Ramel and Minderhoud Dominate Grand Prix Day at 2016 CDI-W 's Hertogenbosch

Sat, 03/12/2016 - 20:26
2016 CD-W 's Hertogenbosch

Swapping the CDI Valencia for a much closer destination, the 2016 CDI-W 's Hertogenbosch, Eurodressage headed into Holland for a day of Grand Prix on Friday 11 March 2015. While crossing the border into The Netherlands one has keep in mind that in this country there is a different defintion for dressage and the judges' panel could have made this fact more clear than in Den Bosch.

Friday is Grand Prix day in Den Bosch with a 4* and CDI-W Grand Prix class. Unfortunately riders were dropping like flies and the field got thinned out to only 24 combinations for the entire day. Edward Gall fell off his horse and scratched for his two rides, Fabienne Lutkemeier also had a nast fall at home and sustaining some minor injuries. Isabell Werth cancelled her entry on Don Johnson as the horse injured himself in his stall and Portuguese Luis Principe withdrew minutes before the class started.

The morning began with the 4* Grand Prix, which was judged by Susanne Baarup (DEN), Adriaan Hamoen (NED), Susan Hoevenaars (AUS), Mariette Sanders-van Gansewinkel (NED) and Peter Holler (GER). This experienced panel should promise consistent and agreeable judging, but they proved us wrong. In The Netherlands a different defintion of dressage rules and it was baffling how many horses with tension, dead mouths and really poor piaffes still scored in the upper sixties. At any other show, and probably with lesser gods in the saddle, these horses would barely have made the 63% benchmark, but at this high profile event with big diva names on the list scores must soar for the sake of its layman audience and a positive, public image of the sport. For godsake that's what counts if dressage wants to stay an Olympic sport, no?!

Ramel and Buriel KH Bag First CDI Victory

All cynicism aside, the 4* Grand Prix class delivered a few exciting horses and rides which made the 100 kilometer trip well worth it. All eyes were on Swedish Juliette Ramel, who is one of the biggest shooting stars of the year with her rising Grand Prix horse Buriel KH. Swedish Olympic team candidates be warned because this horse has it all.... except an extended walk. Buriel is a gorgeous KWPN stallion by Osmium x Krack C and at age 10 already has amazing self carriage. Ramel is trained by Nicole Werner and you can clearly see the Werner/Gal school in this horse: tempo control, good musculature, and a passage collected work. The horse was quite unsettled in the indoor atmosphere and did not like his halts, but the trot had amazing suppleness and bounce. The piaffe still needs a bit of work as the horse tends to back-step but he can really sit and lift the legs. The passage was super elegant and featherlight. There was no extended walk: no overtrack, no stretching of the topline, but the judges didn't care, they gave marks between 5.0 and 7.0 for it! The canter tour had super two tempi changes, a stunning, uphill extended canter and decent one tempi's which were too much behind the vertical though. The pirouettes were lovely. The final trot extension was slightly hurried. The pair scored 73.940% for victory and there is much more in the tank!

Spanish Beatriz Ferrer-Salat saddled her second Grand Prix horse Sir Radjah (by Sir Donnerhall x Radjah Z) for the 4* and placed second. The 11-year old Westfalian gelding could improve on his musculature, he looks more like a race horse than a dressage horse, but he was very obedient and cruised through the movements. The trot extensions were floating, the half passes big (there could have been more collection), the extended walk had two hooves overtrack and the tempi changes were dead straight. He was a bit too forward in the piaffe, the collected walk was lateral and in the final passage the hindlegs could have moved more under the body. In the piaffe at X Sir Radjah struggled a bit with his balance and became wide behind. He scored 72.020% for second place.

