Dressage can be so fun and exciting when the unpredictable happens; when competition is so neck to neck that not simply mistakes but more so the stress factor can influence the ranking.
The Grand Prix at the World Cup Finals doesn not count for the trophy, but is used as warm up class, barometer of the level of competition, and determining factor for the starting order in the Kur to Music.
Since their coming to power in the spring of 2009, Edward Gal and Totilas were only beaten once, by Adelinde Cornelissen in the Grand Prix Special at the 2009 European Championships, a minor "incident" in the record-breaking streak they have kept up until February 2010. Yesterday evening, it happened again at the Brabanthallen in 's Hertogenbosch and it felt like a sonic boom that shook the indoor arena on its foundations.
Totilas' veni vidi vici tour seemed unbreakable, but small mistakes and tension put an end to that campaign. The black stallion and his grey frocked rider were the pair to watch and the crowds were on the edge of their seat when they traveled the ring. The halt upon entry was not square, though the energy and vigour to excel were there. The first and second extended trot lacked lengthening in the body despite the eye-catching lift in the forearm and one hoof overtrack. The half passes were outstanding.
The first piaffe was uneven with more activity from the left hind leg. The piaffe was good, but Totilas took a huge leap out of the piaffe into passage throwing his head in the air. This build-up of tension in the piaffe with an abrupt exit occurred in the other two piaffes as well. The extended walk had good overstep but the stallion should have stretched his neck more.
As the test progressed, Totilas became more compact in his frame and got tight in the neck, especially in the zig zag and one tempi's. He kicked to the rider's leg in the transition from passage to canter. The tempi changes were nicely uphill but not straight enough in the body. The extended canter was excellent. In the pirouette left, the stallion took the weight well on the hindquarters but in the right one he lost his balance. The transition from canter to collected trot was difficult and the horse seemed stuck in a passage instead of trotting. The passage on the centerline was brilliant but "Toto" again leapt too impulsively from piaffe to passage after X.
The crowd-pleasing combination posted a score of 76.808% which placed them second in the Grand Prix. After his ride, level-headed Gal stayed realistic and hit the nail on the head when he said, "I'm just a rider and he's just a horse. Mistakes happen." The sympathetic Gal did joke, "well today I thought, "let's start badly for once."
As last to go, Adelinde Cornelissen and the Jerich Transport company owned and sponsored Parzival (by Jazz) had some extra breathing space with all other riders having been unable to stay fault free. Some think that the long legged chestnut gelding has even more quality and athleticism than Totilas but one can certainly say that the two are each other's challengers. Parzival entered the ring in a very energetic, bouncy trot. The first trot extension was super in ground cover and lengthening, the trot half passes were forward with much cross over of the legs. In the transition to passage he got croup high but the piaffe was perfectly on the spot. In the extended walk, the clarity could have been a bit purer. Parzival's collected walk, which is a problem point for many horses, was of high quality. In the second piaffe, the horse kept a good rhythm but became very narrow at the base with his hind legs.
In canter the big gelding got stronger in the hand and Adelinde seemed to get an imbalanced contact with the bit, taking more weight in her left hand. The two tempi's were gorgeous -- big, ground covering changes. The same can be said of the one's which were executed superbly despite Parzival becoming more tight in the neck. Though the horse excelled with his elasticity and bounce, towards the end of the test the hind legs were losing power and Parzival started to pull his hocks high instead of really stepping under towards the gravity points or taking the weight on the hind legs in the piaffe at X. In the final passage on the centerline, Adelinde lost control and collection over her horse and enforced an early halt five meters before G.
The judges' panel, consisting of Rockwell , Truppa, Schüle, Verbeek and Törnblad, placed Cornelissen unanimously first with 78.851%. "Parzival felt very relaxed this morning in the training session, and he was tonight," Adelinde commented during the prize giving ceremony. "I know what the other riders had scored so I didn't have to pull out all the stops and could just ride relaxed."
