Ruling Olympic and European champion Charlotte Dujardin has immediately set the tone at the 2014 World Cup Finals in Lyon, France, on Saturday 19 April 2014, by winning the Grand Prix with a new world record score fo 87.129% aboard Valegro. Helen Langehanenberg placed second with 83.343 % and Edward Gal followed in third place with 80,029%
The 2014 World Cup Finals mainly comes down to the head-to-head competition between the world's two best riders of the moment, Charlotte Dujardin, who only made it to the Finals because of a wild card, and last year's world cup winner Helen Langehanenberg. Both ladies produced outstanding Grand Prix tests and the gap of 3,78% between the two is not a reflection of reality. Dujardin is riding on the wave of success and the judges generously reward her for that.
This does not mean that Charlotte's test was not first rate. She probably was a bit better than Helen today and definitely the best in the field of 18 World Cup riders, but her superiority was not an almost full 4%. Either Helen should have scored more, or Charlotte a bit less. Still let's not be the rain cloud on this sunny day.
Dujardin and the 12-year old Dutch warmblood Valegro (by Negro x Gershwin) started with a confident, square halt, but the first extension was not a medium trot but a full blown extended one. She then rode forward, flowing half passes, a good rein back, but a second trot extension that was a bit hurried. The first passage could have had more undertrack, but the regulary piaffe was well on the spot, even though he slightly swung in the quarters. The walk part was very good, the onset to passage could have been more seamless. There was a slight loss of rhythm in the second piaffe, but the passage was nice. Valegro remained very steady in the contact throughout the test. The two tempi changes were super straight, the extended canter and change at K expressive, the zig zag was well ridden, the one tempi's were superb, the pirouettes excellent and the final extended trot very good. The first bit of passage on the centerline was flawless, but after x the hindlegs definitely trailed. The pair got 87.129% and smashed their previous world record of 85.942%, which they set at the 2013 European Championships.
Helen Langehanenberg and the 14-year old Westfalian stallion Damon Hill (by Donnerhall x Rubinstein) were bubbly and graceful. Helen rides her liver chestnut stallion with an extremely light and soft contact, which results in the horse opening his mouth more --- though in relaxation --- while Dujardin keeps a more steady, yet soft contact, and can keep the execution of the movements more polished around the edges. This is where the difference between the two lies. Then it's up to you to decide what you prefer: a more, cleaner, tighter powerful ride in lightness and harmony (compare it to a perfect ballroom waltz), or a more swinging, naturally flowing test in lightness and harmony (compares it to a jive).
Langehanenberg rode super trot extensions and supple half passes. Damon Hill had nice lift in passage. The first and second piaffe were more quiet than the exuberant steps he usually takes., but an improvement as they were ridden more on the hindquarters. The extended walk was fantastic. Helen rode very nice two tempi's, a good zig zag, but the first few changes in the ones were a bit shorter with the left hind leg. She showed good solid pirouettes, super extensions, a very regular final passage and super piaffe at X, but then the horse anticipated the end and got a bit over-expressive in last passage resulting in an early halt. The pair scored 83.343% with marks ranging from 86.900% (Roudier) to 81.300% (Rockwell & Tornblad).
The top two ladies are definitely a league of their own and in a distance there is crowd pleaser Edward Gal on the 13-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Undercover (by Ferro x Donnerhall), who finished third, initially with 79.957% but one hour after the class his score was corrected to 80,029%. Gal was not able to present his eager and active Undercover in the same relaxed frame as he did at the CDI-W 's Hertogenbosch one month ago. The judges did not make any difference in their scores though; especially the piaffe with its double co-efficient works beneficial for the Dutch pair.
Undercover struggled with all three halts: the first was not immobile, the one for the rein back and the last one were not square. There was never proper overtrack in the trot extensions, even though the black gelding has beautiful frontleg usage. The half passes were wonderful and well balanced, but the gelding tilted the head to the left. The passage is very regular but in the first piaffe the horse got wide behind despite the exceptional rhythm. The extended walk had good overtrack but could have been slightly more relaxed, the collected walk was clear in the the rhythm. Undercover was slightly tense in the second piaffe and got wide again. The extended canter was uphill but the horse got tight in the back in the collection, which showed in the quality of the strides and in the flying change. The short necked Undercover has to be more open in the throat latch. The two tempi changes were good, the first change at the beginning of the ones was short and the horse did not cover enough ground. Undercover has improved a lot in the pirouettes and has more jump in them now. The left one was tiny and well ridden, the right one was less elastic. The final centerline was good. The judges did not agree in their assessment. Gal scored a whopping 82.900% from Eisenhardt and got 76.400% from Tornblad.
