Olympic and European champion Charlotte Dujardin added the third out of four important global championship titles to their list of achievement today, after winning the 2014 World Cup Finals in Lyon, France, on Sunday 21 April 2014. With the World Championships coming up this summer, Dujardin can be among the illustrious few to have all possible dressage championships titles to their name; and for Dujardin it would be an incredible feat as she could do it in a time frame of only two years.
The kur to music at the 2014 World Cup Finals was quite an interesting class with Dujardin premiering new music, horses exceeding expectations, riders stuck in rut with the same simplistic floorplan over and over, the lamentable return of the overused soundtrack of Pirates of the Caribbean (it should be banned by FEI law!), and as tradition dictates in the judging of the freestyles, the technical and artistic scores were flying all over the place and making no sense at all. So let's just look at the ranking of the riders and not take the scores too seriously.
Charlotte and Dujardin kept their new music quite a secret and impressed with their celtic inspired, single thematic freestyle based on Dreamworks' "How to Train Your Dragon". It was a welcome change to get some unity in their music after the mish mash of their patriotic London freestyle and the degree of technical difficulty in their choreography was also upped. While the music was more atmospheric than supportive of the horse's gaits, it was refreshing and fun.
Dujardin's Valegro was slightly less on the ball today but still produced great work. He executed huge trot extensions, wonderfully rhythmical half pirouettes in piaffe, ground covering canter extensions, big uphill one and two tempi changes. The horse did drop behind the vertical on quite a few occasions, getting deep or very tight in the throatlatch. The extended walk was limited in ground cover and the horse got a bit tense right before the canter strike off. The pair finished with a piaffe-fan at the end of the test -- Adelinde Cornelissen style -- before their final halt, which wasn't square.
On a technical level, the duo scored marks from 84.00% to 92.750% and on an artistic level they got marks from 93.00% to a double 99.00%. They finished on 92.179%, almost two percent shy of their kur world record score achieved last December in London (93.975%).
Defending World Cup winner Helen Langehanenberg finished in second place. Her liver chestnut stallion Damon Hill has shown vast improvement in what was maybe one of their weaker points, the piaffe which often came on the forehand. In their freestyle, the horse stayed much more on the hind quarters and was able to be more up in the bridle in the passage as well, but the piaffes were ridden slightly more forward so the horse keeps a better balance. At the beginning of their kur, the pair struggled with the transition from passage to piaffe though. The extensions were fabulous though, the extended walk world class. Damon Hill has such amazing natural swing through his body, which is a pleasure to watch. The two tempi's on the curved line were effortless, but there was a bobble at the start of the ones. The left double pirouette was a bit big. At the end of the ride they also had a small issue with the final transition from canter to trot.
Helen scored 87.339% with her technical marks ranging from 80.500% to 86.000% and her artistic marks went from 88.00% to 96.000%
Dutch duo Edward Gal and Undercover slotted in third. Gal was able to relax his sensitive black gelding more for the freestyle, which was an improvement, but there were still some wobbles here and there. The halt at entry was not square, the piaffe and passage were extremely electric and rhythmical but the horse gets slightly wide behind in piaffe. The trot extensions were inadequate in overtrack. The trot half passes were very nice and light-footed. The first part of the test was ridden on the curb rein, despite Gal's very steady and invisible hand aids. Undercover produced very powerful canter extensions and a lovely, tiny double pirouette left. The two tempi changes were correct but very tense in the topline. Two changes to the right in the one tempi's were not so ground covering behind, but the line was correctly ridden. There was an arrested transition from canter to passage and Gal rode Undercover with a very tight neck in the final passage. He briefly lost a right rein.
Something interesting to note is that Gal has been riding the same choreography for the past five years. The floorplan for the experienced 13-year old Grand Prix horse Undercover is 99.5% identifical to Totilas' baby Grand Prix freestyle (which dates back to 2008-2009) with the only change being a quarter piaffe pirouette inserted where Totilas did a passage half pass. The level of technical difficulty is quite low. Even more striking, Gal's partner Hans Peter Minderhoud rides the 100% identical Totilas floorplan with Johnson, also at the 2014 World Cup Finals. This floorplan (and Johnson's music) is also used for Edward's horses Voice, Next One and was Sisther de Jeu's kur. Six horses in total have been ridden to the same choreography. Edward Gal is not to blame. He moves within the boundaries of the system, but it is clear proof that the freestyle judging system is flawed on many levels. Riders can repeat the same floorplan over and over again, interchange it with horses and other riders, without losing points. An easy degree of difficulty and overused choreography make no difference in the end result in the system we have now!
Gal scored 83.696% with his technical marks ranging from 79.250% to 83.250% and his artistic marks going from 83.000% to 90.000%.
Swedish Tinne Vilhelmson and Don Auriello captured a fourth place. The pair rode their The Who's Tommy freestyle and charmed the judges and crowds with their five (!) expressive trot extensions, good quarter pirouettes, nice half passes and superb extended walk. Also the canter extensions were powerful. In passage, the tall gelding underwhelms. At the end of the ride Tinne had him pulling more actively from behind, but the horse was only able to sustain that push for a few steps. Neither the begin or end halt were well balanced.
The Swedish duo scored 80.946% with technical scores from 75.250% to 79.250% and artistic marks from 80.000% to 87.000%.
Isabell Werth and her 13-year old bay gelding El Santo completed the top five in a field of 17 riders, in which 13 scored over 70%. Werth is one of few riders who regularly experiments with her freestyles. She changes her music often and always rides to a high degree of technical difficulty. For the 2014 World Cup kur she chose her lovely David Bowie freestyle which is fun and funky.
The passage work was very regular and active and El Santo kept the rhythm well in the piaffe but at the expense of travelling forward each time. Werth produced smooth passage half passes. The extended was good but in the collected he became lateral before the strike off to canter. The 13-time World Cup finalist rode powerful uphill extended canters, good two tempi changes. The double pirouette left could have been smaller, and there was a bit of a hiccup in the one tempi changes. She re-rode her one tempi line correctly but the changes were not very ground covering. Overall it was a strong ride.
Werth scored 79.089% with her technical scores between 73.750% and 78.000% and her artistic marks between 79.000% and 87.000%
Text by Astrid Appels - Photos © Risto Aaltonen