presented by Gaitpost Magazine

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Okay All You Dressage Fiends, Here Is My Freestyle Blog

Anky, then Heike, then Steffen….Anky, then Steffen, then Heike…

Kerri McGregor has expressed in her blog the same sentiments that are rampant right now, both here and in cyberspace: that the chips didn’t fall quite where they should have in the individual competition. (Same ‘ol same ‘ol. If anyone is surprised, wake up!) Kerri suggests that perhaps if the sport were to adopt a policy of dropping the high and low scores for each competitor it would equalize things. It sounds like a sweet solution, and it’s been suggested by others already.

I’m afraid the problem is more complex than that. I’ve done it before, but just to be sure my conclusions are still correct, I just did a little analysis of the top five overall horses (both Speciale and FS) to see what difference it would make to the final results if we didn’t count the highest and lowest scores. Diddly squat. That’s what. It would have moved Steffen a bit closer to Heike, so that his fourth place would become agonizing instead of just disappointing. Other than that, the differences are really negligible. For every high score there is a low one, and they pretty much cancel each other out.

If what we suspect is true, if international judging is as sick as it seems, it isn’t just a couple of bad eggs that need to be thrown out. Something fundamental would need to be purged from the collective judging conscience. I still think the judges become giggling school girls when the sport’s two biggest stars head down centre line, but that’s not Anky’s or Isabell’s fault. They are just doing their best like everyone else. When I head to the Global Forum in October, I am going to make a serious effort to figure out what the hell it is that has to happen for this sport to improve its legitimacy. I suspect it’s honesty (come ON, just admit you are human and we can take it from there) and accountability, but please keep my comment a secret. I don’t want Mariette to get wind of it. I want it to be a surprise.

Ho Hum

Other than a couple of superb performances, I was let down last night. Maybe I’m becoming desensitized to freestyles like soldiers in war get desensitized to death. No, I don’t really believe that. I did still get goose bumps, just not enough of them. I was too nervous for Ashley and Berna to feel anything else during their rides. Ashley recovered brilliantly after the little mess at the start. For some reason – maybe it was because of that stupid 60 second thing they decided to do (they gave every rider exactly 60 seconds from the time they entered the stadium until the bell was rung – it’s the excuse I’ve heard for what happened to Solos Carex) – jury prez Riexinger would stand up and lean toward the bell, usually ringing it right when Brian decided he needed to announce something. Several riders didn’t hear it – or they looked at him, saw him standing and assumed they hadn’t heard it, even though he still hadn’t rung it.

There were a number of confusing moments for riders last night, but Ashley was the only one who went through the stress of hearing her music playing but not being able to enter because the well-trained and obedient gate girls hadn’t heard the bell. Another issue was that nearly everyone got ahead of their music, and of course I noticed it more with my clients than anyone else. No Berna, don’t walk during your trot music! Ashley, just hang on one more stride to start the ones! Aw crap! All that waiting screwed up Poppy’s brain and he had a mistake. Watching my clients at the Olympics sounds like fun, but it gave me palpitations.

So, highlights? For me number one was Hans Peter. I thought Nadine’s flower child music suited her to double goosebump standard, and HP really rode to his music. I loved the way he used “for every season, turn, turn, turn” for the pirouettes. Cool! Great arrangements and editing. Five stars.

Four stars to Steffen, and I think five is in the near future, maybe at Vegas next spring. He had very difficult choreography (in spite of what Riexinger said in his failed efforts to justify how Isabell could have beaten him), and to see such a talented but green horse try so hard for his rider was one of the more inspiring moments of the night. I thought I was going to hate his music when I read what a mish mash it was: Vangelis, Rolling Stones and Men Without Hats? How can that sound like it comes from the same radio station? But it was all arranged (hats off, Terry Gallo) and played by the same group of musicians in Memphis; so even though we jumped from new age to bad-boy rock to androgynous eighties, it worked. It really suited the horse too.

I’m digging deep to find a third favourite here. Bonaparte was a Very Good Boy for Heike, but her surfer medley leaves me tepid. Pink piaffe machine Balagur looked tired to his tired old Broadway hits. I find Isabell’s music puzzling because it really never has a beat that does a thing for Satchmo’s gaits, and I hate that she caved to the judges when they told her that her March With Me was too risky with the vocals – these days just about everyone has vocals creeping in somewhere. I don’t envy Anky’s job with her music. The transitions for movements like the tempi changes are so subtle as to be almost nonexistent. I admire the heck out of Wibi the wunder-composer, but there is some magic missing from that one for me.


