Former World Champion Edward Gal has officially presented his next generation of stallions to the international show ring and judges, sweeping the board in the Grand Prix at the 2021 CDI Opglabbeek on 23 April 2021.
With a massive field of 42 combination, including the entire Dutch and Belgian Grand Prix squads, the 2021 Sentower Dressage Festival in the quiet countryside town of Opglabbeek, Belgium, celebrated a spectacular inauguration.
Furthermore, the exceptional show grounds with large arenas, top all-weather footing, and big permanent boxes with facilities for the grooms to the highest standard, turned this brand new Belgian CDI into a massive success with rider vouching to return next year
While 350 kilometers north east from Opglabbeek, the absolute world elite from Germany, Great Britain and Denmark was battling out a Champion's League match on the hallowed ground of Hof Kasselmann in Hagen, Germany, the UEFA Cup League match in Belgium was certainly no less interesting.
As Edward's former generation of Dutch team horses Voice (19) and Zonik (13) has quietly retreated to the background, his new armada has officially been presented in the CDI ring: 10-year old Hanoverian stallion Toto Jr (by Totilas x Desperados) and 9-year old Oldenburg stallion Total U.S. (by Totilas x Sir Donnerhall).
Both have very little show ring experience; they were hardly shown as young horses and now developing into Grand Prix potentials, both made their international show debut in Opglabbeek. The one year age difference and ring experience clearly shows as an asset for Toto Jr. The Hanoverian struck a first blow by winning the Dutch Dressage Championships in Ermelo in 2020 and has slightly more mileage than Total U.S., who only just had his national GP debut in Tolbert in February.
Both horses are green at Grand Prix, but the judges are thrilled to have the amiable Edward back into the arena. Eleven years later Gal still rides on the wave of success and glory he achieved aboard mega stallion Totilas in 2009 and 2010. His idiosyncratic style of dressage training - far from the classical spectrum, yet abundantly rewarded by the judges - has not changed over the years. Toto Jr and Total U.S. are a testimony to that.
Edward and his partner Hans Peter Minderhoud are probably the two riders in the world with the most horse power in their stable. Gun mogul Gaston Glock and his wife Kathrin continue to support the celebrated Dutch duo and stock their barn full of absolute top quality dressage horses. They already have a head-start with those eggs in their basket.
Totilas' Generation Shines in Opglabbeek
Totilas' first crop of foals was born in 2011 and that first general has now reached Grand Prix level. Four of those sons were in the top six of the 2021 CDI Opglabbeek Grand Prix, which was judged by Bernard Maurel (FRA), Lars Andersson (SWE), Eduard De Wolff Van Westerrode (NED), Jacques van Daele (BEL) and Thomas Kessler (GER).
Totilas' heirs Total U.S., Toto Jr, Governor and Go Legend are all hot contenders for a Dutch Olympic team spot and they face competition from two Vivaldi offspring, Desperado (Emmelie Scholtens) and Dream Boy (Hans Peter Minderhoud). From this group the three Olympic team members for Tokyo will most likely be chosen.
In Opglabbeek not the more mature Toto Jr won the class, but the inexperienced and green Grand Prix horse Total U.S. was preferred by the judges as the winner of the pack of 42.
Gal and Total U.S. started early on Friday morning as ninth pair to go . The black stallion, with almost liver chestnut glow, is a huge mover with so much knee action and freedom of the shoulder it almost looks like a Dutch harness horse. No longer standing at stud after testing positive to WFFS, Total U.S. has been fully focused on sport after his last competition start, winning the 2018 Pavo Cup Finals as a 6-year old.
He brims with talent and his massive gaits make him an eye catcher in the arena, but the musculature in his neck is still fairly skimpy and his biggest issues, at the moment, are self carriage and balance, because the quality of his basic gaits is spectacular. Heavily relying on his rider's support with a strong and firm curb contact throughout, Total U.S. showcased huge trot extensions and trot half passes. In the passage he's very much off the ground, but consistently tight in the neck. The extended walk shows no real striding through the body, even though he achieves overstep. He struggles in piaffe with balance and collection, crossing the hindlegs instead of taking the weight. In canter there is much potential and scope: big extended canter, lots of ground cover in the zig zag (which was hectic), massive lift in the forehand in the pirouettes, uphill changes that still swayed too much. It's all there, but it would be nice to see more self carriage and lightness in the contact for a harmonious and happy silhouette.
The judges scored the test 78.674% with individual marks ranging from 77.174% (Kessler) to 79.674% (Van Daele).
Gal rode Toto Jr in the last block of combinations in the afternoon and although the Grand Prix work looked much more established and balanced with this stallion, the Hanoverian did not beat his stall mate.
