Wednesday, May. 22, 2024

As It Happens: Reem Acra FEI World Cup Final Freestyles

A horse-by-horse commentary by Chronicle blogger Lauren Sprieser about each of the freestyles.


Las Vegas—April 18  

We’re about to get underway with the hotly anticipated freestyles to decide who goes home with the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Final! We’ll be commenting on each rider as they go, so keep checking in!

Tatiana Dorofeeva/Kartsevo Upperville (Russia)

I like that this is a big horse and he moves lightly off the ground. Her music is Russian-themed, which honors her homeland and flatters his heavy type put expressive paces.

Her choreography features some tricky movements, including a canter pirouette almost immediately from the collected walk and one-tempis through the corner.

Her score was 69.35 percent. 

Agnete Kirk Thinggaard/Jojo Az (Denmark)

What fun music for this elegant and light-footed combination! She’s doing her trotwork to Call Me Maybe and the piaffe/passage tour to Adele’s “Could’ve Had It All.” The canterwork was to the Spice Girls “If You Want To Be My Lover.”

Her choreography featured a very meticulously ridden piaffe pirouette spot-on with her music.

Her one-tempis up the center line were dead straight and got the first crowd reaction of the afternoon with applause. Her piaffe/passage tour up the center line to finish, with a piaffe fan at X, was lovely and got the crowd clapping in time with them. Jojo earned a big smooch from his mom. 

Her score was 74.03 percent

Elena Sidneva/Romeo-Star (Russia)

Our Russian riders love their homeland and show it with their choice of music! Elena got the crowd clapping along! She start by interspersing her extended trot, piaffe/passage and half-pass lines, bringing lots of energy and a nice open contact to all.

Romeo-Star looks completely settled in his environment and is relaxed in the extended walk. I think Elena’s clever with her choreography to use big, expressive paces to keep this big stallion inspired.  

Her score was 68.57 percent. 

Terhi Stegars/Axis TSF (Finland)

Black beauty Axis has big, powerful, sweeping music to match his expressive extended trot. The horse looks more stable in the bridle to me than he did in the Grand Prix.

They pulled off a tricky piaffe-to-canter pirouette, then right into a beautifully executed half-pass zig-zag. This horse shows lovely bend. Unfortunately, they had mistakes in all three lines of tempi changes.

She went right from piaffe to extended trot up the center line to finish. 

Her score was 71.21 percent.

Fabienne Lütkemeier/Qui Vincit Dynamis (Germany)

This horse had a good look at the World Cup trophy as he was trotting around the ring before their start—the trophy is sitting out in the ring with a spotlight shining on it.

Her big heavy music isn’t what I’d pick for this cute, chrome chestnut. She had great energy in her piaffe pirouette, but he got a little edgy in the walk. This horse may not be the most impressive one here, but he is clearly the product of good German riding, lots of energy and no mistakes. Their ones were spot-on with their music on a tricky curved line.

They had bad luck on their last center line whish a break in the extended trot when the crowd got going, but hopefully the judges will be sympathetic. 

Her score was 74.80 percent.

Mikala Münter Gundersen/My Lady (Denmark)

I get to see this combination in Wellington a lot and this music has yet to lose its appeal. It’s fabulous, and sure to get this crowd on its feet! Sure enough, they started clapping only a few movements in.

My Lady shows beautiful pirouettes and solid changes on a curved line. She wasn’t rattled by the crowd’s appreciation for her expressive one-tempis. Mikala had a big smile on her face in the curved line of one-tempis; she was enjoying this ride as much as the audience!

She finished with a passage half-pass zig-zag in perfect rhythm with crowd’s applause and gave My Lady plenty of love after their last halt.

They went into the lead at this point with a 75.01 percent.

Want to get to know My Lady better? Check out the Chronicle’s visit with her in Behind The Stall Door: My Lady

Lars Petersen/Mariett (Denmark)


Marvelous Mariett has so much energy. She belies her age (17). There two show all the signs of a long and trusted partnership. They’re here to do a job.

They had some uncharacteristic misses in the one-tempis, but recovered well for the twos on a curved line. They framed their canter half-pass zig-zag in pirouettes, a creative move.

They also pulled off a lovely extended trot-to-piaffe pirouette. Their partnership is so fun to watch in action.

Their score was 73.83 percent.

Malin Hamilton/Fleetwood (Sweden)

How appropriate! Fleetwood Mac music for charming combination. This music is much more my pace!

Fleetwood is having fun, too, showing us lovely and expressive trot half-pass. Fleetwood may not be the biggest mover, but he’s got terrific engagement in the pirouettes into a difficult curved two-tempi line.

The audience boondoggled her very difficult curved one-tempi line (my bad, I was clapping too!). I don’t know what the score will look like, but that was my favorite performance so far!

Their score was 70.62 percent.

