions were beautiful with a real lengthening of the gait and frame, but in the collected/working gaits the nose needed to be more out. The canter is mega impressive with each stride so uphill and off the ground and a hindleg that is super engaged, but as soon as a bit of tension arises the horse loses its clear 3-beat rhythm and gets a bit stiff in the back. Unfortunately the extended walk is not as impressive as his trot and canter and this is where Jameson loses ground. There was not enough relaxation so he became quick and his overstep was mediocre. Pity. The stallion scored 9.7 for trot, 7.4 in walk, 9.8 for canter, 8.4 for submission and 9.2 for general impression.
Top Training for the Top Ten
The three best trained horses landed 8th, 9th and 10th place. Stefanie Wolf and For Gold finished on 8.86, Dorothee Schneider and Dante's Hit landed 8.82 points and Jessica Michel-Botton on Don Vito de Hus scored 8.78 to finish in the top ten.
The nicest ride of the day came from Stefanie Wolf on her own and Johann Hinnemann's Oldenburg stallion For Gold (by Franziskus x Zack). They were the fourth pair to go today and immediately set the bar very high. For Gold is maybe not the flashiest mover but he was soft and flowing in trot, very obedient throughout the test with a smooth rhythm. He could be a bit more up in the poll but was supple in the contact, even though he could foam slightly more. The walk looked very easy going with much overstep but not as free in the shoulder. The canter was not yet so well carried but the counter canter had good balance. Wolf had the most harmonious ride of the day and earned 9.3 for trot, 8.5 for walk, 9.0 for canter, 8.5 for submission and 9.0 for general impression.
Year after year German Olympian Dorothee Schneider presents very interesting and highly well trained youngsters at the World Championships. This year she brought along Hofgut Rosenau's and Wintermuhle's Oldenburg gelding Dante's Hit (by Dante Weltino x Sandro Hit). The bay gelding is not the most expressive mover but showed a cadenced trot, an extended walk with much overstep but quick in the rhythm and a canter that was correct. There were quite a few issues: the horse was quite tight in the neck, despite a good contact, he ambled in the collected walk and the canter needed to be more uphill, but the correct training shone through and the trot with the given rein was lovely. They received 9.0 for trot, 8.8 for walk, 9.0 for caner, 8.5 for submission and 8.8 for general impression.
French Jessica Michel-Botton continues to impress with her lovely way of riding young horses: light, harmonious, soft and delicate. Her employer Xavier Marie's Wurttemberger bred Don Vito de Hus (by Don Juan de Hus x De Niro). The trot was nice and rhythmical, light in the contact, but it could have been a bit more closed in the frame. The lengthenings were smooth and the extended walk had two hooves overtrack but the rhythm was not ideal. In canter the horse is a bit underwhelming and needs more uphill striding, but it all looked very light and easy. They got 9.7 for trot, 8.5 for walk, 8.0 for caner, 8.9 for submission and 8.8 for general impression.
Relfections on the 5-year old Class
After Secret's winning score flashed on the board it was interesting to reflect upon the concept of the World YH Championships. What is being scored? We need to remind ourselves that it is the quality of the basic gaits and the training of the horse according to the principles of classical dressage that is being judged and not their conformation issues. The numerous knowledgable spectators in Ermelo know quickly which horses are on the right track towards top level, and which will fail to achieve Prix St Georges or Grand Prix level either because of their conformation restrictions, or their nerves caving from burn-out because of overtraining.
Today in Ermelo, there were many lovely young 5-year olds; some of them real show stoppers and many of them with not so spectacular gaits, but properly presented as youngsters and with a bright road ahead of them. The finals for 5-year olds will be held on Saturday.