Like conquistadors sweeping in to stake their claim of new territory, the German dressage team came to the U.S.A. to wield the axe of power in the team competition at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon and take out yet another WEG team gold medal. Home team U.S.A. got silver and Great Britain grabbed bronze.
First a Few Observations
Two years ago Mark Bellissimo took up the challenge to stage a WEG in Tryon, but the show venue is far from completed. It is a pity that riders, press and visitors met such an unfinished conditions at the show grounds and construction workers continue to build the facilities with noises of hammering, stapling, chopping, cementing, dragging, rolling, persisting each official show day. The main stadium, however, is done and for horse, rider and groom everything is in place for ideal showing conditions. The hot and humid weather in the lead up to Hurricane Florence’s torrential rain predicted for Saturday are an extra challenge that will be faced head on.
The 2018 World Equestrian Games kicked off with the Grand Prix test which served as team competition. With 77 combinations competing, the class was split up over two days. The FEI’s ridiculous group system draw (with the riders of the strongest nations getting to start last in one group) not only creates an unlevel field of play going against the grain of fair judging (as it has been scientifically proven that the judging marks go up towards the end of a class due to natural bias and comparison), but also leads to empty stands in the morning sessions when the ‘weaker’ riders go, and just short periods of filled seats for the besties. QED the empty seats in many of the photos!
The sound system on day one was incredibly squeaky with a constant crackling coming from the speakers on the short side, or the sound just completely failing. The live stream for the stay-at-homers, for which FEI TV charged an additional fee, did not work in the morning because during the first drag of the arena, the tractor driver drove over the TV cable and killed the stream. It took an entire morning to get fixed. This left many viewers robbed and disgruntled.
Another observation worth noting is that the WEG takes place in September, which is quite late in the season. For many horses the pressure of qualifying for their country’s team this spring and summer and then having to peak again in September took a toll on their health. Especially on day two no less than 5 dressage horses appeared incredibly fragile on their legs and were unlevel in the trot extensions and half passes, but no bell was ever rung for elimination.
Germany, a League of Its Own
The German team were the hot favourites for the team gold medal but their dominance in Tryon was even more impressive than anticipated. A jaw dropping personal best score of 84.829% for Isabell Werth and Bella Rose made the big difference. The panel of judges for the Grand Prix included Susan Hoevenaars (AUS), Andrew Gardner (GBR), Mariette Sanders-Van Gansewinkel (NED), Katrina Wust (GER), Anne Gribbons (USA), Hans-Christian Matthiesen (DEN), and Annette Fransen-Iacobaeus (SWE) and they were unanimous that Werth and her 14-year old Bella Rose (by Belissimo M x Cacir AA) is their flavour of the show.
It must be said, the progress the chestnut mare has made in two and a half months time, between Fritzens, Aachen and Tryon, is unbelievable. Nobody questions Werth as a master; not only as a dressage trainer but also as an incredible competition rider. Bella Rose looks the fittest ever. Her very tender extended trots were still ponyesque and quick in tempo, but regular and well ridden. The half passes were beautiful with super scope in front. All piaffes and passages were very good in rhythm with smooth transitions, but the mare does not really move the hindlegs under the body, nor do the hindlegs take the weight and are the haunches lowered in the piaffe. The facts that the rhythm is flawless and the piaffe super on the spot (!) are enough for the judges to put 9s on the board! Also in the final passage on the centerline Bella Rose swayed a lot in the front and hindquarters, not really showing strength in the back, but this was also disregarded by the panel. The extended walk is a problem area with a poor rhythm (score 7.0). In canter Werth had to do more maneuvering in the saddle and the mare was much more hand held and steered, especially in the zig zag. The two tempi changes are scopey but needed more forward tendency. The uphill extended canter was fantastic. The pirouettes were underwhelming. In the left one the mare rocked on the forehand, the right one was small but very little lift and sit on the hindquarters. Albeit Werth showed once again masterful riding, on a mare that improves each day with several highlights, but also still clear issues. The unanimous 84.829% was huge.
Everyone thought that Tryon would be Sönke Rothenberger and Cosmo’s moment to take over the baton from Isabell Werth after the pair was robbed of a gold medal at the 2017 European Championships in Gothenburg. However, the come back of Bella Rose has put a spanner in the works. With their 84.829% Grand Prix score for Bella Rose the judges have now indicated which horse is their favourite for gold this weekend and Rothenberger will have to be absolutely fault-free if he wants to turn potential bronze or silver into gold.