Diederik van Silfhout has three horses in the Dutch A-team and for the 4* he brought the youngest one of his pack, the 10-year old Bonzanjo (by Jazz x Contango). Van Silfhout has a trademark style of riding and presents all his horses in a similar frame. They are all well collected in the body with a very steady contact with the bit, trembling his hands minutely when he half halts. While Bonzanjo is dead steady in his topline (a bit too much as the horse loses the quality of the 3-beat rhythm in the extended canter), there also needs to be more bending in the neck and ribcage. The gelding's passage is super elegant and springy, but the piaffe is still poor as the horse crosses much both in front and behind, swinging his body too much, while stepping on his own feet in front. The two tempi changes were a highlight, though, as well as the well ridden zig zag. The trot extensions have tons of ground cover. They scored 71.320% to slot in third.

Minderhoud in Winning Mood on Home Turf

The CDI-W Grand Prix followed immediately after the 4* and there was no surprise that home favourite Hans Peter Minderhoud topped the leader board with the 15-year old Swiss warmblood Flirt (by Florestan x Gauguin de Lully).

Dressage in The Netherlands is perceived slightly differently than in other countries. The level of energy and forwardness is much higher, there is more control over each individual step or stride, the horse's head and legs are controlled by dominant but quiet hands, the piaffes and passages are usually much more expressive. This briliiance and flash -- which is very appealing to an audience that like to see a show -- comes at a cost of usually a mediocre contact, lack of swing in the back and throughness in the body.. Should the Dutch be blamed when they win with this dressage rider, no of course not. The judges simply need to decide what they like to see! One year it's Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival's energy and athleticism they prefer (ignoring the poor contact with the bit) and the next it's Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro's easy and effortless that is liked (even though the hind legs trail at times and the contact is still quite there!). In one country they judge one way, in another they prefer another type of dressage. At one championship it's the flash and extravagance that reigns, at another it's all about lightness and harmony. This schizophrenia has been ruling since Dujardin's rise on the scene in 2012 and it reached a nadir at the 2015 European Championships where the judges had no clue what to do with a German ridden, Dutch rollkur traineD, uneven Totilas.

So as 's Hertogenbosch in in The Netherlands, the balance tipped to the Dutch side. It couldn't be better exemplified by the number one and number two of the CDI-W Grand Prix ranking: Minderhoud and Ferrer-Salat. Both riders have amazing strong points, but they are just worlds apart in their style and vision of dressage. The panel in Den Bosch preferred Hans Peter.

Minderhoud and Flirt rode big trot half passes, which could have been more even in stridelength. The rein back and trot extensions were very good and the passage was regular. The first two piaffes showed remarkable improvement in rhythm. Flirt always was very unbalanced in piaffe and in the Grand Prix the first two were far better in his self carriage. Only in the last piaffe at X the gelding started to swing in front. One saw it coming as the passage was also less engaged going into the piaffe. The extended walk was nicely relaxed, the collected walk was tense and there was a loss of clarity in the rhythm. Flirt makes big flying changes but swung in the hindquarters in the two's. In the ones he needed to be more up in the bridle. The left pirouette was small, in the right one the horse lost jump and airtime. The zig zag was ok and the extended canter good. They scored 76.480% for the trophy and had markes ranging from 74.600 (Holler) to 78.500 (Baarup).

Beatriz Ferrer-Salat and her 15-year old Westfalian gelding Delgado (by De Niro x Weltmeyer) were the runners-up. Their ride stood out with its softness, obedience and ease. The half passes were not as elastic, but the passage was buoyant with smooth transitions into a piaffe that is not flashy, but clearly on the spot and very rhythmical. The regularlity in the piaffe and passage is textbook.  The extended walk lacked ground cover. At all times Delgado was quiet and soft in the contact. The two tempi's needed more straightness and the change after the extended canter was in two phases. The zig zag was well balanced and the one tempi changes were effortless. The pirouettes were small but Delgado through in an unscripted flying change on the centerline. The final piaffe could have been a bit more engaged. They scored 76.00% and had marks ranging from 71.500 (Hamoen) to 78.000 (Sanders).

