Come Rain, Come Shine: Valerie B Wins 5-YO Preliminary Test at 2023 World Young Horse Championships

Fri, 08/04/2023 - 01:44
2023 World Championships for Young Dressage Horses
Anne Mette Strandby and Valerie B win the 5-year old preliminary test at the 2023 World Young Horse Championships :: Photo © Astrid Appels

Forty-four 5-year olds competed in the preliminary test of the 2023 World Championships for young dressage horses in Ermelo (NED) on 3 August 2023. And just like the weather today - come rain, come shine - the judging went equally up and down, from very generous at the start, to rather strict in the afternoon rotation, to fairly lenient and optimistic again towards the end of the day.

The official name of this show is "Longines FEI WBFSH World Breeding Championships of young dressage horses" but this is such a ridiculous mouthful that I have stubbornly abbreviated the name to "World Young Horse Championships" (WCYH) over the years. Everyone who has been reading Eurodressage knows it concerns dressage horses and that it's an FEI endorsed event. The whole breeding part is a bit of an afterthought as it's such mumbo jumbo of nations anyway: the rider's country? The breeder's, the owner's, the horse's birth country, the country where the studbook is based? What is it? Who cares ! We're sorting the best young dressage horses in the world and that's all that matters. 

So the action began today, first with the 4-year old challenge but the judging of that was so mind boggling I need a few extra days to reflect on it and write up, so let's get started with the most important portion the day: the 5-year old preliminary test.

Oscillation in Judging and Quality of Presentation

The judges' panel, consisting of Susanne Baarup, Monique Peutz - Vegter, Sharon Rhode, Annette Fransén Iacobaéus, certainly did not have an easy task today with so many high quality 5-year olds.  In the end, looking at the results, they did a good job sorting the best ones out and placing them at the top for the finals, but there were a few beautifully and correctly presented horses that were maybe not as flashy in their gaits, but showed the proper level of dressage training for a young horse, yet ended up stuck in the moderate 7.5 scoring region and falling through the mazes of the net, rather underscored and not enough appreciated, in my humble opinion. 

Saltes TR, one of 11 Secrets competing in this class
Every year the 5-year old division presents the most exciting young horses. Horse dealers and stallion owners go all in as the WCYH is the best marketing platform in the world to sell their horses or semen. The event is very "stallion" dominated with the bigger breeding countries selecting "famous" young sires for this event, but several of these five and six-figure auctioned horses could not live up to their price tag and it were mares and geldings making their mark today on equal terms.

The top twelve scoring horses qualify directly for the finals, the others all go into the consolation finals from which the top three is also allowed to move onto the finals. A total of 15 horses will compete for the title (no medals!) on Saturday 5 August 2023. Of the 12 high scoring horses of the day no less than 6 come from Helgstrand's mogul sales yard. My point about horse marketing is hereby proven. From this group, the three horses that were presented the nicest way, meaning in a more natural frame, harmonious, with nice length in the neck and without being squeezed and pushed into a medium trot/canter, were all from independent riders, not based in Denmark. Swede Carl Hedin, German Thomas Schulze, and Spaniard Juan Manuel Acosta showed with proper young horse riding looks like ! Bravo. 

Come On Over Valerie

Anne-Mette Stranby on Valerie B
The winner of the day was Danish Anne Mette Strandby Hansen on the Danish warmblood mare Valerie B (by Revolution x Zack). The bright bay mare, bred by Karin and Peer Guldbrandsen and owned by Helgstrand Dressage, is a fabulous horse and was very generously scored by the panel, winning with 9.48 points and edging out the second placed pair with more than 0.5 points.

The bay mare truly had three outstanding basic gaits very active in trot with an engaged hindleg and showing nice ability to collect in the corners. Overall the trot work was ridden quite forward and the medium trot was on two tracks. Also the rein back was crooked to the left. The extended walk was very nice: plenty of overstep, good relaxation and a clear V-moment in the rhythm. The canter was active and engaged, but at times croup high; especially in the right counter canter the uphill tendency was lost a bit. Overall the mare regularly became too tight in the neck and the contact needs to be lighter. In the final trot with given rein, the mare curled herself instead of stretching the nose out. The end halt was not immobile. 

The judges rewarded this wonderful mare with 9.7 for trot, 9.5 for walk and canter, 9 for submission and 9.7 for general impression. 


