Well he hasn’t won yet, but let’s be honest. There really isn’t a contest. (And I don’t want to hear any accusations about jinxing him by writing this. Superstitious people have bad luck) The real scrap tonight will be for second, third and fourth.
All in all, considering this event was literally brought from zero to sixty in just over a month, they did a pretty darned good job. The event may have been pricey for the spectators, but it did sell out. And as I sit on the wrong side of the dinner fence in the media pen eating Cheetos and watching people figure out how to get the sausages off the phallic-looking vertical display on the charcuterie platter while they sip their Sancerre (I’ve BEEN to Sancerre – can’t I have a glass because I’m one of the few people that’s actually been there?), I don’t think anyone can deny that it is pure good news the WDM was saved from extinction on this continent. I heard the complaint that this was more of a private party for the rich than a dressage show, but the competition has been great. I’ve seen some exciting new horses and some wonderful performances from familiar ones. And since when is dressage, or equestrian sport in general, anything other than an elite indulgence reserved for the richest upper crust on the planet, anyway? If we’re going to call a golden spade a spade, the whole sport is a private party. But ssshh, don’t tell the IOC.
Half marks: the inside scoop. I was impressed that they had monitors displaying the individual movement marks, though disappointed that it stopped working half way through the Special today. Nevertheless, a class and a half’s worth of scores revealed some interesting judging behaviours when it comes to half marks. I noticed right away that Wim Ernes and Gary Rockwell have no hesitation with the use of half marks. Somewhat more tentative but still using them here and there were Cara Whitham (who for some reason used them more with the Canadian riders today than I noticed with the others) and Lois Yukins. I can’t say that he never gave a single half mark, but in two days of watching Stephen Clarke’s scoring I never saw a half mark given. I think I might ask him about that if he’s at the press conference tonight. By far the most common half mark given is the 6.5, though I saw others, including 4.5 and 7.5. Wim Ernes definitely seems to have embraced the .5 the most whole heartedly of the judges here.
Here are a few little dribs and drabs of observations I’ve made over the two days of the Masters:
On the fashion front, there are a few new trends to report:
• The latest in boots (other than ghastly pastel pink ones that I saw advertised somewhere) is patent leather, and if that isn’t sparkly enough for you, you can add bling in the form of a row of diamonds – or Swarovski crystals if you are not that rich, or rhinestones if you’re even poorer than that – along the top of the boots’ Spanish top. And don’t dare having anything other than a Spanish cuff on the top of your boot.
• Anja Ploenzke was the only rider to go with something other than traditional black or navy for her tails. She wore a rather shiny smoke blue-grey coat that I thought looked quite smashing and complemented Le Mont d’Or’s bay colour. And since that horse wins the pain in the ass prize for hardest to type name, I’ll mention now that he is one of the prettiest horses at the WDM, even though that is not a fashion comment.
• Jacqui Brooks has opted for full-time brain bowl since last year, but she was joined at the WDM by one other helmet donner: Shannon Dueck, who had a brand new bling bling helmet made in Italy by Sunshield that looked quite fabulous. One thing about wearing helmets is that they peel the years away and make you look like a teenager again. As Shannon says, it’s like plastic surgery….without the pain and risk of looking worse after than you did before. I saw a few other attractive and blingy helmets around the show, particularly atop the heads of the younger riders. Dressage is getting safer and sparklier all at once!
• Maybe it’s my imagination, which as we know can get a bit over-active, but I got the distinct impression watching the 17 riders in the WDM that many, if not most, of them are leaning back, with shoulders well behind the vertical. Is it the Dutch influence I wonder?
Here are a few of my favourite things:
• Little horse: Randon – that thing is just such a package and when he’s on, his passage and piaffe are right up there with the best, fo sho.
• Floppy ears: Gary Vander Ploeg’s horse Cezanne – they are extra cute because one of them lops over a bit more than the other, which may be a hazard if judges are looking only at ears to assess whether there is tilting, but uber cute all the same. Cezanne is one of those horses who vacillates between shrinking violet and fraidy cat, so I thought he comported himself extremely well, especially in the GP Special today.
• Smiles: a tie between Shannon and Ashley – well, actually I have to say Shannon wins on one point: Ayscha was terrified of the ad banners they put around the INSIDE of the dressage fence between the GP and the GPS, and Shannon kept smiling even as she coped with her horse’s genuine fear of the sponsors.
• Goose bump moment not from the freestyle: when Ravel did the piaffe at I after the walk in the GP, I got goose bumps. I got goosebumps a couple more times during the ride, which fully deserved all the nines (and I saw my first 9.5 on the score board yesterday!) and the 80+ score. Steffen told me a few weeks ago that he believed Ravel had reached a new level and he was absolutely right.
Some WDM numeral factoids:
• Seven of the 17 horses are Danish Warmbloods, which makes them by far the majority studbook here. Whatever happened to the Hanoverian, the breed that used to dominate the dressage world? There was only one at the WDM.
• Eight out of the nine horses in the GP Special today were bays. Only Valentina Truppa’s horse Chablis broke the mould; he’s chestnut. Chablis also gets the prize for unhappiest athlete of the WDM. There were several serious moments of intransigence in the Special and personally I think her score was a bit kind.
• Nine nations were represented at this year’s WDM Palm Beach, compared with five in 2010 and six in 2009, when there weren’t any Germans.
• Steffen Peters has won the Grand Prix all three years at the WDM Palm Beach, with his score improving by one percentage point from 2009 to 2010 and by four between 2010 and 2011.
• There were 14 geldings, two stallions and just one mare, Ayscha, at the 2011 WDM.
I’m sorry I don’t have any photos to share. The show office, who had the best intentions in loading a start list onto my flash drive, unfortunately also loaded a virus onto the device, which then of course took up residence in my lap top the instant I plugged in the drive. I don’t dare download any photos and risk infecting the camera memory.
Shannon has very kindly insisted I have a glass of Cotes du Rhone that she got for me from the other side of the fence, so I’m going to have a few sips and enjoy the freestyles, which are finally going to begin, now that everyone is wined and dined and in a thoroughly festive mood.