Andreas Helgstrand and the Dutch warmblood stallion Jovian became the surprise winners of the 5-year old Finals at the 2019 World Championships for young dressage horses in Ermelo, The Netherlands, on Saturday afternoon 3 August 2019.
The judges panel, consisting of Adri Hamoen, Maria Schwennesen, Susanne Baarup and Isobel Wessels, relegated Secret, the winner of the preliminary test on Thursday, to a silver medal place, while Queenparks Wendy ended up with bronze.
Although the sky was heavily overcast today, it stayed dry in Ermelo after a torrential downpour on Friday. The stands were finally filled to the roof and the crowds engaged much with the participants, a few times unable to hold their clapping before the final halt and salute. Although Jovian took the gold, it was Secret that got the standing ovation and highest spectator score.
Jovian Put in Command
Helgstrand and the KWPN bred Jovian (by Apache x Tango) had much to live up to when Secret's score of 9.64 points flashed upon the board as they entered the arena. The crowds were sure that they had already seen the winner of the day, but Jovian and the judges proved them wrong.
Bred by E. Ten Bosch in The Netherlands, Jovian was on an improved form compared to the warm-up round. He showed a trot with much bounce but in the working trot the hindleg could reach more under towards the point of gravity even though he was quick and active. The extensions were ground covering and energetic. The horse had a very nice cadence in the trot tour with a good balance. Unfortunately in walk he was hardly able to achieve overtrack despite his 185 cm + stature and long legs. In canter he was beautifully uphill but the simple changes needed more striding and the final transition down to trot was not through the body. Helgstrand carefully steered the tall stallion through the test, but it was all hand-held and if the horse were allowed more swing through the back it could generate a lighter contact.
The judges were enraptured by Jovian and their scores flew through the roof. They were lenient on the mediocre walk and royal with their other marks. Australian judge Maria Schwennesen provided the public commentary and stated that Jovian was an "upstanding specimen" with a trot that has "so much spring, so much suspension" with a medium trot that was just "fabulous. Everywhere he was balanced." The walk they labelled as "stiff" with a "back that needs to be more open and swinging" but "still it was correct". The canter was "balanced" and there was "brave riding in the medium canter" with the horse going "seamlessly into and out of medium canter."
The horse scored 8.3 for walk and 10s for trot, canter, submission and general impression, to finish on an 9.66 total.
At the press conference Helgstrand was smiling from ear to ear with no less than five horses from his stable in the 5-year old final and two of them going home with medals, a gold and bronze. About Jovian he said, "this horse has been from day one the easiest horse I have ever ridden. He has been performance tested and three test riders all gave him 10 for rideability. I'm glad the judges also see that."
Andreas co-owns Jovian with Norwegian Grand Prix rider Cathrine Rasmussen and mentioned that this horse is probably one in his sales barn that is not for sale. "I have a strong partner in this horse so I think we'd like to keep him," he stated.
Back to Silver for Secret
It was back to being a bridesmaid for Secret, who after scoring silver at the 2017 Bundeschampionate has now added a second silver medal at the World Championships to his list of achievements
Owned by Christine Feichtinger, this big chunky stallion does not have the strongest leg conformation and the massive demand for breedings has kept him away from the public. His career is entirely built on a social media hyped video and he's literally considered one of Germany's best kept secrets as he does not come out of his barn. There are no showings at stallion shows and there were no competitions at all in 2018.
Under the careful management and training of Swedish rider Jessica Lynn Thomas (née Andersson), Secret fortunately has the opportunity to develop as a dressage horse. He has only been sporadically shown and this year he was ridden in four small shows in Germany before heading to the German selection trials for Ermelo. Ermelo was the horse's first big viewing to an international public.
While his conformation and health for the long term are highly questionable, Secret produced the nicest test today, without a doubt. He moves with much knee action and although he tracks up behind, he can get a bit slow. On several occasions the trot became slightly passagey as the rider wanted to engage the hindlegs more. The trot lengthenings were ground covering and the trot tour was very regular and smooth. He was uphill in the canter work but in the right counter canter he could be a bit more closed in the frame and in the left counter canter the hocks could flex more. The extended canters were a highlight. The horse became lateral in one simple change, but in general his walk was very high quality. When given the rein, Secret curled his neck more than stretching it out, but overall the test was a pleasure to the eye. It was soft, harmonious and effortless.
The crowds began to clap as soon as Secret entered the final centerline in recognition of the quality that had been shown. The judges rewarded the test with 9.4 for trot, 9.0 for walk, 10 for canter, 9.8 for submission and 10 for general impression. The average was 9.64 points which seemed enough for the victory, but in the end it wasn't.
