Team Great Britain seems to be calling for gold as two out of three team riders secured a provisional lead after the first Grand Prix day at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Great Britain, on 2 August 2012. Twenty-five out of 50 riders competed today and Carl Hester stormed to the fore in this mix of team and individual riders, finishing first so far with 77.720%. However the battle is far from decided with some of the best riders still to come tomorrow.
The distinguished panel of judges included Wim Ernes (NED), Jean Michel Roudier (FRA), Leif Tornblad (DEN), Gary Rockwell (USA), Stephen Clarke (GBR), Maribel Alonso (MEX) and Evi Eisenhardt (GER). The judging was fair and consistent today, but quite strict in comparision with the score inflation spectators had to witness this 2012 show season with the CDI Hagen as epitome. However, the Games are what count and not only the riders are on edge, but the judges were also alert. Despite several 5% deviations amongst the panel members, the scores evened out well as seven judge reduce the high individual influence of each one on the overall score. Assisted by the Judging Supervisory Panel (Schule, Peeters, Hunt) the utmost was done to avoid error in the system. The lower scores, however, caused some grumbling from a few riders who are used to receiving more. Let's hope the judges will keep up the same standard tomorrow so they create the fairest field of play for the second day riders who are usually at a scoring advantage.
Despite many mistakes made, the overall quality of riding was high today with almost half of the 25 riders scoring above 70%! Carl Hester was seventh to go and set the bar. Aboard his own and Sasha Stewart's 11-year old Dutch warmblood stallion Uthopia (by Metall x Inspecteur) Hester rode wonderful trot extensions, very relaxed and ground covering half passes and lightfooted, regular passage. Even Uthopia's weaker point, the walk, was fairly good today with two hooves overtrack and good stretch in the neck. The piaffe is not spectacular, but sweet and rhythmical. A trimmed down Uthopia looked healthy and fit and showed large two tempi's which could have been straighter though. In the exteded canter the stallion made an unwanted flying change, but Carl corrected it quickly. The pirouettes were nice, though the onset of the right one could be better. Overall, Hester produced a lovely, harmonious ride, which was slightly more conservative compared to his Rotterdam Grand Prix but still very nice. He received 77.720% from the judges.
"To me he's back to his best," Hester told Eurodressage about Uthopia. "He's fitter and I was thrilled with his self carriage. He was secure. I don't know what happened in the extanded canter. I was overcautious maybe, but I'm quite pleased. This was one of my better tests." Hester admitted that the past few months had made him "feel ill" because of rumours and speculation about Uthopia not being fit. "The final two minutes of my test I felt like I could breathe again," he admitted. "It's lovely to go there and then show them 'you go guys, he's fine'."
In preparation of the Special, Carl will give Uthopia and himself a few days off. "I'm going to take a chill pill now," he joked. "I will go ride around on the gallop track. I worked so hard getting him to top fitness, so that when I get here I don't have to train so hard," he explained.
Bechtolsheimer Lost for Words
Britain's long-time number one Laura Bechtolsheimer finished second with 76.839, an unusually low score for her, which short-circuited the coveted opportunity to build up a strong lead in the team ranking.
Aboard her 17-year old Danish warmblood gelding Mistral Hojris (by Michellino x Ibsen) Laura started off with a strong medium trot. In the half passes, he had huge cross over but the horse was not up in the poll. The first piaffe-passage was superb with outstanding rhythm. The extended walk was big with good relaxation. In the second piaffe Mistral became a bit unregular in the lift but maintained a very good rhythm. The huge chestnut gelding tends to get strong in the bridle, but today Laura had him well in the contact and was able to stay more quiet with her hands. In canter two mistakes crept into her test which affected her score considerably. He made on double beat in the one tempi's and did an unscripted flying change in the extended canter. The pirouettes, however, were fantastic!
Laura's 76.839% score is far from her usual 80% mark. Judge Clarke had her at 80.213%, but Dutch judge Ernes limited his points to 73.936%. The rider was extremely disappointed and lost for words after her test. "I'm baffled, this is by far the lowest score I got in years. It must have looked different than what I felt. It has not given us the advantage we needed. I'm pretty disappointed, especially for my team," said the sympathetic Briton.
Britain does not yet have the convincing lead in the nations' ranking it had hoped for with Germany's two top pairs are both going tomorrow. "I thought we would have done enough," she stated, "but it's still early in the competition. It might be as hard for them (the riders going on Friday) to get the scores too. Marks are sometimes a bit low at the Olympic Games. I'll keep my fingers crossed for the next round. I'm pretty gutted for my team. I don't know what to say."
"You expect 80% but those mistake take lots of points off that mark," Hester commented on his team mate's ride. "A mistake is now a mistake compared to what was the case in the past. It makes it more clear cut. But Laura needs the Special to come and shine," he said hopeful about Laura's major come back in the next test!"
Dorothee Schneider and Diva Royal Make Olympic Debut
German seasoned professional Dorothee Schneider made her Olympic debut on Diva Royal, which is owned by her 23-year old Under 25 student Stella Charlott Roth. The duo radiates sympathy: Schneider is all smiles and Diva Royal is such a fighter. The black mare showed lovely trot extensions but had a tiny mistake in the rhythm of the second diagonal. The piaffe-passage was outstanding showing a strong, rhythmical hind leg. In general the trot work was decent but sparkled less than it did in Aachen. In the extended walk the mare had three to four hooves overstep and was active. The collected walk was good. Also in canter, Schneider was solid and consistent executing strong movements such as the two tempi's and pirouettes. In the ones she lost ground cover and the final change on the line was a bit forced. Schneider scored 76.277% to place third provisionally.
