- Text and Photos © Astrid Appels (this article expresses Appels' eye-witness account and opinion about the competition).
It was in the air from the start and British Charlotte Fry completed the mission. After winning GP Special gold, Fry and the sensational stallion Glamourdale galloped to freestyle gold in a spectacular Kur to Music finale under floodlights at the 2022 World Championships Dressage in Herning, on Wednesday 10 August 2022.
In front of a sell-out stadium that can fit up to 11,400 people, Fry had it in the bag with her new musical score, a medley titled "Best of Britain", and her King of Extensions, Glamourdale. The podium held no surprises as the silver medal went to home favourite Cathrine Dufour, while bronze was for Dinja van Liere. The same young ladies trio of the Grand Prix Special returned to the medal ceremony of the Freestyle.
The ground jury at the 2022 World Championships included Anne Gribbons (USA), Susanne Baarup (DEN), Peter Storr (GBR), Christof Umbach (LUX), Elke Ebert (GER), Mariette Sanders - v. Gansewinkel (NED), and Raphaël Saleh (FRA).
The judging of the freestyle is usually quite predictable: if no big mistakes are made, the freestyle turns out to be a carbon copy of the Special, no matter the type or quality of music, the level of riding.. Once the pecking order has been decided at the start of the show, it will run its course throughout the competition.
With the stadium literally packed to the roof and the Scandinavian crowd in the mood for a party, the atmosphere was electric and palpable. Each rider received applause on their last piaffe-passage line towards the end halt after which the crowd erupted in a roar and applause thundered across the field of play. Although in the end the top three was no wonder and scores were generously distributed from the start, the freestyle finale of the 2022 World Championships in Herning were a celebration of the sport and a wonderful exhibition of how dressage can reach the masses in its 20 x 60 m cathedral.
Glamourdale Gallops to Gold
The rise and coming of age of Glamourdale is no surprise for the in-crowd. In 2018 he was World Yoiung Horse Champion as a 7-year old, in 2019 he won the small tour at the CDIO Aachen and bolted during the prize giving, with Lottie confident and smiling on top. In 2021 his international Grand Prix debut took place in Hagen at Hof Kasselmann and he already scored 74.456% in his first CDI Grand Prix.
With a breeding career keeping the black very busy, and Fry having a string of Grand Prix horse to choose from (Everdale, Dark Legend, Inclusive, and Don Joe) there was no pressure to compete Glamourdale a lot. This 2022 show season the 11-year old KWPN stallion (by Lord Leatherdale x Negro), bred by Joop Rodenburg and owned by Gert-Jan van Olst, showed in Lier, Opglabbeek and Compiegne, winning five out of six starts.. In the latter show he cracked the 80% for the first time in the Special and it was the premonition for the gold in Herning.
Riding to brand new music arranged by Joost Peeters, Lottie Fry chose a potpourri of British hits of Queen, The Beatles, Robbie Williams, and Fools Garden (which in fact is a German band). The start with God Save the Queen, followed by "Another One Bites the Dust" was a bit of a cliché, but one that works as the striking beat of the Queen song matches the passage of Glamourdale. While the floorplan was not the most inspiring Fry produced a very strong test in which the phenomenal extended trot and canter were put in the spotlight. The piaffes were not all well carried, as the stallion often got wide in front and tight behind in search of the rhythm (score 7.5 - 9 !!) , but that flaw was eclipsed by superb passage work. The extended walk had good overtrack but was not really stretching over the back (6.5 - 8) . As Fry's freestyle progresses and Glamourdale did not loose a bit of his boisterous expression, the canter part became slightly overasked and messy looking. Sure, the tempi changes were up hill and the extended canter out of this world, but there was a clear loss of balance in the huge, ground covering canter half passes and some of the pirouettes were not polished in the exit. The one tempi changes in fact became quite short and on more than several occasions, Glamourdale dropped in the poll and got behind the vertical. But who cares, the dressage congregation had gathered in Herning for a spectacle and they got their money's worth. Glamourdale shone bright and literally galloped to gold.