Swedish Tinne Vilhelmson and the 12-year old Swedish warmblood gelding Don Auriello (by Don Davidoff x White Star) finished fourth in a distance with 75.086%. The pair wowed with its big trot extensions, which have a lot of flash in front and are adequate in overstep behind. The half passes were flowing. Throughout the test the passage was elegant but lethargic behind and also the piaffe needed more impulsion. The two tempi changes were well spaced, the extended canter was clean. There was a mistake in the ones. Vilhelmson is a very refined, soft rider with subtle aids but in the tempi changes she swings her legs a lot. Don Auriello dropped a bit on the forehand in the left pirouette. The horse got slightly tense in the piaffe at X, stepping one hoof backwards. The contact with the bit was excellent.
Isabell Werth and the 13-year old Westfalian gelding El Santo (by Ehrentusch x Rhythmus) slotted in fifth with 74.186%. The German duo has only been back in the show ring for a few months, but proved that they have done some serious home work, especially on their weak point the piaffe. All three piaffes in the test showed major improvement with good rhythm and impulsion but they did travel too much forward. While Valegro, Damon Hill and Undercover are elegant, lightfooted movers, El Santo appears more sluggish. Still he is very steady in the contact, was very solid in canter but lost the collection in the passage on the first half of the centerline.
Hans Peter Minderhoud and the 12-year old Dutch warmblood stallion Johnson were on excellent form in Lyon and landed a sixth place with 73.771%.
The combination started with a good medium trot, expressive trot half passes, and a nice extended trot. The flashy Johnson, who shines with his knee action, tilted his head a bit in the first passage but overall the rhythm and energy was good. In piaffe he tends to get very narrow behind but was eager to please and worked for his rider. In the extended walk the nose could have stretched more forwards but the overtrack was good. The stallion got slightly tense in the collected walk. In the second piaffe, Johnson could have sat more. The horse executed a solid, correct canter tour but sometimes looked a bit sour in his job. The tempi changes were clear but the horse should remain a bit more supple in the back. Johnson showed a nice passage on the final centerline. The end halt was not square.
Danielle Heijkoop and her 15-year old Dutch warmblood Siro (by Gribaldi x Hemmingway) placed seventh with 72.857%. The pair has been on better form before and were unable to produce the same polish, especially at the beginning of the ride. The halt at entry was deep and not square, the first trot extension a bit stiff in the back and the half passes appeared slightly constricted despite the good cross over. He was tight in the rein back and took hurried steps. In the second extended trot there was not enough overtrack. The test improved after the first well ridden piaffe and passage with its smooth transitions. Siro had good overstep in the extended walk. He moved a bit forward in the second piaffe but had a nice rhythm. There was a small wobble in the extended canter as he made an early unscripted change behind at the end of the diagonal. The zig zag, one tempi changes and pirouettes were good. Heijkoop totally lost the passage right after X which made her score drop considerably.
German Jessica Werndl-Von Bredow and the 13-year old Dutch warmblood stallion Unee BB (by Gribaldi x Dageraad) ranked eighth with 72.686%. The chubby black stallion has made an incredible rise on the world ranking list recently and has been hailed by the German media as the one to watch in the future. Today in Lyon, the pair was unable to live up to that shooting star status just yet, but let's see what happens in the freestyle. Werndl rode nice trot extensions, regular passage which got slightly croup high at the end of the test, and decent piaffe, though there was a loss of rhythm in the second one and some tension in the third. There could have been more overtrack in the extended walk, but the collected was clear in the rhythm. In the canter work, the strapping stallion loses uphill tendency and leans a bit on the forehand, especially in the zig zag. The pair lost a lot of points in the one tempi changes, in which he kicked to the spur at the beginning of the diagonal.
