The Elite Shows up for 2024 CDI Aachen Festival 4 Dressage, Where Status Quo is Maintained

Sun, 03/31/2024 - 19:30
2024 CDI Aachen Festival 4 Dressage
Dinja van Liere and Hermes make a winning come back in the Grand Prix at the 2024 CDI Aachen Festival 4 Dressage, but the GP Special did not go as planned :: Photo © Astrid Appels

- Text © Eurodressage (this article expresses Eurodressage's' eye-witness account and opinion about the competition)

The CDI Aachen Festival 4 Dressage on 27 - 31 March 2024 was the outdoor season kick-off event in Western Europe and boasted a monster line-up of 79 Grand Prix combinations entered at the start of the Olympic year. 

In the end 76 pair turning up for the show and competed in the most important class - the Grand Prix - on Wednesday and Thursday 27/28 March.

Monster Line-Up During Week of Welfare Woes 

The beautifully organized CDI split the big tour into two divisions as judges are only allowed to assess 40 combinations per day. The Grand Prix Special tour was the one to watch with ringing horse names such as Fendi, Jovian, and Queenparks Wendy on the list.  Benjamin Wendl's Famoso was also on the masterlist, but turned out to be a no-show. In addition, Hans Peter Minderhoud brought Edward Hal's Toto Jr for training. The horse has not been to a competition in almost three years.

A properly working scoreboard at the Festival 4 Dressage,
showing the individual marks of the judges and not just the
running total score. This is how it should be at all
The past week the online dressage community was buzzing and bubbling due to news, articles, statements and social media brawls concerning animal welfare. A very loud voice for change in the judging and stewarding system is sounding, demanding animal welfare to be prioritized over (commercial) sport. At the moment the FEI stays mum in its actions and position, while one hears through the grapevine that a minor earthquake happening in the situation room of the King Hussain I building in Lausanne (FEI headquarters).

A Swedish tabloid posted painful photos of blue tongues and strong bridle contact taken at the World Cup qualifiers in Amsterdam and Neumunster. While the community calls it a scandalous attack on horse sport and alleges the pictures were colour manipulated, the article is a symptom of a much bigger concern that has put dressage in the hot seat and is threatening equestrian sport as an Olympic discipline.

Status Quo?

In response to the Swedish article, Eurodressage posted the editorial titled Recalibration and a guest column by retired I-judge Angelika Fromming and Hannes Müller "Change of Priorities - Training Scale over Quality of Movement". Show director Thomas Baur put in his two cents with his opinion piece "Time for Change - Time for Action."

Froths of fluff
Meanwhile in Aachen, where this first important CDI of season was held in the lead-up to Paris, the official response to these welfare woes was nihil, so far. Stewards are bound to check nosebands according to FEI rules (a finger on the side and not on the nasal bone) and they disregarded fluffed mouths in the warm-up as well as coming out of the arena. It almost looked as if more riders than ever before, including Olympians, resorted to this trick, as if it were a traumatized response to potential activists lurking at the show, uncovering what hides underneath the foam. Judges continued to be lenient for technical errors with big names and contact issues. Status Quo?!

While change in the horse world never comes with quick feet and feels more like manoeuvring an oil tanker, one had hoped for the judges to start the new year more in alignment with very the simple demand of respecting and scoring according to the classic dressage principles. In Aachen confusion reigned amongst the ground jury as famous names continued to celebrate their elite status in sport. 

The level of riding in Aachen was very high and it was a treat for spectators to see so many fabulous, high quality horses in the dressage arena, but one wonders if this complacency will kill in the end. 

Rollercoaster Come Back for Hermes

Dutch number one pair Dinja van Liere and Joop van Uytert and Jan Anker's 12-year old KWPN stallion Hermes (by Easy Game x Flemmingh) made their come back to the arena after a one-year break due to an injury.  The pair won the Grand Prix with 75.522% but in the Special the temperamental Hermes was heavily distracted and spooking, dropping to 9th place with 71.447%.