Rothenberger contributed the second score to Germany’s team total with his 81.444% and third place. It was very interesting to see if Cosmo had his act together as the 11-year old Dutch warmblood gelding (by Van Gogh x Landjonker) tends to be unreliable in the Grand Prix because of his spooky nature. In Tryon the stars were aligned and the elastic bay gelding was sharp and brilliant. Entering the arena late at -1 second, Rothenberger rode beautifully and kept his shaky hands in the half-halts to a minimum. The trot extensions were elastic, the half passes had good flow, but in the rein back the horse got crooked and stepped against the boards. The second extension was quite conservative but the piaffe-passage work was super smooth. In the second piaffe the horse back stepped twice. The biggest problem was the walk. The extended walk was poor with limited overtrack and no stretching, but Rothenberger made up for that loss in points in canter. While the two tempi’s were swaying, the ones were dead straight and some of the best shown in the Grand Prix. The exit from the zig zag could have been neater, the extended canter was uphill but the pirouettes were slightly big and needed more collection on the hindquarters. The pair’s scores ranged from 79.130 (SWE) to 84.239 (DEN).
Germany’s team total was 242.950 points, almost a full 10 percent ahead of Team U.S.A.! The third German score came from team rookie Jessica von Bredow-Werndl on Beatrice Burchler-Keller’s 11-year old Trakehner mare Dalera BB (by Easy Game x Handryk), who was the overnight leader in group 1 with 76.677%. While the mare does not achieve much overstep in the trot extensions and needed more bending in the rib cage in the half passes, the passage work was lovely and the piaffes had good sit. Germany’s fourth pair – Dorothee Schneider on Sammy Davis Jr – finished 13th with 75.062%.
Team U.S.A. Clear for Silver
Team U.S.A.’s silver medal with 233.136 points was achieved with a clear advantage to Britain’s bronze on 229.628 points.
As last rider to go on day two, Laura Graves and the 16-year old Dutch gelding Verdades (by Florett As x Goya) had everything working in her favour: best starting place, a star reputation, and competing on home soil. Despite feeling under the weather health wise, Graves pulled it together for the Grand Prix and rode on an adrenaline rush. Her halt at entry was one of the best ones. The trot extensions were massive in ground cover, even though the first one was quick in tempo. The half passes and passage were lovely, the piaffe remains the biggest weak point of the horse as his conformation does not allow him to sit and take the weight. Even though Verdades keeps a good rhythm, he leans on his bum and does not take the weight properly. The extended walk had good overtrack but not enough stretch over the back and the nose needed to be more out (7.0). The tempi changes were very nice, but the horse completely lost the 3-beat canter rhythm on the center line for the pirouettes, which led to a very early bent to the right and a lack of striding in the right pirouette. Also in the zig zag the horse was bent to the right very early for the right half passes. While the passage on the final centerline was fantastic, the horse swung the right hind leg far out from under the body in the piaffe at X. Graves and Verdades always charm with their soft, light and effortless bridle contact. The pair got 81.537% with 79.565% (GBR) as low score and 85.109% (USA) as high score!
America’s second best score came from Kasey Perry-Glass on the 15-year old Danish warmblood Gorklintgaards Dublet (by Diamond Hit x Ferro). The pair was the thrill of the show in Aachen two months ago, but unfortunately did not yet bring that edge to the Tryon arena. The combination was still a pleasure to watch with Perry’s soft and careful riding. Dublet can be challenging in the mouth and that has been Kasey’s task over the past few years. While he no longer lols his tongue out, he still regularly licks his lips and is a bit fidgety in the bridle, despite the rider’s very soft hands. Still the issue was clear as the horse was consistently bent to the right and lacked flexion in the poll to the left. In the zig zag the half passes to the left were visibly better. The trot work was lovely, the extended walk had two hooves overtrack even though the rhythm was not the best. The second piaffe-passage was beautiful but the left hind leg sometimes did not track up evenly. The one tempi changes were a highlight. They scored 76.739% with individual marks ranging between 74.239 (SWE) and 79.130 (GER).
America’s third score came from Adrienne Lyle on Betsy Juliano’s 11-year old Hanoverian stallion Salvino (by Sandro Hit x Donnerhall). The gorgeous black stallion is not the easiest ride as he does not truly stretch into the contact, but he certainly has some great moments. The half passes had good rhythm and in piaffe the horse can take the weight on the hind legs. The passage has a gorgeous side silhouette, but the horse is often crooked and is disconnected in the fore and hindquarters in it. The extended walk was great and also in the collected he maintains a good rhythm. In canter the stallion needs to stay more on the hindquarters as he has a tendency to drop on the forehand but the one tempi’s were lovely. They scored 74.860% for 14th place.
