Aboard Cees and Tosca Visser's Dutch warmblood stallion Totilas (by Gribaldi x Glendale), Edward Gal won the Kur to Music gold medal at the 2009 European Dressage Championships. With a new world record score of 90.750%, Gal wrapped up the Championships which have been a major overall triumph for the Dutch. Holland secured a clean sweep of the medals as Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival (by Jazz x Ulft) won Kur silver and Anky van Grunsven on Salinero (by Salieri x Lungau) claimed the bronze riding her old 2004 Olympic freestyle "Esprit Chanson".
Gal's freestyle drove the sell-out crowd to ecstasy. The flamboyantly moving black stallion has extreme knee action but tracks up well behind and his movement mechanism stunned the 8,000 head audience in the floodlit arena on a crispy cold Saturday evening at Windsor.
Gal pulled out a staggering test and improved his own world record from 89.400 to 90.750%. The pair were worth their salt at the European Dressage Championships, but their Grand Prix was probably technically the best performance of the entire week. Their kur, however, had everyone at the edge of their seat and Joost Peeters' arrangement of the dramatic music of Oxygene 13, Equinox 4, Song from a Secret Garden and --guess what-- Pirates of the Carribean accentuated the grandeur of the combination.
Though the music hardly ever supports the strides and tempo of the horse's movements (which is an FEI requirement) it still impresses with its thundering classical sounds. Totilas was very electric to the aids and a bit over eager at the beginning of the ride. They entered in passage and the horse showed several irregular steps with more activity from the right hind leg before he settled into a regular rhythm.
The first extended trot showed an exorbitant front leg but not enough understep, the second one was phenomenal. The canter work was of an astonishing level: a fantastic extended canter and perfect, on the spot double pirouettes. Musically the pirouettes are wonderfully marked by a chiming church bell but the bell ringing seem to return randomly in the canter work which weakens the artistic solidity. In the two tempi's Totilas lost some straightness in the body and swung his hindquarters to the right. In the one tempi's the stallion got tense and tight and blocked behind twice. The canter half passes were well balanced and ground covering.
Gal stuck his hat up high in the air after his final halt and salute and a big smile appeared on his face. He knew he had won the class with that ride and the crowds reciprocated with a spontaneous standing ovation and a booming applause that lasted for at least five minutes.
The drama of the evening and the historical value of this performance for the history of dressage brought the judges to a high and they scored this admirable ride with 90.750%, the first time a score has ever reached the 90s.
Gal was evidently shocked and equally amazed by his impressive score. "I started to cry," he explained. "I don't even want to think about what more there is to achieve. I know he can do even better and that is really weird. What are we talking about?!
The 39-year old Gal was virtually speechless at the press conference. When asked to describe the feeling of riding Totilas in the kur, he replied "I don't know what to say. He felt so good. The feeling is still getting back to me every time. I can't explain what feeling he gives me."
Grand Prix Special gold medallist Adelinde Cornelissen gave Edward a run for the money and ended up with silver posting a score of 87.350%. Riding to music inspired by Richard Wagner's symphonic opera Parzival, Cornelissen opened her test with piaffe, passage and trot work. The hind legs were trailing a bit in the first passage but the following piaffe was on the spot and perfect in rhythm. In the second piaffe, the chestnut gelding was crossing over his hind hooves much and became narrow at the base. The extended trot was huge: extremely supple and athletic with much power. The first extension though was almost hackney like with high knees and hocks, but good in overtrack.
The athleticism and flexibility of the horse are supported by the music in trot with vibrant violins. While Cornelissen's Special ride was an absolutely highlight in its precision, punctuation and softness, Parzival did look a bit harder in the bridle in the kur and the rider was leaning in the contact a bit too much. The one and two tempi's were magnificent: uphill, ground covering, straight and maintained by the music. Parzival lost his balance for a while in the canter half pass left and lacked some lateral bending in the double pirouette left, but the canter extensions and pirouette right were outstanding. By the end of the ride, Cornelissen was ahead of her music which showed in the extended trot and final passage. Overall the quality of her ride was high and the judges rewarded that accordingly.
Cornelissen had to enter the ring after Gal's ride and though focused on her own warm-up she was aware of Gal's tremendous performance. "I heard the yelling and screaming of the audience so he must have done great," she said. "I was very satisfied with the first part of my test but then got ahead of the music and had to slow down. I couldn't ride to the full."
Cornelissen will go home and fine-tune her freestyle even more. "At home during training, the Kur fits exactly with Parzival's movements, but in the show ring it is like he gives it more," Cornelissen told the Dutch Equestrian Federation. "His strides become longer and in no time I'm ahead of the music. It shouldn't be like that and in this freestyle I had to ride again with the hand brake on which meddles with the expressiveness of Parzival's gaits. It's a pity but we'll have to work on it."