Germany's individual Olympic rider Anabel Balkenhol did not have the Olympic moment she had hoped for on her sensitive and spooky Hanoverian Dablino (by De Niro x Wanderbusch II). The horse was already tense while traveling the arena and it took until late in the canter tour for the horse to come into his own. Dablino twice broke into canter on the short side in between movements, but the trot extensions and half passes were powerful. The passage was big and off the ground. The first piaffe was rhythmical but the chestnut crept forwards. Dablino failed to relax in the extended walk and despite his two hooves overstep he has his neck high and back hollow. The second passage was lovely but in the second piaffe the gelding should have taken more weight on the hindquarters. The extended canter was huge but he was crooked to he right. The zig zag had a small hiccup but the one tempi's and pirouettes were superb. Dablino is brimming with talent and potential but his sensitive nature got in the way of that today. He scored 70.973% to finish 9th.
Deluge Didn't Affect Anna Kasprzak
The weather forecast for today had predicted 21° C and mildly overcast weather with 30% chance of a bit of rain round noon. That 30% chance was an understatement as it started to rain during Anna Merveldt's test and it became a deluge when 22-year old Danish Anna Kasprzak entered the ring. The rain came down so hard it created a haze, but Kasprzak was unphased by the natural elements and rode big trot extensions and strong half passes. The passage was energetic and forward but in piaffe the Finnish warmblood gelding became tense in the back and quick. The crowds which were taking cover from the rain by opening umbrellas and putting on ponchos made a lot of noise which distracted the horse a bit but he remained obedient and stayed mistake-free. In canter the pair was strong. "I was aquaplaning in the saddle at the end of the test," Kasprzak told Ridehesten after her ride.
Denmark's Anne van Olst was the first rider to go of the day and produced a faultless test. The horse looked a bit less strong in the trot work, compared to his super Aachen performance a few weeks ago, but the piaffe and passage were nice. There were a few small beauty errors in the canter. One change in the one tempi's was short, the exit of the zig zag was a bit difficult and there was some loss of collection in the pirouette left but overall van Olst lived up to the team expectations and scored 71.322% to finish eight.
Dutch Do Their Duty
For Anky van Grunsven the 2012 Olympic Games are an emotional roller coaster. After dilly-dallying about Olympic participation for half a year, she went for it at the selection trials and earned a spot back on the team, riding Salinero in his third Olympic Games. Team trainer and Anky's life partner Sjef Janssen has been ill for months, recovering slowly from an operation to a benign brain tumour and today he was absent from the show grounds, bed-ridden due to a spiking fever. Anky had to prepare for her Grand Prix with the help of Patrik Kittel.
Anky and her 18-year old Hanoverian gelding Salinero looked fresh and sharp. The beautifully muscled Salinero was attentive to the aids and ready for this swan song, as these Olympics will be the last competition in his career. The horse was steady in the contact and up in the bridle and for the first time in his Olympic career, Salinero halted square and immobile three times! The first medium trot only started to happen at the end of the diagonal but the half passes were brilliant. The first piaffe-passage was active and off the ground but the passage gradually became more uneven with more left hindleg activity. The extended walk was good, much better than shown in Saumur or at the selection trials, but in the collected walk the horse was just slowed down instead of collected into the contact. In the two tempi's the hindquarters swung out and Salinero swooshed his tail with each change, pointing out tension in the back. The extended canter stopped right after X and the flying change at K took place five meters before the letter. The zig zag was good but the one tempi's lacked ground cover and were finished right after X. The pirouettes were good but the final trot extension was non-existent. The final centreline was clean and expressive.
Van Grunsven fulfilled the duty she was set out to do in Greenwich: contribute to the team score. The judges were in unison about her performance and scored her an average of 73.343%, which places her fifth so far. Van Grunsven was very emotional and burst out into tears in front of the Dutch television camera. "I stayed strong the entire morning, but now I'm letting go. "It didn't go well this morning. There was no panick but stuff needed to be arranged," she said about Janssen getting ill and treatment from the Dutch team doctor.
Dutch rising stars Patrick van der Meer and the KWPN bred gelding Uzzo (by Lancet x Indoctro) were amongst the star performers at the Dutch Olympic selection shows, but their participation at the CDIO Aachen in addition to the strenous trials, proved to have been one bridge too far for this young Grand Prix horse. The refined bay gelding looked less fresh and bubbly in Greenwich and there were small hiccups that reduced their score to a 70.912% and 10th place so far. Their trot extensions were ground covering but in the second one the horse hollowed its back. The hindquarters were trailing a bit at the start of the half pass right and in the rein back the horse went twice behind the vertical. The first piaffe was quite forward and then the horse lost all impulsion before the transition. The second piaffe was crooked. The passage was elegant and bouncy. The two tempi's and extended canter were good but there was issues in the one tempi's. The pirouettes were ok.
"My horse is still young and lacks experience," Van der Meer explained. "But we'll continue to work slowly but steadily towards Rio the next four years, because that was always my goal."
Text and Photos © Astrid Appels
Eurodressage On the Scene at the 2012 Olympic Games