Ahlerich and Marzog assumed the world`s mantle from Granat, and–being much lighter horses-hey took that expression and made it gentler, under Reiner Klimke and Anne-Grethe Jensen. They didn`t look as if they were overpowering or conquering the ring. Ahlerich was a gymnast, using the arena like a human would the uneven bars or the rings, while Marzog, a more artistic gymnast who provided the incentive for the first FEI World Cup Final, performed as if doing the floor exercise.
And then there was Rembrandt, who always looked as if the ring could barely contain him, as if a meadow or mountainside would be a better stage for the sheer joy he felt doing the exercises that others found so hard. Rembrandt was a ballet dancer, and Nicole Uphoff his partner whose mission was simply to guide him to the next movement. Peron and Michelle Gibson, who led the U.S. team to the bronze in 1996, were the U.S. pair most like Rembrandt and Uphoff. With their harmony and unchanging rhythm, they appeared to dance as one to each movement.
One of the many fascinating aspects of the 10-year Gigolo/Bonfire rivalry was the contrast between them. Gigolo was from the Ahlerich gymnast school, with a trace of Granat. His strength was his strength, which gave him his basic correctness and his amazing extensions, immediate collection and obedience to Isabel Werth–all abilities she cleverly highlighted in her freestyle. Rusty, still the leader of the German team, carries on the Gigolo/Ahlerich tradition.
But Bonfire was a dancer–not ballet, more modern or theater. He was all movement, all expression, all about doing it his way, with Anky van Grunsven his somewhat breathless partner. The freestyle was Bonfire`s best test because van Grunsven could just let him flow with the music.
Watching all but two of our current Olympic team candidates perform for the last two weeks in our team`s Olympic selection trials caused me to compare them to these stars. Brentina puts a feminine twist on Gigolo and Rusty, tracing back to Ahlerich. Her rhythm, her correctness and her lightness are her keys, but in her maturity she`s developing a strength that has given her a greater expression to compliment her lovely gaits. Relevant is from the Rembrandt school, toned down. His enthusiasm and keenness put a sort of youthful, endearing edge on everything he does. Kennedy is from the Rusty school–correct, obedient, patient. But Aragon, Floriano and Kingston are harder to classify. Kingston, who looks and acts like a weightlifter, is closest to Granat, but Aragon and Floriano have a suppleness, an athleticism all their own.
But can their minds use their abilities like Granat, Rembrandt or Bonfire did? That`s the big question, and the question that truly determines whether any type of dressage horse can become a horse of a lifetime.