A brand new Grand Prix test greeted the 16 riders for the World Cup dressage qualifier at The London International Show at Olympia this week. The test was shortened by about 2 minutes by our reckoning. The walk was shortened and the trot work and piaffe passage was only completed once instead of doing so on both sides of the arena. The canter was also shortened with the changes of leg each stride coming between the two pirouettes. The riders needed to use every available inch of the arena, as distances appeared tight and they needed to be careful not to overrun otherwise they may have gone outside the arena which would have been automatic disqualification. In the event, none did. The FEI had one dummy run of this test in Germany before allowing it to be rolled out for the first time in an international class. If the idea was to ‘sex up’ the Grand Prix for the audience, it sort of worked, but the riders seemed to have misgivings as most said that each element of the test came so quickly after the one before that they felt rushed. Some also commented that their horses became a little disconcerted, as they were used to the longer version of the Grand Prix and wondered why they were told to go a different way?
We noticed two other differences. Firstly, each rider had special music played while they were competing which was designed to change tempo as they moved from trot to walk and the walk to canter. It was a little like having a sort of freestyle, but each horse doing the same test and the music not so loud as with the freestyle. The second thing we saw was each rider dismounting in the arena immediately after finishing and having to give a quick response as to how they thought it had gone, then a break with the scores announced from each of the judges after which the rider had to make a further comment before being allowed to leave the scene. Clearly, some were able to take this in their stride rather best than others! However, the interviewer, Lee McKenzie did a great job on the hoof putting each rider at their ease. Must have been very different for her covering dressage rather than her usual, Channel 4’s Champions Rugby matches!!!
In conclusion, we did not really like the new Grand Prix format. The test had little or no graceful flow to it as the test seemed to go straight from one transition to the next giving neither horse nor rider, never mind how good they may be, any chance to show a particular pace or movement before they had to make a transition to the next. The music though which went with each combination was a nice touch.
For the first time, Olympia arranged a special feature called “Dressage Unwrapped”. This was an hour and half designated as a masterclass for dressage with top dressage riders. The first section of four, Gareth Hughes discussed the training of a young horse. With a couple of young horses, he told his audience the importance of allowing the horse to tell you when it was ready to move on to the next step, but how the basic flat work was so important.
Next up was Richard Davison, with the help of international British judge Steven Clarke. Jess Dunn rode a test which Steven judged as he would in real time but out loud telling the audience what he thought of the movements and what mark he would give them. Jess rode a rather good test, which was not necessarily what she was supposed to do, but she did attract criticism for her shoulder in movement. Richard then demonstrated the best way to correct the faults in the movement. The GB Eventing team dressage performance manager Richard Waygood took over with the help of Pippa Funnell.
They demonstrated the care and attention to pole work. There were two main pole grids set out, the first in a square and the second in a more traditions straight line. Pippa rode through the grids, showing the audience how it should be done. Finally, Carl Hester arrived with the help of his famous protégée Charlotte Dujardin on a young horse currently in training, hopefully to start competing at Grand Prix level in the next twelve months. Pudding, as the horse was referred to, is Charlotte’s hope that this horse will be her Olympic ride perhaps in 2024? The two messages which Carl was very keen to get across was that whatever stage you may be in training your horse, you must keep to a rhythm and the second is when riding, the rider must be sitting straight and then would always able to ride continually in a forward way. To demonstrate his point, he suggested that if the horse was to be pulled from underneath the rider, would the rider end up standing on the ground, or would it end up on its ass. The first would be a correct seat and the latter would mean an incorrect posture while riding.
The Grand Prix itself.
The first to ride this new Grand Prix was Gareth Hughes riding the horse he competed on at the European Championships in the summer KK Woodstock . Gareth was clearly disappointed with his test and didn’t appear to think much of the new format? Following on was the first of one of the nine foreign national in the sixteen participants from Denmark,
British based Ulrik Moelgaard riding Michigan, where he had a much better time of it that did Gareth. Just before the break, Charlotte Fry, based in Holland, but rides for GB came in with her beautiful black stallion Everdale. She rode a confident test and went into the break with a pretty healthy lead of 75.368%. This was the first time that Charlotte Fry came to Olympia, as it was for another six of the riders.
