**Note to readers: I wrote this post on my flight from Amsterdam to Toronto on Thursday, but between the flying (no wifi on KLM flights yet), the weather, Toronto’s epic traffic and my schedule doing work in my ‘other’ career, dressage freestyles, this is the first moment I’ve had to sit down and post it. Sorry for the delay!
Before I continue my ratings into Day Two’s presentations, I must correct an almost unbelievable oversight from yesterday’s post. I completely forgot to comment on Katrina Wüst’s exciting presentation on how she has solved the problem of badly judged Degree of Difficulty in the freestyle! Given that my world, when it isn’t revolving around Endurance scandals or the microcosmic politics of Welly World, entirely revolves around horses dancing to music, it would seem nearly impossible that I should have forgotten that one, of all the sessions. But I did, and now I’m going to set that brain fart to rights.
First, the appropriate emoticon to reflect how I feel about Katrina’s awesome new invention, which I think should be named ‘The Freestyle Judge’s BFF’.
As you can see from the photo, Stephen is on the bill too, but he really didn’t say anything, which makes it two years in a row I’m to be disappointed that the FEI Judge Generalissimo failed to give his ‘perfect ten’ speech. The topic covered in this presentation was 100% Katrina’s baby, no two ways about it. About three years ago at the GDF she presented the first notion from which this computer program emerged. By the end of that presentation I think nearly everyone in the room had concluded that the assessment of the DoD (it now has its own acronym too, thanks Katrina!) could never be wrestled into submission. But Katrina would not be swayed. She found a computer programmer named Daniel who is also an FEI dressage rider, and together they developed the software. It won’t be without its glitches (though I’m sure nothing on the scale of healthcare.gov), and I have a list of questions as long as Katrina’s arm. But ANYTHING that helps the judges do a better job of handing out the artistic marks is a good thing, right? The biggest, and perhaps only, pitfall is that the riders will have to take the time to enter their choreography (and include every item of difficulty or it won’t get counted) into the program the day before the freestyle. I can see a new sideline to my freestyle business that will have me helping riders put their choreography into the program so that they don’t miss out on opportunities to gain bonus marks – but I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the FEI has to buy the thing so that it can be used at FEI competitions; but Trond won back a few points from me by declaring the program a winner and saying the FEI is already looking at purchasing it. I’m going to email Katrina my questions in the next few days and also suggest to her that I can see how the choreography score could also at least be partly assessed by such software – though she is so clever she’s probably already thought of that.
So onto Day Two. The GDF’s star trainer is usually put on the second day. Remember Helen, my girl crush from last year (she drank out of my water glass!)? I suppose the absence of an evening ‘novelty act’, as I have come to call the Monty Roberts and Cadre Noir presentations of past years, compelled the organizers to move Isabell to the evening bill. That meant Day Two was not as big a meal as Day One this year. It was still great, don’t get me wrong. But if I had to pick one day to attend, it would have been Day One for sure. Let’s get some emoticons going and dig in.
Marianne Sloet (who has a much longer name but I can’t even hope to spell it) – Emerging Equine Diseases
Day Two opened on a gory note, with some gut-wrenching photos and videos of horses suffering from the three emerging diseases Marianne decided she most needed to open our eyes to. Two of them are already well known in North America: Equine Infectious Anaemia (aka Swamp Fever) and West Nile Virus. The only one that was new to me was African Horse Sickness, which easily takes the cake as the most terrifying infectious equine disease I’ve ever heard of. You think Herpes is scary, with its ‘wild’ and neurotropic strains? African Horse Sickness has TEN strains and over 40 substrains, which means it’s going to be a long time before there is a vaccine for it. And it’s the kind of disease that will wipe out a horse population that has no previous exposure, and therefore no immunity. I don’t think I want to see WEG heading to South Africa any time soon, let’s put it that way. Dr. Marianne was a bubbly, energetic speaker – she was the nicest possible combination of Pony Club matriarch, favorite aunt, and nutty professor.
Wim Ernes – Sausage Party of Breeders
Okay, the presentation wasn’t actually called that, but it might as well have been. My goodness the Dutch breeding industry is male dominated. Wim brought along three very well known fellows in the breeding and dealing business, and we saw a lot of interesting young horses, including a couple of astoundingly athletic foals. What became clear in that presentation is that the Dutch aren’t using rocket science to produce good horses and develop their talent; they’re just being really committed and consistent about it. The Dutchmen on the stage took a bit of ribbing about having ‘let Valegro get away’, but as one of them pointed out, he wasn’t stallion material, as a great deal of top sport horses (Parzival being another good example) aren’t. Perfect conformation alone does not an Olympian make. There are too many other qualities of function, mind and good management for conformation to win on its own. Esben Möller, the man of Blu Hors in Denmark, was invited to come down to the sausage party and weigh in with his own opinions, which were, not surprisingly, pretty much in line with the Dutch assessments and attitudes.
