What should have happened already a year ago at the 2012 World Cup Finals, happened today at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden: Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill won the World Cup title. The petite 30-year old German finally found international acknowledgement for her riding. It embodies harmony, natural beauty, and lightness. Her classic riding style has been labelled in dressage circles as "power grace" and it certainly is the suitable wording to describe her 88.286% scoring winning freestyle at the 2013 World Cup Finals on Saturday 27 April 2013.
There was no doubt that Langehanenberg and Christian Becks' 13-year old Westfalian stallion Damon Hill (by Donnerhall x Rubinstein) were on top form, having beaten long time rival Adelinde Cornelissen at the World Cup qualifier in Amsterdam last January. Also in the World Cup Grand Prix on Thursday, Langehanenberg reigned supreme with her sensitve riding.
Performing to originally composed music, which does not leave a memorable impression at all, Helen started her kur with a super expressive passage, followed by a piaffe on the spot and a trot extension on the first centerline. The passage was incredibly airborn today even though there was a tiny loss of rhythm in one of them. Helen changed her music and choreography after the judges told her last year at the World Cup Finals' it was "too simple". The floorplan she designed now is dizzying with its spaghetti lines in trot.
Nevertheless the combination produced fantastic, soft trot half passes, followed by passage half passes. The total image was one of energy, engagement while the horse stayed in a soft and steady contact. The trot extensions were textbook: a lengthening of the frame AND stride, while maintaining a swinging back. The extended walk was active with three to four hooves overtrack, even though the nose could have been a bit more out. The collected walk was lovely and Helen made a transition straight into extended canter. She rode big two tempi changes on a curved line, the ones could have been a bit more uphill. There were several double pirouettes, in one of them there was some loss of balance. Langehanenberg finished her ride with an ace extended trot and square halt. The entire test looked so easy, so light, so automatic. There was no pulling, no heavy contact, no tense back. It was all natural beauty.
The panel of judges assessing the kur to music included Elizabeth McMullen (CAN), Maria Colliander (FIN), Andrew Gardner (GBR), Gustaf Svalling (SWE), Gotthilf Riexinger (GER), Jean-Michel Roudier (FRA), and Wojtek Markowski (POL). After a freestyle judging debacle at the 2012 CDI Mechelen, the FEI was prompted to make signifcant changes to the flawed freestyle judging system. A test event is scheduled for September and October, even though no concrete plans of what is going to be tested lie on the table! Today it was once again proven that the dressage world is in dire need of a new scoring system for the freestyle, especially because the musical leg of the kur is hardly taken into account. At the press conference, the judges only talk about the technical achievements of the riders and the quality of their music is bypassed. The 2013 World Cup Finals featured some of the most experienced judges in the world and still their marks oscillated much, both on the technical and artistic level.
Helen scored a total of 88.286% with McMullen's 81.75% as technical low score and Markowski's 88.25% as technical high score. Both judges were positioned at the short side at A. Her artistic marks ranged from 87.00% (McMullen) and 95.00% (Markowski).
Posting a personal best score on the board, Helen was not immediately sure it would lead to the victory. "I only gradually realized that it could be the victory," said a beaming Langehanenberg. "The time until Adelinde's score was super exciting. Now I'm just on cloud nine."
Dutch Adelinde Cornelissen had a big booboo in the Grand Prix when Parzival refused to piaffe, reared and spun round three times, and ended up placing only fourth with a long-time low score of 75.410%. However the 33-year old is a real fighter and the freestyle is her forté. Adelinde was expected to make a strong come back and as defending World Cup winner she had planned on making it a three in a row, but Langehanenberg threw a spanner in the works. Despite several highlights in her freestyle, Adelinde was not able to achieve her usual technical level of perfection. Asking for more expression and obedience from her 16-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Parzival (by Jazz x Ulft), Adelinde literally had her hands full as the contact with the bit got seriously comprosied. All extensions and half passes were performed with a gaping mouth. The passage was executed very high off the ground but the hocks were sometimes out. The piaffe was super on the spot with incredible suspension but there were balance issues in the transitions. The contact was very strong in the downward transition to walk. The collected walk was very nice, in the extended the nose could have been more out. The canter part of her freestyle focused much on double pirouettes. Normally Parzival can ace these but there were a few tiny problems with some of them. In the canter pirouette left he changed behind. The tempi changes were outstanding, especially the ones on the centreline. Adelinde finished her test with her signature piaffe pirouette which was excellent, but the transition to halt was difficult as Parzival, in his eagerness, seemed to expect a passage instead of a halt. Adelinde rode to new music composed by Dutch Victor Kerkhof and she was one of only a very few riders at the Finals whose music is tailormade to the horse's gaits, a prerequisite of the kur to music.
Adelinde received a 86.500% from the panel of judges with Colliander's 78.00% as technical low score and Gardner's 85.25% as technical high score. Her artistic marks varied between Svalling's 86.00% and Gardner's 93.00%.
"I rode for what I'm worth and to my feeling got everything out that's in the horse," said Cornelissen. "Parzival was on the aids, he was sharp yet relaxed. In the left pirouettes I had two small mistales, so they could have been prettier. I also understood from one of the judges that Parzival twice showed his tongue. This is not allowed and costs points. Parzival was at his best in the piaffe."