Van Liere hugs Hermes
In the Grand Prix Van Liere had her hands full with the spicy Hermes who started with a mini spook in the corner before the first trot extension. The half pass to the right was not regular in the rhythm (6.5 - 7.0) but the one to the left was better with good crossing. The passage work was very expressive, but Hermes ground his teeth. The first piaffe had some back-stepping with the right hind leg. The extended walk was good and the second piaffe-passage was really well ridden and active. The canter strike off lacked polish (7 - 8), the two tempi changes were straight, the half passes to the right in the zig zag were less elastic than the ones to the left, and in the extended canter and one tempi changes the horse got croup high but covered much ground. Van Liere rode small pirouettes. The half halting after the last trot extension was far from pretty but Van Liere consistently tried to keep the contact light and stretch the neck.

The GP judges panel, consisting of Janine van Twist, Isobel Wessels, Lars Andersson, Freddy Leyman, and Bernard Maurel,  put Van Liere first. Her low score was 71.630%, her high score a whopping 77.174%

Helgstrand Horses Under New Riders

Isabell Werth and Queenparks Wendy
Due to Andreas Helgstrand's exclusion from the Danish team for 2024, Grand Prix horses Jovian and Queenparks Wendy were allocated/sold to new riders so they would continue to thrive and fly high the Helgstrand banner, not just in young horse classes but also at Grand Prix level.

Madeleine Winter-Schulze invested in the 10-year old Danish mare Queenparks Wendy (by Sezuan x Soprano), declaring her for Germany as an Olympic hopeful for Isabell Werth. The horse's name got rebranded to "Wendy de Fontaine," maintaining co-owner Bolette Wandt of Chateau de Fontaine's involvement in the horse. Under the more petite Isabell Werth the black mare looks huge and really looks more comfortable and confident in the Grand Prix work. The hectic mechanics and tense pushing is gone and has made room for the horse with a more even locomotion. Werth's skilled riding has done the horse good, but that does not mean that issues and "work in progress" in a test should be disregarded, particularly in the Grand Prix Special.

Werth and Wendy
Werth had originally entered her client's Deneuve for the Festival 4 Dressage but last minute showed up with Wendy. In the Grand Prix the pair began with a nice trot extension and half passes, but in the rein back she dragged her feet. The first piaffe and passage were slightly crooked to the right (7.0 - 8.0). The extended walk had good overtrack and relaxation. The second piaffe-passage was also crooked to the right but nice in the rhythm despite a few snorts (7.5 - 8.5). The canter strike off was a bit late to the aids (6.5 - 8.0) but in rhythm. Wendy has a big uphill canter and she benefits from it in the tempi changes (in which the rider swings much with her body) and there was a well ridden zig zag. The pirouettes were small. In the last trot extension she did not achieve sufficient overtrack (7 - 7.5).  The final piaffe at X was nice in the rhythm, but could rise more in the withers (7.5 - 8.5). Werth scored a total of 75.065% for second place. 

The next day she was back in second place with 75.149% with two bigger bobbles, a failed canter strike off out of passage (4.0 - 6.0) and mistakes in the one tempi changes on the centerline (4.0 - 5.0), which led to some tension and a final trot extension on the long side that was rushed instead of showing proper lengthening (7.0 - 7.5)  Again the piaffe-passage was bent to the right. The final piaffe was very steady in the rhythm, but with not enough weight on the hindquarters (7.5 - 10). Overall Isabell rode the mare with a very quiet contact and the mouth was mostly closed and quiet. But this horse is still not in the ideal self-carriage and lightness one hopes to see a Grand Prix horse in and it would be nice to see her more off the curb in the future.