Dutch Imke Schellekens-Bartels had the ride of a lifetime on Sunrise, presenting her mare at peak performance and scoring 74.893% to finish third. Schellekens played it clean and safe and was mistake-free. Her bay Hanoverian mare lacked some oomph in the extended trot but the half passes were light footed and elegant. The mare kept a good rhythm in the piaffe and the extended walk had super overtrack and stretch in the neck. The highlight of her ride was the very well controlled zig zag. The tempi's were uphill and ground covering. In the left ones there was slight swing to the left but the one's were straight as a die. The weak point of this high quality ride was the passage. Even though it was very well controlled and regular, the hind legs were always trailing as the mare hollowed her back. Her swooshing tail is a distraction. Nevertheless, Schellekens produced a top level test worthy of the third placed Dutch rider for the 2010 World Cup Finals. Sunrise was elegant and Imke maintained a steady contact with the bit.
Since her doping and baby-break come back Isabell Werth must be experiencing a new world: one in which she has to fight again to earn every single point. The halo-effect seems to have worn off on her and Isabell is struggling to get the super high marks of days before. Aboard Madeleine Winter-Schulze's Warum Nicht, Werth started off well with huge trot extensions. The first steps of the half pass right were too passagey. The passage itself was very regular though in the first piaffe Warum Nicht struggled to find the rhythm. The extended walk was excellent: relaxed with forward impulsion in a clear 4-beat rhythm. In the second pi-pa movement there was a loss of impulsion in the passage and Werth's scores dropped from a 75% to 72,5%. The changes in the zig zag were short. The one tempi's were super. The piaffe passage on the centerline was better, but the immobile final halt was hardly there. Werth had managed to pull her scores up to 73.319% and placed fourth with all judges. It must be said that the judging in general was of a high level again with all five very close together in agreement of score and ranking.
Swedish Patrik Kittel has been the red-flagged rider of the scene after an uproar on the internet over a hyperflexion incident. He's being watched by FEI stewards and anti-rollkur fanatics like a pariah., but it's undeniable that Kittel and Scandic are on the rise. This horse is improving each month and in the Grand Prix he looked his best ever: super trot extensions with bounce and elasticity, strong trot half passes and impressive regularity and rhythm in piaffe and passage. Scandic could have picked up his legs more in the reinback and he lost clarity of rhythm in the collected walk between H and C.
Scandic used to lose points in canter as he would become downhill and lean on his rider's hand. Not the case this time because the Scandinavian bred stallion (by Solos Carex x Amiral) is gaining in strength and fitness. The two tempi's were straight and uphill though Kittel should have kept a more quiet posture in the saddle. Only in the right pirouette did Scandic lose his uphill tendency. The tender spot remains the contact with the bit though. Kittel managed to stays quiet and relaxed with his hands throughout the ride so the total image definitely looked friendly. The static, immobile mouth is there, however, with the tongue showing from the side only if it is not covered up by a thin layer of foam. The contact is still not ideal and the question is: Is this the product of previous or current training and can it be improved without the end justifying the means. Kittel and Scandic scored 72.085%, a deserved score for a fantastic ride!
Six-month pregnant Danish Nathalie zu Saeyn-Wittgenstein and Digby were not on best form, in spite of the fact that the Danish warmblood gelding is always good for 70% marks with his solid, confirmed work. The 13-year old gelding missed freshness and va-va-voom from behind. The piaffe and passage are normally his strong points but especially the passage failed in regularity this time. The pirouettes were lovely as the horse took the weight on the hind quarters. It all looked too safe, as if Digby knew he was carrying two instead of one.
German Matthias Rath qualified his second Grand Prix horse, Triviant Unicef (by Olivi x Saluut), for the World Cup Finals. The bay gelding looks very "Dutch bred" in his silhouette: a lot of roundness in the gaits, much knee and little stretch in the legs. This works as an asset for the piaffe and passage, which are nicely off the ground with a good rhythm, but in the half passes he could cover more ground and in the tempi changes there is not enough freedom in the shoulder.
Rath, however, earns his points with the immaculate execution of the movements and his brilliant contact with the bit: always soft, honest, light and friendly. He scored 70.510% to finish seventh. "I fulfilled the expectations with this young horse," Rath said. "If all goes well tomorrow with the decisive kur, I hope to move up a few places."
The Kur to Music on Saturday will be a dressage extravaganza. Two riders have announced that they will be premiering new freestyle compositions: Adelinde Cornelissen will be riding to music arranged by David Kox and Olaf Ramak of Pyntago and Matthias Alexander Rath has a brand new tailor-made Cees Slings' composition up his sleeve. How much fun can dressage be when there is something new coming up! There is nothing more boring than hearing the same music over and over again!
Text and photos © A.Appels/Eurodressage.com