presented by Gaitpost Magazine

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Moon is Full and the Judges are Howling

(Warning: this blog contains material that may be boring to people who don’t have a keen interest in judging gaffes)

You know, I really thought that the right teams won the right medals the other night, and I was almost lulled into thinking that the judges were only a teeny bit in extra love or extra hate with a few horses. But things went sideways in the Grand Prix Speciale. I could swear they all lose their marbles when Anky or Isabell come in the ring. Here is what I saw, and here is what the judges seem to have seen:

Anky in the Grand Prix – she rode a fairly careful test (she said Salinero was very hot and excitable, so she was conservative), but it was clean, and the passage and piaffe to me looked more like the way they should, not so much ‘cat on a hot tin roof’ as they can be. Score of 74.750%.

Anky in the Grand Prix Speciale – according to Anky afterwards, Salinero has shown himself to be a horse that isn’t affected by heat or humidity, and he was every bit as edgy as in the team test. But this time she was going for individual glory, so there was nothing to do but give ‘er. The price she paid was that he broke into canter in the half pass left, got a very high croup (really almost a little buck) at the start of the ones on centre line, and I could have sworn I saw a mistake in the twos. In all the extended trots Salinero was visibly shorter on the left hind – something I didn’t really notice in the GP. So how did her score creep up to 74.96%, above the first test? She received four fours and a three for the half pass; three sevens and two eights for the ones on centre line (one of the eights coming from B – I’m sorry Mr. Mandi (HUN) but that bouncing bum was really obvious from the side); three sevens and two sixes for the twos, which I guess could be interpreted as the judges saying ‘there was a mistake but it was just a little one’. A little mistake that might get a bit more of a frown if it had been another horse. It’s not that I think Anky shouldn’t have been one of the top two – I just don’t see how that test could score as well as the Grand Prix, never mind surpass it.

Isabell in the GP – she did a really great test I think, other than one enthusiastic kick out in the first piaffe. It was a BIG kick, but the judges forgave their favourite little Satchmo, giving him three sixes and two fives. That’s pretty kind of them. 76.417% and a well deserved win, even though he should have been penalized more for that kick (three sevens and two eights for submission).

Isabell in the Speciale – It wasn’t just the judges that went sideways last night. Satchmo did too, right after going up, and right before going backwards – almost to the fence at C. It happened when he was asked for the piaffe at G. Isabell was calling it a spook and saying she didn’t know what caused it, but that weren’t no spook, Isabell. That was Satchmo giving you the finger. So how did the judges react? For the piaffe, three ones and two twos. And for the transitions in and out? Two zeroes (she wisely decided to keep moving forward once she got him actually going again), two twos…and what did Olympic judging virgin Gary Rockwell give her? I dare you to guess, because you can’t. A SIX! Gary, for heaven’s sake! You’ve been the generous judge for the most part at this competition, and bless you for that. But giving a six for something that wasn’t executed (‘transitions from collected walk to piaffe and from piaffe to passage)? That is just wacked. Satchmo also got an across-the-board six for submission in the collectives. Six is awfully kind, isn’t it? Six means ‘not great, but not bad’. I’d like to know how many of those judges would be willing to ride him after witnessing that little stunt.

I don’t know how I feel about Isabell getting 75.2% and the win, given that Anky had some mistakes of her own, though nothing nearly so insubordinate. On the other hand, Satchmo was really brilliant in every other respect, so maybe the win was right. Oh, I don’t don’t know! It’s fun to make fun of the judges, but they do have a tough row to hoe.

If you are wondering how on earth I am getting my hands on the individual marks by the way, they are available on the internal Olympic network. Not on the internet, mind you – so the transparency is limited to those few journalists who care enough about the minutiae of the sport (that would be me) to obtain and analyze them.

More things that make you go Hmmm

So who wins the prize for greatest disparity? I think it’s fair to say that Gotthilf Reixinger (GER) doesn’t like Courtney and Mythilus, and Gary Rockwell (USA) does. Gary had her third in the Speciale on 72.8% (that IS generous Gary), and Reixinger put her out of the freestyle, 18th on 67.4%. Emma Hindle wins second prize: Reixinger put her 12th, Furuoka (JPN) would have liked her to be fourth, well ahead of Ravel.