Anky is known to be an incredible fighter and she had put on her war face to win that coveted gold medal at this year's Europeans. She pulled all the stops, had her horse under perfect control, and even decided to resort to her old Slings & Kerkhof's "Esprit Chanson" music which had earned her the Olympic gold in 2004 and European gold in 2005 and 2007 instead of choosing her latest Wibi Soerjadi's piano based freestyle that got her Olympic gold in 2008.
It was a neck-to-neck finish with Cornelissen but Anky pulled the short straw and landed a third place to got the bronze with a 87.250% earning kur.
Van Grunsven entered the ring in walk even though passage music was playing. Salinero, however, knew the cue and piaffed his way through the halt. The first piaffe and passage section was excellent as usual with much energy and rhythm.
The extended trot needed more overtrack instead of upwards movement. The two tempi's were well jumped though a tiny bit crooked to the left. The extended canter and pirouette to the right were super. Salinero kept a clear rhythm in the extended walk but was hurried.
Van Grunsven has been riding her outdated and worn out Esprit Chanson freestyle from 2004 through 2007. It was composed when Salinero was 8-years old and just entering Grand Prix level. It has a very low technical difficulty but this seemed not at all considered in the judges' scores.
Nevertheless, Anky's timing skills are unrivaled and she can execute each exercise at the exact right moment like no other. The one tempi's were adorable and perfectly in tune with the music. Salinero lacked some closure in the frame in the double pirouette left. The final piaffe and passage were lovely and it was a pity that the final halt didn't come to fruition, because Anky almost had the immobility nailed.
Though Van Grunsven was unable to continue her individual gold winning streak at this year's Europeans, she looked content with the bronze. She admitted that she had heard of the great scores of Gal and Cornelissen but that hadn't taken away her appetite for a fight. "I thought to myself, I'll give it a try as well," she quipped. "Bronze was not what I had hoped for, but I had seen them [Edward & Adelinde] this winter and realized that it was possible that they were going to beat me. I'm happy with Salinero and his performance," she concluded.
The Kur to Music podium was a Dutch affaire and this Dutch wash left a big impression on all competitors. To the Dutch Equestrian Federation, Van Grunsven stated the following on the Dutch war: "I really tried my utmost and we all worked together very hard. I'm very happy with our performances, especially because we have proven that we can be on form at the right time. That's why I'm also happy with the bronze."
Dutch chef d'equipe Sjef Janssen couldn't wipe the grin off his face. "I'm a very happy human being. Holland could win seven medals and they got six. This is great, even more so because of the way we did it. Our riders showed tests of an unprecedented level."
Special bronze medallist Laura Bechtolsheimer finished fourth in the kur with a substantial percentage difference from the podium finalist. She scored 81.750% and was the fourth rider to achieve marks above eighty percent. Aboard the Danish warmblood gelding Mistral Hojris (by Michellino x Ibsen) Bechtolsheimer rode to brand new music based on tracks by "The Shadows". Without a doubt, Laura's music was the most original and fitting music of all fifteen freestyles played in Windsor.
The intro is highly original with a squeaky transistor radio being tuned to an introduction by legendary radio DJ Bob Harris, who announces The Shadows.
The ride started with strong piaffe and passage all clearly marked by the guitar tunes of "Apache". The trot work was of a high level and in the extended walk was well executed. Though the music is perfectly tuned into the horse's movements, it got a bit busy and overwhelming at times. In canter, Mistral got overexcited and became tense. He got behind the vertical in the canter and passage half passes and Laura was working to keep the pressure under control. The final halt was not immobile.
These minor imperfections due to tension pushed down the score to 81.750%. One does wonder if the score would have been higher had Bechtolsheimer ridden her test after Gal, Cornelissen and Van Grunsven.
"It was not so easy in there tonight," Laura told British Dressage. "Alf found the atmosphere quite difficult to deal with and some mistakes crept in through tension but he still showed some spectacular work and I'm really happy! We've had such a great week, the crowd are loving it and I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. There's a serious vibe in there!"
Last to go Austrian Victoria Max-Theurer finished fifth with a personal highscore of 79%. Riding to Italian pop songs like "Gloria" and "Felicita", Max-Theurer presented her powerhouse 9-year old Oldenburg stallion in a composed way. The bay has a super rhythmical piaffe and passage but still not has the right amount of power to keep the hind legs tracking up at all times. The extended trot is lofty and ground covering but not even ridden at 50% of the horse's potential. There was super relaxation in the extended walk. The extended canter was uphill and strong, but in the canter collection he became a tiny bit lateral. The tempi changes are still the biggest issue with this young Grand Prix horse as they lack forwardness.