Carl Hedin on Skyline to B
Swedish Carl Hedin rode the Swedish warmblood bred stallion Skyline to B (by Blue Hors St. Schufro x Ampere) to the runner-up position with 8.96 points. Bred by Maria Rasmusson and owned by Hedin's company Eques Management, the gigantic black stallion was one of several mammoth horses presented today. Seemingly standing 1.80 - 1.82 m high, this huge horse with long legs is very naturally uphill. He does not have the musculature yet of a Grand Prix horse, which some of these bodybuilder type 5-year olds seemed to have. He looked more natural, a bit lanky even, but he was such a good boy, obedient and willing.

Hedin presented the horse in a lovely frame. The trot work was active and expressive, but looked hurried in the lengthenings. There was a very clear differentiation between the first medium walk diagonal and the second one (with the long rein, which most riders just ride full on as an extended walk, just like Hedin did) and the horse had huge overtrack and good clarity of rhythm. The rein back was not so smooth though,  and in the counter canter the young stallion lost some elasticity in his striding, but the first simple change was well executed.

They received 8.7 for walk, 8.8 for trot, 9.5 for canter, 8.6 for submission and 9.2 for general impression. 

Quinn G

Betina Jaeger on Quinn G
Breeder Helene Geervliet of Stutteri G is beaming with pride of the stellar surge her mare Quinn G (by Quaterhit x Fassbinder) her mare has made over the past year. Quinn won bronze in the 4-year old finals of the 2022 Danish Young Horse Championships under Anders Sjobeck Hoeck and then shortly afterwards sold to Danish youth team trainer Dennis Fisker, who soon resold her to Helgstrand Dressage. Under Betina Jaeger the mare won the 2023 Danish Warmblood Young Horse Championships for 5-year olds and is now a frontrunner in the WCYH medal race.  

Jaeger and Quinn G struggled a bit at the start of the test. She refused to stand still in the halt at entry and it took three tries before she trotted down the centerline (yet submission score 8.8?). The trot work was amazing: expressive, freedom in the shoulder, good balance and an engaged hindleg. Wow! The extended walk had huge overtrack but was a bit tense (8.5). The canter had nice balance, but lost some swing in the back and clarity in the 3-beat rhythm despite the activity. The judges believed the canter (9.0) was better than the trot (8.8). At the end the mare did not properly stretch her neck when given the ring but curled herself up. She was tight in the neck throughout the test, in fact. With another 9 for general impression, the wonderful Quinn G totalled 8.82 points for third place. 

Beck's, zum Wohl

Thomas Schulze on Beck's
Germany, the biggest breeding country in the world, saw its highest placed horse in fourth position with outsider Beck's (by Benicio x Desperados) probably surprisingly picking up an 8.82 point score which tied him in third place with Quinn G. 

Thomas Schulze beautifully presented this rather green looking chestnut stallion, bred and owned by Christian Thelker. Although the nose could have been a touch more out and the poll up, the horse was presented with enough length in the neck and in a very friendly way with a rather steady bit contact when the stallion would not nicker and neight in distraction. The trot work was very rhythmical and ground covering with a good working hindleg (9). The walk earned the horse an 8.5 and the canter work was extremely balanced and solid (8.8) despite some moments of tension in it. He got 8.8 for submission and 9 for general impression. 


Probably one of the most intriguing and talented horses of the day was the Dutch bred, Westfalian registered, German owned, and Australian presented No Limit. Sired by Geniaal out of a Florestan dam, the chestnut gelding with stallion manners is bred by Roerdink and owned by Thomas and Monika Ritzinger, the brand new sponsors and employers of Australian Olympian Simone Pearce

Simone Pearce on No Limit
This horse had one of the most impressive basic gaits: a mega trot, a very good walk and an exceptional canter, but he required a lot of piloting from Pearce to make it look effortless and easy. The horse made an unscripted flying change in the right counter canter and also in the trot with given reins he did not show the required throughness and relaxation by stretching the neck, but instead curled himself up. 

Still, without that unwanted flying change, this horse would have scored more and can rival the others for gold on Saturday... at least if he can keep his cool. He scored 9.2 for trot, 8.5 for walk, 8.8 for canter, 8.3 for submission (?), and 9.2 for general impression. 

"Hidden Talent Counts for Nothing"

This is a famous quote by the Roman emperor Nero and the eponymous KWPN gelding Nero (by Ferguson x Totilas) certainly did not hide the quality he has in store.  He became the highest ranked Dutch warmblood of the day. 

