Sunday, Jun. 2, 2024

Van Grunsven Claims FEI World Cup Dressage Final For Record Ninth Time

Anky van Grunsven isn’t unbeatable, but it’s going to take a mistake-free test from one special horse and rider to do it, and nobody was up to that task at this year’s FEI World Cup Dressage Final.

She earned her fourth World Cup trophy with IPS Salinero and her ninth win overall in the competition’s 23-year history, at the Brabanthallen in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, March 27-29.


Anky van Grunsven isn’t unbeatable, but it’s going to take a mistake-free test from one special horse and rider to do it, and nobody was up to that task at this year’s FEI World Cup Dressage Final.

She earned her fourth World Cup trophy with IPS Salinero and her ninth win overall in the competition’s 23-year history, at the Brabanthallen in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, March 27-29.

Van Grunsven left her closest competitor, Isabell Werth with Warum Nicht FRH, solidly in second place.

“Everything just worked out. There was nothing that I could have done better, at least that’s what I think at this moment,” said van Grunsven. “Most of the time I’m very critical of myself, but this time I thought it was one of my best tests with IPS Salinero.”

And it was a spectacular test.

Van Grunsven, 40, walked Salinero in to the strains of Dutch pianist Wibi Soerjadi’s new composition.
The new music, “Dance of Devotion,” is quite different than van Grunsven’s previous winning freestyle. The flowing rhythm and dramatic piano music highlight a more relaxed Salinero. It gives you the feeling of a movie score but doesn’t create the immediate appeal of the previous Cees Slings and Victor Kerkhof masterpiece “L’ Esprit Chanson.”

“When I came in and I halted, he stood immediately so quiet that I thought I could stand there for 10 minutes, and for me that’s a very nice feeling to start because then I know he feels well,” said van Grunsven.

That quiet halt, a rarity for the 14-year-old Hanoverian (by Salieri), was the start of a fluid and powerful test that highlighted the gelding’s precise piaffe and passage from the start.

“Anky was just brilliant,” said Stephen Clarke, the judge at B. “Her piaffe and passage were outstanding. The transitions were really superb. She took every risk, and it came off. It was a really lovely test.”

The atmosphere—11,000 spectators packed into the Brabanthallen—certainly tested the horse’s ability to focus on the rider, and van Grunsven struggled with that situation during the Thursday Grand Prix.

The Dutch love dressage, and they all root for van Grunsven, who is a national hero. Mistakes in both halts, and a break to trot before the extended canter, allowed Werth to lead that lap of honor.

“On Wednesday we trained in the arena, and it was nice and quiet,” explained van Grunsven. “On Thursday the warm-up was nice and quiet. Everywhere was nice and quiet until I came into the main arena, and then it was not nice and quiet. It was crowded and a little noisy. IPS Salinero thought it was very difficult.”

So van Grunsven decided to prepare Salinero for the freestyle atmosphere by schooling him during the jumping classes.

No Mourning For The B Final

The FEI World Cup Dressage Final featured a new format this year—only 15 riders and no B Final. In previous years 18 riders had vied for the top spot, and the bottom six competed in a consolation final. Mariette Withages, chairman of the FEI Dressage Committee, said it was the riders who requested the change.

“It looks like the B Final is gone forever,” she said. “I think it’s a good formula. It’s much more clear than before and makes it easier for the organizers. As long as everybody is satisfied, we’ll stick to our guns.”

It’s true that in past years the B Final winner has received acclaim, when in reality that rider finished toward the bottom. This new format focuses all the attention on the very top riders and one big freestyle class. By decreasing the number of riders, the competition comes that much closer to truly showcasing the best dressage combinations in the world.

But the new format also decreased the opportunity for American riders to compete at the Final. In the past, Canada had a guaranteed spot, and U.S. riders got two places, in addition to wild cards. Now there are only two spots for all of North America, although wild cards may still be available.

“We had all these people jumping and standing next to the warm-up,” she said. “I thought I needed more crowd and a busy place. He knows the exercises. I had to find a place he would settle down more. I think that was the right thing to do.”

Fortunately for van Grunsven, the Grand Prix doesn’t count toward the final placings—it’s just used to determine the order-of-go for the freestyle and to give the horses a warm-up.

The Practice Was Perfect

Unfortunately for the U.S. riders, Thursday was the best day of competition for them.


Courtney King-Dye, 30, who placed sixth in last year’s Final with Idocus, put in a strong Grand Prix test and placed seventh with 70.12 percent.