Paulinda Friberg/Di Lapponia T (Sweden)

This was one of my favorites from the Grand Prix, where I thought they deserved more love than they got. She starts off with a beautiful piaffe pirouette. She also shows us a tricky little zig-zag in passage half-pass. I would absolutely not object if someone dropped this horse off at my front door!

Extended canter down the center line into a pirouette right in the judge at C’s lap, with an unfortunate swap on her way out of it! She had clean twos on a tricky line and then repeated the extended canter on center line to pirouette, but this time with an early swap.

She had clean tempis up until the end, with one miss in her final center line of ones into a piaffe pirouette to finish on passage. Well, Paulinda, if you decide that horse isn’t going to work out for you, I’ll take her off your hands! 🙂

Inessa Merkulova/Mister X (Russia)

My other neglected favorite from the Grand Prix! They start right off to peppy music from Austin Powers. Love it! They’re then off to a beautiful transition in and out of a lovely engaged and energetic piaffe, a real highlight for this pair. 

The music is quite an eclectic mix —now we’re onto some Sinatra—but the dressage is so good that it’s working for her. Mister X has wonderful sit in his canter pirouettes, and keeps his focus while the audience shows their appreciation. Her music selection has me wondering a little bit, but I just LOVE this creature, and so does Inessa! Big smooches at the end for this wonderful horse, and out to the very appreciative audience!

Their score is a 76.911 to put them provisionally into the lead.

Morgan Barbancon Mestre/Painted Black (Spain)

I love Painted Black. He’s been around a while but still looks fresh as a daisy, and starts off with lovely energetic piaffe and passage including some piaffe pirouettes that are very well done. The audience is getting more and more revved up with every rider, offering more applause for movements well-done, including her extended trot and half pass zig-zags. An unfortunate big miss in the twos but into a very lovely canter pirouette, followed by a canter half pass zig-zag with lots of crossover.

A much smaller miss in the ones into a pirouette, but she gets the ones clean on her second attempt.  Morgan ends on a dynamite final centerline of piaffe and passage, tons of energy and lift, and then gets taken for a ride while Painted Black cheerfully trots off her halt to Morgan’s big pats. Spain should be thrilled!

A 76.161 percent sends them into second.

Isabell Werth/El Santo NRW (Germany)

This is a little bit like having Jesus come in the ring. Isabell is so unbelievably good, and has been so unbelievably good for so long on such a huge spectrum of horses. I can take or leave El Santo, particularly after Thursday’s Grand Prix, where he was just a little outclassed, but he’s got an unreal pilot.

Isabell is all smiles on her first piaffe-passage tour, only to have Ernie lose it for a brief moment, giving the stink eye to the World Cup (the second or third horse to give it a hard look —don’t they know that’s what they’re after?), but Isabell has him back to focused in a mere moment, and is right back to work.

Her rock medley complements El Santo’s big frame and long steps.  Her canter tour gets right to business, a lovely pirouette only steps after coming into the canter from collected walk. She attacks the extended canter into another pirouette into twos. No one owns forward riding like Isabell Werth! 

She ends on piaffe to extended trot, and then shows a little pluck by waving to the crowds and asking for more applause!

We have a new leader with a 77.875 percent.

Hans Peter Minderhoud/Glock’s Flirt (the Netherlands)

I like this leggy chestnut. They deal with a neck that wants to be quite short, and I think that holds them back from some really spectacular marks, but Hans Peter, like his partner, Edward Gal, is such an elegant and quiet rider that it’s hard to fault. Today they show us some of the best trot half pass we’ve seen, super bend and expression, along with their Spanish-themed music. He makes piaffe on the rail, an interesting choice—it’s hard to see there, for at least three of the judges—but it’s very well done.

They also show us some excellent passage half-pass into trot half-pass, which is no easy thing. They are spot-on with their music in extended canter to pirouette to clean changes, though with a significant swing to the left. They get into a little trouble behind in the right pirouette, but the ones are clean.

They end on a lovely passage half-pass zig-zag to big applause and a big smile from Hans Peter!

A 79.036 percent sends them soaring into the lead.


Laura Graves/Verdades (United States)

Hang on, gotta get my American flag out! Ok, we’re good. Bring it home, Diddy! 

They start right off with some nice crisp passage half-pass to trot half-pass, one of this horse’s many highlights. He strikes me as being more settled today, but the crowd is definitely ready for them. Their first piaffe is excellent, but Diddy gets a good hard spook in their second, ridden right at A up against a floppy black curtain. They recover well, though, and she makes a good piaffe at C.

The walk is clear, and Laura loses a bit of the haunches in the half-pass, but gets super twos on a curved line before reacting a bit to the crowd’s applause in her second half-pass. She’s wisely conservative in her extended canter into a little bit of a cautious pirouette, but does super ones up the centerline out, into a second pirouette with a little more energy. Laura’s managing Diddy beautifully in this very tough environment today. 

