David Stickland: Anatomy of a Multiple World Record Holder

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 10:03
Guest Column

The remarkable couple of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro smashed two World Records at Olympia before Christmas!  In this article David Stickland of Global Dressage Analytics examines what went into those records and make some predictions of what the future could hold. 

Of course we can all watch the dressage and we will be captivated by it, but it is also watched by our 5* judges who have given numbers to every part of it so we can also study their analysis of their performance. 

Dujardin broke the Grand Prix World Record for the fourth time with a score of 87.740 surpassing their Lyon WR of 87.130. That latter mark already surpassed their Herning WR of 85.942 and their Olympia 2012 WR of 84.447 as well as the previous WR set by Edward Gal and Totilas of 84.085 in Windsor 2009. The trend of their progress shows no sign of letting up, so maybe they will hit 90% by the end of 2015. 

Figure 1: Valegro Grand Prix Scores, with their World Records in Yellow

Since this pair started at Grand Prix level the same test has been in place, except for the change in piaffe coefficients introduced in January 2014. We have taken each figure and categorized it, for example averaging the scores from the flying changes. In the next figure we show this in a radar, or spiders-web plot.

Figure 2: The Consistent performance of Valegro

In this plot the average score of each figure type (without coefficients being taken into account) is shown for each of 7 recent Valegro performances. We left out Aachen 2014 as that didn’t go so perfectly. I think it bears a remarkable resemblance to a map of the Antarctica, but presumably that is just a coincidence! The first thing it shows us is that in all the work, except maybe the walk, this couple is remarkably consistent. Olympia 2013 there was a glitch in the first Collected Canter, otherwise every figure is averaging in a very narrow range of about 0.5 points, and what we have seen over these past 4 years is a steady progression in every single measure of performance. These are just the most well-rounded athletes we have in the sport.

We can also look at how each figure type is progressing, for example in the figure below we see the development of the principle canter figures. All are getting better, though the biggest progression is with the Extended Canter

Figure 3: Progress in the Canter Movements

In the spiders-web plot we could see that the weakest figures were the walk. I use “weakest” in it broadest possible sense! If we now look at the progression of the Walk we see that it is also getting better rapidly, a good 0.5 points per year for the Collected Walk

Figure 4: Progress in the Walk movements

Recall that if you improve every figure by 0.5 points, your final score will go up by 5%, small differences make big final effects.

Next we perform a quite different analysis, some of the figures in the Grand Prix (The Trot Half-Passes, the Pirouettes, the first pairs of Passages) have a distinct handedness. Most horses (and quite possibly most riders) find it easier on one hand than on the other, so in the next plot we look at the average scores for the figures on each hand over time.

Figure 5: Almost no difference in Left and Right hand movements

The differences are very small, the final average is slightly higher for the Left movements than for the Right, a small difference of 0.08 points, less than 0.1% in the final score having accounted also for the coefficients of these figures. So we can see this is a well-balanced couple. In Odense during their demonstration Carl said that the left hand was a little more difficult – but if it is they hide it well!

The day after the Grand Prix at the 2014 CDI-W London, they broke their own Freestyle record with score of 94.300, beating their previous World Record from Olympia 2013 of 93.975 which in turn broke Edward Gal and Totilas’s record of 92.300 at Olympia 2012. Clearly Olympia is the place to go to break Freestyle Records! Their score sheet shows 29 notes of “10” including 5x10 for Harmony. They “only” had 19 in 2013.

Figure 6: Valegro Freestyle Scores, with their World Records in Yellow

We can compare the Olympia 2013 and 2014 Freestyles; again we see the high consistency of this couple. The small improvements over the year have come mostly from the canter work though the Passage work was slightly less rewarded in 2014 than in 2013.

Figure 7: Comparing the 2013 and 2014 World Record Freestyle rides

Finally, it is a well-established fact that a rider has an opportunity to improve their technical marks between the Grand Prix and the Freestyle as of course each figure can be presented at the moment of choosing of the rider and the choreography can take account of the relative strengths. In Valegro’s case the technical score from the Grand Prix was 87.02 while that from the Freestyle was 92.30, a net gain of 4%. So in the last figure we show the score difference for each figure type between the Olympia 2014 GP and the Kür.

How far might they go? Perhaps the comparison of the Technical notes between the Grand Prix and the Kür give us a hint? The Halt, Piaffe, Transitions, Pirouette and Changes are better in the Kür, so improving them in the Grand Prix is probably within reach. The walk however is more or less the same in both tests, so probably very difficult to improve “quickly”. If you plug in the numbers then 89% in the Grand prix looks doable in the next year or so, and if they can pick up half a mark in each Walk figure then they can break the 90% barrier. It of course gets harder and harder to improve, but their performance shows no sign of plateauing, even those walk marks are getting better every year. Passing 95% in the Kür looks possible.

Figure 8: Difference in Technical scores between the Grand Prix and the Kür

By David Stickland for Eurodressage

Related Links
David Stickland: Spinning the Numbers for the 2014 World Equestrian Games
David Stickland: Who's Afraid of the Piaffe Coefficient?
David Stickland: Why A Team of Three Would Make For a Better Olympics
David Stickland: What's Wrong with the Freestyle Scoring?
David Stickland: Deductions are Elementary, Dr Watson