In my quest to better my riding, I have dedicated a lot of my spare time to watching top class dressage and showjumping . Up until now I have relied on my FEItv subscription, clipmyhorse.tv and other various live streaming sites but you just don’t get the same experience when watching on a screen so I am now determined to visit some International shows.
Olympia got me off to a great start and I decided to take the short journey over to Amsterdam for their annual CSI4* show. Anyone thinking of a short horsey break should seriously consider visiting a European show, and Amsterdam is an ideal first try. Firstly, the transport was so easy; a 1 hour flight and a direct train from the airport, total travelling time 1hr25mins (and it cost significantly less than I spent on the train to London!) Secondly, everything is so much more accessible, friendly and down-to-earth with a very knowledgeable viewing public.
Because the warm-up was completely open to the public, I spent a lot of my time there, watching and learning from the very best.
Dressage: Most riders chose to warm up deep and round, stretching the horse, changing the pace in trot and canter before bringing up into a competition frame shortly before the test. The Dutch are much criticised for their use of Rolkur and I was certainly uncomfortable with how long some horses were held very short in the neck. Valegro had the most laid-back warm up, mostly just working trot with easy lateral movements and out in a longer frame and Charlotte does not ask for the collection and extravagance that others seek in the warm-up and it surely shows in the horse’s relaxation as he comes into the arena. He was spell-binding in the Kur and Chief judge, Eduard de Wolff van Westerrode , described him as ‘A judge’s dream’. Afterwards, Charlotte talked of her plans for the year which are for Valegro to have a break now and then come back in ready for the World Cup finals at Las Vegas in April. It is difficult to imagine them being beaten- he is a clear 10% ahead of anyone else in the world which is really an astonishing feat. After that, all focus for the year is on the Europeans which are at Aachen in August. There has since been some speculation based on a seemingly non-committal interview by Carl that he may retire after Rio. We shall see, the horse looks incredible and clearly loves his work, plus he does very few competitions now.
Whilst there may be nothing much to challenge Charlotte at Grand Prix level currently, do not under-estimate the talent coming through. I watched a really exciting Dutch national Intermediare class where two horses really stood out as being potentially serious team prospects- the winner, Duval’s Capri Sonne Jr, a stunning 8yr old black stallion by Rhodium with huge talent, and 3rd placed Coco-Chanel, a really expressive 8yr old mare by Sandreo.
I was surprised by the amount of suppling exercises and small gymnastic work the riders were doing to warm up. Most riders that I watched in preparation for the 1.60m Grand Prix jumped a low (2’6) upright 3 or 4 times and then jumped it at around 3’3 another 4 times before jumping low spreads (no more than 3’6) which got gradually wider. They would come deliberately under-paced into a deep spot in order to get the shoulders up and the horses powering off the ground. Once they’d done that, the pace went up a notch and the fences got more serious, but they didn’t jump many big fences before coming in. The Amsterdam Grand Prix was a really exciting class with plenty of horses that will be stepping up to team level within the next year or two. Watch out for Egyptian rider, Karim Elzoghby, and his astonishing mare Amelia (Cantos x Numero Uno) who made the crowd gasp as she ballooned over every fence.
Another thing which stood out for me was how important equestrian sport is to the Dutch. The national federation have funding to purchase up-and-coming horses who demonstrate an exceptional ability to represent their country. This ensures that the horses can stay in the country, with their riders. Such horses are recognised through the ‘NOP’ suffix and includes dressage superstar Parcival, Showjumping great Verdi and eventer Keyflow (partnered by Tim Lips) At the show they announced the new horses to be entered onto the programme which were two really promising looking event horses- Vira, partnered by Elaine Penn, and Rumour Has It, ridden by Merel Blom.
Vira is a fascinating horse as she is by the infamous KWPN dressage stallion, Jazz. He is better known for throwing sharp, difficult horses with huge movement and ability for the Grand Prix work, but Vira is said to be a willing, easy horse to work with. Her damline is jumping based, Wolfgang x Cavalier but you have to go back a long way to find any TB blood. It has been much debated whether the short format has meant that TB blood is less significant; Vira came 5th at Luhmuhlen 4* with only 4.8 time penalties but perhaps the more testing conditions at WEG found her out- 30 time penalties pushed her down the order.
Rumour Has It should be of great interest to British Breeders as he is by the late British based TB stallion, Esteban. The damlineis a beautiful mix of Holstein jumping lines with Cassini I, Capitol I and the very influential TB stallion, Sacramento Song, all featuring. This is in stark contrast to Vira and shows that, for eventing at least, you have to consider the individual in front of you rather than making predictions based on pedigree.
The KWPN is one of the most rigorous and robust studbooks in the world and the general public are so much more knowledgeable about the lines in front of them. All starting lists at the show had the sire and damsire included in the basic information so it became very easy to look for patterns in type and style. As a budding amateur breeder myself, building up this bank of knowledge is invaluable.
Now, call me old-fashioned, but when I heard that the interval demos were to be Gert van den Hof breaking in untouched 3yr olds, I was a little wary. Indeed, in the first demo I watched, he brought in this terrified looking juvenile warmblood which was clearly very stressed to be in such an alien environment as its heart rate and breathing was through the roof. He spun it round on no more than 10 circles, plonked a saddle on it, spun it round 5 more times to get the bronc out and then hopped on. Within 5 minutes he jumped a cross pole. Now, there’s no denying the man can sit a bronc! And I totally agree with how he rode the young horse forwards to inspire confidence. I guess it just goes against every part of how I like my youngsters to be relaxed and confident before taking it another step forwards. The crowd loved it- laughed when the horse bronced, ‘Ooohd’ and ‘Aaahd’ as it pulled some interesting looking acrobatics and clearly seemed to love their Dutch hero. I watched him 2 more times and the results were the same. The video shows the process from saddle to jump on the final mare he started.