Wellington – Competition was tough at the Exquis World Dressage Masters competition, but when the dust settled the winner was leading world rider Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands. She came back after a rough ride the day before in which she went off course and had several mistakes in the Grand Prix. The freestyle win earned her $21,819 in prize money. Van Grunsven made it into the Saturday evening freestyle after American rider Michael Barisone opted to do the Grand Prix Special rather than the freestyle.
It turned out to be a wise strategic move for Barisone because he and Neruda then won the Grand Prix Special, which was held in the afternoon before the freestyle. That first place win was worth $9,500 to him. His total winnings for the two days of competition was $14,000.
Van Grunsven took her win with a score of 79.60 percent with IPS Painted Black and after the competition showed off what she’s been learning in her reining lessons, which she calls a hobby. Dressage is still her main sport and she is clearly aiming for the World Cup competition, scheduled to be held in Las Vegas in April. She was clearly pleased with how well the stallion had recovered from the previous day’s competition.
“I was really happy with him,” she said. “He really tried and did his best and didn’t have any mistakes. I couldn’t have been more happy with how he’s been today.” Van Grunsven and Painted Black performed their freestyle to Tango-style music and while the Dutch rider said she thinks the pair is due for a new kur, she admitted that the current one doesn’t yet bore her. Just how far Painted Black can go, van Grunsven doesn’t yet seem sure, but said he definitely has “the qualities to be a top horse. He’s a super second horse, definitely.”
She had much praise for the concept of the World Dressage Masters, which consists of four competitions – the one in the U.S. and three in Europe. Van Grunsven said the prize money given out at each Master’s competition isn’t much compared to what the show jumpers win, “but for us, it’s wonderful.” She admitted it was a bit of a hike for Europeans to come to America, but was only fair considering that so many Americans have to travel to Europe. “Americans always come to Europe. Maybe Europeans coming to America will help make dressage more popular in America.”
Stephen Clarke, president of the ground jury, said of van Grunsven’s ride that “there were no weaknesses at all that we could see,” which led van Grunsven to cut in saying “that we could see? I like that one.” Clarke said her interpretation of the music “was brilliant, it was a lovely picture. Someone like Anky has brought the sport to a level that it hasn’t been seen before. It makes a good challenge for everyone else.”
Hundreds were on hand for the competition, held at the Wellington Equestrian Center, and they enjoyed an evening of dinner and drinks as they watched eight of the world’s best dressage riders compete in the evening freestyle. The night clearly belonged to the Dutch as right behind van Grunsven in second was fellow Dutch rider Hans Peter Minderhound riding Exquis Escapado and earning a score of 77.75 percent and with that came $14,118 of prize money.
Minderhoud said Exquis Escapado has clearly come a long way in the last six months. “Today, he did his best freestyle ever. Yesterday we had some stupid mistakes.” Minderhoud said he’s aiming the horse for the Dressage World Cup. When asked what he thought of his trip to Florida, he said. “I’ve heard about it here a lot it and when you see the rings and the horses, I don’t think we have anything like it in Europe.” Clarke said Minderhoud’s ride that it “was a beautiful ride with real impulsion and lightness.”
The highest-placed American, coming in third and clearly the home crowd favorite, was Steffen Peters, who traveled to Florida form his home base in California with his Olympic partner Ravel. Their freestyle score was 76.60 and was worth $11,038. The day before, the pair won the Grand Prix with a score of 75.574.
Peters said that Ravel was rather fresh in the warm-up and started off the freestyle a bit rough, but finished strong. “I was very, very happy with the last two piaffes. The canter work was great. There were wonderful moments in the test but the mistakes were evident.” Peters said the pair might need a bit more work at home but for the most part, Ravel is “so honest and consistent” that the issues in the freestyle “did take me at a little bit of a surprise.”
Fourth went to Canadian Ashley Holzer and Pop Art, who have been spending their post 2008 Olympic time on the Florida circuit collecting blue ribbons in Grand Prix competition. They were close behind Peters and Ravel with a score of 76.350. Their fourth-place finish earned them $9,497. There was one withdrawal from Saturday’s competition and that was the popular mare Rocher, the mount of George Williams due to a minor lameness in a hind leg.