“I’m just so excited and pleased to be back into the 70s in international competition. To be only 4 or 5 percentage points behind Anky and Isabell really makes me feel a part of things,” she said. “When the World Cup was in Vegas [in 2007] we didn’t have a few of the top horses. A few people were missing. Even though my placing there was sixth, and today I was seventh, my score here was actually higher, and I feel like this competition is the cream of the crop. It feels very realistic to me, which is also really gratifying.”

King-Dye, New Milford, Conn., also praised her mount’s enthusiasm for his work.

“He amazes me. He was so excited to be here,” she said. “He was so happy to drag me around, so full of himself. The fact that he’s still so inspired is really inspiring to me. You walk into a big venue like this and every athlete gets this adrenaline rush, this tingly sensation, from the excitement of being here competing against the best. The fact that Idocus seems to share that, you can’t put words to it. It’s a really special feeling. He just lit up going into that ring.”

Idocus and Maksymilian, Jane Hannigan’s horse, traveled from the United States together and sat on the airplane for a long time without hay, so neither horse drank enough.

“He arrived here with a fever. He’s never had that before traveling,” said King-Dye. “He’s usually a spectacular traveler, but he got a little bit dehydrated. He’s gotten a little bit better every day, but that put a damper on our preparation.”

Regardless of setbacks, King-Dye had every intention of showing the 18-year-old, Dutch Warmblood stallion (Equador—Eretha) to his best advantage during the freestyle.

Prior to the class, she said the biggest challenge was the difficulty of her change sequences. She nailed her changes, but a different kind of mistake overshadowed all of the good things about her freestyle. As King-Dye came into her left canter pirouette, she rotated around three times instead of her intended two.
The penalty for this mistake is severe. The competitor receives a 0 for the whole movement, and the scores for choreography and difficulty can’t be higher than 5.

“I was listening to my music and riding the horse and not counting, which I think is a good thing,” explained King-Dye. “I came into the pirouette kind of funny, and he turned really quickly. Because I got a little bit ahead of the music, I wasn’t certain if I had done one pirouette or two pirouettes. It felt like I had just done one. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t realize it right at that moment because the rest of my ride felt like Idocus was really good.”

Clarke added, “This was such a sad occasion because the horse was going really well, and the rider riding beautifully. It was just one of those mental aberrations that riders have.”

King-Dye finished last of the 15 competitors because of her mistake.

How Does It Feel To Be Second?

It’s easy to imagine that the other riders grow weary of Anky van Grunsven’s dominance of the FEI World Cup Dressage Final, but if that’s the case, they keep that thought private.

“I’m really not disappointed,” said Germany’s Isabell Werth, who won the Grand Prix but finished second in the freestyle Final with Warum Nicht FRH. “I’m absolutely happy and satisfied with ‘Hannes.’ In the Grand Prix he was really good, but today he was better.”

Werth shows a remarkable partnership with the 18.2-hand, 12-year-old Hanoverian (by Weltmeyer), and he demonstrates incredible lightness and suppleness for such a giant.

“Isabell was brilliant in the basic gaits, brilliant,” said Stephen Clarke, the judge at B. “I think she had a small mistake in the one-times. The piaffe and passage were not quite as expressive as Salinero. For me, that’s what made the difference.”

Werth freely admitted the mistake in the one-tempis.

“I was a bit too quick to go into the one-tempis, and he was a bit surprised or not really prepared,” she said. “He improved over the winter in his piaffe and passage. He improved overall as a horse in the exercises. It’s a good feeling to go on for a great

Third-placed Kyra Kyrklund of Finland appeared thrilled just to sit beside the two rulers of the sport, van Grunsven and

“You always have to be happy when you’re allowed to sit here,” she said in the press conference. “With Isabell and Anky ahead of me, it’s not a bad position. Realistically, I
didn’t think I’d beat them anyway. I’m really satisfied to come this far.”

Kyrklund’s mount, Max, showed great improvement from last year in his suppleness and engagement.


“This horse has developed so much in 12 months. It’s fantastic,” said Clarke. “And a credit to a brilliant trainer. She’s done it with one horse after the next.”

Kyrklund joked that the 13-year-old Swedish Warmblood (by Master) owed his improvement to a new weight-loss regime for both horse and rider.

When asked if it was frustrating to compete for third place, she replied lightly, “Nowadays we have a bit more money down the line so at least we can pay our tickets for the show and get the horses transported. You have to be realistic.”