Schwennesen described Secret as a a "fabulous horse with a powerful trot that is elastic and soft and it has a lovely gentleness to it. The walk was clear with huge overtrack but there could be more freedom of the shoulder." Their remarks included that he was "slow off the leg and grounded in the turn on the haunches but the contact was secure."
At the press conference Jessica was thrilled with her silver, even though gold had been within reach. "I'm happy that I beat Andreas once," Thomas joked as Helgstrand also ranked third on Queenparks Wendy. "I did my best." When asked what her future plans are with the horse, Thomas stayed vague about his future in sport. "He's a good breeding stallion and I hope I can keep riding him."
Queenparks Wendy Goes for Bronze
Helgstrand completed a double whammy in Ermelo by also earning bronze on his second ride of the day, the Danish warmblood mare Queenparks Wendy (by Sezuan x Blue Hors Soprano), which is bred by Kurt Gosmer and owned by Andreas in partnership with Bolette Wandt of Chateau de Fontaine.
The black mare already gave a strong impression in the first round and confirmed her quality today. In trot she has much knee action, is forward and active. She has a tendency to get hectic in her gaits as she does not truly swing through the back. The essence of her top basic gaits truly shone when she was given the rein at the end of the ride and actually swung through her body. The mare was more elastic on the left lead and lacked bending on the right voltes and turns. In the lengthenings she covered much ground but appeared hurried. The extended walk had just enough overtrack with one to two hooves overstep and she could march a bit more. In canter she was uphill in each stride and produced a lovely first simple change. The second one could have flown a bit more.
The judges rewarded the horse with a high 9 for walk, a fair 9 for trot, a generous 10 for canter, as well as 9.5 for submission and 9.6 for general impression. She totaled 9.42 points for third place.
They praised her for being "a horse that is working very willingly in all transitions. She is full of energy. She has unbelievable balance for a 5-year old" and in canter she made "transitions with amazing ease."
At the press conference, Helgstrand said: "I can't say which one is the best (Jovian or Wendy). I had my two horses well prepared. All horses that come here now are well prepared. The first test is easy, but in the finals' test you see the difference (between the horses)."
Tired Valverde Lands Fourth Place
Helgstrand and Cathrine Rasmussen's Westfalian stallion Valverde (by Vitalis x Ampere) has been trained and competed with great success by Eva Möller. The impressive bright bay stallion has had a very busy schedule this year as a breeding stallion. A week ago he won the 2019 Westfalian Young Horse Championships in Munster and Valverde arrived in Ermelo looking tired. In the Finals' test he was at the end of his rope despite his amazing temperament and willingness to work.
It's a pity because the beautiful stallion, bred by Eugene Reesink in The Netherlands, was certainly a hot contender for the title, but he just looked very tender today and the look his eyes was strained. He still gave it his all but he crossed the jaws and showed his tongue once in a while. The trot was very impressive on the straight lines, but on the voltes and in the corners he lost the regularity and looked fragile in front. Also in the lengthenings he covered much ground but was not pure in the rhythm. The walk was wonderful in which he marched actively with much ground cover and in principle his canter is uphill but he became flat in the counter canters and he struggled with the downwards transitions, tripping in the first simple change and making an abrupt stop in the second. Also the transition back to trot was laboured. Valverde gave further evidence of deflation in the trot when he was given the reins and lost suspension. Pity as there is definitely much in this horse's tank.
The judges were extremely mild in scoring Valverde's test today. They rewarded the young star with a 9 for trot, a 10 for walk, a 9 for canter, 8.8 for submission (despite contact issues) and 9.3 for general impression. It totaled 9.22 points for a remarkable fourth place.
The judges were diplomatic in referring to Valverde's issues today saying that the medium trot was "hurried" and that "on the circle in trot the hindquarters were out" but they did praise the horse's fabulous walk by saying that "he walked through the whole body and showed good purpose."
Let's hope Valverde gets a well earned break now and can return to the arena next spring with renewed energy and strength.
Springbank II Recovers
Spanish Olympian Severo Jurado Lopez and the Swedish warmblood stallion Springbank II (by Skovens Rafael x De Niro) started off on the wrong foot in the preliminary Test. Grand Prix rider Jurado seemed to have forgotten that this is a young horse championship and on Thursday entered the arena in passage with some left-right see-sawing to get his horse through on the bit. It was the beginning of a not so convincing test.
Today, the sympathetic Spaniard approached the test entirely different, entered in walk and had the horse in a much more relaxed and consistent frame. The ride was by far more appealing. Springbank is still weak in the topline and paddles heavily in front, but he was obedient and always up in the bridle. The balance on the voltes was not ideal, but the extended walk had good relaxation, though just one hoof overstep. In canter Springbank was very busy with his tail but he stayed in a good self carriage in the counter canter, yet was a bit overbent to the left. The first simple change was well executed, the second unbalanced. In the trot with the given rein the horse curled the neck instead of stretching into the contact. The test was a big improvement to Thursday and it was reflected in the scores.