Grand Prix - Quick Reviews
9. Marc Boblet - Noble Dream - 71.814 %
Collected trot verges on passage, good flow from trot extensions into half passes, rein back not so diagonal, elegant trot extensions, first piaffe early, bit unsteady, passage gets hollow in the back, hind legs need to step more under. Collected walk is ok. Horse not confident in piaffe. Noble Dream gets bit on forehand and tight in zig zag. Nice one tempi changes, ok pirouettes.
10. Inessa Merkulova - Mister X - 71.057%
Very interesting horse but with too much leg flash in trot. Too forward. Horse leans on bit in half passes and rider hangs into the contact. Fantastic piaffe but clearly more lift in the left front leg compared to the right one. Walk is good, very nice piaffe-passage, but more open in the throat latch, two tempi changes too swinging across the quarters, deep in zigzag, extended canter good uphill potential, horse has big ones but rider's seat is awful, leaning forward and swinging, nice small pirouette, good sit, a lot of potential in piaffe and passage but he is uneven in front in the lift (more left lift than right), end halt too early!
11. Tina Konyot - Calecto V - 70.443 %
Calecto V loses a tiny bit of scope in half pass left, rein back was hesitant in the last step, extended trot had no overtrack. Horse shows lots of bounce and jump in passage, but could slightly more active with right hand. Piaffe had good sit but bit forward. Good overtrack in second extended trot, nice second piaffe-passage with good energy. Calecto appears very willing to work. Canter work: nice two tempi changes, change after the extended canter early before the marker. one one tempi change not entirely coming through behind. Very nice, scopy pirouettes. Last extended trot quite conservative. Uneven behind in final passage on centerline, loses passage right before halt, Calecto V makes a canter stride.
12. Mikala Gundersen - My Lady - 69.429%
Begin of test a bit too passagey and very forward in collected trot. Good balance in half passes. First piaffe could be a bit more forward-thinking, collected walk short-long in front, good two tempi changes. Loses the collection in the canter in the zag zag. Big one tempi changes, small pirouettes, needs a bit more power from behind in them. Very regular passage on centerline, nice final piaffe.
13. Mary Hanna - Sancette - 68.471%
Gets deep in the half pass right, halt for rein back not square. Horse gets totally lateral in the collected walk. Several uneven steps in the passage but horse has much spring. Good tempi changes and final centerline. Rider should be more balanced in the saddle so the contact is more steady. The hands and contact with the bit are a bit too shaky today.
14. Marcela Krinke Susmelj - Lazander - 67.743%
loses ct, gets passage before half pass and in half pass, becomes uneven in half pass left, uneven in passage, more activity right hind, very elegant, light footed, electric mover, extended walk limited ground cover, more stretch over the back, good clarity in cw, difficult transition passage canter, mistakes in two tempi changes, pirouettes ok, last trot extension was the best one, bit wobbly in the piaffes, even though there is good lift, loss of rhythm in final passage.
15. Elena Sidneva - Romeo Star - 67.629 %
Sweet horse, but piaffe still timid and bit forward. Lost final passage on centerline. Solid but lackluster test
16. Cesar Parra - Van The Man - 67.629 %
Break in extended trot, hind legs trail in half pass right and not so steady in contact in half pass left. Very nice rhythmical piaffe, good overtrack in the extended walk but horse gets a bit distracted. Correct collected walk. Refuses to make walk-passage and reverses. A few seconds of resistance, but then Parra gets him going again: soft piaffe, passage. The canter work is damage control. Very safe and conservative: slightly tense and some tail swoosh, with a miss in the zig zag. Correct one tempis which could be bit more forward and up. Pirouette right bit difficult, left one better. Good final trot extension. Early end halt, not square.
17. Dong Seon Kim - Bukowski - 64.471%
Break in extended trot, horse throws head up in rein back. Second trot extension good, passage is nicely off the ground. Throws head up again in extended walk, not enough stretch and overtrack. Uneven in front in the collected walk. Good second piaffe and passage, early canter strike off. Mistake in change at the end of the zig zag. Correct one tempis but little ground cover. Changes behind in pirouette right. Final passage on centerline uneven passage and horse gets deep. Potential is there for nice piaffe-passage if horse would be more up in the bridle.
Text by Astrid Appels - Photos © Risto Aaltonen