Steffen Peters and Akiko Yamazaki’s 10-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Suppenkasper (by Spielberg x Krack C) finished 18th with 73.494%. The bay gelding fortunately showed some improvement from Aachen with the spectacularly energetic passage being a bit more balanced already and closed in the front legs, but the transitions to and from piaffe are still hard. The trot extensions were powerful and the left pirouette was great.
Britain Bags Bronze
After the retirement of Valegro it has been Great Britain’s challenge to prove that the country also has depth and does not solely rely on one super star. Carl Hester filled the gap in 2017 by riding his personal best scores on Nip Tuck in Gothenburg, but for 2018 Team GB had to rely on three new, young horses to keep their reputation high. And these youngsters, ridden by seasoned team routiniers Carl Hester, Emile Faurie and Charlotte Dujardin, as well as reliable force Spencer Wilton pulled it off!
In her first ever proper international show against some serious competition, Charlotte Dujardin and Emma Blundell’s 9-year old Hanoverian mare Mount St. John Freestyle (by Fidermark x Donnerhall) landed fifth place with 77.764%, Britain’s best result. Freestyle is the youngest horse in the class and her talent is undeniable. Dujardin’s eagerness to be back in the spotlight and part of the game shows too. The pair did the CDI Joosland in April on the European continent and then three more smaller CDI’s in the U.K. as preparation for Tryon. In each award ceremony Freestyle shows such extravagant movements, legs flying all over the place. She gives so much to her rider and hopefully her body will be able to sustain such power and elasticity for the long run. It will require good management to maintain her for the future, because there is so much more in the tank.
So, what did Dujardin and Freestyle show in Tryon: great potential. The trot extensions were huge, the half passes nicely balanced. In the first passage the mare lost the impulsion for a moment and in the first piaffe Freestyle really sits well on the hindquarters but back stepped twice before finding her flow. The extended walk was very good but in the collected she lost some elasticity in the back. Also the second piaffe required a bit more impulsion but it was nice to see that Dujardin allowed the mare to find her tempo freely. The two tempi’s were straight but Freestyle clearly makes scopier flying changes to the right. The zig zag was well ridden. There was a mistake in the ones. On the centerline for the pirouettes Freestyle lost the 3-beat rhythm. Overall one would like to see the horse stretch the neck a bit more and be more relaxed in the mouth without a trembling lip. The final passage had incredible elevation but the piaffe at X was still a bit unbalanced and wide behind.
Charlotte’s trainer Carl Hester landed right behind her in sixth place with 77.283%. Aboard Anne Evans and Ann Corry’s 10-year old British bred Hanoverian gelding Hawtins Delicato (by Diamond Hit) Hester showed what real dressage training is like. The dark bay gelding is not the fanciest mover, but Carl did such an incredible job getting the best out of this rising star. The half passes were smooth, the second trot extension was better than the first. The horse is regularly in the passage, but sometimes the hindlegs trail. The first transition into piaffe was shuffling, but the horse found a good rhythm and sit in piaffe and stayed on the spot. The extended canter had good power, but needed more lengthening of the frame. The zig zag was solid, the one tempi changes were straight but could be more ground covering. The left pirouette was big and required more collection, the right one was big and counterbent (7.3). Throughout Delicato was steady in the bridle. The final piaffe at X was small but regular.
After a long period of injury Jen Goodman’s Super Nova (by De Niro) only just made a come back to the ring this summer. The British dressage selectors picked him based on his past achievements for the team and rider Spencer Wilton produced a solid round that earned them 74.581% and a 15th place. The test looked a bit as if it was ridden with bated breath though. The pair began with a conservative first trot extension, the second one was better. In the first piaffe the horse stepped forward and in the second he became very narrow behind. The passage was energetic and with good rhythm. The extended canter was barely shown (7.1) and the one tempi changes lacked ground cover. The left pirouette was the better one.
Britain’s fourth rider was Emile Faurie on Hof Kasselmann’s 11-year old Oldenburg gelding Dono di Maggio (by Dimaggio x Santander). They landed 22nd place with 72.795%. The passage was exceptional and also in piaffe the chestnut showed great lift and energy but could sit a bit more behind. A mistake in the rhythm in the trot extension tampered with a higher score.
Sweden a Close Fourth
Sweden was right on Great Britain’s heels in the team ranking with just a fraction of a point behind. Britain’s team score was 229.628 and Sweden finished on 229.456 points.
