I was pleasantly surprised — we saw some really nice riding and good horses.
Hats off to Ireland’s Jonty Evans — my gut feeling was that he performed the winning test. He really knows how to ride dressage now, executing precise flying changes and good transitions. The quality of Cooley Rorkes Drift’s canter work was outstanding.
That takes nothing away from the actual leader, Chris Burton. He rode beautifully and was rewarded with high marks.
Ingrid Klimke is a world-class rider. I was a touch disappointed that Horseware Hale Bob OLD lacked suppleness and showed some tension through the body, but her accuracy pulled in marks.
Alex Bragg is one to watch. Zagreb could have more activity and suppleness, but the rider did a great job on his debut here.
Poor Cathal Daniels had the most difficult time. It wasn’t a case of him being a bad rider or the horse not being up to the level, it was purely a reaction to the atmosphere resulting in tension. The mare performed some nicely trained movements among the severe resistances. We had our fingers crossed he could keep her in the arena and avoid being eliminated.
How to stretch
This new test is great. It shows whether horses are trained correctly and although it doesn’t seem particularly hard, it asks enough questions.
Horses have to go straight into medium once they canter, which gets them in front of the leg, and the earliness of the first flying change highlights whether the changes are secure.
The transition from canter to trot on the centre line seems simple, but it’s difficult to do well — some horses over-collect and don’t trot, while others try to halt or walk.
We’ve used the stretch on a circle for a long time at junior level in pure dressage — they do it in sitting trot, which is harder than canter. It’s a great exercise, but there’s confusion about how it should be performed and judged.
The horse should seek the contact down and forwards, but remain on the bit as the neck lowers. The stretch down is the priority of the movement and coming behind the vertical a little is a minor fault. I would prefer to see a horse stretching down and showing a clear difference with a slight tendency behind the vertical, rather than not stretching and poking the nose.
Flying change marks
The judging was fairly consistent and the ground jury rightly rewarded quality.
However, there was a problem with the flying change marks. One judge seemed unable to recognise a clean, honest change compared to a late one, marking down horses which were uphill and expressive.
A correct change should receive a minimum of a satisfactory mark (6.5), while a change that is late behind should not get more than four. We saw 6.5 for changes that were clearly late behind and low marks for ones which were correct, if croup high.
It’s important judges are correctly trained to understand the priorities when judging flying changes, as riders are trying hard to improve their dressage.
It’s vital they are rewarded for clean changes or it makes a mockery of the time they put into training.
Ref Horse & Hound; 11 May 2017