The final competition of the summer 2022 show season is round the corner and I must admit I'm sighing in relief. It's been such a long, hot and stimulating spring and summer competition year, criss-crossing across Europe chasing one dressage highlight after the other.
There were so many 12-hour days standing behind the camera with breaks barely long enough to sprint to the toilet, followed by more late nights tapping on the computer keyboard trying to word the thoughts and impressions of the day into articles that give a taste of the atmosphere and action in the arena.
Until We Meet Again
It are long hours, often lonely, but this year the summer was more fun than ever in the company of two of my colleagues: Lily Forado and Petra Kerschbaum. We went to the European Young Riders Championships in Hartpury together and really made memories by singing along to the radio in the car, visiting Shakespeare's birthplace, and going to Gloucester cathedral. Also in the World Championships in Herning we just hung out together during the classes, shared sandwiches while discussing ridesn and visited Blue Hors on our one day off.
And now we are back together for the season finale in Ermelo: the World Young Horse Championships. This competition is one of my favourites of the year as you see the stars of the future claiming their first fame. The arena will showcase fabulous movers in young, spritely bodies showing glimpses of Grand Prix potential. Furthermore the young horse competition is not as predictable. Anything can happen and the field is wide open.
The buzz for Ermelo already began on the weekend with regular whatsapp texts about itineraries, arrival times, hotel locations, and shuttle services. On Tuesday Petra indicated she had departed for the show and on Wednesday morning Lily flew in from Barcelona, while I was still sitting at home (in Belgium) stressing about unfinished work and preparing to leave my house behind for five days. It means putting all the cat and horse feed ready for my neighbour, who I had to call up last minute for feeding and surveillance duties after two family members bailed out. Having the responsibility of horses combined with a busy travel schedule is the perfect cocktail for worry, in my case, but I'm a good planner and try to make everything as convenient and less time-consuming for my sit-in as possible.
Two Kids Fighting in a Sandbox?
After an easy two-hour drive I arrived in Ermelo at 15h30 and straight away noticed that quite a few changes had taken place at the show grounds. Ermelo hosted the WCYH from 2016 till 2019. The first year there were some issues with the time schedule, the layout and food options for spectators, but those creases were quickly ironed out in 2017. In 2018 they had the not so illumious idea to move the preliminary round of the 6-year olds to the B-arena. While the ring is fine for competition, the entire "championship feel" is gone there and there is much less seating for spectators.. Fortunately by 2019 they dropped that "masterpiece of an idea" and put the youngsters back into the main stadium for all rounds. It is their World Championships after all.
In 2020 the WCYH was cancelled due to corona and in 2021 Verden was the host. Now in 2022 it's back in Ermelo and lo and behold instead of copying the super successful formula of 2019 they wanted to fix what was not broken. KWPN and KNHS are sharing the same equestrian facility but rumour has it that these kids in the sandbox are no longer getting along. The KNHS building seems closed to the press and the press center has moved further away to the KWPN building (much longer walk with all our stuff). The press parking is no longer right near the press center, KNHS has put a hedge where there used to be a gate, and now we have to park all the way in the fields, which are soggy and wet. By the time you reach the press centre, carrying 20-30 kilograms of equipment, you are drenched by the rain, demotivated and grinding your teeth, thinking "what the hell am I done here?". Dirk Caremans arrived with the grumpy cat expression on his face, saying, "if I have to park there tomorrow I'm out of here." He's so right!
Training for Grand Prix
On Wednesday afternoon the weather was still sunny and summery and when I got to the show grounds, the arena familiarisation has started in the main ring. It was packed with horses; first with 7-year olds, then 6-year olds, and in the end the 5-year olds.
I snapped some photos but at the same time handled some phone calls and of course you meet and greet people along the way. Lily and Petra came over and we caught up what had happened in our lives since Herning. I must admit that I didn't properly watch the youngsters and there were so many in the ring (at one point 26 at the same time) which made your head spinning with all the horse power. I did notice a few very interesting youngsters, but was also surprised that no FEI steward interviewed when one 5-year old combination saw it fit to show how well trained and talented his horse already was in piaffe and passage. it wasn't just a few collected half steps, it were whole lines and a circle of piaffe and passage. The horse had its tongue out on the side, showing he wasn't the happiest camper.
There are quite a few people out there who feel that the World YH Championships are the championships of "overpushed horses" or the championships purely meant to promote breeding stallions and sales horses. As always I say: "it's the judges who set the tone". If they reward overtrained, overpushed horses, this is what riders and trainers will strive for. If they reward properly trained youngsters, who are given enough time and show a nice relaxed frame while displaying their classy gaits, then the sport will head in the right direction.
Lily and I checked into a nearby hotel and then had dinner and a short night sleep, buzzing with excitement for day one.
Text and Photos © Astrid Appels
Eurodressage Coverage of the 2022 World Championships Young Dressage Horses