Scores Galore in Night Owl Grand Prix at 2020 CDI Keysoe

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 20:33
2020 CDI Keysoe
Charlotte Dujardin and Mount St. John Freestyle at the 2020 CDI Keysoe :: Photo © Jess Photography

In a landscape of continuously canceled CDI's due to the corona pandemic, Great Britain saw its first international dressage competition being staged post lockdown at Keysoe College on 9 - 11 October 2020, seven months after the last 3* event on the island took place at the same venue. 

The corona pandemic has brought sport life to a grinding halt and only slowly CDI's are restarting again. However with numerous travel restrictions across Europe mainly domestically based riders get the opportunity to show. While Keysoe counted several flags, only very few crossed the Channel to ride there. 

Britain's Best Rides in Night Owl Grand Prix

Britain's best gathered at Keysoe for a stellar Grand Prix class that counted 26 competitors, even though just 23 are listed on the results page. The starters list posted on the Equipe website did not reflect the confusing order of go. The class was only for the super determined, who wanted to stay up until midnight to see all riders compete via live stream. Team GB's best scoring pair at the 2019 European Championships - Gareth Hughes and Briolinca - was last to go.

The slow show tempo has given many riders the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and meticulously train their horses without the pressures of competition or a championship looming round the corner. For older horses the postponed Olympics might be a lost dream or a good breather to conserve energy, for the younger ones the extra year has given them time to grow.  Britain's darlings - Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester - have been developing two new stars which made their CDI debut at Keysoe; yet another reason to burn the midnight oil and watch the live stream.

Un unpleasant and unsportsmanlike side-effect of corona times is that judges seem to have lost their groove. They appear ring-rusty and forgetful of the FEI Judges rulebook and inflated corona scores are handed out like Christmas presents, at least to the fabulous and famous. More about that in this editorial

Dujardin Delivers

Charlotte and Freestyle
The Grand Prix at Keysoe was judged by an experienced panel of 5 and 4* judges (Holler, Halsall, Andersson, Leyman, Saleh) and they were enthralled the class. 8 out of 23 riders scored almost 72% and more and for double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin a personal best score came out of the bag with an 83.196%. It feels like the Olympics already.

Dujardin and Emma Blundell's 11-year old Hanoverian mare Mount St John Freestyle (by Fidermark x Donnerhall) certainly were on form and showed some amazing movements. A pleasant improvement was that the mare had a bit more length in the neck and the nose more out, especially in the first half of the test. In the trot extensions she not only lengthened the stride but also the frame. The trot half passes had massive crossing of her legs and huge ground cover, almost to the point of being a bit overasked. The rein back was a delight with beautiful, big, clear diagonal steps. The first passage was electric and off the ground, but Freestyle abruptly fell into the first piaffe, which was croup high. The collected walk had good overstep, in the collected she became tense in the back although the rhythm remained clear. The second piaffe-passage was the best one with the mare clearly trying to sit more behind in piaffe. In the second half of the test, Freestyle lost some straightness in her body. The canter strike off was crooked, in the big two tempi changes the hindquarters swung to the left, the ones were straighter. The zig zag had lots of ground cover and the pirouettes were small, but the rider clearly carried the mare through them with her masterful riding. Ideally the self carriage needs to improve in them.  In the final passage the left hind leg swung out from under the body, also in the piaffe at X. Dujardin and Freestyle were the clear winners of the test and the mare showed herself so willing and eager to work. The enormous score of 83.196% was certainly a delight to the rider, but a bit of an exaggeration from the judges. 

Gio, Developing Star, Judges Swoon

More astounding was the second place and 79.348% score for Dujardin's second ride, Gio. There was no doubt that Freestyle was the winner, but the second place finish of her young stable mate Gio, a KWPN gelding by Apache x Tango which Dujardin co-owns with New Zealand Renai Hart, was a mystery.

Dujardin show cased the happy chestnut for the first time to the greater public at the 2019 CDI-W London Olympia Horse show almost a year ago and the piaffe-passage work they displayed there was of such quality and potential that Gio could sneak up on Freestyle for a Tokyo team spot. However, at Keysoe the chestnut revealed that at age 9 and with little show experience he still has a bit of road to travel.

Charlotte Dujardin on Gio
Gio clearly looked impressed by the surroundings and although he was very obedient, it looked like he held his breath for 6 minutes in his Grand Prix test. It began with a short and choppy canter upon entry that had no clear 3-beat. The trot extensions were very leg-mover-type: knees high and hurried instead of stretching over the back (score 7 - 8). In the half passes, though, he showed better elasticity and achieved huge overtrack. The rein back was good. The passage is very elegant and engaged, but the first piaffe was crooked to the left, yet well on the spot for such a young Grand Prix horse. Still he was lifting the legs more than being collected and sitting. Gio was a bit distracted in the extended walk and there could have been more relaxed striding so that the overstep would increase. The collected walk was tense and short (7 - 8 !!). In the second piaffe, Gio remained well on the spot again, but he looked a bit insecure in the rhythm, getting narrow behind (8 - 9). It was very interesting to see how Gio was impressed by the task at hand, but kept listening to his rider. He did not make any mistakes, yet it all looked a bit tense. The two tempi changes were fairly short (7.5 - 8), the extended canter was powerful, the one tempi changes were nice and straight and the zig zag well executed. The left pirouette was nice and small with good, beautiful strides (7 - 8.5), the right one was too big. The downward transition from canter to trot failed and was via walk (6 - 7.5 !!). The passage was still fresh and active on the final centerline, but in the piaffe one could clearly see from behind that the horse was crossing the hind legs (which signals a lack of balance and sit). The score for the final piaffe was between 7 and 10 !