Patrik Kittel on Jovian
Patrik Kittel and the gigantic 10-year old KWPN stallion Jovian (by Apache x Tango) landed third place in the Grand Prix with 74.500%. Also this horse shows much improvement in his body and general constitution under his new rider. Kittel is clever in not pushing the horse to be too spectacular and is more diligent and careful in his aids, which do not confuse the horse. Jovian is a very impressive mover with huge scope and also his walk has improved much and is now a "good" walk. There is no need to ride him full throttle in the trot and canter extensions as the stallion gives enough by himself, especially when it comes to overtrack. The trot half passes are huge as they are ridden in medium trot (where is the collection?). The horse stays in the same frame throughout the test and it would be nice to see a bit more elasticity in the topline and the poll as highest point. Now the neck is broken in the third vertebra due to wrong training from the start and the horse is ridden with a quiet hand but the curb is the dominating bit in the double bridle. Collection remains an issue and the passage is not truly collected and self carried uet. In piaffe he is now better in the rhythm, but still gets too narrow behind (almost crossing) and leans on the shoulders (6.0 - 7.5). There was a bobble in the canter strike-off (5.0 - 7.5). The two tempi changes swung too much behind (7.0 - 7.5), but the ones were better and straighter even though the rider swung in the saddle. The pirouettes were ok. 

Kittel and Jovian went on to win the GP Special on Thursday with 76.213%.

Back in Action

Ingrid Klimke on Franziskus
Two further come back kids proved to be back in action after a break.

Ingrid Klimke returned with Wilhelm Holkenbrink's 16-year old Hanoverian stallion Franziskus (by Fidertanz x Alabaster) after a break due to an injury sustained at the 2023 World Cup Finals. The pair showed an exemplary contact with the bit and the way Klimke has the perfect line between elbows, hand, and bit. Franziskus could have shown more bending to the right in the corner and overall the passage lacked some engagement from behind, but the first two piaffes were nice. The two tempi changes were straight, in the ones the changes to the left were shorter behind and there was a hiccup in one change in the zig zag.  Franziskus breathed very heavily but was focused on his rider. They scored 73.191% for third place in the Grand Prix. In the Special they were fourth with 74.282%

Sönke Rothenberger and Fendi
Sönke Rothenberger and his 10-year old Danish bred Kjaerholms Fendi (by Franklin x Diamond) have not been competing since the 2023 CDIO Aachen. In their absence, Fendi has matured and bulked up muscle. In the Grand Prix the pair showed nice trot half passes with much crossing of the legs and the trot extensions covered sufficient ground but could be more elastic in the top line. The passage is a highlight as it's engaged and expressive. The first piaffe had good sit, the second travelled a bit forward. There was a kick in the canter strike off (4 - 7). The two tempi changes were huge, the extended canter very nice, but there were mistakes in the one tempi changes (4 - 7.5). The changes to the left posed the problem. The pirouettes were small. The third trot extension lacked swing over the back and lengthening. The final centerline went smoothly. They scored 74.000% for fifth place. In the Special they were third with 73.766%.

Score Discrepancies

In a field of 34 riders no less than 14 scores over 70%. The judges struggled to find common ground and score difference of 4 to 6 percent happened regularly, but Emma Hindle's debut on Zippo I.M. caught them all off guard as they rewarded the pair between 62.826% and 71.196% (both judges on the long side). And the internationally rather unknown Belgian Grand Prix rider Peter de Mulder rattled them all with his the talented but tense Indian Summer. He scored between 62.826% and 72.065% !!

Hindle debuts Zippo M.I.
For years the IDOC has worked hard to standardise scoring and bring the corps on the same wavelength. FEI rules even changed for big Championships that any discrepancies over 5% get corrected.  When 10 years ago a judge was far off, it usually meant s/he was quite "wrong" in their assessment compared to the colleagues.. Nowadays when a judge is considerably lower (or higher) than his colleagues, it usually means that they are braver in rewarding what s/he saw instead of caving to group pressure and safely pushing that 6 or 7 bottom. It's an interesting trend to be noticed.

- Text and Photos © Eurodressage - NO REPRODUCTION ALLOWED / NO SCREEN SHOTS 

Eurodressage's Astrid Appels was on the scene and took photos of most riders competing in Aachen. if you are interested in ordering photos, send us an email with the name of the rider/horse you are interested in. NO use of photos without paying.

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