Friday, October 8, 2010

Dressage at WEG

Each day of dressage was more spectacular than the day before. This was largely because the second tier team members from each country rode their Grand Prix test on the first day with the top two ranked riding on the second day. Day three saw the top 30 of those riders riding the Grand Prix Special test for individual placings. The last day of dressage, Friday evening, the top 15 riders from the Grand Prix Special competed in the Musical Freestyle.

It was wonderful to watch such talented horses and riders, but I was disturbed by a few things. A horse is supposed to have its poll as the highest point and its nose in front of the vertical at all times. I saw very few horses who achieved that very often, if at all. The most classical riders who seemed to have the most relaxed and happiest horses... and achieved that ideal the most... were the Brits and the Americans, particularly Steffen Peters on Ravel. The commentator was very politically correct, but did use terms for the Dutch and Australian riders (the worst offenders, in my opinion) indicating that their horses were "submissive, obedient," while for the horses of Steffen (who won the bronze medal) and Laura Bechtolsheimer (silver medal winner from Great Britain), the commentator said "the FEI wants a happy athlete... this horse certainly is".

The gold medal winner from the Netherlands, Moorlands Totilas, ridden by Edward Gal, is a supremely talented athlete. Only ten years old, he is almost unbelievably gifted. Gal and Totilas have broken dressage records everywhere they've gone. I just hope that beautiful, submissive horse holds up with the type of riding I saw Edward do in warm-up. The FEI has said that hyperflexion can only be used for ten minutes at a time... Edward rode that way the entire time I watched his early warm-up with his team mates and/or WEG personnel lined up on the fence blocking the view from spectators as much as possible. Here he is on the left with a rider from Belgium on the right.

On a happier note, there were horses who obviously were having a wonderful time and loving the enthusiastic crowd. Fuego XII, a Spanish horse, was one. What a showoff! Fuego, with Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz from Spain, placed fourth, just out of the medals in the freestyle, but I think the crowd would have put him first. However, he did have enough errors to drop him down in the standings.

For the most part, I and others thought the judging quite good and fair. There were a few riders who probably earned a few points on reputation, but that is unavoidable in subjective contests like dressage and figure skating. I don't think it's deliberate on the part of judges; I think it's the way our brains work. When we have seen someone excel over and over, those pathways in our brain are programmed to assume excellence. Isabel Werth had something like 28 medals coming into this competition and her scores were higher than I suspect they would have been otherwise.

Totilas, the phenomenon, earned his gold medals in both the Special and the Freestyle. There really are no words to describe the talent of this horse.

The silver medal winner from Great Britain, Mistral Hojris with Laura Bechtolsheimer, was an elegant, happy athlete with a lovely freestyle. I was so busy enjoying her rides, I only took a photo of her exiting the ring with a big smile on Laura's face.

But, of course, my favorite was Ravel and his partner Steffen Peters, the hope of the American team who came through with two bronze medals. Theirs is a true and beautiful partnership. I am so glad daughter-in-law Jessica is solidly in Steffen's camp. Her Grand Prix mare Elisienne, with rider Nicki Grandia, will spend three months this winter and spring in training with Steffen. It will be exciting to see them progress under Steffen's tutelage, where, as at Traumhof, the welfare of the horse always comes first.


  1. Linda, BLESS YOU for writing this. I hope you don't mind me posting this on my Facebook page?? My 8 year old daughter has begun to recognize tension in a horse, and was very concerned about most of those horses. And it's true... the "happy athletes" just make your heart glad! And the others... give you a heavy lump in the pit of your stomach. I am perpetually amazed at the try in these great horses, and just as amazed that they don't buck some of those riders off.

  2. Since I posted it on my facebook page, Tamara, you're most welcome to post it on yours. I do hope the FEI begins following through with their announced intentions to curb the excesses. BTW, Exquis Nadine came very close to throwing his Dutch rider with one huge "I've had enough!" buck during his GP Special. But then carried on obediently. These horses have the patience of saints.

  3. Linda, I LOVE HORSES, AND DRESSAGE, but know very little about the rules and regulations. You do a great job of analyzing the judging, the misconceptions of our brains, etc. What, however, is the "poll" and having the horse's nose above the vertical? (vertical what?). Forgive my ignorance. Thanks for the excellent photos, too! When do you return home?

  4. Thanks, Donna. I've been home for a week now. The poll is the top of the horse's head, between the ears. The line from the poll to the nose should be slightly in front of the vertical, as in Ravel above. Totilas' face is slightly behind the vertical in photo number 3 down from the top. When the nose is in front of the vertical and the poll the highest point, the horse is using his hind quarters properly to carry the weight. They need to do that to perform the difficult movements with the least strain to their muscles and joints. Horses normally move with 60% of their weight on their forehand (front legs). It must be shifted backward in order to lift their forehand in passage (trot with suspension), piaffe (suspended trot in place), and pirouettes. It takes much building up of those muscles of the rear quarters. Some riders use short cuts (e.g. hyperflexion... top photo) to get the same apparent effect but that is hard on the long-term health of the horse, imo.