Our columnist reflects on the birth of the FEI World Cup Final and the many changes happening in the sport today.
Light years ago, I was at a dinner hosted by the then top brass in the Fédération Equestre Internationale. The
subject of introducing music as an element of Olympic dressage competition was brought up at the table by Eric Lette, a prominent dressage judge and later the chairman of the FEI Dressage Committee.
Eric waxed eloquently about the possibilities such an idea could open up to our sport. He painted a picture of dressage becoming attractive to larger audiences, of dancing horses and relaxed riders showing their best features to a mesmerized crowd.
His inspired presentation didn’t elicit much enthusiasm from the other diners, who listened politely but with a doubtful look in their eyes. Eric knew that I was an avid believer in adding music, and he gave me a hint to show my support. I chimed in, to no avail. When we ran out of air, and the table broke up, I think we were both convinced the concept had fallen flat.
Eric forged on with the support of Wolfgang Niggli, the chairman of the FEI Dressage Committee, and they managed to plant a seed that took root. This process occurred even though there was a tremendous resistance to introducing music in any form among the dressage leaders, especially from the Germans.
I remember listening to legend Dr. Reiner Klimke giving me a passionate account of the demise of dressage if music were to become part of the competition. It would destroy classical dressage, turn it into circus and confuse horses and riders, not to speak of judges, beyond repair.
A few years later, in 1995, Dr. Klimke placed fourth in the FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Los Angeles, Calif.,
on his stallion Biotop with a great performance, looking like he enjoyed every minute of it.
Music and performing horses is an old tradition, dating back hundreds of years, and now it’s definitely back to stay.
The World Cup, which became an instant hit when it started 25 years ago, has led the way in such a convincing fashion that for the 2012 Olympic Games in London there’s a format suggested in which the individual medals are decided by the results in the freestyle alone. This baby has come a long way!
New freestyle rules will be in place for the shows starting in 2011. The proposals by the FEI Task Force are being tried out as a test run at major events such as Rotterdam (the Netherlands) and Aachen (Germany) this year. If the experiments are successful, the judging for the freestyle will be split between technical and artistic judges.
Had this system been in effect at the FEI World Cup Dressage Final in ’s-Her-togenbosch (the Netherlands) this year (April 9, p. 18), there’s a chance that the winner would have been a mare.
Like most members of the dressage world, I’m very much in awe of Moor-lands Totilas, the eventual winner, but Hunter Douglas Sunrise had what might have been the freestyle test of her life at this year’s World Cup.
In the Grand Prix, Totilas was tense and hollow on several occasions, especially in the transitions. It’s rumored that Totilas has discovered girls, and breeding him could have contributed to his testiness. By the freestyle, Totilas was back in super form for Edward Gal, and the “attitude” had evaporated. Among the many impressive features he displayed were several pirouettes, which could earn a 12 in each direction.
Nevertheless, when it came to the artistic element, the evening belonged to Hunter Douglas Sunrise, the mare owned and ridden by Imke Schellekens-Bartels. They were tops already in Rotterdam last spring, but in ’s-Hertogen-bosch they managed to absolutely nail the interpretation of the lovely piano music created by Wibi Soerjadi, (who was there watching and reliving every moment of his creation) from the first note to the last.
I don’t know what Imke could have done to deliver a more fluid, supple and spot-on performance. The knowledgeable audience sprang to their feet in a standing ovation the instant the mare halted, and it was a well-deserved gesture of appreciation. Imke was teary-eyed with emotion, and it must have been a great experience for her parents, since her mother Tineke is a former Dutch team rider and her father, Joop, is the mastermind of the World Cup and was its organizer for many years.
What a nice way to celebrate 25 years of work well done by watching the success of their daughter at their own game! Although Imke and Sunrise finished third after Totilas and Jerich Par-zival with Adelinde Cornelissen, it was the image of Imke and her mare that lived on my mind’s eye when I left the show, and their piano music that played in my head.
Dressage Committee In Action
In conjunction with the World Cup, the newly formed FEI Dressage Committee met in person for the first time. Frank Kemperman is the chairman and was joined by Thomas Bauer of Germany (representing organizers), Margit Otto-Crepin of France (riders), David Hunt of Great Britain (trainers), Elisabeth Lund-holm of Sweden (chefs d’equipe) and myself (judges).
On Friday evening, we held an open meeting where the trainers, riders, organizers and officials were invited. This meeting gave them a chance to become familiar with our work and gain information about future plans. There was also an opportunity to ask questions and voice opinions.
For two days after the show, the Dressage Committee met in closed sessions and worked through a variety of issues. Many of them dealt with the implications of the proposals from the FEI Dressage Task Force, which have been approved by the FEI Bureau.