Day two of the 2024 CDI Aachen Festival 4 Dressage on the CHIO Aachen show grounds in Germany on 31 March 2023 brought slightly less wet weather compared the rain storms on day one, but on 31 March it will still quite tempestuous with Aeolus, the god of the wind, coming to the party.
A cold breeze consistently blew over the venue with riders, team members, and spectators bundling up in thick winter coats, hooded to stay warm and dry. By the time I left the show at 18h00 I felt like I had been tumble dried. My hair was in knots, my skin parched, but I felt wide awake and ended up working on the computer until 3 AM organizing the photos I took over two days.
The Aachen show grounds provide such a very picturesque setting for photos and I started off in the morning shooting the Under 25 division, while snapping the warm-up of the Intermediaire I combinations, whose test was ridden in the stadium. I had a quick five-minute vegetarian sandwich for lunch (sandwich with cream cheese and grilled paprika and aubergine, delicous) and then prepared myself for the real work of the day, the young riders' class in the warm-up arena, and the Grand Prix freestyle in the stadium.
It was a lot of running, but I always do my best to get as many riders as possible, while taking snap shots of the people around, capturing the atmosphere of the event.
The feature class of the day was the Grand Prix for freestyle (or you can read this as "the class I found most interesting"). The test, its judging and ranking were a good exemplification of how the day felt like to me, a whirlwind. So let's talk about what happened, or let's say, how I witnessed it.
Van Baalen Takes the Trophy
With twenty combinations it was a good sized Grand Prix, representing riders from twelve different nations. The test was judged by Jacques van Daele, Thomas Keßler, Jean-Michel Roudier, Lars Andersson, and Paula Nysten meaning there was plenty of experience in the huts.
Dutch Marlies van Baalen topped the board with the home bred, 11-year old KWPN gelding Habibi DVB (by Don Schufro x Johnson). With her Tokyo Olympic hopeful Go Legend (by Totilas x Ferro) sidelined since March 2022, Marlies never lost connection with international top dressage as she premiered Habibi in December at the CDI Kronenberg and placed second twice in Le Mans in February. The tall liver chestnut, who has been produced to FEI level by assistant Mara de Vries, is probably even better than Go Legend, very much taking after sire Don Schufro.
Van Baalen and the powerful gelding produced big trot extensions, but at times the trot became a bit mechanical/passagey. The rhythm in the half pass right was better than in the left one, but the piaffes were very nice with the horse properly showing a lift in the withers. The collected walk was a bit underwhelming in the rhythm though (6.0 - 7.0). Habibi is strong in the canter work with good two tempi changes. They posted a personal best of 74.391% and got the trophy, a wonderful statue of a horse's head.
A System in this Madness?
And then the most interesting thing of the day happened with the judging of the second and third placed pair which puzzled me the rest of the day and still today.
Patrik Kittel was the ninth rider to go in the class and made his long-awaited come back on the 15-year old Swiss warmblood mare Well Done de la Roche CMF (by Furstenreich x Walt Disney). The mare was selected for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics but got injured in Japan and did not compete. Her last CDI was Le Mans in June 2021 so it's been almost two years for her to come back.
Well Done de la Roche is such a beautiful, elegant mare. She is super feminine in her expression, a light-footed ballerina and it was great to see her in such good shape: shiny coat, plenty of muscle. In the warm-up she appeared a bit more fragile in trot, but in the test Kittel rode her steadfast in the rhythm. However, trotting has never been Well Done's strong side. The mare is very much a leg mover and even though she has much articulation in her joints (nice knee action, quick hind leg) she is quite fixed in the back and does not "swing" through the body. For her the trot extensions are non-existent. She gets super quick in the tempi and didn't even achieve in-step, let alone a lengthening of the frame. However, the judges find that good enough for a 6.0 - 7.0. The hypercritical me was more thinking of a 4.0 as a movement not executed, maybe 5 if you want to wear pink glasses. Also in walk, she does not achieve sufficient overtrack in the extension (6.5 - 7.0). Oh well. In all three piaffes she had a back-stepping tendency (6.5 - 8.0). In passage she is super quick off the ground, elegant and with plenty of airtime. That is really her forté. Also in canter, Well Done redeems herself. The zig zag was clean, the one tempi changes well ridden, in the two's she swung behind but covered enough ground. The pirouettes were nice. Score 73.674% for third place. I don't understand.
