Contemplation & Photos of Six-Year-Old Preliminary Final at Young Horse World Championships. A Personal Perspective
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By ILSE SCHWARZ
ERMELO, Netherlands, Aug. 4, 2018–I was excited for this six-year-old qualification round at the World Breeding Championships as many of the top performers from last years five-year-old class were returning. The horses Ferrari OLD, Hesselhoej Donkey Boy, d’Avie, Matchball OLD, Sister’s Act OLD Vom Rosencarree and Henkie were essentially the top five-year-olds of 2017 and all retained the same riders. Casablanca, also one of the top finishers returned, too, but with a new rider. Hence, I started watching this class with eager anticipation. I felt it was going to be fun to watch the development of the horses in the sport, we could have a direct comparison.
Typically the six-year-old class is my favorite, as you can really see the development of the horses as competitors in dressage. The five-year-olds are at the start of their career, raw talent with some management. The six-year-olds are required to show collection in both trot and canter, which goes hand in hand with more self carriage. They have to do shoulder-in and half-pass, so we can see their ability to bend and engage. They have to demonstrate flying changes, the expectation is that they are quality movements, not just ticking the boxes.
In 2017 it took a score of 8.5 to be qualified directly into the final of the six year old class. In 2018, a score of 7.96 was sufficient and not one horse received an overall score of 9.0 or above. Some people may be ready to say that last year the judges were overly generous or that the judging this year is overly harsh; honestly, I think the judges did a good job this year with a collection of horses that were, for the most part, showing tension, and/or making mistakes. It was interesting that, with very few exceptions, the spectator judging had the horses on very similar scores and rankings. By the end of the class, which was at the end of a VERY long and busy day, the thoughts running through my head were unprintable. So, what happened?
This class was held in the afternoon/evening of a very hot day for Europe. At 3.15pm, the start of the class, it was around 32C/91F. The class continued until dusk at 9.15pm, with the temperatures staying warm for most of that time. For me, this was not a temperature horses should be struggling in, especially with the low humidity. Plus the riders have had this heat to work with for the better part of two months AND the show has gone out of its way to ensure comfort for the horses so, whilst it may have contributed a little to some of the horses, I don’t think we can place the blame here.
The first issue that became a common thread through so many of the rides was issues with the tongue, mouth and contact. Also, many of the basic canters have lost their reach and use of the back. I am a rider and trainer. I KNOW exactly how hard it is to produce horses and maintain a soft sympathetic connection and a quiet mouth, but these are the world championships. It should not be enough to be able to make a half pass and some clean flying changes on a six-year-old and think you are eligible for them. This is supposed to be a place to highlight the best of the best. Of course there were BEAUTIFULLY trained and well ridden horses here. It is just a shame that this was not the feature of the class. The tension also clearly affected the quality of the walk. The majority of the horses still had correct rhythm but very, very few showed true relaxation over the back and reach to the contact. So many of the horses that competed last year had outstanding walks.
In many cases the “uberstreichen,” or releasing of the reins, required over a half circle in the canter to demonstrate self-carriage was barely existent or the riders looked to be having mini convulsions with their arms as they quickly threw away the reins and grabbed them again… hoping the horses hadn’t realized the reins were gone for a moment . Yes, I am being harsh but from my perspective it was awful.
In general, the shoulder-in was well executed, very little tilting, good shoulder freedom and engagement even if there were some very busy mouths but as they went into the half pass quite often the frame suffered, the bend and engagement were lost in the effort of getting from point “a” to “b”. Fortunately there were very few horses that didn’t make clean flying changes. Many were straight and some also had delightful expressions.
If you believe I am being overly critical, please watch videos of the class yourself and draw your own conclusions. This is, after all, just my opinion. As a fundamentally optimistic, “glass half full” person, I find this hard to write. But I feel it needs to be said. I have my fingers so very crossed that, come the finals of the six-year-olds, both the small and the real final, that the horses have found their correct way of going, they are more relaxed and able to shine. That the tension we saw that impacted almost the entire class was just a reflection of a specific set of circumstances and a complete anomaly. I love this sport and truly enjoy the young horse classes at this level. The quality of the seven-year-old division this year shows that horses really ARE being developed for the FEI sport at the highest level, using the directives that are given for the five- and six-year-old classes. So, tomorrow is another day!
On to coverage of the horses that made it to the final:<
The winner of the class, the Rheinlander stallion Villeneuve (Vitalis x Dancier) ridden for Germany by Laura Strobel was a definite highlight of the class. This bright chestnut horse, with just the right amount of white markings and his rider made an eye-catching and attractive pair as they entered the arena. Laura is coached by Dorothee Schneider and the influence of her trainer can be seen in Laura’s sympathetic and effective riding. The contact remained quiet and soft and they maintained a pleasing profile for the entirety of her ride. The canter had beautiful jump with uphill tendency and the changes were clean, straight and expressive. The walk was a clear four-beat with good reach from behind, overtrack and relaxation of the topline. She well deserved top place with the overall score of 8.86. Score for the trot 8.6, walk 8.9, canter 9.0, submission 8.8 perspective 9.0.
