Team Germany has repeated its supremacy as the world's leading dressage nation and clinched its 14th team gold medal in history at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
With a team score of 248.572 points (which makes an average Grand Prix special score of 82.857%), Germany's Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, Isabell Werth and Dorothee Schneider captured the highest step of the podium and Olympic glory as golden athletes.
Team USA deservedly rode to a silver medal on a team score of 235.471 points with two solid performances from Steffen Peters and Adrienne Lyle and a magical one from Sabine Schut-Kery who exceeded her wildest dreams and mesmerized the audience in the Baji Koen equestrian centre.
Bronze went to Team Great Britain who finished third on 234.741 points. Dujardin led the charge on Gio but was unable to crack another 80%, while Carl Hester and En Vogue produced a magnificent test. Third member Charlotte Fry had her stallion Everdale slightly more relaxed and produced a solid round for the third team score.
The podium was clearly outlined as the fourth ranked nation, Denmark, followed in a distance with 229.073%.
Delayed Draw for Third Group
The new Olympic format worked very well for the Grand Prix and offered a highly diverse starters' field with stronger combinations mixed amongst the the developing pairs from the start. There was no sitting through a "weaker" first day in order for the second to be condensed with power. The action happened on day 1 in heat 1 and it offered an exciting competition format.
The Grand Prix served as a qualified both for the team medal competition and individual finals. The 8th highest scoring teams in the Grand Prix moved on to the Special.
Twenty-four riders were divided into three groups and they start in reverse order according to their team placing. The chef d'equipes have the strategic power to decide the order of their riders, but most save the best horses for last.
What is not so interesting about this new format is that after the two first groups have competed (16 riders), there is one hour break to calculate team provisional standings and assign new ride times based on these standings for remaining riders in the final group. If all goes well no shocking new order of go will arrive and riders can guess their starting time. However in case of an elimination or retirement with a strong team, for instance, the starting time of their last rider can be much earlier than anticipated, interfering with the preparation (tacking, warming up). This format definitely needs some tinkering for the future. It's too undefined, also for the audience, losing the excitement and thrilling atmosphere in the build-up towards the team finale.
Grand Prix Special to Music
Furthermore, this Grand Prix Special was ridden to music. At these Olympics riders had the liberty of providing their own background music made to measure in support of their test, although the music is not scored.
The FEI made this new change for the "entertainment of the audience" and in the lead-up to Tokyo it was only twice tested at a competition (in Wellington and Hagen). Just 10 of the 24 riders competing in the Special made the effort to bring their own music (Team GER, USA, GBR and Carina Cassoe Kruth (DEN)).
When the class started it actually took around 5 rides to have the light bulb moment that this class was set to music. When Adrienne Lyle entered as first American to go with her customized music, it sunk in that this would be a slightly different Special. Several riders had exceptional music with them and it made all the difference in the world. It's a pity that not made the effort because for the audience it gave another dimension to the experience. Especially von Bredow-Werndl and Schut-Kery's music lifted their ride to a higher eschelon.
Germany Cruises to Gold
That being said, the team competition was still a very interesting one. While personally I felt more excitement in the Grand Prix, probably because it was the first test in which they elite athletes from across the globe met for the first time in three years, the Grand Prix special had its magical moments for sure.
As last rider to go Jessica von Bredow-Werndl had to beat her team mate Isabell Werth's 83.298% score. Werth had the 17-year old Bella Rose (by Belissimo M x Cacir AA) sharper on the aids compared to the Grand Prix and the rhythm in their piaffe and passage work was stellar. The confidence was radiating off this pair and especially in the third and final piaffe the mare had such engagement from behind although she does not lower the croup. The transitions in the extended trot-passage tour were so secure and cadenced, yet the extended trot remains to be an issue with the mare stiff in the back, frontlegs flying and hardly achieving overtrack. The trot half passes were fabulous, also because Werth rides them with proper length in the horse's neck. In the left pirouette the mare lost the balance and was rocking on the forehand, the extended canter was very strong. The extended walk had improved considerably with a much better rhythm. Isabell rode to a medley of classic music which she has used in her freestyle programmes before.
The panel of judges for the 2021 Olympics includes Francis Verbeek (NED), Andrew Gardner (GBR), Magnus Ringmark (SWE), Susie Hoevenaars (AUS), Janet Foy (USA), Katrina Wüst (GER), and Hans Christian-Matthiesen (DEN). They rewarded Werth's test with 83.298% and individually ranged between 81.170% (Ringmark) and 85.319% (Gardner).
