Aachen, Germany, August 26, 2006 -- Actually, I should correct the above date. I am writing this at 2:15 a.m. August 27. If I stay up just a few more hours, I will have been awake (sort of) for 24 hours straight. I had a ham sandwich at 8 a.m.; dinner a few minutes ago was leftover cheese and a piece of chocolate. Am I having fun, or what?
So this is going to be short and maybe not so sweet. The lead photo is a horse and rider who could make a difference for dressage. Andreas Helgstrand of Denmark had a marvelous freestyle with Blue Hors Matine that got the audience, a sold-out crowd of 40,000 crammed into every corner of the stadium, clapping in rhythm with her passage as she went down the centerline at the end of her performance. This horse is exciting and as regular as a metronome in her piaffe and passage, which was flaunted in front of the judges at every opportunity. That's the strategy with a freestyle; if you do something well, do it in their faces. If there's something you don't do well, hide it in a corner.
Andreas is a showman. As he left the ring, he passaged along the grass and the fans (I use that word advisedly) continued putting their hands together in time to the gray mare's step.
"Wouldn't it be great," I thought to myself, "if we had a new champion today, someone who could bring a breath of fresh air to the sport and show it's not always the same old, same old."
But I forgot, we were talking about dressage. So while Andreas received a wonderful score of 81.5, Anky van Grunsven's total was 86.1 with Keltec Salinero. True, he did improve throughout the show, and Anky was gracious in saying his errors in the Grand Prix were hers.
Yet I thought the Olympic champion's ride to the same old French music medley lacked inspiration, while Andreas' performance seemed fresh and (I'll use the word again) exciting. So he had to settle for second ahead of Isabell Werth and Satchmo (80.75), who won the bronze on the heels of their gold in the Special yesterday. Or Friday, or whatever day it was. If I stay up for another 24 hours, I'll be really confused, and believe me, there's enough to do at the WEG that it could happen.
Note to the folks who are putting on the WEG in Kentucky in 2010: PLEASE, for my sake, don't stage the freestyle at night on the same day that we hike around the cross-country course.
But I have to concede that an evening freestyle under the lights does ramp up the charge you get from seeing these horses dance so perfectly to music.
Our Americans did themselves proud in this competition, even though they were a long way from the medals. A team medal for the U.S. seems to be almost a given, provided everyone works hard and makes the most of our equestrian assets.
But an individual medal is still elusive, though I have no doubt it will happen someday, maybe even soon.
Steffen Peters has been terrific at this show, and don't forget, he came close to that medal in the Special. His performance in the freestyle wasn't as dynamic. How often do dressage riders in the U.S. compete under the lights in a humongous stadium? Never, right? So it was understandable that Floriano was "up" for the occasion, and Steffen did his usual marvelous job of keeping him on the project at hand. But that meant he couldn't let 'er rip and pull out all the stops, because that could risk a problem. So he played it a little conservative and wound up with a nice score of 78.6 percent; good enough for sixth, and good enough for Steffen, who has been gracious throughout the week here.
Steffen Peters sums up Floriano's performance this week.
On the bus back to my hotel in the Netherlands (it's not as long a commute as it may seem; Aachen is on the border) I was chatting with a woman who said she had watched Steffen give a lesson to a disabled rider and was impressed by his kindness. That fits in with how I view Steffen, and it was no surprise to me that he had volunteered to help the physically challenged.
Much of his freestyle was done to the tune of "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," and that's just what he's doing. Expect to see him at the 2007 World Cup finals. He wants to carefully manage the 16-year-old Floriano so he lasts and can be on hand for the big occasions. Plus, he also hinted he's getting a new horse, and it sounds very special--but he didn't provide any details. I checked, though, and found it isn't Salinero.
Steffen's fellow Californian, Guenter Seidel, also looked good in the freestyle. Aragon, the horse he rides, glows under the lights with his gray coat taking on a silver sheen. His music, a medley from "Evita" was just the right match for Aragon's talents. There were a few minor mistakes, but overall, it was a nice way for Guenter to take his final bow of the week on this most impressive of world stages. He was 13th with 72.5 percent, but the fact that he was among the 15 best riders in the world who qualified for the competition made him happy. Both Steffen and Guenter got what they came for, and more besides.
Guenter Seidel discusses his Grand Prix Freestyle test.
I'd love to tell you more, but I have officially run out of steam. I'll grab a few hours sleep and be back with you for the show jumping wrap on eventing.
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