In second place is the KWPN stallion, Henkie (Alexandro P x Upperville) ridden by the Dutch star, Adelinde Cornelissen. This bay stallion has really developed in his muscles since last year and has three good gaits and really moves through his whole body. The trot is expressive with plenty of impulsion, swing and active hindlegs, score 9.2.. The canter is also big with much jump and reach under his body in the extensions. score 8.6. His walk may actually have improved since last year and he relished the chance to reach out to the contact in the extended walk, 8.5. The big problem, that didn’t seem to be addressed by the judges, was the connection. The neck, though steady, was often too upright and the mouth was continually busy with the top lip pulling down. Score for submission 8.5. Perspective received a deserving 9.0 and an overall score of 8.76.
Third place went to the absolutely stunning chestnut Hannoverian stallion d’Avie (Don Juan de Hus x Londonderry) ridden for Spain by Severo Jurado Lopez and owned by Helgstrand Dressage. This was one of my absolute favorites as a five-year-old and I still enjoyed watching him today. His trot has presence, power. He has a little loss of carriage in the extensions and went slightly wide behind, score 9.0. The canter is huge and uphill with tremendous jump, lift and ground cover. He has a very good ability and balance in the transitions from collection to extension and back, score 9.3. The walk just normal, no highlight, not bad score 7.5. Submission 8.8, one of the changes was very swinging, 9.0 for perspective and overall 8.72.
Fourth place to Matchball OLD, the Oldenburg stallion by Millenium x De Niro and ridden for Germany by Stephanie Wolf. The trot looked easy, light-footed and maintained a beautiful “true” trot rhythm throughout. It could perhaps have had more power but the extensions were clear and the half-passes had good bend and reach, 8.8. The canter was impressive with easy changes, clear adjustibility in and out of the extensions. He would score higher if he could sit slightly more, 8.5. The walk was clear and relaxed, 8.3. His mouth was quiet, even though the tongue was visible most of the test, the connection was soft, submission 8.8, I suspect he is one of those horses that doesn’t have much room for the bit in his mouth. Perspective 8.8. He was one of my favorites Friday.
The chestnut KWPN gelding, Habana Libre A, (Zizi Top x United) ridden by Diederick Van Silfhout placed 5th. My impression of the trot is that is light-footed and almost electric off the ground, in a controlled manner. He made beautiful half passes and used his whole body in the extensions, score 8.8. In the extended walk, he seemed to only just-in-time get his front feel out of the way as he had a large overtrack, 7.8. We saw true release of the reins when required in the canter, lovely clean changes and better use of his hindleg than most through the canter tour, 8.7. Deservedly 9.0 for submission. Overall 8.6 and this is the first one that I thought could actually have been a little higher.
Sixth place to one of my very favorite riders and trainers, Dorothee Schneider and the Oldenburg mare Sister’s Act OLD Vom Rosencarree (Sandro Hit x Royal Diamond). There is nothing flashy or “wow” about this mare or her movements. There wasn’t last year either when she made the finals. But, this combination demonstrates everything we should aspire to as trainers. The trot is soft, cadenced and balanced. The half passes have beautiful reach and bend, 8.8. The walk is swinging and relaxed. It could cover more ground, 8.5. The training aspects of the canter are lovely. The changes are big, uphill and on the aids, the transitions in and out of the canter and between extension and collection are sublime, score 8.0. Submission 8.7 and 8.9 for perspective. Overall score 8.58.
The Danish stallion Hesselhoej Donkey Boy ridden by Jan Møller Christensen was the bronze medallist last year. I recall him as an exquisite, more petite stallion with a wildly swinging left front leg, that didn’t seem to worry anyone but me! He was tremendously fun to watch in his work that appeared athletic and easy. He was the absolute last to go Friday, the sun had set over the buildings behind the arena but there were still a good number of die-hard fans waiting for this ride. His legs are still swinging all over, maybe a little too much now in the trot extensions. However, he somehow does it with expression and animation. His changes are clean but not tidy. He hasn’t really developed a lot more topline, so he really still presents as a petite stallion. He really reaches to the contact in the walk and reaches with his hind legs well under his body in good clear rhythm. Scores: trot, 8.5, walk, 8.9, canter 8.0, submission 8.4, perspective 8.6, overall score 8.48.
The final horse I will cover Friday is the stunning masculine Oldenburg stallion, Ferrari (Foundatiom x Blue Hors Hotline). He oozes that sexy stallion presence. Today he was being seemingly very carefully ridden by Andreas Helgstrand. It was almost like Andreas was determined to show collection in the trot without demonstrating passage, but in his efforts he just made the trot flat and boring. He stayed uphill all the time but there was none of the ease of movement that Andreas demonstrated with both his rides in the five-year-old class. The canter had no real releasing of the rein, and was ridden so conservatively that I was thinking maybe he was ready to explode? For sure it was not the same uninhibited demonstration of athleticism that I was expecting. Trot 8.4, walk 7.9, canter 8.0, submission 8.5, perspective 8.5. Overall score 8.26. This combination went 5th in the class of 40 horses, and I honestly thought we would see him in the small final. That there was no chance he would go directly through to the final with this score. I was wrong.