The judges rewarded that brilliant ride that kept people talking for days with a fabulous 90.654% and six out of seven judges placed the pair first. Only Danish judge Susanne Baarup had the duo second. The scored ranged from 88.650 to a whopping 92.050% (Anne Gribbons). Eight years after Charlotte Dujardin won the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Caen, France, the World Champion's title returned to a Brit, just 26 years of age. Lottie Fry is the next Charlotte in line for perpetual glory in sport.
Dufour Back to Silver
Home favourite Cathrine Dufour and Sarah Pidgley's 10-year old Westfalian gelding Vamos Amigos (by Vitalis x Hotline) had won team gold earlier in the week and they added a Grand Prix Special silver to that collection, even though it was very clear from the start that Dufour had coveted gold and the world champion's title, certainly after having dominated the CDIO Aachen at the beginning of July.
In the freestyle, the hot-to-trot bay gelding was not able to present the same frame and concentration as he had done in the Special, but this was not reflected in the final score. Dufour did not choose the music that was composed particularly for Vamos - the freestyle she rode in Aachen - but reverted back to her Les Miserables' freestyle that was designed for her other horse, Bohemian. That music is much more captivating and plays on the emotions of the spectators, so it was a clever move to resort to that track, arranged by the Spanish company Dressage & Music.
Vamos Amigos entered the arena on fire and it began with a break into canter in the extended trot. The passage was regular but executed like a cat on a hot tin roof. The half pass right lacked crossing behind, the left one was better. In the second trot extension, the horse was so tense, he could not even achieve overtrack (6.5 - 7.5). Despite all that pep in Vamos' step, the bright bay gelding was able to calm down in the walk part and presented a beautiful extended walk and a very well regulated, clear collected walk. The tempi changes were all correct, but tense, short and behind the vertical. Although the young Grand Prix horse remained rideable and had no major mistakes, the tension got the better of him in the canter part. The horse has not yet developed himself intto having a good classical piaffe: he sways in front and moves the right hind leg out from under the body, despite a clockwork rhythm which Dufour is able to ride out of him with incredible feeling and precision. The penultimate piaffe was the best one shown in the test.
With Dufour conveniently drawn as last rider to go in the class and the Danish crowd going berserk as soon as she saluted, the ground jury tapped into this incredible high that the World Championships generated and rewarded incredible scores for the test of the beloved and highly sympathetic rider. The end score was 89.411% with marks ranging from 85.900% (8th !! - Umbach) to 91.500% (2nd - Gribbons). Judge at C, Danish Susanne Baarup had the pair first on 89.375%.
Luxembourg dressage judge Christof Umbach has been the wild child of the World Championships, regularly giving very different scores from the other panellists through the week, but in our humble opinion, often hitting the mark more correctly than his colleagues. An 8th place was maybe too low for Dufour, but the 85.900% seemed more realistic of what had been produced. Vamos Amigos is a darling horse and in a year time, he'll definitely have progressed on his self-carriage and balance in piaffe and him hopefully seeking the bridle contact a bit more.
Bronze for Dinja
Dutch dressage duo Dinja van Liere and Joop van Uytert and Jan Anker's 10-year old KWPN stallion Hermes (by Easy Game x Flemmingh) were good for bronze in the Grand Prix Special and this put them in a favourable position for a final ranking in freestyle. There was no stupefaction when they scored the third highest mark of the night, 86.900%.
The new Dutch duo, who seems to be heralding a new way for Dutch dressage sport previously paved by Anky van Grunsven and her students, comes across as very amiable and is not trained by Holland's school of dressage, but by reining rider Rieky Young-Burgmeijer, who is claimed to approach horse sport from a more natural horsemanship perspective. Van Liere started out as a rider for Leunis van Lieren's stable Hexagon but four years ago turned to Rieky for guidance.
