Poor Charlotte. She must be good and sick of answering questions about her decision to wear a helmet. We’re over it! Let’s just face it. Helmets are in dressage’s future, and we know why. I’ve been on the ‘hell no we won’t be babied’ side of this argument since it all started in early 2010, and even I have now accepted the  future, which is helmets in dressage. I wear my Charles Owen every time I mount up. I now feel naked without it. But it is true, Charlotte is the first helmet-head in dressage history to win a gold medal. Oops, that’s TWO gold medals.


Helmet head

What is much more interesting than Charlotte’s head gear is how she and Valegro (aided of course by her teammates Carl and Laura)  have charged into the history books. Before this week, GB had NEVER won an Olympic dressage medal of any colour. Now they have three: two golds and a bronze. It’s the kind of result we have in the past expected of the Germans. History was also made in respect to Germany. Not only did they not win team told for the first time in eight Olympics, you would have to go back to 1952 to find a Games without a German on the individual podium. I’m not counting Moscow 1980 because nobody went to the Communist Olympics – the team medals went to the Soviets, Bulgarians (!) and Romanians (!!).

Charlotte also set score records. I have not fact checked what the historic highs were for the GP and GPS but I don’t need to do research on her freestyle score of 90.089%. That is the first time in Olympic dressage history the 90% barrier has been broken. Now the question is, did she deserve that score? I was asked that question yesterday by several journalists who specialize in horses jumping big fences, not staying inside small ones. My answer was: based on the fact that Adelinde received the score she did (88.196%), yes. But I think both horses were scored generously. Parzival is too deep in the frame too much of the time. His mouth is sometimes wide open, visible even through all that Cool-Whip looking foam. Stephen Clarke responded courageously when the very first question at the press conference came from a Dutch man who wanted Stephen to explain a result that the Dutch consider ‘controversial’. The first thing Stephen said was that the Dutch “are welcome to their opinion.” He let that little nugget hang in the air for a moment before giving a more thorough response:

“I think the first two horses certainly were very close. The impression we had was that Adelinde had huge power and expression but for us there had to be a little more lightness and self carriage. Parzival does sometimes cross his jaw. Charlotte’s horse generally has more self carriage but today he had not as much power in the piaffe and passage. But he has harmony and self carriage. Today our decision was for the harmony.”

I agree entirely with what Stephen said, though I do think the scores were too high: Adelinde’s because I think the judges are a bit soft on the contact issues, and Charlotte’s because it was certainly not Valegro’s best go. Even Charlotte said her horse was tired out there. There was a gap of 4% between silver and bronze; those top two scores didn’t need to be quite so stratospheric. However, I think the medals were around the right necks. Laura and Alf were very deserving bronze medalists. As much as I love Damon Hill, that piaffe needs to get sorted. I don’t doubt for a moment that the talented and very personable Helen will take care of that particular bit of unfinished business. Uthopia was, how can I say it? Flat. Yeah I think that’s the word. His best test was definitely a couple of days earlier in the Special.

There were an awful lot of swan songs in these freestyles. More history must surely have been made by Salinero, who with team bronze may be the first horse in any discipline to win medals at three Games. It was heartening to see a horse of his age perform with as much power and expression as he did. And in case they can’t get there on their own, here is the take-home message to the anti-roll kur league: any 18 year old horse that can perform as well as Salinero did, with the number of show miles under his hood that he has, is a horse that has not been cruelly abused through his career.

We may very well not see Alf again in a major championship. At 17, he owes Laura and GB not a thing. I was glad for his last test, which more closely resembled the impressive Alf we saw winning three medals in Kentucky two years ago. I wish the same could be said of Ravel, who we have been told in no uncertain terms will not compete again. I don’t know what was wrong with him to produce such a lumpy ride, but in the last extended trot he looked undoubtedly off on the right hind. I know I’m not making any new friends by saying it, but it would be unlike me not to say what I saw, particularly since other people saw it too. I don’t want to say too much more about it because it was heartbreaking to watch Steffen leave the ring looking so crestfallen. There were some very wet eyes in the row where I was sitting in the stands. Ravel is a hero, and I think the important thing is to remember him that way.

Notice I haven’t talked about the music yet? That’s because I have almost nothing to say about it. I don’t think I got goosebumps more than once in the entire afternoon, and that was thanks to Portugal’s Goncalo Carvalho, who had some kick ass wicked good passage music for his little piaffe machine of a horse. I do think he overdid the piaffe turns – two full pirouettes and a fan – but I give him my day’s gold star for choice of music – at least for the passage.

I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was just that it was the end of two weeks of crazy ups and downs and frantic blogging to keep you all up to speed. Maybe it was because instead of sitting under the stars, we were watching the freestyles on the hottest afternoon of the Olympics. The atmosphere did seem to wilt under the sun. The British fans were probably already exhausted after all the cheering they had done on the previous days of eventing, dressage and show jumping. They did have a lot to cheer about, after all. Team GB was easily the most successful nation at these Olympic equestrian events – a fact that does not surprise most of us in the least.

Back to the freestyles. The music volume was often too low, which didn’t help. That might have been partly because the sound system was not top notch. There was a bounce back in a lot of the percussion, which diminished the impact the music had in relation to the horses’ gaits. But something else is going on with freestyles right now that I don’t like. I think the programs are being created using great sophistication. The talent and skill of the custom arrangers/composers is indisputable. But I suspect these freestyles are being created from the wrong end of the horse, so to speak. They dot ‘i’s and cross ‘t’s but the individual pieces of music are not being chosen because they fit the horse and make him or her (only one ‘her’ out there yesterday, by the way) look more spectacular, but because it’s someone’s favorite Phil Collins song.  And before anyone – especially a certain freestyle creator who has posted rants on my blog in the past – accuses me of sour grapes because none of my freestyles were performed at these Games, I would like to pre-emptively respond by saying that is absolutely not the case. I am proud to be the occasional producer of a freestyle that makes it onto the world stage, but the meat and potatoes of my business is somewhat less glamorous, (though I am darned proud of my NAJYRC medalists every single year), and I’m quite happy to keep it that way.

Tomorrow I will fly to France and begin to unwind after two of the most intense weeks I’ve ever blogged my way through. I have not been able to come even close to posting everything that might interest you, and I plan to play a bit of catch up. I will also be taking a break for a couple of weeks later this month, but I’ve lined up a very witty replacement whose guest posts I hope you will enjoy.

My last bag of crisps