The week of December 12th promised to bring great success once again to the British riders at the CDI-W Olympia-London. Observing the show as a participant in the FEI Judge’s course led by Wim Ernes (NED) was both exciting and educational. Mr. Ernes is a FEI 5* Dressage judge destined to be on the judge’s panel at the upcoming Olympics in London. Mr. Ernes’ commentary throughout this exceptional competition was incomparable. He was always positive and forthright, always wanting the best for each pair that entered the ring. When a horse had a problem or mistake, he was always disappointed for the pair first, then remarking and giving a score.
Prior to the start of competition, Mr. Ernes emphasized the importance of communication amongst both judges and riders to improve our sport and standards. He pointed out the judge’s responsibility of bringing theory to practice. The judge must evaluate the movement and determine the right mark and remark, otherwise the theory doesn’t translate. In the grand prix test an average of four scores and remarks per minute are required, although during the piaffe – passage tours the scores and comments come much faster than that. So it is very important that the judge has the theory very clear in their mind so these scores and remarks can come quickly as the test progresses.
During this classroom session Mr. Ernes presented chose to focus on the canter pirouettes and collected walk in detail. He chose these movements as he felt the canter pirouette is often the movement with the most range in judge’s scores. He feels the collected walk is often “stuck” between a 6-7 and that in reality there is a much greater range in scores that should be given. He provided numerous videos of these movements and brought discussion from the group on each example. With the high quality videos used it was easy to examine each movement in detail and discuss every aspect of what occurred. It was a useful exercise, resulting in interesting discussions regarding different “problems” that occur in these movements. Being able to review each example more than once enabled further discussion than can occur when the movement is only seen once live.
Grand Prix Night
That evening 20 competitors rode the Grand Prix Test. The first combination in the ring was Cathrine Rasmussen (NOR) on Fernandez. This pair has only been together a short time and this was their second competition together. Ms. Rasmussen gave a very correct performance with a great deal of harmony between her and Fernandez. It was an unexpected strong start to the night. Ms. Rasmussen’s score of 69.787% held first place through the night until the last several horses competed.
The anticipation in the crowd built as the evening progressed, for some very special horses were yet to come. The British proved they could not be beat that night - again. Richard Davidson put in a solid harmonious ride on Hiscox Artemis for a score of 72.553%. Although the horse is not a huge mover and has limited talent for extensions, the submission was super and the team work between the two never faltered. Carl Hester rode the elegant 10 year old Uthopia brilliantly. There were moments in the test that took your breath away. Unfortunately, Uthopia lost his balance and the gait in the first canter pirouette costing a lot of points. The end result was third place with a 75.447%. Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris, a crowd favorite had a good test, but some moments of tension showed up here and there, particularly in the piaffe and passage. Their final score was 79.234%. The defining moment for the evening was Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro’s ride. Valegro, a 9 year old dutch gelding by Negro, is making his “grand” debut at Grand Prix this year. Charlotte’s background is jumping and she has limited experience in the Grand Prix Dressage ring also. But you would never know it, seeing this ride. Mr. Ernes commentated during her ride, often just saying “WOW”. During one trot extension he simply said “OK – Eleven!” The talent this horse shows and his confidence in the ring at such a young age were hard to believe, despite it happening right before your very eyes. The Olympia arena is known as one of the most daunting arenas in the world and yet Valegro simply did his job and showed the world who he is. Charlotte later admitted the one mistake in the two’s was her counting mistake but otherwise the test was nearly flawless and the epitomy of the goal for this sport. Despite that one mistake Charlotte and Valegro clearly won the night with an 81.043%.
The mistake in the two’s made for great discussion in the judge’s classroom session the following afternoon. The first several changes were so uphill, ground covering and expressive you simply had to be thinking 9 or 10. But then there was a count of three instead of two. Charlotte and Valegro then went on to do the rest of the two’s flawlessly. If you hadn’t been counting you wouldn’t have even noticed the mistake. Mr. Ernes discussed this particular movement and we had the opportunity to watch it again on video.
Mr. Ernes asked “What do you do with this movement? Do you give a 5? That is a common score for tempi changes that have one counting mistake. But is that correct here?” He argued that the final mark must have a deduction from what the score would have been without the mistake; not a cookbook number. These changes would have been at least a 9 with no mistake. So the end result was a 7. Mr. Ernes emphasized the importance of showing this difference when judging so the rider gets credit for the quality and risk taken.