The 31-year old Van Liere and her 10-year old Hermes entered the arena after powerhouse Glamourdale and the bay stallion suddenly looked a bit ponyesque. The pair entered the arena to music from The Fugees ("Ready or Not Here I Come") and rode a trot tour with much piaffe and passage. The right half pass in trot was beautifully ridden, the trot extensions were rushed and flat. The extended walk had good ground cover with two hooves overtrack, but the collected was a bit stiff in the back. The degree of difficulty was not super high in this test for the young horse but the stallion did not make any big mistakes. The one tempi's went well, the left extended canter was a bit conservative and one left pirouette lacked lift in the forehand, but Hermes obediently executed what was asked by the rider. The stallion's sprightliness in piaffe and passage was highlight in the final line and they finished with a piaffe pirouette.
The combination was rewarded with 86.900% for third place and a second bronze. The judges had her ranked between third and fifth and were quite in unison when it comes to their scores: the low score was 85.425% (Sanders and Storr), the high score 87.875% (Saleh).
Benjamin Werndl and Flora Keller's 13-year old Oldenburg gelding Famoso OLD (by Farewell III x Welt Hit II) have been having a championship of a lifetime: after winning team bronze and placing sixth in the Grand Prix, they climbed to fifth place in the Special, and ended up fourth in the freestyle.
Werndl and Famoso were the pair which probably presented the best classical frame and schooling of all, although Emma Kanerva (Greek Air), Therese Nilshagen (Dante Weltino), and Joao Marcari Oliva (Escorial) should also be credited for their excellent work in Herning. Benjamin should have been on the podium in the Special and it would not have been a grave misjudgement if he was also decorated with a medal for his freestyle. Riding to music of the Disney movie Moana (aka Vaiana), Benjamin rode Famoso in such a pleasant frame. The gelding always had his ears pricked, never looked tense or overasked, and always seemed to execute the movements with pleasure and willingness. The end of a tiring week at the World Championships did seem to have taken its toll on the 13-year old who was not always as regular behind in the passage and at times there was a loss of power and impulsion from behind, including a break in the rhythm before the extended trot. The extended walk had good ground cover, but was maybe a bit hurried, the extended canter was well ridden. In the one tempi changes he got a bit short behind but the final piaffe-pirouette was oh so correct.
The pair received 85.893% and ranked fourth. One judge had them second, Umbach with 87.425%, the majority ranked the pair fourth and one had them fifth (82.825%), Anne Gribbons.
Career Highlight for Hughes and Briolinca
British duo Gareth Hughes and his own, his wife Rebecca and Julia Horning's 16-year old KWPN mare Briolinca (by Trento B x Royal Dance) produced a career highlight performance in the freestyle, when they scored 84.043% to place fifth in the Kur to Music at these World Championships.
The elegant bright bay mare performed to music by Madonna (Who's That Girl, La Isla Bonita)n which fitted her well. The test stood out by Hughes' accuracy and precision in his riding: each movement was executed in a very clean and meticulous way, almost to the point of looking sterile and mathematical. The beginning of the test was really strong with the trot work, the passage, the passage half passes, all balanced and regular. The walk was a bit underwhelming: short in the collected (6 - 8) and there could be more long striding in the extended (6 - 7). The canter was all obediently executed but lacked sparkle and playfulness. She could have been a bit more up in the poll. Briolinca proved herself to be the perfect schoolgirl and lived up to the task, although at the end she did a perfect "Anky" halt: there was no immobility, but she just piaffed while the rider saluted and the crowd broke out into a thunderous applause.
Briton Gareth Hughes scored 84.043% to complete the top five in the World Championship freestyle. The judges differed in opinion: the low score was 79.225 from American judge Anne Gribbons (12th), the high score 85.675% from British (!) judge Peter Storr (3rd).
