Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023

Van Grunsven Vanquishes The World Cup For Third Straight Time

It's hard to argue with perfection. Anky van Grunsven and Keltec Salinero rule the modern dressage arena, and the FEI Dressage World Cup Final on April 20-22 was no exception.

The gifted pair laid down an impressive and precise musical freestyle to take home their third title in a row, this time in their native land of the Netherlands before a sell-out crowd in Amsterdam.

Always spectacular in his piaffe and passage, Salinero appeared relaxed and comfortable in the electric atmosphere of the RAI Center, performing true halts and invisible transitions.



It’s hard to argue with perfection. Anky van Grunsven and Keltec Salinero rule the modern dressage arena, and the FEI Dressage World Cup Final on April 20-22 was no exception.

The gifted pair laid down an impressive and precise musical freestyle to take home their third title in a row, this time in their native land of the Netherlands before a sell-out crowd in Amsterdam.

Always spectacular in his piaffe and passage, Salinero appeared relaxed and comfortable in the electric atmosphere of the RAI Center, performing true halts and invisible transitions.

“I can’t think what could have been better,” said van Grunsven after her victorious ride (87.75%). “For me, it was the best test Keltec Salinero ever did. It was very relaxed, but still going for the points. I liked everything today.”

The judges agreed. “I was really moved,” said Vincenzo Truppa, the judge at C. “I gave her a 10 for the music.”

With the World Equestrian Games looming in August, this year’s World Cup field didn’t boast the depth of some previous years. The Americans kept their most experienced pairs at home to minimize the wear-and-tear of traveling, and even some of the Europeans admitted to bringing their second horses.

This also meant that the competition was without the controversy of last year when Edward Gal won the Grand Prix and a disappointed Debbie McDonald only managed to secure third place in the freestyle, although she was clearly the crowd favorite.

This time the judges universally placed van Grunsven and the 12-year-old Hanoverian (by Salieri) first in both tests. The pair was at their absolute best, showing off extravagant movement with no mistakes.

“It felt very easy today,” said van Grunsven. “I have this wonderful horse who has a great talent for these things. He was nervous in the warm-up because of all the crowd there, but he couldn’t have been better in the ring.”

Van Grunsven plans to give Salinero some time off before starting her preparations for the World Equestrian Games. “We’ll start to do small shows again after a few weeks,” she said.

A Veteran And A Rookie

Van Grunsven may have been unbeatable this time, but an old rival and a fresh face were knocking at the door behind her.

Isabell Werth of Germany rode Warum Nicht FRH into second place (81.15%), and Jan Brink of Sweden captured third aboard Bjorsells Briar 899 (79.32%). Those placings were reversed from the Grand Prix, where Brink finished second (75.41%).

Warum Nicht (which means “Why Not”), is just 10, but the giant Hanoverian (by Weltmeyer) looks like he may have the ability to start challenging Salinero. In the Grand Prix, his scores were higher than Salinero’s for the first movements, but his piaffe and passage aren’t quite as tuned yet.

“It was nice to see Isabell doing well–nice to see someone creeping up who can be a challenger,” said American Gary Rockwell, who was the judge at H for the final. “He’s bigger than my apartment! He’s beautiful and has expression. And she’s such a wonderful rider. She’s beautifully trained and gives the horse every chance.”

Werth and van Grunsven traded cham-pionship titles on Gigolo and Bonfire less than a decade ago, so it will be exciting for the dressage world if they’re headed toward a repeat performance.

“My experience was really good,” said Werth after the Grand Prix. “He was quiet and consistent. We did a very good test, our highest marks. From show to show, we are growing up. I had a mistake in the last extension, even though I wanted to make sure we had no mistakes. But the rest was really good.”

She was even more pleased after the freestyle. Warum Nicht looked regal as he marched around to “Pomp and Circumstance” with a little bit of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to lighten things up.