Toto Jr showed good half passes and a lovely passage, but the piaffe is incorrectly executed with no sit behind and swinging with hind legs, although the horse finds the rhythm better than Total U.S. Toto's transitions were smooth, especially the second pi-pa combo was seamless. The extended walk was exceptional. The real eye sore in the test was the poor contact with the bridle. Throughout the ride, Toto Jr was crossing the jaws, opening the mouth and tilting the head. At a certain point a half halt was a yank in order to collect him after the extended canter. The one tempi changes were correct but tense, the pirouettes were tiny but could have had more strides. Like Total U.S. this horse brims with quality and potential, but the test needs more polishing and a more honest connection with the bridle.
He finished second with 77.978%, with scores ranging from 77.717 (Kessler), to 78.804% (Van Daele).
Gal's life partner Hans Peter Minderhoud made the Glock party in Opglabbeek complete by finishing third.
The 13-year old KWPN licensed stallion Dream Boy (by Vivaldi x Ferro) has been a fixture on the Dutch team at the 2018 World Equestrian Games and 2019 Europeans. The pair did its last international in January 2020 before the corona outbreak. The black stallion looked fresh and fit. He showed huge crossing in the half passes and big extensions. He got behind the vertical in the rein back and in the first piaffe he dropped on the forehand. The extended walk was good, the collected slightly tense. The passage is nice. The canter strike off was in two phases and in the two tempi changes the horse swayed to the left. The zig zag had great ground cover but was a bit rushed. The one tempi changes were lovely. In the left pirouette the horse lost the collection, the right one was better. In the piaffe at X the horse got wide in front. Minderhoud rode a high energy test, but it would be nice to see a bit more softness in the silhouette in the future.
The pair scored 75.065% with marks ranging from 71.848 (Maurel) to 77.283 (Van Daele)!
Adelinde Cornelissen has arrived at Grand Prix level with the 10-year old KWPN licensed stallion Governor (by Totilas x Jazz), the black stallion which which she successfully competed into the medals at the World Young Horse Championships in Ermelo.
This Totilas offspring was ridden with great accuracy and test strategy, for which Cornelissen is known. He did good trot extensions, an excellent extended walk, the first piaffe had good rhythm but was on the forehand, the second travelled but wasn't bad at all. The two tempi changes were straight, but in the zig zag there could have been more uphill tendency. The pirouettes were well ridden. Cornelissen rode a great first international Grand Prix test with Governor, and while the horse was very steady with the head, the contact was strong and hand held, with the tongue often retracted and the mouth opening.
They scored 74.978 for fourth place. They scored between 71.739% (Maurel) and 78.261% (Van Daele). Belgian judge Van Daele was the high scoring judge on all six Dutch combinations in the top 10.
Sintano van Hof Olympia
British team rider Gareth Hughes selected Opglabbeek as the debut CDI for his rising star, Sintano van Hof Olympia. The 11-year old Oldenburg by Sandro Hit x Silvano N Calypso II, owned by Judy Williams, was competed at small tour level in 2019 and win the British small tour title. In Opglabbeek he made the jump to Grand Prix.
The tall bay gelding rushed in the trot extensions and got wide behind, there was good relaxation in the extended walk, the piaffe was carefully ridden but in the passage the hindlegs trailed far behind. Throughout the test, Hughes had his left hand much higher than the right one, lifting the horse's head. The tempi changes were well ridden and the extended canter was beautiful. It was a good confidence building test for the horse.
They scored plenty with a 74.196%. Their individual scores ranged from 71.957% up to 77.283%.
The Best of the Rest
Marlies van Baalen landed sixth and seventh place with her two horses, Go Legend (by Totilas x Ferro) and Ben Johnson (by Johnson x Ferro).
The 10-year old Go Legend is very talented for the collected work and has a beautiful silhouette, but Van Baalen rode the black with a much stronger contact than her bay Ben Johnson. The first medium trot was ridden safely, the second had nice spring. In the rein back the horse dropped behind the vertical. The passage was beautifully uphill and the first piaffe was well ridden on the spot but the horse should come more up in the withers. The extended walk was mediocre with one hoof overtrack and not the greatest rhythm. The second piaffe was very nice. The canter tour was solid, but there was an issue in the zig zag and in the right pirouette the horse lost some balance. They scored 73.087% for sixth place.
Aboard Ben Johnson she rode nice half passes but the regularity in the extended trots could have been better. The passage is lovely in the side silhouette. In the first piaffe the gelding travelled forward a bit. The extended walk was quite limited. The zig zag and pirouettes were well ridden. They finished seventh with 72.630% with scores going from 70.978% (Maurel) to 74.565 (Van Daele).