Team anchor was Patrik Kittel on his newest star, Françoise Trembley’s 11-year old Swiss warmblood mare Well Done de la Roche CMF (by Furstentraum x Walt Disney). He finished fourth on a personal best score of 78.199%. Well Done is a super talent mare. She is gorgeous, feminine, lightfooted and has amazing talent in piaffe and passage, but the mare just does not feel settled in the show ring and is as tight in the back as the strings on a fiddle stick. Kittel tries hard to make her feel comfortable and unpressured in the arena, but the tight curb rein does not help for her to chew and relax in the mouth. Well Done get quick and hurried in the tempo in the trot extensions without swing in the back, but the trot half passes were very elegant. The passage is very elegant and expressive but in the first piaffe she was static with no real suspension on the diagonals. The walk was a challenge to make her relax and achieve overtrack (6.3) but in canter she started to feel more comfortable. The zig zag was good, the two tempi changes nice but in the ones there was too much swing in the body due to the rider’s seat. The right pirouette was nice, the left one was also good but the balance needed to improve in that one. Kittel’s high scores were very interesting as the judges had him between 76.848% (GBR, USA) and a patriotic nod from the Swedish judge with her 81.1976%.
Therese Nilshagen and Lodbergen’ 11-year old Oldenburg stallion Dante Weltino OLD (by Danone I x Welt Hit II) finished 11 th with 76.009%. Nilshagen really was on fire and although the combination is praised for its effortlessness and lightness, it is nice to see the rider having her foot on the pedal a bit more and putting it to the metal. The trot extensions were powerful and active, the half passes sweeping but could have had a bit more self carriage. The extended walk had good overtrack but the rhythm was mediocre and in the collected the stallion almost got lateral. The one tempi changes and extended canter were beautifully uphill. The zig zag was well ridden but there could have been more ground cover at the end. The left pirouette was beautiful but slightly big.
Juliette Ramel and her 12-year old Buriel KH (by Osmium x Krack C) impressed with wonderful piaffe-passage work. The trot extensions lacked energy and lengthening of the frame though, yet the horse easily achieves overtrack. There could have been more bending in the rib cage in the half passes and the extended walk barely had any overtrack or stretch, but the collected walk was clear in rhythm. Buriel showed some strong canter work with a solid zig zag, an uphill extended canter and good tempi changes. In the left pirouette the canter was lost. They scored 75.248% for 12th place.
Holland Completes Top Five
The Dutch team finished in fifth place with 223.664 points. Spain followed in sixth place with 220.180 points and these top six nations have now officially qualified a team for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The star rider for The Netherlands was Edward Gal on Gaston Glock’s 10-year old Danish warmblood stallion Zonik (by Zack x Romanov). At the final WEG team qualifier for Holland at the Dutch Championships, the black stallion did not give a very willing impression in the kur to music, but Gal made sure that he had the black going in Tryon. The trot extensions were strong, the half passes fluent. The passage was off the ground but in piaffe the horse loses the impulsion and pulls the hocks high instead of moving the hindlegs under. The extended walk was lovely and the 7.6 score was surprising. Zonik is not the most eager beaver for the job, but Gal’s spur aids could be more subtle. In the zig zag especially the horse lost the forward go each time in the change to the left. The one tempi changes and the right pirouette were laboured, but overall Gal brought everything to execution without any major faults and he posted 77.189% on the board for 7th place. His marks ranged from 75.543 (GER) and 78.804% (AUS).
Hans Peter Minderhoud and Gaston Glock’s 10-year old Dutch warmblood stallion Dream Boy (by Vivaldi x Ferro) probably had one of the most challenging rides in the Grand Prix riding in a torrential downpour of rain on Wednesday. The black stallion stayed focused though and showed good energy despite rain lashing in his face. The trot extensions were big, the half pass right a bit hectic. The young stallion was still a bit unbalanced in piaffe getting wide in front and the hocks high, but the passage is expressive. A mistake in the two tempi changes reduced the score to a 73.509% and a 17th place.
Madeleine Witte-Vrees and the 11-year old Dutch warmblood stallion Cennin (by Vivaldi x Donnerhall) produced the third team score of 72.966% and placed 20th. The trot and walk extensions were excellent, but in passage the horse lost power behind and in the piaffe he dropped on the forehand. The one tempi changes were great and the pirouettes ok. Overall the contact was too strong though.
Emmelie Scholtens made her major championship Grand Prix team debut on Ad Valk’s 13-year old Dutch warmblood stallion Apache (by UB40 x Krack C). The stallion had to be flown first class to Tryon in his own container, for which the owner had to pay the two extra stalls himself, because the horse is too stalliony around other horses. Safely arrived in the U.S.A., Scholtens and Apache scored 72.733% to place 23rd.
Text and Photos © Astrid Appels (sorry for the typos, in a hurry as always) - No reproduction allowed
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Eurodressage Coverage of the 2018 World Equestrian Games