“I hope we can go up, but today I’m really happy,” said Werth. “Now he’s on such a high level and really constant, he’s not too tense because of the crowd and the atmosphere. He was really concentrated and relaxed. There was a fault in the two-tempi changes, which was my fault. I was too quick with my leg.”

Werth also hopes to aim Warum Nicht toward the WEG, but he’ll probably play backup to her more experienced mount, Satchmo.

There aren’t many horses competing at the top with more experience than Bjorsells Briar. The 15-year-old, Swedish Warmblood stallion (by Magini) proved that he’s only improving with age.

Both his Grand Prix and freestyle tests were studies in harmony and connection.


“I always try to ride as good as possible, but you ride against yourself,” Brink said after his Grand Prix. “I had a really good feeling with my horse. There was a small mistake in the two-tempis in the beginning.”

He praised the organizers for allowing the riders plenty of time in the main ring before the competition started. “The whole environment was good. It was optimal sport,” he said.

Brink’s freestyle test might have lacked a little bit of the dazzle of his Grand Prix, but he said he wasn’t upset about moving down to third place.

“It’s the best placing I’ve ever had in a World Cup Final,” he said. “I never know exactly where I lose it in this sport. Today it’s so tight, you can’t make a mistake.”

Briar looked a bit tired in the freestyle, especially at the end of his test, when he performed a long and difficult piaffe/passage sequence.

And Brink admitted he didn’t have him as much in front of his leg as he would’ve liked. “I had some small mistakes [in the freestyle.] He wasn’t really in front of my leg, so I would push too much and make a mistake,” he said.

Brink was the individual champion in the 2005 Aachen CDIO in Germany. “You can’t push all the time,” he said. “I’m not going to go crazy because I’m not at the top five months out. I can ride, relax and go up later. It’s going the right way. I didn’t have any mistakes in Aachen, but I was more in tune with the music here.”

Because Briar is such a confirmed Grand Prix horse, Brink focuses on keeping him happy and fresh in his work, instead of drilling the movements.

“I let him go out, be a horse,” he said. “I ride him outside because it’s spring. We canter on the racetrack. It’s important that he be happy and motivated. That’s why I don’t do too many competitions.”

An International Horse In The Making

The WEG may have kept many Americans at home, but it was an excellent opportunity for Arlene “Tuny” Page to get some experience under her belt with Wild One.

A 10-year-old Hanoverian, Wild One (by Wanderer) has only been contesting Grand Prix for a little more than a year. It was Page’s first time representing the United States too.

But you wouldn’t have known how green the pair was during their Grand Prix. “Double V” entered confidently, performed correctly, and really impressed the judges (scoring 71.00%). They scored their highest percentage in a CDI and finished seventh on the first day.

“It felt great that my horse went out there and clocked on,” said Page. “I really wanted to make it into the final. Not just getting into the final, but doing it convincingly was terrific.”

Their only green moment came at the end of the test, when the audience started applauding and Wild One tried to bolt out of the arena.

Rockwell waxed enthusiastic about her rides. “I was incredibly pleased with Tuny in the Grand Prix,” he said. “It’s a big step up.

She was incredibly cool and composed. She sat beautifully and was very correct. She presented him fantastically. There’s a tremendous future with that horse.”

Page admitted to some nerves, but she tried not to let it get in her way. “I had fish legs until I cantered [in the warm-up]” she said. “I knew I just had to canter until the horse relaxed and my body relaxed. But there’s no room for you to be nervous and do this right. Did I have butterflies? Yes, of course. But does it come out in your riding? No.”

She was immensely grateful to the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation and the U.S. Equestrian Federation for helping her travel to Europe a month in advance to train with team coach Klaus Balkenhol. She also appreciated everyone’s realistic expectations of her.

“Everybody said, ‘He’s green, if he makes a few mistakes, that’s not the point. You need to show the international community that we have top Grand Prix horses coming,’ ” said Page. “I felt like the expectations were right where they should be. It was nice to jump over the bar instead of just meeting it.”