Belgian Larissa Pauluis presented her new hope Flambeau (by Ampere x Zeoliet) for the first time in the international arena. The 11-year old Dutch warmblood has very little ring mileage in his life and is not the easiest character. Pauluis rode a very focused, conservative ride, piloting her horse through the narrow sea of the Grand Prix and safely bringing into the harbour with no major dramas, even though Flambeau threw in a spook before the first piaffe. They finished on a well earned 72.239%.
Some Side Notes
The big Opglabbeek Grand Prix class was the first big outdoor international, alongside Hagen, since the second corona lockdown, so for dressage fans it felt like being in a candy store to watch so many talented and interesting Grand Prix combinations. Here are a few side notes.
The biggest score discrepancy was for Adelinde Cornelissen on her 16-year old Dutch warmblood Aqiedo (by Undigo x Metall). The experienced formerly licensed stallion has a really nice piaffe-passage, tempi changes and pirouettes but his head had almost dropped between his knees and Cornelissen struggled to keep him up in the bridle. The mares went from 67.174% (Maurel) to 78.261% (Van Daele). The other three judges were round 70 - 72%.
The second best Belgian on home turf was Alexa Fairchild piloting the 18-year old Belgian warmblood Dabanos d'O4 (by Abanos x Donnerschlag). She finished 14th with 70.978% on her first international with the schoolmaster. Fairchild's forté is her very accurate riding from marker to marker. She also produced a very risky zig zag with massive ground cover. Overall the horse could be ridden less on the curb so he can swing a bit more through the back.
Laurence Roos is Belgium's Tokyo Olympic individual and her only requirement to make the nomination for the Games this spring is to show fitness and form. With the 16-year old Belgian warmblood gelding Fil Rouge (by Stedinger x Argentinus) she was back to her A-game. The pair is also now for meticulous, clean test riding and only the rein back and right pirouette needed more polish. They scored 70.761% for 16th place.
On home turf, there were many interesting Belgian pairs, in fact. Domien Michiels and the big old fashioned looking, but strong horse Intermezzo van het Meerdaalhof (by Gribaldi x Balzflug) rode strong extensions and have nice piaffes in which the horse comes up in the withers, even though he doesn't pick up his feet as highly as some of those extravagant movers, who then fall apart.
The Paris based Laurence Vanommeslaghe, who competed on the Belgian team at the 2014 WEG and 2015 Europeans, is back in the game with two fabulous horses: the 14-year old Hanoverian Havalon (by Hotline x Wolkentanz II) and the 12-year old KWPN gelding Edison (by Johnson x Balzflug). The former is heaver set and more classical looking, but a solid performer, the latter sharper, more modern and such a talented horse for the future. Definitely ones to watch.
British Olympian Laura Tomlinson has two new irons in the fire, top ride Rose of Bavaria, who stayed home, and newcomer Fallatijn (by Vivaldi x Cabachon), which she bought as a youngster and trained up to Grand Prix herself. Laura brought Fallatijn to Opglabbeek for his first international Grand Prix. The chestnut is a cute as a button with his white stockings and stripe and comes across as very Dutch with his knee action. The highlights were the extended walk and canter. The passage is very expressive but in piaffe he crosses the hindlegs. The 11-year old Fallatijn is still very green at Grand Prix and needs more time to mature. They scored 69.826% on their debut.
Dutch pair Vincent van Gasselt and Vera Verwelius' 11-year old Hanoverian Delacroix (by Dancier x Don Crusador) were the shooting stars in The Netherlands in 2020 as they stormed to a fifth place at the Dutch Dressage Championships out of nowhere. The pair has been able to score over 75% in the Grand Prix but is not yet as consistent in its performances. At their second international in their career together, they scored 69.152% to place 25th. Delacroix is very gifted, but ground his teeth very loudly despite a light contact. The passage is very springy, the trot extensions too, the extended walked could show more marching although the ground cover was fine. In piaffe the hocks came out though. Mistakes in the zig zag and one tempi changes pushed the score below 70%. Still a very interesting combination to watch !
Anne Meulendijks and the 16-year old Dutch warmblood Avanti (by United x Farrington) were members of the silver medal winning Dutch team at the 2019 European Dressage Championships in Rotterdam. In Opglabbeek, however, they performed below par in their first CDI in 15 months. The rein back and second piaffe were problematic and overall the bridle contact was poor with the mouth gaping and sometimes the tongue coming out on the right. Pity, as Avanti is such a nice, high quality Grand Prix horse who still showed many nice things: good one tempi changes, left pirouette and extended walk. They finished on 68.478% with the individual judges' marks going from 65.978% to 70.435%.
Photos © Astrid Appels - NO REPRODUCTION ALLOWED !!
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