Quality & Redemption in Final for 6-Year-Old Horses at World Championships

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d’Avie ridden to championship gold by Severo Jurado Lopez. © 2018 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

Aug. 9, 2018


It was with trepidation I prepared to watch the six-year-old final at the World Breeding Championships for Young Horses. Following the disappointment for me from almost all the combinations in the preliminary competition and the scant improvement of very few in the small final, I wasn’t optimistic about having anything positive to write. This was perhaps my fault for having such high expectations from the group I had seen as extraordinary five-year-olds in 2017.  The good news is that the top six placed horses in this final found their special gaits, they were well ridden and fun to watch. Yes, some had small mistakes, but that is normal with young horses. The top two were wonderful and either would have deserved the win.

At this stage, if you had any interest in the World Championships, you know the results. The Hannoverian stallion d’Avie (Don Juan de Hus x Londonderry) with Severo Jurado Lopez won the class with 9.26 points. They were VERY closely followed by the Rhinelander stallion, Villeneuve (Vitalis x Dancier) and Laura Strobel with 9.24 points. The stallion, Hermes (Easy Going x Flemmingh) and Dutch rider were third with 8.78.

Hermes ridden by Dinja van Liere. © 2018 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

This story is not a results story, although I have lots of photos and commentary on the top horses. This is much more a commentary on the six-year-old class in general. If anything, this year has highlighted just how disastrously wrong things can go if any part of the training scale is glossed over, or the importance of the quality of the gaits and swinging back is ignored in favor of rapid progression of the tricks. However, the directives are so very clear for these horses. Anyone thinking of riding the six-year-old test should study the videos and judge’s commentary. The requirements and expectations of this judging panel were absolutely correct and non-negotiable.

With that in mind, I thought I would go to the warm up arena and watch Dorothee Schneider prepare her first horse, the Oldenburg Flying Dancer (Furst Romancier x Sir Donnerhall). At the very worst, I figured I would be able to watch one of the best trainers in the world try to inspire some brilliance out of her fundamentally normal moving gelding. This was textbook training. Dorothee kept layering a little more expression upon a little more reach, over a little more engagement until she was able to present her horse, who has rather underwhelming gaits, for an overall score of 8.42. Nothing short of a miracle. But he deserved every one of those points. I have no doubt that this horse will make it to the big arena. His training is just too good. She did exactly the same thing with the Oldenburg mare, Sister’s Act OLD vom Rosencarree (Sandro Hit x Royal Diamond) that has a wonderful hindleg, but again not the biggest eye-catching gaits. They finished in sixth place with an overall score of 8.54, with a submission score of 9.0.

Sister’s Act and Dorothee Schneider in the awards ceremony for the world championships six-year-old final. Dorothee finished in 6th and 7th places on her two horses. The strength of her submission scores elevating her over some of the bigger moving horses.s© 2018 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

This brings me to finally say that there were horses, even in the final, that had me wondering how the heck they had been selected by their federation… yes, even the German federation. I said it in my first story about the six-year-old class, and I will say it again: This is a world championship. Just because your horse can perform the required movements, does not mean it deserves to be here. The good news is that the judges saw this, too, and made comment. I was very impressed with the attention of the judges. I DO think they got a little caught up in it being the finals. Even though the scores may have been low for a world championship final, they really weren’t low enough, given their comments, for several of the horses. However, their commentary was absolutely spot on. They left no doubt about the qualities that they would reward, and the resistances they couldn’t tolerate. They made clear distinction between issues that affected the basic gaits, and those that were  issues of submission (training).

Do I believe there is a future for these classes? Of course I do. This year was a particularly tough year. 2017 had a wonderful group of horses. This year was a reminder for all trainers to stay true to the long term development of the horse.

So that no one can wonder about what the judges wanted to see, I have provided complete commentary for the final six horses that competed. They wanted rhythm and ground cover. Clear, easy transitions, engagement, throughness. All the things we talk about in the training and development of the dressage horse.