My very least favourite freestyles were a couple of the early Scandinavians. Elevator and ice cream truck are descriptors that come to mind when I think of their syntho-pop programs. I recognized some of the songs but I failed to place them because they sounded so unlike the originals. Not that it’s a bad thing to have a cool and different arrangement of a familiar song, but it shouldn’t sound like it was done on a computer using the keyboard for piano keys. A word of advice for those whose scores actually dipped below what they got in the Speciale – don’t put things in your choreography that diminish the quality of your performance. No one likes dressage to look labored or impossible. Well, except maybe for five ‘O’judges who gave Satchmo two sevens, two eights and a six point five for harmony.

Tune in Tomorrow

I have to go now and try to make Capri pants look fancy for my dinner with writer buddies at Aqua. I have a long list of goodies that I didn’t get into today’s installment: more dressage, more jumpers, more photos, a new victim and yes – more Mariette. Hang on Bob, my high-five to the organizers for putting on the best horse show EVER is coming tomorrow too.


Anonymous said...

I can only imagine the palpitations you must have had watching clients ride to freestyles you designed...and I have to congratulate YOU! That is no small feat and it's pretty darn amazing to have something you created be part of olympic competition. You'll have to fill me in on the background of this mariette character. From what I've read on other blogs, she's got some reputation.

I can only imagine seeing this in person, we don't even get tv coverage of the dressage here so I sob to think of how amazing and inspiring it must have been to watch. You are a very lucky lady karen! So did you get your interview with Ian Miller? I had NO idea he has been riding in Olympics longer than I have been alive.

can't wait for the next installment and I hope to get together with you on your return home, I'd love to look at your photos! xo ariel

Anonymous said...

Am still looking at the dressage score breakdowns in amazement (and bewilderment). Funny how someone can get a 7 for a halt that never happened...

I think that of all the freestyles that I watched, only Steffan Peters had the test that really gave me the impression that the horse truly looked like it was "dancing" to the music. Many of the others simply looked as though they were riding a test, with music playing in the background. Somehow I found the WEG freestyles made so much more of an impression on me.

In any event, was curious to see what scores corresponded to what technical marks, so found the FEI Grand Prix test on-line. Thought I would post it here just in case anyone else was interested to see how the scores are broken down:

Jean said...

Thanks for all your comments and insight. I have to agree with everything you've said.

I watched all the rides on the Internet and I was truly disappointed at what I saw as very inconsistent judging.

I have only read in detail the individual judges's scores for the freestyle and I could not believe Isabel's earning two "8.0" for "harmony between horse and rider with such a serious disobedience. All I can remember is Michele Gibson's losing a medal in Atlanta because Peron shied in a canter pirouette.

I also have to question Isabel's marks on the piaffe. While they would be an average of all the piaffe work performed, I did not think the othe piaffe tours were good enough to offset the virtual "0" the explosion should have earned.

Riexinger's explanation of why he scored Steffen lower for an error is ludicrous. Either there is a standard of "perfection" with a movement at Grand Prix or there is not. Just because one rider's overall test is perceived as "more technically difficult" than anothers does not matter. There is no extra "start value" for individual movements in a dressage test.

Sorry to go on, but this kind of thing really bugs me. Being a judge is certainly hard, but the good judges I know have an image of a "10" in their minds and judge every horse according to that standard and none other.

Anonymous said...

Finally found some time to watch a few of the freestyles on utube. All I can say is wow: steffan peters' and Ravel were amazing. You were bang on about the music: I never would have imagined those songs worked but I loved how the lyric "you can dance" would come on for his canter pirouettes. And then, I'm watching the gold performance and wondering am I missing something? Cause that buck/rear/shy/spook or whatever you want to call it at the canter pirouette was a major boo boo, not to mention breaking into the canter (twice I think if I'm remembering correctly) during a trot half pass? Is that a gold? Too bad. The music just seemed blah and boring.

Anyways, looking forward to hearing more about what you have to say about Eric Lamaze's BIG GOLD win today! Wow! You've got a lot of blogging to do girlfriend!
cheerio: ariel

Anonymous said...

whoops, I just realized that mishap in the pirouette was the silver performance...well none the less, it's still a tad mystifiying?

Unfortunately, I've been unable to un-earth Ashley's performance, which I'd really love to watch and see what you did for her music. You should post video of it on your website!