The second half of the draw was without doubt the stronger half with Carl Hester, Charlotte Dujardin, Richard Davison and last year’s winner from Germany Frederick Wandres. Charlotte Dujardin riding Mount St John Freestyle was quite early after the break and as usual she rode an accomplished and what seemed effortless test. She shot into the lead with 81.553% a lead she was never likely to relinquish. However, there were some decent combinations to come, including Frederick Wandres from Germany riding Duke of Britain. (Very appropriate name for this show) Sadly for him, things did not go well particularly in the one time changes which cost him dear. Carl Hester, riding his old stalwart Hawtins Delicato was after, and he rode a good test, but as he said, ”you warm up outside and you have convinced yourself that the gold medal is yours, then the curtains open and you come in to see Charlotte, and are brought back down to earth with a bump!” In the event he was second with 75.789%. The British riders took the top four places, as noted above, Charlotte Fry ended up third and in fourth was Lara Butler, riding Dr and Mrs Bechtolsheimer’s Rubins Al Asad with 74.053% The best of the foreign riders was last year’s winner Frederic Wandres with 72.684%.
The Grand Prix Freestyle.
As with the previous evening’s entertainment, the five judges were Isabelle Judat from France, Katrina Wurst from Germany, Francis Verbeek from Holland, and a brace of Brits, Steven Clarke and Andrew Gardiner. Of the sixteen starters from yesterday, only one dropped out, Ulrik Moelgaard from Denmark.
The first difference that was noticeable from the first day was how relaxed the horses and particularly the riders were being back on known turf after the ‘short grand prix’. As is usual, the class was split into two halves and the stronger riders seem to have been drawn to appear in the second part. The Carl Hester trained Joao Miguel Torroa kicked things off with a competent but unexciting freestyle and was judged to have 73.057%.
Several others followed who all did nice but un-remarkable tests. The first rider for GB was Gareth Hughes, who took the lead with a decent 76.900% and clearly he had a far better experience in the claustrophobic arena than he did in the Grand Prix. Perhaps the surprise of the class was British based Dane, Anders Dahl riding Fidelio Van Het Bloemenhof. He rode a really accurate test and led at the interval with a great score of 77.550%. He ended up standing in sixth place overall. This was turning into a high scoring vintage Grand Prix Freestyle with the better combinations still to come forward.
The second half was led off with Richard Davison on Bubblingh. They had a terrible start with the horse refusing to do anything, but soon Richard had things under control and they managed to finish reasonably unscathed. Show rider turning to dressage, Louise Bell was next. She rode a good test on her well known Into The Blues and clearly enjoyed the whole experience with relish. She scored a very respectable 76.060%. The final five really set the fire works alight. They all scored over 80% which made this competition a vintage renewal of the event. All five rode tests which were accurate, flowing and entertaining to watch and to judge them, must have been a difficult task. Lara Butler on Rubin Al Asad was the first of the five and left on a score of 81.540% which on reflection may have been a little mean.
Last year’s winner, Frederic Flandres for Germany was the last to go and ended up in fourth place with 82.550% for a very Germanic test where everything went really well but was not that exciting. Perhaps it could be argued that these two positions should have been reversed? The final three top places were well deserved. Charlottle Dujardin riding Mount St John Freestyle did not disappoint and the crowd went wild after her final salute to the judges who awarded her the winning spot with a massive 87.520%. Carl Hester was next and gave yet another brilliant performance, but the crowd were kept waiting for the final scores as the system broke down until after the end of the class. This certainly had the effect of making the event more exciting as the same scoring issue applied to Charlotte Fry, who in turn rode a flowing and elegant freestyle on her imposing black stallion Everdale.. At only 23, Lottie Fry has certainly announced her credentials to be a great rider of the future.
The final scores were Carl came second with 84.47-% with Lottie in third with 82.620%. The top five in this class made this a vintage freestyle as they all rode with accuracy, elegance and in time to their music. It was a joy to watch.
The editor Bernard Simpson has been involved with horses and the industry for over 40 years. Together with his wife, he bred many flat racehorses including some which were Royal Ascot winners. He is also experienced in equine media using video, photography and journalism. Bernard currently lives in Wiltshire. He and guest authors now present this blog and hope you like our articles.
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