Horses of part two of the final

Sister’s Act and Dorothee Schneider. © 2018 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

Sister’s Act OLD Rosencarree and Dorothee Schneider

This mare didn’t suddenly wake up overnight and become a wow mover, but she remains so correct and it was beautiful riding from Dorothee Schneider. This one was really fun to watch and an education on encouraging the absolute most from a young horse who is correct but not extravagant.  The beautifully, softly accented voice of Isobel Wessels was easy to listen to as she gave commentary for the judges. “For the trot, we want to see more push from the hindleg in the medium and extended trots, but the horse showed clear rhythm throughout and clear collection, 8.4. The walk is relaxed, in a clear rhythm, and follows the hand very nicely. There could be a little more overtrack in the extended walk, but the transition to medium walk and then the collection towards the pirouettes was really well done, 8.5. The canter is good in rhythm and always nicely in the contact. It needs more jump and more airtime., A clearer moment of suspension off the ground. The extended canter was a little hurried.8.0. Submission, the horse is very happy, in a good contact showing the ability to go and come back with very nicely ridden shoulder in and half pass. The changes were all good. 9.0 and the general perspective: we felt that this horse is in a really clear way with good riding and obviously going to make a very good dressage horse in the future. Just some of those little things to work on, so today 8.8”

d’Avie with Severo Jurado Lopez aboard showing off the trot. © 2018 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

This was a beautiful and well ridden test and reminiscent of the quality he showed as a five-year-old. I can’t tell you how relieved I was. The crowd thoroughly enjoyed it and they kept clapping with enthusiasm until the judge’s commentary began.

“That was a very exciting horse to judge The trot has a huge amount of energy and expression and the ability to go and a wonderful ability to come back and collect.” Indeed the transitions were clear in all the gaits. “It looked so easy and light footed, he maintained the same trot just about the whole time, 9.8. The walk is relaxed and always correct. The extended walk needs a bit more ground cover and to be even more through his body but he came back to the medium and showed a little bit of collecting before the walk pirouettes so 8.0 The canter is absolutely dynamic, uphill, jumping, lots of expression, willing to go and more importantly willing to collect. Three of the changes were super, one was a little bit unbalanced but, for the canter 10. Submission, the clear ability of this horse to keep suspension in the shoulder in, beautiful half passes and the horse shows great adjustability and easy transitions through the gaits. The were a couple of moments of loss of balance, so 9.0. Overall perspective, it’s a super, super horse with a huge future, 9.5.”

This was very interesting as the judges clearly showed that they could separate small mistakes from the basic quality of the gaits. Despite the one imperfect flying change, the canter could still receive a 10. I have to agree with their judgement.

Matchball (Millenium x De Niro) and Stefanie Wolf. © 2018 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

This is an absolutely exquisite stallion with such expression in his face. The panel also essentially enjoyed his presentation.

“Really active and engaged horse, very much in tune with his rider and the highlight was his beautiful flying changes. They were ridden beautifully. In the trot the first medium was a little hurried but overall the horse is light footed, energetic and uphill. You rode very clear transitions, just perhaps watch the tempo at times, 8.8. The walk was always correct in the rhythm but the extended walk didn’t have much overtrack and could have walked with more purpose through the whole body.”

The judges then seemed to think she made nice walk pirouettes, although from my view the left one was a bit of a mess. Regardless, her score for the walk was about right, 7.7.

“The canter was good and active in energy with a clear jump and good rhythm and stays uphill. There were moments where he got a little tight over his back and a little hurried, but overall a very good canter, 8.8. The submission: we were especially impressed with your half passes. Shoulder in was also good although the first could have had more bend and your flying changes are secure, 8.9. For the perspective for the future, it is a good horse on a very nice way and good riding, 8.9.”

Henkie is oblivious that his tantrum cost him a medal. Adelinde is disappointed but understands that young stallions don’t always read the plan for the day. © 2018 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

Henkie (Alexandro P x Upperville) and Adelinde Cornelissen came into the final as a definite favorite to medal, but it was not to be their day. Henkie had a major tantrum, a real throwdown, for the first flying change. He stopped, quit, contemplated leaving and Adelinde had no choice other than to just abandon the change. He half-tried it on the next one but did the change and the last two were lovely. The irony is that up to that point, Adelinde appeared to be doing her level best to NOT wrestle with him in front

“Really lovely elastic horse and the general impression is that the gaits of this horse has huge potential and scope. Unfortunately, there were issues that affected the submission score today. The trot has alot of energy, he shows nice balance in the corners and he is going and coming back very well and a nice uphill balance. Occasionally, there were disruptions in the rhythm when he was not supple in the contact so, 8.6. The walk from the beginning had a nice overtrack and stretch to the bit but he just needs to follow the hand a little bit more. He became behind the contact at times instead of really seeking the bit, 8.5. The canter has a nice clear jump and good ground cover. It has a lot of expression and energy, but the balance was compromised when he became nervous or tense and once or twice you had a few problems in the canter, but the canter itself has a high quality, so 8.8. Submission: we had to take into account the big disturbance in the first flying change and then the horse became a little confused. Tthe loss of rhythm in the walk pirouettes we took into submission as well, so today 6.9 and overall for perspective an 8.0. It is a wonderful horse with clear talent and obviously a very good rider but today was not his day. But it is a super horse.” Adelinde kissed goodbye any chance of a medal with that unfortunate submission score.

