Boys jump and girls do dressage. Sounds like a tired old gender stereotype, doesn’t it? But if the demographics of the entries in this past weekend’s World Cup Final in Denbosch are any sign, that stereotype isn’t yet ready for burial. In the dressage, just five out of 18 riders were male, which translates to 27%. The podium was completely dominated by women, and you had to go to fifth place to find the first male – Richard Davison, who did a tremendous job, by the way. The Jumping was even more sexist, but in the opposite direction. Out of 37 riders, just 9 were misses or missuses, and none of them finished above 15th place. But of course all this is just stats. What was great, no matter the sex of the competitor, was the sport.
I’m way out in the time zone that makes the world think we west coasters are the world’s biggest slackers. I get up when most of Europe is already calling it a day at the office, and am almost a full day behind Australia. Which of course means I had to get up at an ungodly hour to watch the WC action on FEI TV. I managed to arise at 3 am to see catch the action only on one day – the day of the dressage Grand Prix. I did see most of the freestyles and the last dozen in the second round of Sunday’s Jumping final – in other words, the best bits. By far the strongest impression in both competitions was quality of field. Awesome horses, awesomely ridden. For our one Canadian entry it wasn’t a highly memorable result, but Captain L’Amazing seemed happy enough that Coriana – a wee slip of a thing with not a whole lot of experience at that level – gave him what she did.
Of course, being from the afore-mentioned slacker coast, I am over the moon about Rich and Flexible winning the WC Jumping title. Flexible has a story that makes Cinderella look like a spoiled brat. And who doesn’t love to see the underdog triumph? Rich is basically an honorary Canadian, showing as much up here at Thunderbird or Spruce Meadows as anyone from south of the 49th. We can’t quite claim the victory a Canadian one, but it still made me pump the air when Flexible crossed the finish line that little tiny bit faster than Steve Guerdat. The only thing I would like to suggest Rich do is find a more attractive helmet. He was wearing something that looked like a Fourth of July bowling ball. Nothing wrong with the flag of course, but the helmet was not the sexiest one I’ve seen on a handome head like Rich’s.
And speaking of helmet heads, there were just two in the dressage: Isabell Werth and Lone Jorgensen. I’m sure I’m not the only one still getting used to the look of a helmet in the Grand Prix dressage ring, but certainly these two women must be commended for setting good examples. I wasn’t too keen on Isabell’s golden bling look. Anything but navy or black makes the helmet stand out too much in contrast to the rest of the outfit, and from a distance gold looks like beige anyway. And never forget the cardinal rule of colour: black is slimming.
The dressage was, for me, a real eye opener because there were several horses and riders I hadn’t seen before, or not recently. It was a WC dressage competition featuring too many long, unpronounceable names – so I’m going on a first-name basis only on this commentary. My very favourite performances in both the GP and freestyle came from Helen and Damon Hill. I get goose bumps even now, as I think back on it. I’m sure the five judges who put Helen second behind Adelinde in the freestyle have their reasons – they always do, and they are often, but not always, legitimate. But from my desk-side vantage point, Helen and that incredible bouncing ball of elasticity and power named Damon Hill are the real champions. I loved their music too. Powerful and fitting for such an exciting horse. What I didn’t love was what Ghislain Fouarge (who was at C for the freestyles) said about Helen’s choreography. He said it would have to be more difficult to get a higher mark and to challenge someone like Adelinde in the future. Really? Just like Anky’s and Edward’s freestyles? I’m trying hard not to pull my soapbox out from under the desk – sound of scraping – but I’ve really had it with the way the judges always resort to a comment about difficulty when asked to justify the results. And why? Based on the kinds of whopping scores for difficulty they give to certain stars they are talking out of both sides of their mouths.
Mr. Fouarge is a nice man who once chastised me for calling him a Snuggle Bunny; and I don’t believe he ever realized that I was being ironic when I did so. He also commented in regard to the elimination of Katarzyna (just the first name is hard enough to spell – you should get a load of her last name) when Ekwador showed blood from a spur rub. He actually said that greys have thinner skin than other colours of horses. I have grave doubts about the scientific basis of that comment, but one thing that was mentioned to me by a fellow journalist who watched the WC certainly is true: blood is much more visible on a grey horse than a dark one, and it’s entirely possible that if Ekwador were bay or black the little spot would have gone unnoticed.
So why didn’t I think Adelinde was the clear winner? Never mind the GP test, which was definitely sub par-zival (though the marks were rather kind I thought). But there is definitely an impression of water skiing in some of the work, particularly in the canter. FEI TV commentary was provided partly by Imke Schellekens-Bartels, who did a splendid job. I really hope to hear her smoky voice on future dressage broadcasts. She was honest and knowledgeable, which helped to make up for the idiotic anchor man of the production who kept saying that the horses weren’t focused on their riders because their mouths were working. Even Imke, who has patriotic reasons to get behind Adelinde’s performance, mentioned a couple of times in the freestyle that Parzival was ‘too deep’ in the frame. I’d just like to say my two new favourite judges are Katrina Wust and Isabel Judet because they had the cojones to put Helen first.
Before I leave you for today, I’d like to mention two horses I think are worth watching for the future, both ten year olds and both ridden by Scandinavians. I loved the elasticity and expression of Lone’s De Vito, and I loved the partnership so evident in the performance by Siril and Dorina from Norway. In the category of paying the price for not being better known, I think Siril may have been the most cheated for marks of the lot. I also liked the music that these two riders used – Lone’s was Native American and Siril’s was Euro-trance, but both sets of music suited the horses, and were a welcome departure from the symphonic rock medleys that seem to have taken over the freestyle world of late. It’s not that those symphonic rock productions aren’t good – but there were enough of them at this WC that they did start to kind of all blend together for me.
I’m quite excited at the prospect of seeing some of these combinations in London this summer. Live and in the flesh is definitely superior to a flat screen.