Right after Kittel, Finnish Emma Kanerva came into the arena with Gerd Saborowski's 11-year old Oldenburg bred Mist of Titanium OLD (by Millennium x Diamonit). The pair had the ride of a lifetime but clearly the wind had blown sand in the judges' eyes because they were stuck in their box of traditional notes and didn't see greatness in front of their eyes. I wonder if there is a system to this madness?!
Kanerva had Mist of Titanium in such a steady frame with soft, supple contact. The trot extensions were real ones ! No quickening of the rhythm, but real overtrack, floating over the diagonal with a nose coming out. Maybe the horse is a bit slow behind, but he fulfilled the criteria of the movement and more. The half passes were huge, the halt for rein back superb. The collected walk was a real one. The horse showed super cadence and suspension in passage. In piaffe he didn 't have the biggest expression but showed the willingness to lower the hindquarters and come up in front, as it should be!
The two tempi changes were huge, the extended canter had massive overtrack and a flying change on the marker, something almost none of the Grand Prix riders are able to execute (they always do it 3 meters before the letter!). The one tempi changes were big and uphill, the pirouettes tiny. It was a MEGA ride and I hadn't seen one like that since Kasey Perry Glass had her career best ride on Gorklintgaards Dublet in Compiegne.
And then the score came: 73.956%. Excusez-moi? I couldn't believe my eyes. This was a clear 77% test or even more. I don't understand this judging and felt extremely frustrated about Kanerva not getting recognition for the brilliant test she produced and the correctness in which she presented her horse, inhibiting the spirt of classical dressage, the touchstone of the sport. J'accuse. Explain this to me like I'm a 4-year old.
Dutch Lynne Maas and her long-time partner Electra, a 14-year old KWPN mare by Jazz x Ferro), finished fourth. This pocket rocket black mare already impressed at the 2016 World Young Horse Championships as a youngster and made her Grand Prix debut in 2019, but only seems to be coming off age recently. The mare is super talented for the Grand Prix work but seems very electric to ride and at times gets hectic. The tension in this horse is still quite obvious with her lower lip flapping and insufficient stretch in the extended walk (despite the good overtrack). In piaffe the mares shows great ability to sit behind. They scored a personal best of 72.261% to finish fourth.
The top five was completed by Fabienne Lutkemeier who has two Vitalis offspring with which she could be hitting the big time - Valesco and Valencia As - but they are not yet consistently scoring in the mid seventies. While at the national show in Ankum she get the 75% and even scored 77.638% in the GP Special at the 2021 CDIO Aachen two years ago with Valesco, Lutkemeier needs to find momentum. Valencia As impressed me more this time during the Aachen Festival 4 Dressage. With the 12-year old Westfalian Valesco (by Vitalis x Douceur) she was fifth in the Grand Prix for freestyle on 71.304%. In the trot half passes the chestnut crossed the legs well but lost some suspension. The rhythm in the second piaffe was good, but the horse grinds its teeth. The collected walk scored between 5.0 and 7.0. The ttwo empi changes were straight and ground covering, the zig zag accurate. The pirouettes scored between 6.5 and 8.0. They finished fifth.
- Text and Photos © Eurodressage (this article expresses Eurodressage's' eye-witness account and opinion about the competition).
Photos © Eurodressage - No Reproduction ALLOWED / NO SCREEN SHOTS ! - Eurodressage took photos of (almost) all competitors. If you are interested in photos for social media use, send us an email.
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