Von Bredow-Werndl and the 14-year old Trakehner mare Dalera BB (by Easy Game) have travelled to Tokyo as the favourites for individual gold and by being the high scorer in the Grand Prix, they showed that they mean business. Jessica and Dalera have created a partnership that is truly unique. This dark bay mare, who is not really the epitome of Trakehner breeding when it comes to conformation, makes such a beautiful combination and what really sets them apart is the effortlessness with which they execute all the Grand Prix movements. I have never seen a horse do the movements with such easy, soft naturalness, virtually without breaking a sweat in 30 C° temperatures. Von Bredow has an exemplary seat, almost invisible aids. The horse sometimes flashes her teeth, but the contact is supple, light and friendly at all times. And the music Jessica rode to was so clever and supportive, in tune with the tempo and rhythm of the gaits. It marked each transition clearly. It was spectacular! The pair literally waltzed through the test and there was so little to remark. Proper extensions with clear lengthening of stride and frame (Dalera is quite long in the back and it appears she's not engaged, but there is always a proper two hooves overtrack in the extensions). The piaffes were on the spot with impeccable rhythm. Yes ideally she could sit more and come up in the withers, but Dalera makes the piaffe look so easy and remains balanced. The transitions trot-passage were silky smooth. The tempi changes lovely and uphill. There was two "issues" in the ride: the collected walk always becomes almost lateral and once again the mare had to relieve herself right before a movement (this happened at the EU-CH in Rotterdam and Olympic trial in Kronberg too), which meddled with the impulsion. The line of 15 one tempi's was broken at the start.
Jessica and Dalera scored a winning 84.666% with marks between 83.723% (Foy) and 86.702% (Gardner) and helped Germany to an even more pronounced victory in the team competition.
Germany's third rider, Dorothee Schneider and the 15-year old Hanoverian gelding Showtime (by Sandro Hit x Rotspon), were better than in the Grand Prix. The horse had a bit more opening in the throat latch, the trot extensions were ground covering, but in the right half pass he dropped in the poll and he broke into canter in the left trot extension. The walk was good, the piaffes were better although he needs to lower the haunches more. Showtime has nice tempi changes but the ones to the right are clearly more uphill. In the canter work, Schneider seemed to ride with the handbrake on, the ones lacked some ground cover, but the extended canter was great. Again the pirouettes lacked bending, but they are small. Overall the horse was soft-footed and elastic in the bridle contact, one of the best in the field of competitors. They scored a proper 80.608% and had the judges in unison.
Team USA won the team silver. With respect to Von Bredow-Werndl, who is on such an unparalleled high that she will most likely win individual gold if she rides a faultfree freestyle, there was one rider who was real the Queen of the Night and that is America's Sabine Schut-Kery. Her test on Sanceo was an absolute dream !
For those who follow international dressage in the U.S.A. Sabine Schut-Kery and the 15-year old Hanoverian stallion Sanceo (by San Remo x Ramiro's Son II) are no newcomers to the scene. They were the 2014 U.S. Developing Grand Prix Horse Championships and part of the 2015 US Pan American Games Gold Medal Team. In 2018 they were already short listed for the U.S. WEG Team but withdrew because of an injury. In 2021 Sabine and Sanceo finally have their moment, the one they have worked for for so many years. The German born Schut-Kery made her name as an exhibition rider on Baroque horses, but with Sanceo she's been tackling the high performance show season, with success. Trained by Christine Traurig, Schut-Kery probably exemplifies best classical dressage here in Tokyo. Although a stunning beauty to look at, Sanceo does not have the strongest basic gaits or hindlegs, but he proves how real dressage can transform a horse into an athlete and overcome physical difficulties.
Schut-Kery rode to etherial violin music as if it were a ballet. The horse was so soft in the contact, supple in the poll, and had good length in the neck, never squeezed or compressed. Maybe at times the nose could be a bit more out, but it was never pulled behind the vertical. The passage was spritely, the first piaffe absolutely textbook for a 10 (much better than Bella Rose's!). The riding was so correct, so unforced. The collected walk was short though, but the horse made a stellar transition into piaffe. The tempi changes lack ground cover though and in the final trot extension Sanceo got fragile in the rhythm, but overall the performance was enchanting. Real dressage does exist! They scored a well earned 81.596% with all seven judges having them above 80.%
The second American score was ridden by Steffen Peters on the 13-year old Dutch warmblood Suppenkasper (by Spielberg x Krack C). They posted 77.766%. Peters rode his horse with a lot of forward energy and at times the collected trot was more a medium trot. The trot extensions were expansive but there could have been more clarity in the rhythm. In passage Suppenkasper has a very engaged hindleg that reaches far under. You see the horse favours doing passage on the track with the support of the fence. It keeps him more closed in front as he tends to get wide, also in piaffe. The extended canter had lots of impulsion, the pirouettes were lovely and the one tempi changes straight.