The judges rewarded the horse with an enthusiastic 9.3 for trot, 8.6 for walk, 9.5 for canter, 9.0 for submission and 9.5 for general impression. He averaged 9.18 points.
They praised the chestnut for being "soft and flexible" with a "ground covering, active trot, but he tilted on the left." They warned the rider to "be careful not to push him too forward after the medium trot." The canter was "uphill and beautifully ridden in the counter canter. He can really sit back and collect in the counter canter."
Three KWPN horses followed in the ranking in sixth, seventh and eighth place.
Renate van Uytert-van Vliet and her husband Joop's stallion Johnny Depp (by Bordeaux x Jazz) landed sixth place with 9.02 points. The very elastic bay stallion has so much elasticity and bounce in trot but he was consistently behind the vertical and low in the poll. The extended walk had much overtrack but the horse gets very narrow in front, almost crossing the legs. The canter is supple and uphill but needs to develop more self-carriage. Johnny Depp looked like a very green 5-year old when it comes to his self-carriage in trot and canter, but he has much talent for the future. The judges rewarded him with 9 for trot, 9.5 for walk, 8.9 for canter, 8.5 for submission and 9.2 for general impression.
Emmelie Scholtens did an outstanding job on Jan-Pieter Dalsem's KWPN gelding Johnny Be Goode (by Dream Boy out of a Friesian cross dam by Tietse D) and landed seventh place with 8.96 points. The tall dark bay gelding is very uphill in the frame in trot and Scholtens had him in a very nice rhythm on the voltes, but he came a bit against the leg in the medium trot. In canter he lost a bit of the 3-beat rhythm in the more collected canter work but the balance was good in the counter canter. In the left counter canter he got slightly stiff in the back and the first simple change was hesitant. Overall it was a very appealing test and for the future the horse needs to develop more suppleness and elasticity in the topline. They received 8.8 for trot, 9.5 for walk, 8.8 for canter, 8.7 for submission and 9.0 for general impression.
Holland's hope for a medal, Marieke van der Putten and RS2 Dressage's KWPN licensing champion Jameson RS2 (by Zack x Negro), could not fulfil the expectations today. The impressive black stallion was overwhelmed by the surroundings and was just too tense to truly shine. Jameson has much uphill tendency in trot, really climbing in front, especially in the lengthenings but he was a bit quick and hurried. In walk he was too tense and did not achieve any overtrack at all. In canter the stallion is uphill and off the ground in each stride, but he pulled on the contact or tilted in the left counter canter. It was such a pity because he has all the ingredients to be a winner, but this gentle giant was intimidated by the atmosphere today. He slotted in eight with 9.4 for trot, 7.5 for walk (generous for hardly showing walk!), 9.6 for canter, 8.2 for submission (?) and 9.5 for general impression. He scored 8.84 points in total.
Best Training Mildly Rewarded
It was interesting to see how the judges handled the submission scores today. Some of the best trained dressage horses, with the lightest and most honest contact with the bit, ended up at the end of the ranking. OK, they were not all the scopiest movers in the class, but they exemplified real dressage and it's a pity that the judges were not brave to really reward good riding in the submission scores.
While Stefanie Wolf and For Gold (by Franziskus x Zack) were one of the highlights in the preliminary test, today there were too many small issues to land a higher place on the leader board. They were 9th with 8.82.
Two of the most attractive rides of the day came from Nicole Wego on her home bred Rhinelander mare Quiana (by Quaterstern x Rubinstern Noir). The bay mare was so soft footed, so gentle, so expressive and honest. It was a pleasure to watch, yet the submission was just 8.5. The same can be said of Jessica Michel-Botton on Don Vito de Hus (by Don Juan de Hus x De Niro), who had her horse in the lightest of contact, soft, steady and flowing through all the movements in the test. Maybe Don Vito needed to be a bit more closed in the frame and pushing from behind into the contact, but the 8.0 for submission was really low.
Dorothee Schneider and her Oldenburg gelding Dante's Hit (by Dante Weltino x Sandro Hit) is a much better frame today. The horse was more open in the throat latch and very obedient throughout the test, but the gelding does not have the best of walks (still it got a 9.0??) and in canter he moved with good functionality but the hindleg did not yet carry enough.
The 5-year old class was a very interesting one to watch but when the final ranking was announced one left the show with a bit of a confused feeling. Did the best horse really win? Did the best riding really prevail? What matters the most? It is ok that talent for the future is not being judged and that like with any dressage test, the form of the day is what is being assessed, but the judges shouldn't lose track of what the goal of dressage is: gymnasticizing the horse to achieve harmony and lightness while showcasing amazing quality of movement. It shouldn't become a pedestal for the most spectacularly moving horses.