Adrienne Lyle and Betsy Juliano's 15-year old Hanoverian Salvino (by Sandro Hit x Donnerhall) were the only American duo to make it into the freestyle and they landed sixth place. Her American themed freestyle with hits such as Walking in Memphis sounded great in the stadium and the highlights in her tests were a piaffe turn and a very nice collected walk. The passage often lost suspension and was not as well carried as one hopes to see, but the stallion was always soft in the contact and the piaffe turn at A was great. They scored 83.679%.
There were plenty of riders with new freestyle music and this is always a great moment. Patrik Kittel has many top quality kurs produced by Michael Erdmann and in Herning he brought along a new James Bond themed freestyle, which is more of an acquired taste. It probably needs a few hearings to appreciate the details in it. With his 10-year old Touchdown (by Quaterback x Sack) he placed 7th with 83.679%.
Daniel Bachmann Andersen and Nicola Ahorner's 10-year old Danish bred Marshall Bell (by Don Romantic x Michellino) became the second highest scoring Danish pair in the Kur with 83.464 % and an 8th place. His music with cellos and violins at times really underscored the music and the fifteen one tempi changes were executed exactly to the beat. The chestnut gelding took a few uneven steps in the half pass right and the collected walk was tense and short, but the two tempi changes were huge in ground cover and the extended walk had a good V-moment in the rhythm.
Isabell Werth also brought along new music based on Bonnie Tyler hits, such as Total Eclipse of the Heart, Turn Around, and Lost in France. The degree of technical difficulty was unparalleled with a piaffe pirouette into a double canter pirouette (with the tongue-in-cheek choice of having Bonnie Tyler sing "Turn Around") into two tempi changes that flowed into ones, followed by another double pirouette. Werth's showmanship in the freestyle is like none other and even though Victoria Max-Theurer's Quantaz (by Quaterback x Hohenstein) is still a work in progress when it comes to being fine-tuned at Grand Prix, Werth employs her experience and skill to navigate him through the freestyle. In the piaffe she patted him, although this could have twice been mistaken for her telling the audience it's ok to applause, and in the final piaffe pirouette she was visibly singing along with the music. It was a fun freestyle to watch, but the horse is not yet delivering the perfection required for a medal. They placed 9th with 83.339%. Can't remember the last time Isabell placed this "low" in the ranking of a Kur...
Finally the top 10 was completed by Charlotte Dujardin on Carl Hester and Coral Ingham's 9-year old KWPN gelding Imhotep (by Everdale x Vivaldi). This liver chestnut gelding is the youngest in the pack and his inexperience showed. He relied fully on Dujardin to pilot and carry him through the test. He was short in the neck and strong in the contact as she steered him from movement to movement to the very enjoyable music Tom Hunt put together for Gio for the Tokyo Olympics. The piaffes had a good, secure rhythm but were wide in front, the trot extensions were ground covering and Imhotep was solid in the rhythm in t he trot, passage and half passes. The extended walk was short and tense with little stretch of the topline (7 - 8). There were mistakes in the two (6 - 6.5) and one tempi changes (4 - 5) and the downward transition from canter to passage was struggling. Nevertheless, Imhotep is a horse to watch for the future as he has plenty of talent, just needs maturing. They scored 83.132% and were part of the exclusive ten best horses in the world.
Glamourdale vs Dalera
Now the most interesting question of all is: what would have happened had Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and Dalera been there? Would Glamourdale still be World Champion? We will never know, because the hard reality of the sport is: if you snooze, you loose. Or in other words: if you are not there, you're not part of the game. The morning after the Kur, Jessica gave birth to a baby girl, her second child, new life which is probably better than any trophy in the world.
Still, keeping in mind the winning rides that Dalera produced in Tokyo, Hagen, and Leipzig, and comparing those performances, that expression and the overall execution of the movements of Dalera, I still believe the Trakehner mare would be the higher scoring horse at this moment. Werndl makes it look totally effortless and harmonious, and although Glamourdale has much more power and engine, he has not yet mastered the balance and ease that Dalera exudes.
We can't wait to have a head-to-head between those two. My guess is that this legendary moment will happen at the 2023 European Championships in Riesenbeck. See you there next summer!