Thank goodness for the second half of the WDM freestyle competition. I don’t believe in DQ gods, so my prayer of last night’s post was made with absolutely no faith that an omniscient entity would intervene on my (and the horses’) behalf. No, the gods don’t make people ride well. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to a trio of fine riders and their much more than fine horses for dragging what started as a dressage disaster back into an evening worth sticking around for.

I’m still on the fence about whether Heather crossed the line between awful and awesome. Paragon is honestly the most insane-to-watch horse I’ve ever seen, but some of that crazy-assed movement was indisputably caused by anxiety last night. I give full marks to Heather for seeking to expand those ever-so-traditional boundaries, from her all brown outfit to an outside-the-box approach to her music and choreography. But that’s a double edged sword. I was not a fan of the actual shade of brown of her helmet, coat and boots; I found that the chocolatey clothing clashed with Paragon’s shiny-penny tones. I also think Heather fell victim to originality at the expense of technical quality, which is what we saw with last night’s first three competitors. Horses, creatures of habit that they are, often get  rattled when things are thrown at them in a totally new order. Imagine going to a restaurant and being served dessert first and your salad last. Yes, the judges want to see original looking choreography, but no one wants to see horses getting upset because everything in their dressage-test world has been turned on its head.

As I said right off the top today, thank goodness for those three who reminded us that dressage can be fun, exciting and inspiring to watch. I’ll address each ride in the order that it appeared, rather than the order of placing, which you can see in detail here.

First in was Tinne with the simply beautiful Don Auriello. I last saw them in London, where I thought Don Auriello had yet to really get the power from behind that would be necessary to put him among the world beaters. Last night’s performance gave every indication that he is well on his way to that league. At the press conference after the prize giving I asked Tinne about his development in the power department; here is what she said: “He’s getting more mature, so that I can ride him at full power.” Tinne also pointed out that Don Auriello is just 11 and is still developing. I think we can look forward to even greater things from this horse. And Tinne is, to my mind, one of the most classical riders in that top echelon today. Harmony is the very first word that comes to mind when I watch her.

Speaking of harmony, I thoroughly enjoyed her freestyle music last night. I know Cees Slings made a few tweaks to it in the past week or two, and he was on hand last night to witness the fruit of his labors. I would have to go back and study video from London to identify what was adjusted, but really, who cares? The Who program really, really works for this horse in every way.  I don’t want to risk insulting the creator by complimenting him, so I’ll just leave it with an enthusiastic two thumbs up from my humble position as a spectator.

Onto Steffen and Legolas. Every time I watch that man ride, I think ‘what a master – what a maestro of empathy and refinement’. Legolas is a greenhorn, a horse that has never been in the kind of atmosphere that he experienced last night. As I watched Steffen keep the horse’s focus on him, as he finessed the high pressure moments of the piaffe (Legolas’ party trick), I was reminded of watching him with Ravel in Hong Kong. It remains to be seen if Legolas will ever be what Ravel became, but one thing is for sure. If there is a rider in the world who could make it happen, Legolas is in the right hands.

I was somewhat less enthusiastic about Steffen’s music last night. Based on his past freestyles, I think it’s safe to say Steffen is a fan of the guitar and the rock genre. For the legginess that is Legolas, I found the guitar a bit too masculine.  I actually think Ravel’s Avatar music, which I found a bit quiet and light for Ravel’s visual presence, could have worked quite brilliantly for Legolas.

Finally, Patrik. Scandic is just amazing to watch up close in the passage and piaffe – he may be unrivaled in that department in the world right now. But in the lateral work, I’m constantly getting the impression that Patrik is bending steel. I don’t mean this in a bad way toward Patrik. This stallion is notoriously difficult and Patrik may be the only rider who can get such brilliance from him. But no one is ever going to accuse that horse of being light as a feather in the contact.

I wish Patrik was still using his Depeche Mode music. I don’t like the Billy Idol program nearly as much, and I especially don’t like all the quick changes back and forth from song to song in the first part.

I think the chips fell the right way last night, and the scores seemed pretty real, for the most part. I do object to Lars’ score of 73.925% for a performance that, aside from being offensive to the ear, looked too much like hard work for the horse – who looks like an absolute saint, by the way.  It was a shame that the first half of the evening was memorable for the wrong reasons, but the second half worked miracles to clean the palate.

I caught up with Generalissimo Stephen Clarke after the press conference. When I told him I’d called him the Grand Poobah of the Ground Jury in this week’s post on Straight-Up in regard to his appointment as FEI Judge General, he said he approved of the nick name (love you Stephen!). I then gently chastised him for being so inconsiderate as to end up stuck on the ground in NYC during Superstorm Sandy when he should have been charming us with his pearls of wisdom at the GDF (the REAL GDF, not an ersatz imposter). Stephen responded  with the horrifying fact that he spent six days stranded, and was getting his meals out of vending machines. If anyone doesn’t deserve that kind of suffering, it’s a judge like Stephen who flies all over the world to work long days for little – if any – pay while risking censure from every rider who thinks he gypped him or her of a mark (though in Stephen’s case that’s a pretty rare occurrence). I propose that we set up a special support network of people living in major cities so that judges  never have to go through such a tribulation again – a kind of FEMA for the judges, only a FEMA that actually functions. Vancouver doesn’t often (actually, ever) get weather on that scale, but if you are a dressage judge and you get stuck there for even a day, please give me a call and I’ll come and rescue you. That’s a promise!

One last note on WDM Palm Beach before I move onto other Welly matters. There has been some press about Tina Konyot’s elimination from the Grand Prix, including several reports from Ken B. that as usual contain a certain  ‘je ne sais quoi’ (actually I do know: it’s called hyperbole and speculation). Someone suggested to me this morning that Ken is the Fox News of dressage. Contrary to Ken’s headline that the riders and trainers clubs have filed protests against the elimination, IDRC Sec Gen Wayne Channon has told me the IDRC is unsure whether they even have the right to ‘file a protest on behalf of a rider’. What the IDRC HAS done, says Wayne, ‘is liaise with the FEI on the correct interpretation of the Elimination Rule (Article 430 7.6).  By my reading of the rule, the horse should have been checked by an FEI Veterinarian and not eliminated by the Judge at C.  The FEI currently disagrees. The FEI is going to have to take legal advice on this and determine the correct interpretation, URGENTLY.’ Not having deeply examined the facts yet, I  think the IDRC probably has a valid point about an important issue. We may be headed toward yet another battle between the IDRC and the FEI.

And now to wrap up, here is a sneak preview of what I’ll be getting up to this week in Welly World. Tuesday will be a busy day, starting with an interview with a certain high profile member of the equestrian community down here in the palm trees (you’ll have to check back to find out who), and ending with attending the NARG meeting.