Isabell Werth and Bella Rose blew away all competition in the Grand Prix Special for a gold medal at the 2018 World Equestrian Games on Friday 14 September 2018. Home hero Laura Graves got silver and Britain’s darling Charlotte Dujardin went full throttle to put herself on the podium for bronze.
While sensationalist American news stations announce apocalyptic forecast of an all devastating Hurricane Florence, spreading fear of a total wipe out of the 2018 World Equestrian Games, which is 300 km inland in North Carolina, so far the weather has been nothing but brilliant with hot temperatures. For the Special day there was a nice wind that brought some cooling relief, yet it did not upset the horses competing in the main stadium.
Hurricane Bella Rose Takes Over Tryon
Already after the Grand Prix it became clear that Isabell Werth and her 14-year old Westfalian mare Bella Rose (by Belissimo M x Cacir AA) have the 2018 WEG in their pocket and the judges on her side for more glory.
As last rider to go Werth had her game face on, the face that predicts full concentration and victory in store! The improvement the elegant, long-backed chestnut mare has shown in three months competition time is impressive, but the fact that the mare has shown further refinement in her training in one day time is even more jaw dropping. Bella Rose’s Special test was superior to her Grand Prix, with for instance piaffes that finally showed an intention to sit, but the effortless for which her number one Weihegold is known is not there yet. This makes no difference to the judges’ panel. They love everything about it and reflect it in their points. Werth scored 86.246% and was a full five percent ahead of the competition, a gap which is unjustifiable.
The elegant chestnut mare began her test with a trot extension that had barely any overtrack. The passage was regular but the hindlegs were out instead of under. The half passes were lovely. The extended walk was not good in rhythm and the collected walk on the long side had a loss of a clear 4-beat rhythm. No problem! The significant improvements today were the contact being far lighter and the piaffes had a bit more sit. Especially the second piaffe was nice with a very good rhythm. The first change in the two tempi changes was short and lacked forward go, even though the mare jumps beautiful uphill changes. The ones were short and needed more ground cover. The left pirouette was tiny, the right one bigger and lacked proper sit behind. The final centreline truly was lovely with an impeccable rhythm and so much lightness, but the mare does sway in passage. One of the nicest things to see was how Werth left the arena, reins loose on her horse’s neck and waving to the crowds.
Remember the days of the frazzled, nervous-wreck horses that piaffed out of the arena covered in sweat and raced to get to the stall and safety as quick as possible. Those were the type of horses judges preferred to see as golden medalists! Thank God those days are over! Bella Rose, Verdades, Freestyle, Zonik: they all walk out of the arena in total relaxation after having done a world class test!
The judges’ romance with Bella Rose continued. The panel, which included Katrina Wuest (GER, Anne Gribbons (USA, Susan Hoevenaars (AUS, Hans-Christian Matthiesen (DEN), Annette Fransen Iacobaeus (SWE, Mariette Sanders-van Gansewinkel (NED), and Andrew Gardner (GBR), were unanimous in seeing Bella Rose as the best horse of the day and rewarded her with 86.246%. The low score was 85.213% and her high score even 89.043%.
“I felt so safe on her, so happy on her to come in today. She has so much energy, she is so patient to go and present herself. It’s up to me to show what she has in her,” Werth raved about her heart horse Bella Rose. “You can imagine we had three other riders with 80%. I do my best to get gold. I felt she was full of power. In the first extended trot I knew ‘wow she wants to go. It makes a rider really happy if you have such a horse.”
Graves and Verdades in Focus to Silver
Laura Graves’ 16-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Verdades (by Florett As x Goya) is known to be a spooky horse and the windy conditions in the arena could have upset the big gelding, but there was nothing of the sorts. The sympathetic bay was focused on his rider and delivered.
18_weg_graves_verdades_0719The passage was energetic and off the ground, the trot extensions very ground covering, maybe sometimes a bit too quick in tempo. The half passes were beautiful. Also Verdades lost the clear beat rhythm in the collected walk on the short side. The piaffes were on the spot and in rhythm, but not correct with the right hindleg swinging out from under the body. The canter strike off was hesitant. There was very nice balance in the canter half passes despite a light tilt of the head. The tempi changes were gorgeous and straight, even though there was a small hiccup in the ones on the diagonal. The pirouette right was too big. Verdades was still full of energy on the final centerline with active, regular passage, but he jerked the right hind leg out in the piaffe at X.
The pair received 81.717% from the panel of judges which placed them second for silver. Their marks, however, ranged from 77.021% to 84.574%, a 7.5 % difference !
“If you are looking at scores this high, the test has to be flawless from start to finish,” Graves said about the tough competition in Tryon. “With this heat you need a horse that wants to go. Today I’m very proud of how he let me ride him. He trotted himself into the stadium, as if he knows he has a bunch of fans and is ready to show off.”
Dujardin Breezes to Bronze
Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin is eager to be back on the top podium and there is no holding her back. She rode Emma Blundell’s 9-year old Hanoverian mare Mount St. John Freestyle (by Fidermark x Donnerhall) with nothing to lose and asked for the maximum the youngest horse of the dressage competition has to give at this moment.