Adrienne Lyle and the 14-year old Hanoverian stallion Salvino (by Sandro Hit x Donnerhall) received 76.109% from the judges, although marks ranged between 73.723% (Ringmark) and 79.043% (Hoevenaars). The handsome stallion produced a very good halt at entry. The trot extensions always covered a lot of ground but were not entirely regular, same in the half passes. The passage is so expressive in the side silhouette, with a lot of leg lift and engagement, but his staggers in the rhythm and needs to flow more forward in them. The extended walk was lovely and the collected walk a very correct one. Lyle rode very diligent piaffes. In the extended canter Salvino dropped on the forehand. The horse showed a great work ethic and remained energetic and willing until the final halt. Lyle rode to the fantastic Cello Suites by Bach which became Salvino.
Bronze for Team GB
The race for silver and bronze was wide open and up for grabs between the USA and GBR.
Carl Hester rode as first for his team and pulled more than his weight on an outstanding test with the 12-year old Dutch warmblood En Vogue (by Jazz x Contango). Hester gave a real masterclass of correct riding and was a joy to watch, especially on such a sensitive Jazzy horse that challenges the rider's skill set. The extended trots were exemplary with the nose out and good lengthening. There was a nice flow and good regularity in the passage-extensions. The extended walk was mediocre. Although there were two hooves overstep, the horse did not truly relax. Hester rode En Vogue carefully into the first piaffe, in which the horse tends to swing the hindlegs out instead of tucking them under the body. The transitions were smooth.The tempi changes were clear. Overall Hester showcased some real meticulous riding without taking risks. His 78.344% was a deserved score.
Britain's third starter was Charlotte Fry on the 12-year old Dutch stallion Everdale (by Lord Leatherdale x Negro). She had her sensitive stallion much better in the canter work today. The tail was not swooshing and the tempi changes were really expressive, but in the trot work the neck is too compressed. There was a break into canter in the passage and in the half pass right Everdale dropped behind the vertical. The passage was active and bouncy, with lots of airtime. The first piaffe was croup high, the second had a great rhythm but the canter strike off was a double beat. There were many highlights in the ride and the score could even be higher if the contact was less strong and the horse in a better self carriage. They scored 76.854%. For the 25-year old Fry, who lives and works for her horse's owners Gert-Jan and Anne van Olst in The Netherlands, the team silver was a a dream, following in the footsteps of her late mother Laura Fry, who represented GB at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Charlotte Dujardin had to crack the 80% barrier if she wanted to get silver instead of bronze, but her pocket size 10-year old Dutch gelding Gio (by Apache x Tango) dropped a few stitches here and there. The chestnut gelding is a typical Dutch leg mover and gives his heart in the trot extensions, which are ground covering, but hurried. The half pass right was mega and the passage really nice: with a lot of spring and airtime. The extended walk was well ridden with good relaxation. The first piaffe was on the forehand and with the hindlegs crossing, the second also but the rhythm was better. The two tempi changes were great, but there was a mistake in the ones. The horse dropped the canter before the left pirouette, but Dujardin responded with reflexes and had him going again to ride a good one. They finished on 79.544% little over one percent short for silver.
Denmark in Pursuit
Team Denmark was certainly a contender for the bronze medal but relied heavily on Cathrine Dufour to produce an 80% test on the 11-year old Westfalian gelding Bohemian (by Bordeaux x Samarant). Unfortunately the chestnut gelding seemed a bit out of breath and was not as bubbly.
Denmark started off strongly in the team competition with both Nanna Skodborg Merrald on Zack riding a solid score of 74.210% and Carina Cassoe Kruth confirming with Heiline's Danciera at her normal level of 77.249%. Bohemian has cracked the 80% marker before, also in the Olympic Grand Prix, but in the Special the tank was half full.
The horse leaned on the hand in the trot extensions and was not really supple over the back, at times even becoming slightly uneven in the rhythm. The half pass left was very cadenced, the one to the right flowed but the nose needed to be more out. The passage is springy, with a lot of expression, but at times was overcollected and needed to cover more ground. The right on the piaffe-passage serpentine was outstanding, but in piaffe he leans a bit backwards. The canter half passes were well ridden, but in the extended canter he dropped on the forehand. In the left pirouette he changed behind. Dufour rode her horse admirably as he presented plenty of little challenges in the test and she solved them to the best her abilities with style and elegance. They scored 77.720%.
Text and Photos © Astrid Appels - No Reproduction Allowed!!
Eurodressage Coverage of the 2021 Olympic Games