Habana Libre (Zizi Top x United) and Diederik Van Silfhout, © 2018 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

Diederik had a very tough ride in the final. In the preliminary class I described his horses’ way of going as very light footed, almost electric. Today it was over-the-top electric with no relaxation to be seen. The judges were, understandably, very tough on his ride and Diederik’s supporters started jeering and making clearly disapproving noises as the predictably low scores came in.

“You have a very nice horse here and we really appreciated your sympathetic riding because your horse was clearly quite nervous during the test, a little bit anxious and we noticed you patted him quite a bit and offered the rein to try to get him to relax. Sadly this tension did come through in the test to make an influence on the marks, which is a pity.

“In the trot he shows a rhythm most of the time, the first medium trot was a tiny bit uneven although the second and third lengthenings were a little bit better. The collected trot showed glimpses of elasticity and a real expression off the ground but quite often between, the tension affected the general expression, so 7.4”…

Crowd “Oohs” in horror…

“The walk was rather tight, he didn’t let go in his back from the beginning. He was holding himself. There was no overtrack and a lack of freedom and marching. He didn’t really ‘take’ you on the line. You kept the rhythm through the turning and the pirouettes, but the walk itself was just rather too restrained and holding in the back, so only 6.8. The canter is clear in the three-beat and has an uphill tendency most of the time and he shows the ability to do some changes but he needs to be more over the back and have ground cover in the extended canter, 7.8. For the submission, the tension within the horse and the small mistakes, the flying changes a little bit short affected the mark again 7.5. 7.8 perspective on the day.”

Diederik could not leave the arena fast enough.

Dorothee Schneider. © 2018 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

This was the first world championships experience for Laura. She is trained by Dorothee Schneider, and you can see it in the way she rides. In fact, from a distance, especially as she wears the same helmet and jacket, she looks like a Dorothee mini-me. In my opinion, for whatever that counts, this was  the best ridden horse of the day. He is really being trained to use his whole body and find his own expression.

Villeneuve (Vitalis x Dancier) and Laura Strobel. © 2018 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

“You gave us some tense moments in the box. Beautiful horse, very well ridden and looks very easy going and very, very expressive. Very secure in the rhythm. The first medium trot was very expressive and each lengthening became even a little bit better. The first time you came on the short side with the collected trot we were very impressed with the uphill tendency of your horse.and so overall we liked the trot very much. Occasionally if we could just get a little more push from the hindleg, 9.4  The walk was active, in a good rhythm, clear overtracking. He becomes quite often behind the vertical in the walk, he needs to fill the rein and follow the hand a little bit more clearly and just stay a little more in this way as you take him back to the medium. The steps were always good though, so 8.8. The canter, very expressive and uphill, a good tendency to go and come back and accept collection. Very nice ground cover in your extended canter and very clear transitions. The flying changes were well done, 9.8. The submission mark. There were a couple of things. The first halt was unbalanced and came a little bit backwards. The horse coming slightly behind the vertical at times and your first half pass from B to us at C had no crossing and was just like a line with a little bit of neck bend. Your second one was really good, so we know he can do it, but in this moment it didn’t all come together so we had to go a little bit down with all these things, and it is an 8.7. Overall a beautiful horse, well ridden in a very good way and we have no doubt we will see you in the big arena very soon” (Their goal for 2019 is, in fact, the Nürnberger Burg-Pokal, the German championship for small tour horses aged 7 to 9 years).

These examples of the commentary pretty much summed up the detail of the judging panel. Whether they liked it or not, Diederik von Silfhout really DIDN’T like it, all the riders essentially got a riding lesson. They pulled no punches about saying what they did and didn’t like. They were very clear to separate the issues that would affect the submission score from the score for the basic gaits. If trainers looking to present their six-year-olds in this competition adhere to the expectations of this panel, the sport will be in a very good place.