This also led to a discussion regarding how many 9’s and 10’s it takes just to break 80%. Mr. Ernst reminded everyone “Remember that when you give an 8 on an 80% ride that is only the average score. If they get a 6 somewhere, such as in a mistake, it takes two 9’s to recover. As a judge if you aren’t brave enough to go up when warranted, your score will be too low. He then went on to reiterate the importance to go low enough when a serious problem occurs. Otherwise the scores will not be separated enough.
The second night the festive spirit was overflowing as the crowd prepared for the freestyle competition. The Olympia venue is a spectacular 1898 structure that is a piece of architectural beauty. The evening began with a wonderful quadrille performed by “The Lusitano Ride from Portugal”, Lorenzo, the Flying Frenchman, the Shetland Pony Grand National Steeplechase - oh to be young again, and a demonstration ride by Laura Bechtolsheimer on her young horse.
Then the freestyles began. Mr. Ernes focused on the artistic scores during this competition. Once again the night was a contest amongst the “Brits”. The tension in the air built as it came time for the top horses to compete. Laura and Mistral went first. It was simply brilliant. The music was classic Western’s and the tempo, phrasing and transitions were flawlessly matched by Mistral. Technically, Mistral’s piaffe and passage were super and Laura went for it and made no mistakes. And she knew it when she finished her final halt. Her elation was beaming out for the crowd to share. In the forum, Mr. Ernes started to give her a 9.5 for music, but then said “Why not a 10 – there is no reason!” Their final score was 83.975%. The standard was set and the remaining riders had their work cut out for them. Valegro and Charlotte were next. Perhaps it was the added pressure of her win the previous day, perhaps it was the electric atmosphere, but the pair didn’t quite have the confident, relaxed “aura” about them as the previous night. The extensions were slightly conservative and the counting mistake in the two’s reappeared and then again in the one’s. But despite that, for such a young pair, the performance was wonderful. They finished just a breath behind Laura and Mistral with an 83.700%. Richard Davidson and Hiscox Artemis then put in another harmonious ride. Mr. Ernes commented on the partnership between these two that results in such positive results. They finished up with a 75.050%, which placed them in fourth at the end of the evening. Carl Hester was the last “Brit” to go for the night. The music matched Uthopia wonderfully and the interpretation was super. Three of the judge’s on the panel gave him the highest artistic marks of the night. But some tension, particularly in the piaffe and the canter kept him in third, by a slim margin at 83.45%.
Although Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris are the Olympia veterans of this group, prior to this year Laura and Mistral had never won the freestyle. The joy of the night could not be erased from her face and it was well earned. It was an exciting week for all the British riders and their country. The anticipation for London is building and they are just getting better as they prepare for the event, and yet through the whole week they all remained very humble and grateful for the wonderful partners they have in the sport. Not only was it a great competition of high technical standard, the sportsmanship presented was of the highest standard.
Olympia remains a favorite horse show for many around the world. The FEI judge’s forum hosted by the British Dressage Society is not only a wonderful opportunity to see the spectacular show, but always a rewarding educational experience for all. Mr. Ernes was joined by members of the official panel during the classroom sessions both days. Stephen Clarke (GBR) and Dieter Schule (GER) both participated in discussions. As mentioned before, a unique tool used at this forum is video review and discussion of the Grand Prix tests with movement scores from the panel the following day. It was invaluable to be able to have this further discussion for better understanding and consistency in the judging. The mistake mentioned above from Charlotte and Valegro’s ride was just one example of detailed review that was much more effective with the video capability. The great English Philosopher Herbert Spenser said “The great aim of Education is not knowledge but action”. I believe Wim Ernes accomplished this goal during this forum. I am glad to have been a participant.
Kristi Wysocki is a USEF Licensed ‘S’ Dressage Judge and ‘r’ Dressage Sport Horse Judge. She has her USDF Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. She and her students have competed several horses successfully through the Grand Prix level including CDI competitions. She has judged many GAIC/USDF Regional Championships and Breeder Series Finals including NEDA, Dressage at Devon and CDS. She and her husband own and operate Somewhere Farms in Elbert, Colorado. She has a degree in Metallurgical Engineering. You can contact Kristi at email@example.com