David Stickland – making sense of your PSG test Or how to avoid slashing your wrists in the bathroom at the horse show
After lunch came the one presentation I would have been truly sorry to miss if I had not attended Day Two. But of course I need no convincing when it comes to anything D-Stick has directed his analytical numbers-loving mind toward. I honestly don’t even know if he’s a good speaker or not, because I would probably hang on his every word even if his presentation were delivered by a robot. I wonder if DQ Land has any idea how much this man has helped the sport since he walked on over from his job helping discover the Higgs Boson and first scratched his head about the problems inherent in judging. Just imagine; Higgs Boson has now been discovered, but we still have problems in dressage judging. That’s how complex our sport is. D-Stick shared some interesting conclusions that came out of the analysis of 4000 plus PSG tests that he crunched into his Global Dressage Analytics software. Here’s just one for you, as a teaser: for top scoring competitors in the PSG, the extended walk is one of the most deciding factors in the final ranking. How about that!
Even though D-Stick was not talking at all about the European Championships, I took it as my muck raking duty to ask him what he thought of Gustav Svalling’s extraordinarily low score for British team member Michael Eilberg’s Grand Prix test (if you know nothing about this but care to find out, head on over to this post from my other blog Straight-Up to get up to speed). D-Stick confessed to being a bit stymied by the result that definitely cost Team GB the silver medal, and just maybe even gold. The only thing he could say for sure is that when you have scores as close as they were in Herning, it can come down to one anomalous score from one anomalously inclined judge to affect the medals. This was the first question I’ve ever asked D-Stick (and I’ve asked him many over the last four years), and not received an answer as finely tuned as Yo-Yo Ma’s cello.
Jan, Kyra and a slightly unfocused woman – Sweden’s talent development program
I love Kyra, I have always loved Kyra, and I WILL always love Kyra. The pearls of wisdom just fall out of her as easily as leaves from a tree in autumn. I think Canada really ought to have tried a hell of a lot harder to have her part of our High Performance program. I’m ashamed to recall that a symposium with her in Ontario in 2007 was cancelled due to lack of interest. And I am still mortified to the tips of my toe nails when I remember the conversation she and I had at the GDF a few weeks before she was to give the symposium. I asked her when she was flying to Toronto, and she said, “I’m not. It’s been cancelled.” Kyra asked me why Canadians were so uncommitted to something like a symposium with her. I don’t exactly recall what lame excuse I made, but what I should have said was that Canadians sometimes have their heads too far up their asses to see the opportunities around them. Okay, shake my head, put that shameful moment out of my mind. So this trio of Kyra, Jan and a woman named Liane Wachtmeister were the final presenters on Tuesday. I could get more out of listening to Kyra talk in her sleep than I have from any number of expert presentations over the years. She really carried the day in my mind. Jan was fine, but Liane never really got her thought balloon into the air. Her young student failed to follow her instructions most of the time – she was, after all, receiving them in English probably for the first time ever – and Liane was perhaps a bit dazzled by being in the spot light. The most valuable take away message of the presentation as a whole was that owners and sponsors are critically important. Hello Canada! Do you read me?
It’s not that Day Two wasn’t good. It’s just that it wasn’t quite as awesome as Day One. Easily the shining star on the top of the GDF Christmas tree this year was, for me, Isabell. I’d bet that was the case for quite a few other people too. Who came off rather badly at the GDF this year were the French as a whole. Between Monsieur Pantry and his almost mute sidekick, the organizer of the CDI Vidauban (I think that’s who he was – even that wasn’t clearly conveyed) and Meany Maurel taking a swipe at Isabell, they were definitely the dullest lights on the tree.
If you read my preview post for this year’s GDF, you know that I was a bit sad to think the GDF would be leaving the Academy Bartels after this edition. But guess what! It’s coming back! Next year the fabulous Blu Hors farm will host it in Denmark, another flat yet fascinating horse country, and one I’ve not visited before. I’m excited at the prospect of adding that fine nation to my been-there-done-that list. Then, in 2015 the GDF will return to the fold, the Academy Bartels. The plan is for the event to go away somewhere new every second year, with the Academy stepping in on the odd numbered years. Imagine all the awesome travel destinations for future GDFs: Spain, Portugal, Italy….and that’s just southern Europe! As anti-Eurocentrist as I am, I seriously doubt the GDF will leave European soil, at least not any time soon. You have to hold an event where you know you will get enough bums in seats, and for the GDF that still means the Euro Zone.
And with that, the sun sets on the GDF for this year.
Don’t wander too far from this blog in the coming days. I’m off to the Swiss Riviera next week for my very first FEI GA. Anyone know where I can buy a good flak jacket?