Bart Veeze on Nero
Bred by Indonesian entrepreneur Titan Wilaras and owned by horse dealer Rom Vermunt in partnership with Bruver BV, the bay gelding was presented by Bart Veeze and was the first to go in the class today. The trot stood out by its regularity and balance, the walk was huge with four hooves overstep, but the medium walk with long rein was ridden like an extended walk. It's a curious exercise in the 5-yo preliminary test which the judges also seem to interpret and score as an extended walk. Also in canter, Nero had a very good balance both in the true and counter canter. 

He scored 8.5 for trot, 10 (!!) for walk, 8.2 for canter and submission and 9 for general impression. The total was 8.78 points. 

No More Secrets

Of the 44 horses competing today, 11 of them were offspring by Secret. That is a staggering 25% !! All of them were clearly stamped by the sire: black, beautiful, extremely rideable, knee action and shoulder freedom and an active hindleg, which was not alway carrying. 

The best scoring Secret of the day was the Spanish owned Hanoverian Saltes TR, bred by Dirk Lohmann and ridden by Spaniard Juan Manual Acosta Ponce.  The Huelva based rider did a superb job in presenting his stallion in a very soft, harmonious and gentle way. The trot work was very balanced and soft footed despite a break into canter, the medium walk on the long rein was excellent and the canter was very balanced, also in counter canter, but in general the strides could be bigger. The trot on the given rein was very good with the correct stretch shown. They scored 8.5 for trot, 8.8 for walk and canter, 8.5 for submission and 8.8 for general impression to finish 7th with 8.68 points. 

Femke de Laat on Nashville WS
Another mammoth of a tall horse was the 9th placed Danish warmblood Grevens Sirius (by Scret x Johnson). Under Dane Michael Gronne Christensen, who took over the ride from Alexander Yde Helgstrand for this show, Sirius displayed  a huge trot, a big walk with very flexible hind pasterns, and a ground covering canter. Sirius was not truly light in the bridle. but the judges seemed to love this pair: 8.2 for trot, 8 for walk, 9.2 for canter, 8.7 for submission and 8.8 for general impression. A total of 8.58 points. 

The Secrets we found quite interesting did not make the top 12 cut. KWPN stallion Nashville SW (by Secret x Jazz), bred by Stall Willig and owned by Marco Te Brake, finished on an 8.0 total score, but the judges rightfully downscored a few issues, like the resistance in the rein back and the lateral walk in the simple changes. Still Femke de Laat rode the black beauty with much expression: a typical elastic Secret trot with lots of knee, active hindleg that lacks carrying power, a good walk part and an uphill canter with big strides. They got 9 for trot ,7 for walk, 8 for canter, 7.8 for submission and 8.2 for general impression. A total of 8.0 for 19th place. 

Jessica Michel Botton on So Secret
French Olympian Jessica Michel-Botton is always good for exemplary dressage rider: a horse truly elastic, soft and accepting in the bridle, never pushed or forced and truly celebrating its natural abilities. This year she brought Claudia Chauchard's Hanoverian So Secret (by Secret x Hohenstein) to Ermelo and showcased top quality dressage riding! This horse moved very similarly to Saltes TR but got lower marks. The trot was very balanced and soft footed, the canter had nice uphill strides and the walk plenty of overtrack. Maybe I missed it, but the judges were conservative in their points: 7.7 for trot, 7.8 for walk, 8.2 for canter, 8 for submission and 8.2 for general impression. 20th place. 

Belgian Sacremento van het Bloemenhof was also beautifully presented by Belgian Under 25 rider Suraya Hendrikx. This Secret x Quaterback, registered Belgian warmblood and bred by Isolde Tuypens, produced a very elegant, balanced, stable trot tour. The regularity in the medium trot could have been better. The medium walk was nice and clear in the rhythm, but there could have been more marching. The canter was lovely and expressive. They got 7.5 for trot, 8 for walk, 7.8 for canter and submission and 7.7 for general impression. With 7.76 they were 27th. I expected more points. 