The Final awarded approximately $251,585 in prize money. The Grand Prix winner received $50,317 while the Final winner took home $80,507.

“It’s an embarrassing thing to do. I hate the feeling that I let down the country,” she said. “But everybody’s been really sympathetic about it, Klaus [Balkenhol, the U.S. Dressage Team coach] particularly. I won’t make that mistake again for certain, but I’m trying not to beat myself up too much about it. Mistakes happen. It wasn’t anything about nerves or lack of preparation or not thinking. It was just a mistake.”
The one comfort King-Dye did take away from the experience was that Idocus didn’t know about the

“Idocus was a really good boy, and he was really proud of himself,” she said. “I felt like the Grand Prix gave me a lot of confidence in the improvement we’ve made from last year to this year. The score doesn’t reflect any of that for the freestyle, it just reflects the rider making a stupid mistake.”

Idocus will go back to his owner, Christine McCarthy, to breed for the month of April, and then King-Dye will have almost two months before the Olympic selection trials to get him feeling fit and happy.

Upping The Ante

Nothing as dramatic happened in Hannigan’s freestyle, but poor timing left her with a freestyle that wasn’t difficult enough for her talented horse and they placed 12th (69.45%).

Hannigan’s known for a long time just how much ability Maksymilian possesses, but they’ve gone through the normal ups and downs of solidifying the Grand Prix work over the past three years.

She didn’t expect to qualify for the World Cup Final, but when she had her best freestyle ride yet at the PhelpsSports Palm Beach Dressage Derby (Fla.) in March, Hannigan, 37, learned she’d just made the cut. Although she was thrilled to represent the United States for the first time, Hannigan had no time to develop a new freestyle that could showcase the 14-year-old, Dutch Warmblood gelding’s (Elcaro—Eleanor) technical strengths.

The pair performed a credible Grand Prix to finish 13th (67.37%) on Thursday.

“My ride was very fun, but the pirouettes were a disaster, and I think he stuck in a one-tempi,” said Hannigan. “Other than that, I was very happy with how he felt. It was easy to ride him forward and strong in the extended trot, and that’s my favorite thing to do.”

She received nothing but praise and encouragement from the judges. “This is one of the best horses here,” said Clarke.

“I really think it. He’s the most elastic and talented horse that we’ve seen for a long time. She rides very well. It only needs developing.”

Hannigan, Harvard, Mass., decided to add a few things to her freestyle, but that plan didn’t work out as well as she’d hoped.

“The atmosphere in there was fantastic,” she said. “ ‘Mak’ felt good, but I was trying to change my choreography to raise the degree of difficulty. Everybody said I needed to have a new freestyle, and I did my old one. I tried to change a few things, but then I messed up simple things.

“I tried to get ahead of the music in the passage so that I could be ahead of the music in the trot, and I was almost too far ahead of the music,” she explained. “In the canter, I was adding a curved line of one-tempis, and that was fine. So my curved line of two-tempis was good, my curved line of one-tempis was fine, and then I messed up my straight line of twos and my straight line of ones. I could not believe it.”

Hannigan called her mistakes a “sports psychology blip” as she found herself thinking about what she wanted to do next in the test instead of riding the moment.

“Before I finish I usually do another extended canter, a trot transition, and then I go up the centerline and extend the trot,” she said. “I was going to do 23 one-tempis across the diagonal, turn up the centerline, and then do a piaffe transition to passage to the extension. It fit. But in the one-tempis I was thinking about the canter to the piaffe, not the one-tempis, and I blew the entire line. That was not so good. In horses you have to ride the present.”

Hannigan won’t return home right away but will stay with Balkenhol and contest the Hagen CDI in Germany. She mentioned that, unfortunately, Mak will go on the market after this year’s Olympic selection trials because she can’t afford to keep him.

Despite their mistakes, King-Dye and Hannigan were enthusiastic about the experience and positive about the education they received.

“I was really happy with the performance of both riders. They rode very well,” said Balkenhol. “I spoke with the judges, and they were really impressed with [King-Dye’s] well-developed feel of the horse. It was a good endorsement of dressage in the United States. Jane had mistakes in the one-tempis, but that can be worked on and improved. Overall, I’m happy with the way both riders are developing. Now we look forward to the Olympics.” 

To see more coverage and photos from the FEI World Cup Dressage Final, click here.




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