Diederik van Silfhout and his top mount Arlando, an 11-year old KWPN stallion by Paddox x Mytens xx, slotted in third. This stallion is abolsute beauty. He has the prettiest face, four socks and is an elegant, lightfooted dancer. Van Silfhout has him very quiet in the contact but the horse is stiff and tense in the topline and grinds his teeth throughout the test. The extended trot is all leg flash but not a single hoof of overtrack nor lengthening of the frame (score 7.0 - 8.0!!). The horse crosses the legs well in the half passes. The passage is very lightfooted. Arlando struggled a bit with the piaffes today. He lost the rhythm in the first one, the second was still insecure and forward. In the extended walk the horse has just one hoof overstep. The two tempi's are expressive but not straight enough, the ones do not cover enough ground and were already execute 1 meter after X on the diagonal. The pirouettes were super small. The end halt was not square. Arlando made no real mistakes in his test and scored 75.760%

Belgian Fanny Verliefden has a world class horse in Annarico, an 11-year old Dutch warmblood mare by Lord Loxley x Havel. This bay mare has really come of age this show season and is one of the most exciting horses to watch. The trot extensions are breath taking, the half passes huge in ground cover. The rein back was tense. In passage the mare bounces off the floor and the piaffes are good, even though they are still a bit on the forehand. In the extended walk the horse could stride slightly more forwards. The second piaffe-passage was outstanding. The two tempi's needed to be straighter in the body and the canter extension could be more uphill. The zig zag was super. The one tempi's are Verliefden's "bete noire" as she often makes mistakes in this exercise. Also in Den Bosch. The left pirouette was a bit flat, the right one better. The final centerline was top class. The pair scored 74.100% but if a big name rider like Isabell Werth had produced the same test, the score would have been 77%.

Another example of classical dressage was Danish Agnete Kirk Thinggaard on Jojo AZ. The Danish rider clearly proved that rollkur has no benefits for this horse. Jojo AZ is scoring higher than ever before trained in a classical way in which lightness and elegance prevail. Kirk Thinggaard and her Hungarian warmblood Jojo AZ (by Ginus x Justboy) excelled with their control and effortlessness in general. The halt was not entirely immobile and there was a lack of power in the half passes but the piaffe - passage was lovely, maybe not the biggest in scope, but sweet and easy. The passage could have covered more ground and sometimes the right hindleg was slightly more engaged. The extended walk had good overtrack and relaxation.  The tempi changes were lovely, the zig zag good, the pirouettes lacked a bit of energy and there was small hiccup in the rhythm in the last trot extension. The final centreline was flawless. They scored 73.580%.

Let the Public Decide??!!

The FEI Dressage Committee is working hard at finding new formula to make dressage more "popular", "understandable" and "attractive" to the public. Instead of focusing on the essence of the matter -- good judging of good, classical dressage -- the FEI boat is steering further off course!

At the CDI 's Hertogenbosch a fun App was being promoted for the audience to judge each test on their cell phones. At the end of the ride, the jumbo tron showed the official score as well as the "audience score". It was perfect proof that a general audience should NOT be determining the future of our sport ! Beatriz Ferrer-Salat scored 76% with the judges and 68% with the audience. Quod erat demonstrandum!

The success of our sport is not decided by its popularity with a general audience. While judges do the quality control, riders competing and investing in the sport decide its future, not  laymen who seeks sensation and amusement like the Romans did in the colosseum.  The audience score app proved how little dressage is understood and how far it is moving away from its source, essence and goal!

Text and Photos by Astrid Appels - NO REPRODUCTION ALLOWED - NO SOCIAL MEDIA    

Eurodressage photographer Astrid Appels took photos of all Grand Prix combinations competing at the 2016 CDI-W Den Bosch on Friday. Contact us if you are interested in prints/digital files of your photos! 

Related Links
Scores 2016 CDI-W 's Hertogenbosch
Eurodressage Coverage of the 2015-2016 World Cup circuit