Stefanie Wolf on San to Alati
Bernadette Brune's Hanoverian stallion San to Alati (by Secret x Belissimo) could not convince the judges either. The gorgeous liver chestnut licensed stallion, presented by Stefanie Wolf, finished 31st with 7.68 points. This Bundeschampionate high scorer with his delectable liver chestnut jacket has a very nice model. He has a nice uphill tendency and the trot was very regular and forward, but he got a bit slow behind and was crooked to the right in the first medium trot. The medium walk had plenty of overtrack, but there could have been more V-moment in the rhythm. The canter has big jump, but could be more clear in the 3-beat rhythm. He received 8.5 for trot, 6.8 for walk, 7.8 for canter, 7.5 for submission and 7.8 for general impression. He finished on 7.68 in 31st place. 

So Much to Say

There is so much to say about all these fabulous horses.. Some were wonderful, some suffered from tension and others underwhelmed, not living up to their name and reputation. 

Charlotte Fry on Nalegro
Charlotte Fry presented Van Olst's KWPN bred Nalegro (by Painted Black out of a full sister to Valegro (by Negro) and finished 12th with 8.60 points. The black takes very much after sire Painted Black  and was brimming with quality in all three paces, but was tense and spooky on the long side. In the trot, which was strong and ground covering, he hurried at times, he dropped out of canter after a big sneeze, the first simple change was well ridden though, but he did not truly stretch the neck when given the rein.. Name and fame helped them a long way as they got 8.7 for trot, 8 for walk, 8.3 for canter, 7.8 for submission and 8.5 for general impression. Definitely a horse for the future. 

Another horse that got the benefit of the doubt from the judges was the 11th placed Hanoverian stallion Be Sure (by Benicio x Scuderia) who could not convince me but clearly was loved by the panel. The bay is bred by Ludwig Fuchs, owned by Helgstrand and ridden by Dane Thomas Sigtenbjerggaard.  Maybe as the penultimate pair to go in the class round 7 PM they had a bit of luck on their side. The horse was presented with a high neck and rather hollow back. He showed lots of shoulder freedom though and performed the trot part in an energetic forward temp, yet was crooked in the medium trot. He swayed in the hindlegs in the medium walk, the medium with long reins had huge overtrack but looked wobbly. The canter was certainly uphill, but the self carriage was underdeveloped and the first simple change was short and crooked. No, this ride was not polished and the horse just looked incredibly green and not ready.. Judges loved it and gave it 8.5 in walk and trot, 8.2 in canter, 8 in submission and 8.5 for general impression. The total was 8.34 points and good for a direct ticket into the finals. 

Mette Sejbjerg Jensen and About You II
Overall it was a very pleasant and interesting day and although regular short rain showers made everyone run for cover, the sun came out once in a while and overall it was dry. The combination who unfortunately faced the brunt of the rain was Danish Mette Sejbjerg Jensen on the Zfdp stallion About You II (by AC-DC x Estobar). This bay stallion, bred by Stephan Borgmann and which Andreas Helgstrand bought at auction exactly a year ago for 1.35 million euro, has now been sold to Yara Reichert (probably for double the amount). The stallion certainly could not live up to his price tag. Even before the rain hit the show ground, he entered the arena completely wet looking, very wound up and distracted. Mette did her best to navigate him through the test, but the stallion was spooky, jumping to the side and tense throughout. He resisted in the rein back and was just unsettled. He got 8.5 for trot, 7.9 for walk, 7.8 for canter, 6.8 for submission and 8 for general impression, totalling 7.8. 

Emotions in Ermelo: Alejandro Sanchez del Barco
This performance stood in stark contrast with the wonderful rides of the Spanish PRE horses this year in Ermelo. They might not be the most spectacular movers like some of those million euro horses, but they displayed much better rideability and training.  Two PRE's tied in 15th place and both were very attractive dressage horses. Alba Abollo Fontela rode Rociero FS (by Kabile x Centello V) to 8.2 in trot, 7.7 in walk, 8 in canter and submission and 8.2 for general impression, while Spanish Grand Prix team rider Alejandro Sanchez del Barco has become an example of wonderful, calm, collected, and harmonious dressage riding, on all his horses. He rode two in the 5-year old test which both were so cleverly presented. The best scoring one was Rondo de Indalo (by Poeta de Susaeta x Bandolero LXXIII) who got 7.8 for trot, 8 for walk and canter, 8.3 for submission and 8 for general impression. Both PRE's finished on 8.02 points. 

- Text and Photos © Eurodressage (this article expresses Eurodressage's' eye-witness account and opinion about the competition).

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