Gio's score of 79.348% placed him second in the Keysoe Grand Prix. For the judges the horse was already nearing "world super star" level, based on how they rewarded that test. The marking was very reminiscent of the scoring of Edward Gal's new super star Toto Jr at the Dutch Championships in Ermelo, where similar high marks were given for an imperfect, green Grand Prix test. The only explanation must be that the judges are rewarding NOW what they hope to see in the future. Interesting to note with Gio is that Belgian judge Leyman had the horse at 75%, while British judge Halsall swooned and put 82.283% on the board. 

Hughes and Briolinca Safe and Easy

British team rider Gareth Hughes and his family and Julia Hornig's 14-year old Dutch mare Briolinca (by Trento B x Royal Dance) landed third place with 77.674%. 

As last rider to go, Hughes and Briolinca produced a safe and secure test that could have sparkled a bit more. The halt at entry was wide behind and in the extended trot the mare could have been a bit more elastic over the back. The left trot half pass was the most ground covering one. The rein back was good, the second trot extensive quite conservative. The passage work was very soft footed and elegant. In piaffe Briolinca stays well on the sport but backsteps with the right front, leg while the left leg stays more textbook straight. Keep in mind that for the picture of the perfect piaffe, a horse needs to give the impressive of being uphill oriented and climbing in front. The piaffe is meant as the preparation for the levade: a horse needs to grow, not dive down and become a round ball. The second piaffe was the better one. The two and one tempi changes were soft and easy, the extended canter a bit underridden, the zig zag correct but slightly flat. The pirouettes were lovely but in the last trot extension was she was not crisp regular in the rhythm. The final passage was very nice. Overall it would be nice to see a bit less curb contact. 

Hughes' scores ranged from 74.783% to 79.348%

Strike a Pose

While Carl's team horse Hawtins Delicato stayed at home, new ride En Vogue made its CDI debut in Keysoe.

Carl Hester on En Vogue
Hester officially took over Dujardin's 11-year old Dutch warmblood gelding by Jazz x Contango in February of this year as a second Olympic potential for him to ride. The CDI Keysoe was their first time testing the waters in an international setting and the Jazzy Jazz was clearly awestruck by the surroundings. There was a lot of tension in the test, even though the horse never shut down and kept given his all to the rider. 

En Vogue appeared very electric in the test and made a break into canter in the first trot extension. The trot half pass to the right was more regular in the rhythm than to the left. There was a nice halt for the rein back, but then he dragged his legs. The second and last trot extension never achieved any overtrack (6.5 - 8 !), even though the horse showed good shoulder freedom. The passage is really beautiful with a stunning side silhouette. It is lightfooted and elegant but in the transition to the first piaffe he dove town and pulled the reins. En Vogue still very much leans on the forehand and makes croup high steps behind (8 - 8.5). There was no extended walk with the horse hurrying from tension and barely achieving overtrack (6 - 6.5). In the collected walk the dark bay became completely lateral (6 - 7.5 !!). The second passage was lovely, with a smoother transition into piaffe, but again on the forehand, even though the rhythm was better. What is so impressive to see is that at all times Carls kept a very soft and elastic contact , which kept the overall picture pleasing and horse friendly despite seeing a horse of which the lid is about to blow off the cooker. There were several mistakes in the two tempi changes and the horse swung the hindquarter to the left (3 - 7 !!). The zig zag was well ridden and the one tempi changes were clean. The pirouette left was very nice but the exit needed more polish (7.5 - 9). The final passage was active and energetic, the piaffe at X better on the spot but with the left hind leg swinging out fro the under the body.  Hester showed mastery in steering this horse through the test. There is certainly more in the tank with more mileage on the odometer. 

Despite the tension and several big mistakes, Hester still scored a 76.500% (marks ranging from 75.543 to 78.152). In all fairness,  lesser famous riders would never get such a high score with these technical errors. No fault to Carl, of course, but the psychology behind this judging would make fascination scientific study. Once top riders have achieved a certain status amongst judges - no matter the flag on their saddle pad - their mark will no longer see the deep end of the ocean. Good for them, but is it a level field of play for the others? Food for thought!

Erlentanz Completes Top Five

Sonnar Murray Brown and his 13-year old Trakehner gelding Erlentanz (by Latimer x Benz) completed the top 5 in Keysoe with another generous score from the esteemed panel, 75.500%. 

At the 2020 CDI Lier in February - before the corona pandemic hit the world - Murray Brown and Erlentanz delivered much promise for the future (74.174%), but they could not show an upward trend in Keysoe even though their mark was higher at the British CDI. The horse did not look as put together as before. 

The halt at entry was not square and all collected trot parts were ridden much too passagey, both at the start and end of the test. The trot extensions, however, were very nice but proper lengthening of stride and frame. Erlentanz was not a happy camper in the first part of the test, loudly grinding his teeth. The hindquarters trailed behind in the trot half passes and the rein back was not submissive. The passage is lovely in front, but he could have showed more engagement from behind. Erlentanz showed a piaffe that was remarkably well ridden on the spot with a very secure, loudly pounding rhythm, but ultimately not balanced enough as the frontlegs are not straight in the downward moment of each stride. The collected walk was lateral (6 - 7.5). Sonnar and Erlentanz found a much better stride and level in the canter work. The tempi changes were lovely, the zig zag good. The pirouettes were small with the horse showing much willingness to collect and take the weight on the hindquarters. The grinding also stopped in canter. They finished their test with a nice square halt. 

Text by Astrid Appels - Photos © Jess Photography

Related Links
Scores: 2020 CDI Keysoe
hoose the Type of Rider You Want to Be - On Corona Scores, Keysoe, and Friendly Dressage