Speaking of Ravel, Steffen said after the Speciale that he would like to “dedicate this ride to Debbie”. Gag me. I felt so sorry for Debbie after the Grand Prix test that I couldn’t bring myself to go to the mixed zone to hear her comments, much less ask her any questions. I only saw the last bit of her test, but what I did see was truly bizarre. She had the strangest pirouettes, and her last extended trot was more of a ‘fluffy passage trot’. I think people should just kind of shut up about whether Brentina was lame or not, and let’s just ignore that Dutch snuggle bunny Fouarges, who has been quoted (much to Debbie’s publicly expressed horror) as saying she should have been ashamed of herself to even go in the ring. Let’s just let it go. Brentina was not tortured, and Debbie is not an irresponsible horse woman. But Steffen dedicating his ride to her? That’s just sappy.

Where Is Stephen Clarke When We Need Him?

The scores were by and large much lower here than in Aachen two years ago. The judges seemed a bit grumpy (except for Gary) but I think the three-per-team thing also dragged the standard down – yes, it’s more global Mariette, but do we really want 15 out of 45 competitors to finish below the FEI’s own minimum certificate of capability score? The same was expressed pretty strongly by many riders this week, especially those from the stronger nations. 65.75% was enough to make the Speciale at these Olympics. Canada would not even have accepted that mark as a qualifying score for the team. Which leads me to my next point.

Jacqui Makes Sense

After she and Sam performed what may have been the best Grand Prix I’ve ever seen them do, Jacqui was very happy with her horse, and somewhat less so with her score. “That was the kind of test that got me here,” she said. So why did the judges give her 68% in Florida and 63% in the Olympics? Shouldn’t the measuring stick be the same? It’s the same test in the same 20x60 rectangle, after all. Maybe Dick Pound was right when he said in his report on the selection dispute that there is anecdotal evidence to suggest it’s easier to get scores in North America than elsewhere (if you want to read Dick’s two scathing reports on the Canadian team selection protests, go to ).

My Favourite Ponies

On a much lighter note, I am just so darned proud of Vincent and Poppy for making it into the freestyle, and in awe of Berna’s and Ashley’s composure and finesse. They are my faves for very personal reasons, but a few other horses have captured my heart too. We are missing a shooting star at this championship – there is nothing like Matine to make us all swoon. All the same, there have been some exciting pairs worth mentioning.

Australian Hayley Beresford is definitely one to watch for the future with her wonderful Lusitano, Relampago. In spite of too many little mistakes in the Speciale, I really enjoyed watching them and I hope to see them again soon.

And who can’t love that ex-police horse from Russia, the Orlov Trotter stallion Balagur, now the oldest horse in the Olympics at 18? He’s been shaved so close he’s pink (he is kind of an Albino), but he is just so wonderfully elastic and into his job. What a passage and piaffe tour he has!

I also really liked seeing Polish rider Michal Rapcewicz in such harmony with his cute little bay, Randon. Some pairs just make us want to go home and do it ourselves, and this was one of them.

Steffen Peters is an absolute master, and getting young Ravel so confident just five months after his first Grand Prix is a feat few could achieve.

If you were totally bored and irritated by the content of this blog, please come back tomorrow. I will spare you any more gory details of dressage, and share insight into Jill’s Darkest Hour, as well as why Ali Buchanan has suffered more than anyone at the hands of Mariette’s music selections.


Anonymous said...

Detailed marks from each judge individual are available on the internet. Goto the results page, then click on the Report link and then on the Judges individual marks.

Anonymous said...

Spot on. You go, girl.

Anonymous said...

BTW, can we be BFF? Seldom see someone who thinks alike. :-D

Anonymous said...

was so NOT bored. But wow, there was a lot to follow in that...lots of underlying drama!

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to your report on the freestlyes.

I'm having trouble finding the report link for the judges scores. Would love to see the individual scoring for the Freestyles