The strains of the patriotic British song “Land of Hope and Glory” echoed in the Olympia Exhibition Hall in London, England, but the horses dancing to it and winning were German and Dutch.
Imke Schellekens-Bartels of the Netherlands topped the World Cup-qualifying Grand Prix freestyle aboard Sunrise, while German Isabell Werth rode Warum Nicht FRH to win the Grand Prix. Both incorporated the British tune into their freestyles at the London Olympia Horse Show, Dec. 12-13.
While the Dutch came to Olympia in force, making up one-third of the entries, the qualifying Grand Prix class went to the only German competitor, Werth on Warum Nicht FRH, with a 75.70 percent. Despite an error in the middle of the one-tempis, Werth produced a test full of power and elasticity on the 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Weltmeyer.
Schellekens-Bartels was delighted with her mare, Sunrise, a 12-year-old Hanoverian by Singular Joter. “In the Grand Prix she did a wonderful test, and I got a personal record [score], so I was rewarded for it,” she said.
The following day, Schellekens-Bartels went one better and reversed the placings. Set to music as varied as “Land of Hope and Glory,” “A Sailor’s Hornpipe” and melodies from Swan Lake, the choreography of her freestyle flowed seamlessly, and included fabulous double pirouettes, equally good in both directions. It was a test of relaxed, elegant power, with every step ridden to the beat, and scored 79.55 percent.
“I never expected to win,” said Schellekens-Bartels. “But today she just continued keeping the right frame, making no mistakes, being really fresh, being really, really happy and I was very pleased with my test.”
The crowd on Grand Prix day was small and quiet. Not so for the freestyle–a packed house and an electric atmosphere gave an edge to several tests that included one horse–IPS Lucky Times and Dutch rider Anne Van Uytert–bolting from the arena without ever establishing a final halt.
Whether the atmosphere made Warum Nicht FRH nervous, or there was genuinely something to look at, Werth had a difficult ride in her freestyle, with several errors, to finish on 79.40 percent. “We had a few mistakes,” she said. “He was a little spooky, looking at stuff on the ground and too distracted to win today. Congratulations to Imke and we will have to try again.”
Both Werth and Schellekens-Bartels have new freestyles lined up for next year, although Werth may not debut her new program until after the 2007 FEI Rolex World Cup Final (Nev.).
Third place went to 1991 World Cup Final winner Kyra Kyrklund on Max (76.40%). Having placed second already in the World Cup-qualifying freestyle in Aarhus (Denmark), Kyrklund has now collected a good number of points toward qualifying for the final in Las Vegas, Nev., in April, despite not starting the season with that goal in mind.
In the qualifying class, 11-year-old Max, a Swedish Warmblood by Master, looked rather flat, sticking a bit in piaffe and trying to halt too early on the final center line, earning himself a sharp reminder from his rider. He finished fifth in the Grand Prix, but produced a better performance the following day in the freestyle with fun music, including “Money Makes the World Go Round,” and a test with flowing changes of mood and tempo.
“Yesterday he was a bit too fresh in the warm-up, so maybe I warmed him up a bit too much” explained Kyrklund. “Today I warmed him up a bit less and he had much more go.”
Placing third in the Grand Prix (71.20%), Laurens Van Lieren of the Netherlands rode Hexagon’s Ollright to a medley of Queen tracks for his freestyle, producing an ambitious floor plan that included two-tempis and one-tempis on 20-meter circles. But a tense walk and a very large left pirouette dropped their score to 75.35 percent and fourth place.
Edward Gal, with Group 4 Securicor IPS Gribaldi, produced consistent impressive work, marred just a little by the restlessness of the 13-year-old stallion’s luxuriant tail and some reluctance to go up to the contact in the walk.
Gal’s fourth place in the Grand Prix (70.45%) was the higher of his two placings, despite Gribaldi appearing more relaxed in his freestyle for fifth place (75.05%). While his music–strong in beat and with non-intrusive vocals–suited, his choreography could benefit from more originality to help lift his artistic score.
The best of the Brits was Laura Bechtolsheimer with Douglas Dorsey, a 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Donnerhall. This rising star, not long out of Young Riders, has seen a whirlwind 18 months. She won the British Championships in 2005, was top scorer of Great Britain’s team at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen (Germany), and she placed sixth (73.40%) in her first competition since Aachen.
The intervening months since the World Championships have seen her in the hospital with a severe kidney infection, which she tried to ignore as she wanted to keep on riding. She acknowledged that she is probably too late to campaign seriously for the World Cup Finals this season, but will do some more qualifiers for the experience.
Marlies Van Baalen competed Lisa Wilcox’s former U.S. team horse, BMC Relevant, whom she now owns. The 15-year-old stallion still shows his classically trained piaffe and easy tempi changes, but struggles to gain much cadence in passage. He placed 10th in the Grand Prix (67.58%) and 11th in the freestyle (69.35%).
The sole U.S. representative, European-based Catherine Haddad with the Janet S. Schneider Trust’s Maximus JSS, did not have the best of shows. The pair had several errors in the Grand Prix, including an unfortunate loss of impulsion due to passing manure coming into the first piaffe, which caused an unscheduled halt. Haddad just qualified for the freestyle in 14th place (66.29%).
Entering to the impressive introduction of the gladiator Maximus from the film soundtrack, Haddad and Maximus looked like they might pull off a meteoric rise, but despite the powerful music and strong choreography with a good degree of difficulty, a persistent refusal to produce a trot half-pass (instead of canter), and a disunited canter extension, meant they stayed 14th with a score of 68.40 percent.