A lovely piaffe pirouette out of extended trot into a line of passage-piaffe-passage with loads of energy to their final halt. I hope Laura’s happy; she’s got such a good poker face!

She hangs around to get her score and Diddy surveys his domain; the hometown crowd is in major love with him!

A 79.125 percent makes them our new leaders.

Charlotte Dujardin/Valegro (Great Britain)

But the crowd goes dead silent when The Professor enters the ring. All of a sudden the stadium lights seem so loud!

The crowd, which has been knocking on the door of raucous, stays quite quiet as Charlotte bangs out her work—huge extended trot to trot half-pass to passage half-pass to piaffe, all in spectacular control and rhythm. 

I suppose, if we’re going to be picky, I could note that every now and then Charlotte wiggles her right hand. So, you know, they’re only mostly completely perfect.

The extended walk is beautiful. The piaffe is beautiful. The extended canter into a perfect pirouette is beautiful. Clean ones. Superb bend in the canter half-pass zig-zag. Another extended canter into a pirouette that is maybe a teensy bit large but, I mean, c’mon. The crowd dares to clap a little in extended trot before remembering the gravity of the situation.

And it’s over just too soon! The crowd is on their feet! And Blueberry just takes it all in like the too-cool-for-school rockstar that he is. What a privilege to watch.

It’s a 94.196 percent for the lead.

Edward Gal/Glock’s Undercover N.O.P (the Netherlands)

If ever there was a man to rise to the occasion of having to ride after that, it’s Edward Gal. What’s wonderful to watch is how Undercover looks totally not stressed by the post-Charlotte fervor in the crowd. I hope they can keep it!

They get right down to work with their trademark precise and lofty passage to piaffe. Edward lets Undercover travel just a smidge in the piaffe, something he didn’t do in the Grand Prix, but it’s still excellent. Undercover doesn’t have the biggest swing in the world, but his trot half-passes show beautiful balance and expression. The audience seems reticent to clap during Edward’s test, like Charlotte’s; a shame, for the horses who went before who may have suffered a bit for the audience participation. Such is life with horses! 

The extended walk shows good reach and clear rhythm, and the canter work shows the same, with a bold extended canter into double pirouette to a tight turn into the twos. Edward is creative with his right hand to maintain the straightness in the change to the right. He repeats the pattern to the left, though Undercover gets a smidge wide behind on entry to the pirouette, and they miss quite a few one tempis behind. They take a second crack and miss one in front.

We’re clearly playing for Second Place—will it be enough?

At least for now it is! An 84.696 percent.

Steffan Peters/Legolas 92 (United States)

My flag is out again! Steffen did some really brilliant prep work with Legolas before tackling this tough environment, and gives Legolas a tour of the arena in posting trot, cool as a cucumber. Here’s hoping it lasts!

They’ve added some curious lyrics to the start of this Kur (“Hey! I’m Legolas! Let’s go!” Really?), and when the crowd gets going, it rattles Legolas, and Steffen asks for quiet, which he receives. But they’re right back to work, making some peaceful half-pass and a pirouette that’s large but with good bend and clear steps. They have a small miss in the ones, a much tidier left pirouette, and more half-pass. They make extended canter to canter pirouette to piaffe, all beautiful, into a nice clear extended walk. And his Coldplay music is one of my favorites and I’m reaching for my jacket for goosebumps.

Their first passage half-pass could be a little crisper, but the piaffe is excellent and swingy. The second is better, and now we’re off on some insane white dressage guy rap thing to accompany the piaffe. The crowd thinks it’s hilarious, and Legolas (mostly) keeps it together as they go nuts to support this second American combo.

An 80.357 percent puts them in third with one to go.

Jessica von Bredow-Werndl/Unee BB (Germany)

An interesting choice for this combination’s entry soundtrack—pieces of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech—but a beautiful canter pirouette right out of the halt is nothing to shake a stick at. They have an early miss in the twos, and then an unfortunate change mid-extended canter as the crowd revs them up. But they make clean ones to another excellent pirouette, a real highlight for this horse. And she gets a second shot at the extended canter, which goes well, and then comes to piaffe with beautiful control.

I am all about vocals in freestyles but both Jessica and Steffen’s have me scratching my head a bit—more in Jessica’s walk tour about having a dream about all creatures respecting one another. An admirable sentiment for sure, and I respect the heck out of her lovely piaffe to passage half-pass to trot half-pass, so there’s that! Unee looks more on form today for me than he did in the Grand Prix, with lovely energetic piaffe and rhythmic extended trot, and super transitions all around.

He gets a little mudded in her final piaffe fan but makes a super transition to a final extended trot. Will it be enough to catch Edward?

They don’t catch Edward Gal, but an 80.393 percent gives them third place.

Check back at to see how Charlotte feels about winning for a second time.



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