Dancing To The Music: Olympians Show They

Dancing To The Music: Olympians Show They’ve Got the Beat

Text and Photos by Diana DeRosa

August 25, 2004 – Athens Greece – Fifteen riders danced to the music today, including three from the U.S. and when it was all said and done Holland’s Anky van Grunsven earned her second Gold Medal in a row, snatching the victory from Germany’s Ulla Salzgeber, who was leading going into the Grand Prix Freestyle. And it was Spain’s Beatriz Ferrer-Salat, who claimed the Bronze Medal.

In a Freestyle the riders have a certain number of required movements that they must perform however the order is their choice and their ride is choreographed to music. How well the music and the horse sync is key and choosing the correct music is an art. Today we listened to Mary Poppins, Flamenco music, Simon and Garfunkel medleys and so much more. The riders and their choreographers chose music they felt fit their horses.

While the horses moved rhythmically we hummed along. “This is the last dance with you,” we hummed during parts of Juan Antonio Jimenez’ ride aboard Guizo, the first combination to enter the ring. His music throughout was pleasantly sweet and his test included one-tempi changes on a circle and a piaffe spin in place and the music constantly changed to fit the rhythm of his horse.

2004 Olympic Games - Dressage

Dancing To The Music: Olympians Show They’ve Got the Beat

Guenter Seidel and Aragon Are The First of the Americans to Ride

Guenter Seidel was next to go and for some reason I felt like I was watching the music to Ben Hur. It just brought me back to that era. His music was extremely powerful yet classical or so I thought. Afterwards I found out it was from the movie Back Draft and in fact was firefighter music. Well, I guess that is powerful too and it certainly was. One thing I don’t claim is to be able to identify the exact tunes that I was hearing, except on occasion. Guenter’s horse seemed to get more powerful the louder the music got. At the end he did a piaffe passage tour down the center line which was one of the best I saw that day. Guenter later commented, “he always gets the last centerline because he’s heading home.” Guenter had some problems in the tempi changes but overall his test was good.

After coming out of the ring, Guenter said, “It’s a pretty electric atmosphere. I was always concerned if he could handle situations like this and now I know that he can.”

However, what Guenter did say, albeit rather quietly, was, “I think we are a year early.” Aragon just needs a little more seasoning before he catches up to the top horses but after this experience Guenter is feeling more and more confident that he has the potential to get to the top level;

Guenter explained that experience has shown that those that win are not necessarity the riders who include the most difficult moves in their test, but rather “those that don’t make mistakes, have everything fit in their program, and have great music.” It’s also important for the horse’s rhythm and the music to sync.

2004 Olympic Games - Dressage

Dancing To The Music: Olympians Show They’ve Got the Beat

The Spaniards Were Strong

Rafael Soto and Invasor warmed the hearts of everyone in the audience. Rafael is the trainer at Real Escuela, the famous riding school in Jerez, Spain, which trains their horses in Airs Above the Ground and gives performances to the public. Well, his experience doing that showed in his performance. As he was finishing up and going down the center line towards home he started to signal with his right hand and the audience started clapping to the rhythm of his horse’s passage. For spectator appeal it was a brilliant move. When his ride ended he was jubilant punching his arms in the air and at one point tossed his hat.

Later when I talked to him I asked if he had another hat, “No,” he said turning around as if looking for his hat, “I only have one.” His music had a Spanish/Flamenco theme to it and fit his horse beautifully. It was wonderful to watch the passage tour and half passes with his horse totally in sync touching the ground right on the beat.

“Today he gave 100%,” said Rafael about the horse he now had competed on in three Olympic Games. “He is an artist in the freestyle.”

His mount performed well in the first test but not so well in the Special but was back to form in the Freestyle. Rafael explained that he was not feeling well after the first Grand Prix test, he was coughing, “but now he feels very well.”

“He is a very clever horse,” concluded Rafael. “He learned the Grand Prix test in five days.”

The Dancing Continues

Great Britains Escapado, ridden by Carl Hester, performed to melodies from the movie, Mary Poppins. It was light and fun. Unfortunately at the very beginning of his ride before they started his horse pawed the ground...definitely a no no in dressage, but then they had fun dancing to the lighthearted music.