As the penultimate rider to go in the Special, Dujardin had a favourable draw working for her. Sandwiched in between Cosmo and Bella Rose, Dujardin rode as if her life depended on it and put all the power Freestyle has on display. The trot extensions were massive, even way too exuberant and grotesque at some point (especially that last extension on the long side). The mare has a phenomenal passage, so engaged, so much airtime and so much power, but in the passage on the left lead the nose needed to be more out. The half passes had much ground cover. The extended walk was ok, but in the collected she got tight in the back. The first piaffe was hesitant in the onset but then Dujardin gave the mare the space to develop the steps and rhythm, traveling forward slightly. The second piaffe was nice with the hind legs under the body, but Freestyle’s trembling lip disclosed the effort and inner tension there. The canter strike off was difficult? The two tempi changes were big, the ones nice, but in the extended canter the mare lost the swing in the back again and the three-beat rhythm was lost. The final centerline still had tons of energy and expression.
The pair posted 81.489% for third place and bronze. Her marks went from 78.830% to 83.511%.
“My ride was unbelievable. I couldn’t have asked for more,” said Dujardin. “This was her third Grand Prix Special ever. I had nothing to lose. Yesterday I gave her an easy ride and today she upped her game. I took that challenge on and she just delivered. I was sandwiched by the Germans and I had to show that I knew what I was doing. Next year I want to give Isabell a run for her money.”
Cosmo Dropped from the Podium
The 2018 World Equestrian Games were expected to be Sönke Rothenberger and Cosmo’s hay day, but the odds does not seem to be in their favour, so far.
In principle, Rothenberger and his 11-year old Dutch warmblood gelding Cosmo (by Van Gogh x Landjonker) should be untouchable. No combination placing at the top of the board shows this level of correct classical training and execution of the movements as this pair. Cosmo has an elasticity and power that is unparallelled and it is regrettable that two small mistakes in the test have pushed the pair off the podium despite showing supreme riding.
The horse is soft in the contact, maybe there sometimes could be a bit more connection and the half halts more subtle. The regularity, bounce and expression in this horse’s passive, without the flash, are outstanding. The trot half passes are very nice, but not as elegant as Bella Rose’s. The trot extensions are text book in ground cover, engagement from behind, swing through the body and with the nose slightly out. The extended walk is probably the problem area as the horse does not have the greatest overtrack and rhythm. The first piaffe was ok, a bit shuffling at the onset, the second was slightly insecure with the right hind leg less engaged. The canter half passes were lovely and the two tempi changes outstanding, but there was a mistake in the ones both on the diagonal and on the centerline. The final centerline was super nice, light, and elastic.
Sönke and Cosmo scored 81.277% for fourth place with marks going from 77.128% to 82.872%.
Phenomenal Quality in the Top Ten
Swedish Patrik Kittel and the Swiss bred and owned 10-year old mare Well Done de La Roche CMF (by Furstentraum x Walt Disney) completed the top five with a personal best score of 79.726%. The elegant mare is a wonderful beauty: graceful, long legged, a real prima ballerina, but her tight topline affects the majority of her movements: the trot extensions are short and hurried without proper overtrack, the extended walk is almost non existant, the collected tense, the piaffe has no suspension despite a high leg lift. Kittel keeps his hands as quiet as possible not to disturb or upset the hypersensitive mare, but it would be nice to see her actually stretch into the contact and chew the bit. And then there are also very beautiful parts: elegant half passes, a very lofty passage, good canter half passes, small pirouettes. For the judges this is what counts and they are willing to push this pair over the 80% barrier soon.
American Kasey Perry-Glass and her 15-year old Danish warmblood gelding Gorklintgaards Dublet (by Diamond Hit x Ferro) were sixth with 78.541%. They executed lovely trot extensions, a very regular passage, well cadenced half passes. In the collected walk the gelding paced, but the piaffes were nice, even though the horse was bent to the right in the piaffe-passage combination. The pirouettes were neat but there was a mistake in the two tempi changes. The final centerline was flawless!
Dutch Edward Gal and the 10-year old Danish warmblood stallion Zonik (by Zack x Romanov) were on best form in the Special. Gal really had his rather lazy stallion going and the first part of the test was very strong. The trot extensions were big, even though the nose could come more forward, the passage was active. The half pass right was outstanding. In the collected walk the horse was bent to the right and the first piaffe had a backward tendency. The second was on the forehand. In the canter tour Gal had to work harder to keep Zonik motivated to go. The canter half pass left was laboured and there was a mistake in the two’s. In the extended canter, Zonik became sour and he looked angry on the centerline for the pirouettes and one tempi’s. Gal kept going and brought the final passage-piaffe centerline to a good conclusion. He scored 77.751% for 7th place.
The Grand Prix Kur to Music has been rescheduled for Monday 17 September as heavy rain caused by Hurricane Florence is forecast on Sunday. The actual times are not yet announced
Text and Photos © Astrid Appels - No reproduction allowed
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Eurodressage Coverage of the 2018 World Equestrian Games