Aachen, 2016. Reflections on the Freestyle and last day of Dressage Competition
3 years ago ilse Comments Off on Aachen, 2016. Reflections on the Freestyle and last day of Dressage Competition
By ILSE SCHWARZ
AACHEN, Germany, July 18, 2016–For most people, the Freestyle, or Kür, is the class that the show builds towards. The Grand Prix sets the tone, the Grand Prix Special confirms first impressions and gives the opportunity for horses that were perhaps a little overwhelmed the first day, a chance to shine. By the time freestyle day arrives, we are left in little doubt who the top contenders are. For Aachen, 2016, it is fairly clear that the top place-getters will all be from Germany, Isabell Werth and Weihegold OLD, Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados and Dorothee Schneider with Showtime, but there remains just the smallest glimmer of probably overly optimistic hope that either Lorenzo with Severo Jesus Jurado Lopez of Spain or Legolas and Steffen Peters of the USA could sneak in amongst the German girls.
Lorenzo has been building in confidence daily, he is definitely a horse that caught my eye in the schooling on Tuesday afternoon. By the Grand Prix Special on Saturday, there was visibly a different level of throughness, fewer small but expensive mistakes during the test and the dedicated crowd, many of whom have attended daily, have started to warm to the young Spaniard, who is based in Denmark, and the extravagant chestnut gelding by Lord Loxley.
Steffen Peters has been using Aachen to test and, if necessary, settle the notoriously hot gelding, Legolas, in a large arena with atmosphere ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio. The combination have placed fouth in both competitions to date, ahead of the German team members Cosmo (Van Gogh x Frühling x Landjonker) and Sönke Rothenberger. Their harmony has been beautiful to watch, the walk is much improved and they have been consistently producing some of their best piaffe/passage.
In reality, quite frankly, we are all here to watch the German superstars. Should somebody sneak in front of one of them, it will be an unexpected bonus. Stranger things have actually already happened at this show….Isabell Werth on the young stallion, Belantis (Benetton Dream – Expo’se – Sandro Hit) was eliminated in the Intermediare 1 after two errors of course. Having said that, the first 10 rides or so of the freestyle were all well and good, some toe tapping tunes and some dramatic scores, along with some that were not so toe tapping or dramatic. It is fun to see riders who didn’t expect to make the final here having a blast, simply enjoying the moment. The first ride the majority were really waiting for was Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and the stallion Desperados (De Niro x Wolkenstein). This duo was technically brilliant. Always in good balance, uphill, no mistakes, and music that was clearly specially scored for them and matched them down to the last step of piaffe. Having said all that, I didn’t get goosebumps. I could absolutely appreciate the excellence, but I want watching a freestyle to be a complete experience, especially at this venue with a packed house of dressage fans. I want to feel emotional and be brought to tears or spontaneous, uncontrollable smiling. This ride left me satisfied but wanting. I did start to wonder if I was perhaps becoming jaded! How could I say that about a ride that received 9.8 for music and interpretation. I totally agree with the 9.1 for harmony between rider and horse, and of course there was brilliant piaffe throughout. However, the crowd also did not give the ride a standing ovation, and we know that for the truly great rides, at this venue, the crowd has no problem getting to their feet. Final score a personal best of 88.825 per cent
Next in is Dorothee Schneider and the still quite inexperienced 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding Showtime (Sandro Hit x Rotspon). This was the first time he has shown in an arena with this atmosphere, but Dorothee is a master and simply instills confidence in her horses. She is also incredibly successful in the young horse classes and her riding style is the same on them all. As far as I have seen, her horses epitomise those intangible words; durchlassigkeit and lossgelassenheit, essentially through and loose..
Dorothee has the misfortune to enter the stadium as the score for Desperados is announced, and the 6,500-strong crowd goes rather wild with enthusiasm. Dorothee kept doing her thing and I swear Showtime didn’t even twitch an ear. They open with a hint of humor with the words “it’s Showtime” being announced over the first “halt” (which honestly didn’t happen today and resulted in an overall halt score of six. The last halt was pretty near perfect). This musical score moves me. She uses sweeping strings for the expansive half passes. A sprinkling of rock ‘n’ roll-style electric guitar throughout for the passage, which strangely DOES give me goosebumps, and, for the first time at Aachen 2016, no mistakes in the tempi changes. Showtime has an extraordinary passage, and the overall score of 9.7 for it seems completely fitting. With the horse still quite young in experience, the expectation is that this combination will only keep improving. Without question, this was my favourite performance of the day. It scored 86.925 per cent
Isabell and Weihegold OLD are the next to go and it will be interesting to see what music she chooses. It seems she has a new freestyle for every week of the year! It turns out it is another NEW score with revised choreography and it is a very fun one to watch! Her tempi changes are to music that makes me spontaneously smile. I can imagine her doing the samba around her kitchen as she selects the music! (It is actually a 1970s Italo pop medley, used for the first time today with Weihegold OLD. to the soundtrack: “Dance Samba with me”). She sneaks past Dorothee and Showtime on the scores for pirouettes and entrance and halt. She had again uncharacteristic small mistakes. A loss of rhythm in one trot extension (leading to gasps from the crowd), some issues in the piaffe/passage transitions, the mare struggled in the change from passage half-pass to trot half-pass right, but Isabell rode that masterfully, so it looked more like a slow transition than a near break into canter. She moves into second place with a score of 86.950 per cent. The crowd does not agree with this result, given the less than enthusiastic applauding after the scores are announced. Yet, on the audience scoring (a smart phone app unique to Aachen, where the audience also judges the rides), they also rank her second behind Desperados. It reminded me of Brexit! Everyone votes, and then they are unhappy with the result!
The last two horses to go are Legolas and Lorenzo. It doesn’t seem like there is any chance that either can break into the top three, but not a single person leaves their seat. Steffen enters as the score for Isabell is announced, and the polite applause from the crowd does not break the concentration of Legolas for one second. I have seen this freestyle quite a few times now (one of the benefits of living in the same country as Steffen!), and I do believe that familiarity really does enhance the experience of a freestyle. I settle back to enjoy. Steffen looks like he is going for a lovely relaxed, clean freestyle. The crowd chuckles at the use of words here and there, especially at the final halt “yo man, let’s get outta here” possibly the most fluid and easiest looking ride I have seen of this freestyle. If the one-tempis had been mistake-free (they received an overall score of 4.0), the ride would have been over 80 percent. Instead they score 79.300 per cent.
Lorenzo is the last horse into the arena and is the only horse/rider combination to get true audience participation, with everyone clapping in rhythm for the final passage centerline. He also did a fabulous double canter pirouette into a piaffe…a move Steffen Peters made famous. Very well executed by this pair today. This pair are also the only ones to get the crowd to their feet…at least a partial standing ovation as the ride came to an end. Definitely the crowd favorite in terms of sheer enjoyment. Also the only horse to do two-tempis on the circle. Everything is big, expressive and filled with joy but still needs a little more tidying up in the connection. He is a clear fourth place with 83.350 per cent and dressage at Aachen is a wrap for 2016.
As trainers and riders, we will strive to take this excellence and inspiration home to our own arenas. There will be better corners, more attention to the simplicity of the connection and accuracy of the movements. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am going to find my inner Dorothee and produce a Showtime.