We were getting close to the top of the class and the first German was entering the ring. And when a German enters you know you might be watching one of the winners. But not this time. Just inside the entrance his horse spooked and during the ride he was a little unsettled in spots. He had a number of problems throughout his ride, especially in the tempi changes. He was performing to lots of soft 80s tunes.

Sweden’s Jan Brink aboard Briar was dancing to a number of Simon and Garfunkel tunes including the Sounds of Silence, Maria (you’re breaking my heart…) and others. Just before his halt at the end they performed a piaffe on a circle.

2004 Olympic Games - Dressage

Dancing To The Music: Olympians Show They’ve Got the Beat

Here We Go Again - Dover & Kennedy Move to the Beat

Then Robert Dover and Kennedy couldn’t “get nobody and nobody cares for me.” But in fact they did. There were definitely more Americans and American flags in the audience today. And then a little later it was “bye bye baby.” Some of his music was from Steamed Heat. Near the end of his test I especially liked when he went from one tempis to the passage and then to an extension. His ride was brilliant and took the lead over at the time. When he heard his score he commented that had he not had the one tempi problems (he missed a one tempi) he would have gotten a score in the 80s.

In a chat with Robert he revealed some things we didn’t notice in the ride. He mentioned that his horse was distracted by something in the background and that’s what caused him to miss in the one-tempis.

I noticed that when he entered the arena he was talking to one of the judges. I was curious as to why. He explained that they had been late sending him up and they were hoping he could just go straight in to the ring instead of getting the usual time to warmup outside the arena. He said he needed that time. “Sometimes you have to follow your own orders,” he added.

For Robert this was the best Olympics ever. His former Olympics had been plagued but this time around he and Kennedy were truly superb and for Robert the icing on the cake was that his parents were in the stands watching.

2004 Olympic Games - Dressage

Dancing To The Music: Olympians Show They’ve Got the Beat

Debbie & Brentina Keep Their Fourth Place Position

Debbie McDonald and Brentina had a good ride despite some mistakes in the tempis. For some reason that seemed to be the problem of the day with most of the riders. Debbie was disappointed but content and looking forward to some vacation time and to go home. “It’s been eight months since I’ve been home. I can’t wait.”

Later Mariette Whittages who headed up the judges at the show commented “Debbie’s ride had a lot of harmony and the riding was very very classical and I think the music fits the horse like a glove.”

It was down to the final three but since it was fairly clear that if Beatriz Ferrer-Salat and Beauvalais (who rode to modern music with a touch of Spanish) continued as in the past she’d have the Bronze Medal. The Gold was between Ulla Salzgeber on Rusty and the defending champion Anky van Grunsven on Salinero.

2004 Olympic Games - Dressage

Dancing To The Music: Olympians Show They’ve Got the Beat

The Battle for the Gold

When The Netherlands’ Anky went and did a picture perfect ride it meant that Ulla and Rusty had to do even better and today, while they too did a brilliant ride it wasn’t good enough to take over the lead from Anky and the Gold was hers again. Later Withtages commented “the strengths of Salinero today were the extensions and the transitions.”

Afterward Anky commented “It’s still unbelievable. My test was better than I expected. I really could relax and enjoy what I did at that moment and that makes it even better.” Over the past year Anky had broken her leg falling off a horse and thought that would set her back, but obviously it did not.

Anky explained that after the first day when Salinero was very nervous they practiced with photographers, noise and umbrellas. It was a good move. Anky rode to a medley of well known French music which fit her horse’s huge movements.

And so there it is. Anky, then Ulla, then Beatriz then Debbie, then German Hubertus Schmidt and then Robert. Guenter was 14th. And it’s not that our Americans didn’t do better than in the past, it’s just that the level of dressage is increasing all over the world and while the Germans are still strong, there are many now that are nipping at their heals.

Tomorrow is a day of for all of us, which really isn’t a day off because we’ve got so much work to catch up on. I have to pack because I head home on Saturday. I also am hoping to get out and see some of Greece for part of the day, but we shall see. Friday is my final day here and that’s when the Individual Medal in show jumping will be contested for. At the moment Beezie is in the lead. Yikes – isn’t that great!

In the meantime, as always, thanks for all your wonderful emails. Feel free to email me with your comments or questions to dderosa1@optonline.net. Put this web site in the subject line. I’ve enjoyed hearing from you.