By the end of the beautiful ride, Augustin ran a bit out of steam and lost the passage in the transition to piaffe.
The young stallion is still green at Grand Prix, but there is so much greatness in him and he'll be one of the new rising stars to be taken into account in the future.
"What can I say," was Victoria's reaction to her fifth place. "Augustin improved himself again in comparison to the Grand Prix Special. His movement mechanism was nicely supported by the music. Two times a fifth place at the European Championships is an absolute dream. It exceeded my wildest expectations."
Twenty-five year old Matthias Alexander Rath and Sterntaler Unicef finished sixth in the freestyle with 77.850%. As Rath has a new kur in the making, he rode to Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff's old Spanish freestyle. The combination struggled with the piaffe as the first one was very wide behind (especially the right hind leg) and the second one lacked rhythm. The passage was good though. The extended walk is the best of all horses in Windsor. The double pirouette left was hurried, the right one good. The half passes were superb. In the canter tour the music got so quick that it made you so nervous that the image of Roadrunner and Coyote came to mind.
The young rider was the best performing German at the championships. He was very happy about his achievements at his first European Championships for senior riders.
"Sterni and I have put down three very consistent test without big mistakes. I was able to live up to the high expectations and pressure," Rath stated. "The outstanding Dutch riders have clearly showed what my goal is and what it should be for the German team. My aim is to work hard towards the World Equestrian Games. We still have much potential to become better."
Kyra Kyrklund and Max were generously marked with their 76.450% "Cabaret" kur. They were not at their best in the Kur with the piaffe being too forward and a break into trot in the pirouette left. Kyra normally rides her pirouettes with one hand, but didn't do so this time. Nevertheless they remain to be major crowd pleasers with their sympathetic appearance.
British Emma Hindle and John Hindle's Hanoverian stallion Lancet (by Wenzel x Shogun xx) finished eighth with 76.050%. The trot work was highly energetic and looked fresh and active. In canter there was a bit too much collection loosing some forwardness.
I'm very happy with him. This hasn't really been our Championships but I was very satisfied with myself and my horse today. It's a joy to ride in Windsor in front of a home crowd; when people whoop and cheer even as you come into the arena it shows the strength of dressage in Britain and everything UK Sport and World Class funding has done for the sport here. It's been an honour to ride here in front of these amazing people and in this amazing place."
Monica Theodorescu and Whisper (by Welt Hit I) landed a 9th place with 75.950%. Her freestyle gained much actuality as it features Michael Jackson music but of a too high tempo for the elegant movements of her chestnut gelding. Her canter tour was based on the over-used The Pirates of the Carribean soundtrack.
Carl Hester achieving his third personal best score of the championships with Liebling II to finish tenth on 75.90%. "The whole thing has been amazing, that was one of the nicest tests we've had," he told British Dressage. "Not bad for him - and me! It was only the third time we'd ridden the freestyle so I'm delighted with the way it's turned out. Our music [Tom Jones] is a crowd pleaser and has some humour in it which suits us both."
Nathalie Zu Saeyn-Wittgenstein and the Danish warmblood gelding Digby (by Donnerhall) placed 11th with 74.300%. The pair lacked throughness and the gelding looked unsettled in the movements with a fixed back and a swooshing tail. He also spooked once making it hard for Zu Saeyn to recover well.
Swedish Minna Telde and her own Hanoverian stallion Don Charly (by Don Gregory) performed to U2 music to score 73.600% and rank 12th.
Swedish Patrik Kittel and Scandic (by Solos Carex) had great music with 80s hits such as Personal Jesus and Just Can't Get Enough by Depeche Mode. There was tons of rhythm and synchronicity with the music in the piaffe and passage but especially in canter the chestnut stallion was curling his neck and getting behind the vertical. 73.350% and 13th place.
German Susanne Lebek finished off her first European Championships on a 14th place in the kur with 72.450%. Aboard her temperamental thoroughbred cross Potomac (by Prince Orac xx) Lebek showed fantastic one and two tempi's but her dark bay gelding totally overcooked on the Latino music, which was drumming out of the speakers in such a high tempo that one would think one was at a rave fest.
Bad luck for Swedish Tinne Vilhelmson and her new Grand Prix ride Favourit (by Fidermark x Worldchamp). The liver chestnut gelding spooked in the canter strike off and became resistant throughout the canter tour bucking in the tempi changes. They are a pair to watch though and there are high hopes for the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
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