Building on his outstanding performance in 's Hertogenbosch in March 2013, Edward Gal and the Austrian owned 12-year old Undercover (by Ferro x Donnerhall) are on a roll and they maintained their top form in Gothenburg. Whereas Undercover would become tense and hectic in the freestyle in the past, at the last two shows he kept his cool. Gal was able to control each step on his horse and as a plus he rode the black with the nose slightly in front of the vertical (or at the vertical) in the kur, which improved the total image considerably. The halt at entry nor the end halt were immobile (the judges awarded the entrance and halt between 4.5 and 8.0!). Edward started with a slow but regular passage, a super transition to the piaffe, a very nice on the spot piaffe and then again a bit of passage that was slightly uneven. The first trot extension finally had some overtrack, but in the next two extensions Undercover could not produce any overstep (scores between 7.0 and 8.0.). The trot half passes were lovely even though they should have more forward energy. In the extended walk, Gal gave the horse the full rein but the short legged black did not produce convincing overstep. The extended canters were huge and while the pirouettes are tiny, the horse has hardly any lift in the foreground nor sits properly on the hindquarters. The tempi changes are big, extending the frame of the horse, but in the two's he lost some uphill tendency and in the one's the start was quite crooked, even though Undercover eagerly jumped all flying changes correctly. The final piaffe and passage were super engaged and off the ground. Undercover's strong side is his powerful, quick hindleg.
Gal's choreography reminded very much of the floorplan he also used for Totilas. His music is composed by Joost Peters, who is certainly a pro at creating the right dramatic atmosphere and tension, but unfortunately fails to underscore the horse's movements with his emotive tunes. Gal's freestyle is also of a considerable lower degree of technical difficulty compared to the tests of many other top riders. Furthermore, Undercover does not achieve the looseness over the back and natural swing Damon Hill has. Valegro's gold medal at the Olympic Games in London showed that the direction modern dressage is taking, veering away from controlled, spectacular gaits. Edward Gal is surely up for a challenge. Let's see to which level he brings his horse at the upcoming European Championships.
Edward scored 84.446% to finish a strong third in the 2013 World Cup Finals. His technical scores ranged from 75.50% (McMullen) to 84.00% (Svalling, Markowski) and his artistic scores were between 85.00% (Roudier, McMullen) and 91.00% (Gardner, Markowski).
"I can't do any better at this moment," Gal said about his ride today. "We made a lot of progress in a year time and some parts still need improvement. For now I'm totally happy. Look back a year ago and see how much progress we made in a year. For me and Undercover it is now a matter of consolidating and improving. I know there is still progress because at home I'm much further than we can show in the ring."
Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven claimed the bragging rights for being the highest scoring Swede at the 2013 World Cup Finals on home turf. Aboard Antonia Ax:son Johnson's 11-year old Hanoverian gelding Don Auriello (by Don Davidoff x White Star) Vilhelmson rode big extended trots with a flashy front, but the horse could have tracked up more from behind. The passage remained the horse's weak point with dragging hindlegs, but in piaffe Don Auriello sat beautifully and stayed on the spot. In one piaffe quarter pirouette he did get a bit deep and in another he lost the rhythm and engagement. The trot half passes were delightful. The extended walk was huge in ground cover. In canter the flying changes were uphill. The double pirouette right was very good, but there was much loss of balance in the one to the left. The final piaffe was the best one with more push from behind. Don Auriello was very consistent in the frame and soft in the contact throughout the test.
Tinne's music is based on The Who's Tommy and has been tailored to her horse's gaits by Slings Music Cast. Every movement, every transition is marked by music which makes Tinne's freestyle looks like a dance "to" music, not "with" (background) music. Vilhelmson also has very original lines in her choreography without them looking messy. There is a high degree of technical difficulty. She rides, for instance, a pirouette with one hand, followed by one tempi changes and then another one-handed pirouette.
Tinne scored 82.964% to rank fourth. Her technical marks went from 75.25% (Riexinger) to 84.00% (Markowski) and her artistic scores were between 84.00 (McMullen, Riexinger, Roudier) and 92.00% (Markowski).
"It was overwhelming to ride into the arena today," said Vilhelmson. "What a feeling! I'm very proud to be in this company today, with more than 80%."
German Isabell Werth completed the top five aboard Madeleine Winter-Schulze's 12-year old Hanoverian gelding Don Johnson (by Don Frederico x Warkant). Riding to Michael Erdmann arranged music of which the walk part was the Clubbed to Death theme from The Matrix, Werth displayed her mastery at secure test riding, getting the most out of her horse at that moment. The bay Don Johnson started with some irregular passage, showing more left hindleg activity and he was fidgety in the mouth in the piaffes, but he showed good engagement and rhythm in them. The first and second trot extensions did not have enough overtrack despite the horse's expressive front. The trot half passes were nice, but the horse tilted its head to the left. The half pass to the right was better and more ground covering. Werth rode nice combinations between trot and passage half passes. The extended canter was a highlight. The one tempi's were correct but there should have been more uphill tendency. The horse got tense in the second one-tempi line but stayed errorfree. Werth's end line included a piaffe pirouette, which she tried to ride with one hand for a brief second. The end halt was behind the music.
Werth scored a generous 80.429% considering the other strong rides that finished behind her. Her technical low score was 75.25% (Roudier) and high score 81.00% (Svalling). On an artistic level she got between 80.00% (Colliander) and 88.00% (Markowski).
Text by Astrid Appels
Photos © Dirk Caremans - Dirk is on the scene in Gothenburg taking photos of the World Cup Finals in Dressage and Show jumping. Contact Dirk directly for your photo requests.
Eurodressage Coverage of the 2013 World Cup Finals