Still, Page had a somewhat disappointing ride in the freestyle when Wild One passaged instead of cantering in the opening of his test.

“Normally the test opens with walk to halt to canter pirouette,” explained Page. “He blocked his back and passaged, so we did a single pirouette. I didn’t want to get behind the music.”


Although the mistake was costly, she didn’t lose concentration, and they went on to perform a credible test.

“For me, this was about doing a good Grand Prix and getting into the final,” said Page. “My horse did nothing but have an error of communication. He really went like a genuine international horse.”

She said that now she’ll let Wild One rest until he’s “bucking in the paddock.” Then they’ll start preparing for the WEG selection trials in June.

Some Valuable Experience

Amsterdam was also the first big international competition for Leslie Morse’s mount Tip Top 962. The 12-year-old Swedish Warmblood (by Master 850) has always played second fiddle to Morse’s more experienced mount, Kingston.

Tip Top looked more than a little worried on the first day of competition. He was short in his neck and tense, asking Morse for reassurance that it was OK to go forward.

“The World Cup situation is very difficult,” said Morse. “My horses live in the outdoors. Part of the whole experience is learning how to deal with different situations.”

They finished 14th in the Grand Prix (66.95%). But they were able to recover some ground in the B final with their dynamic swing music. He appeared to trust the ring more and was able to show off his big half-pass and elasticity to finish with 71.45 percent, behind winner Laura Bechtolsheimer of Great Britain on Douglas Dorsey (73.52%).

“For Tip Top to come into a Grand Prix of this size and venue, he did a great job,” said Morse. “I really enjoyed so much of his work.”

Because Morse has stallions, she can’t remain in Europe with them for much longer, although she’s hoping for an extension so she won’t have to fly her horses back to the United States until the selection trials.

“It’s important for people to realize that our horses are coming from a long distance,” said Morse. “The world doesn’t see our horses on their best day.”

Is That A Happy Athlete?

The judges may all have agreed on Anky van Grunsven’s performance, but that didn’t mean that the contentious subject of rollkur was avoided. In the last press conference, van Grunsven announced that she wouldn’t be competing in Germany unless it was for a World Championship.

A German equestrian magazine, St. Georg, printed an article last July condemning training dressage horses with the rollkur method van Grunsven espouses. Since then, representatives of the rival dressage powers have accused each other of incorrect training and poor sportsmanship.

“I’m really disappointed about some press people,” said the Dutch superstar. “It’s too bad what happens in Germany. Here we can argue with the press. We all do it together. There are too many fights in Germany. I think if we all try to talk about it in a normal way, it would be better for the whole sport. We have to be more positive.”

Isabell Werth stepped in to defend her native land. “I agree that in Germany we should be more positive,” she admitted. “But there’s not a fight between Germany and the Netherlands. It’s just a few people.”

The warm-up was open to the public and the press so onlookers could judge for themselves whether or not the horses were being unduly stressed. And the different techniques used appeared to reinforce the FEI’s latest conclusions that hyperflexion was OK in the hands of experienced individuals.

Van Grunsven, Werth and Dutch rider Edward Gal bent their horses’ necks deeply, but they gave them lots of breaks and really appeared to be warming their horses up the way a gymnast stretches before a competition.

Some of the others–and they weren’t all Dutch–took this to the extreme, riding their horses in an overflexed position for long periods of time with no rest.
Mariette Withages, chairman of the FEI Dressage Committee, praised van Grunsven for being brave enough to bring the topic up.

“Personally, and from the FEI, I don’t think this is a Dutch-German war,” she said. “I think it has more to do with personalities, personal opinions and personal frustrations. I think today was proof that we were not rewarding horses that were tense or maltreated. All the horses today looked like happy athletes.”

While Withages has expressed the hope that people will just stop arguing about rollkur, that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.




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