If there has ever been a horse show venue that looked like it was pulled straight out of a fairy-tale picture book, it would have to be Rotterdam. After an hour on the train to Rotterdam Central and then fifteen minutes on the metro out to the station closest to the venue, I popped out onto a main road which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. With nobody around and my Dutch non-existent, I followed my instructions from the Chio Rotterdam website which said to “turn right from the metro station and take the first big turn.” After about 500m I saw a small yellow sign which read “CHIO ß”and I could breathe a sigh of relief I was in the right place.
It turns out the walking route to the stadium was through a pedestrian-access only housing area which suddenly opened to the drop off point for the shuttle busses coming from the car park. I was offered a ride to the front gates in a golf cart and as I whizzed along the pavement catching the envy of all the other spectators who had to make the 1km journey on foot, I caught my first glimpse of the show grounds. All I could think of was I hope the driver has brought me to the Chio and not the botanical gardens! The front entrance was tucked behind a beautiful lake and surrounded by trees. A small temporary office read ‘tickets’ and after purchasing tickets we stepped out onto a boardwalk with the trade village running along either side.
First port of call: the information tent to pick up a program. My ticket gave me access to the InterChem Arena which housed the Grand Prix Special CDI3* and the Grand Prix Freestyle CDI3*; as well as the Rotterdam Arena in which the main classes for the day were held: the O’Seven 1.45 speed class and the Rabobank Championship of Rotterdam show jumping, as well as the Interchem Grand Prix Special CDIO5* and the Interchem Grand Prix Freestyle CDIO5*. My love of two disciplines found me once again torn between what to watch and so I developed a plan to try and see the best of both: I would watch the jumping up until my favourite riders were on in the CDI3* Freestyle, then I would watch that, head back for the Championship of Rotterdam jump off and then finish the day with the two CDIO5* dressage classes.
The O’Seven prijs was a Table A competition (one single round against the clock, the lowest time winning) held at 1.45m high with €7,000 prize money. The course gave riders the option of riding hard in a hope to win or taking longer lines to school less-experienced or confident horses and there were clearly a number of combinations who took this second option. First on course was Gert Jan Bruggink on the ten year old Chin Chin Gelding “Anderson VDL.” I fell instantly in love with this big, scopey bay horse who oozed class and talent. Their round was tidy, quick and super professional. However, they had an unlucky rail which would see them pushed well out of the placings in the class of forty starters. The next horse to catch my eye was number four, “Emerald” – an eleven year old chestnut stallion with lots of bling and a total WOW factor jump, ridden by Harrie Smolders. This little horse was MEGGA and with the expert riding of Smoulders, they caught my attention as a real combination to watch for the future. Sadly today they were too slow to be in the prize money, picking up two time penalties.
Next out was in it to win it – Abdel Said of Egypt on his eight year old Quadrillo mare “Hope van Scherpen Donder” rode like the wind to post an impressive time of 60.12. The bay mare took being tidy behind to a whole new level and they were clearly a very confident, established combination. Number ten was the next to light my fire – “Zidane” for Alexander Zetterman delivered the most confident round of the class. The eleven year old KWPN gelding by Sam R was quick on his feet, ground covering and super classy. Zetterman rode with expert timing and the cleanest, neatest turns I saw all day. They posted a time of 60.49, less than half a second behind the current leader, Abdel Said of Egypt. Ten riders into the class and the pressure was mounting!
Number thirteen, “Willow” for Kent Farrington was another eye-catching combination. The twelve year old grey KWPN gelding was turned out impeccably and Farrington’s seat is beyond enviable. Sadly though, the handsome horse struggled with his changes today and this cost them time and a rail. The Irishman Darragh Kenny was up next on another son of Chin Chin, this time the nine year old KWPN stallion “Chin Quidam Vdl.” What a BEAUTIFUL horse! Elegant, scopey and handsome – what more could you want?! With a super tidy, clear round and a fast time of 61.26 they were looking good at this stage of the competition.
Number twenty, Siebe Kramer of the Netherlands rode the horse I wanted to take home: Zsa Zsa. If I have a type, this eleven year old KWPN mare, another one by Sam R, was it. Effortless in front, small, chunky and springs to boot – please mum can we have her?! Number twenty five was next to make me sit up and take notice – Marta Ortega Perez of Spain on the twelve year old Cassini I daughter “Clever Girl” were an irresistible combination. What a tidy mare! She showed a super shape over the fence with presence galore. Sadly, a rail and a time fault saw them finish in thirty first position. They were followed by the Frenchman Patrice Delaveau who is nothing short of an artist on horseback. His thirteen year old Quick Star stallion “Orient Express” is clearly a super talent and Delaveau is in a league all of his own. It seems like he never asks the horse to do anything, they just flow as one from one obstacle to the next – the kind of ease that is spine-tingling. They posted a clear round but were quite slow with a time of 76.78.
My prize for the best lower leg of the class goes hands down to Karina Johanpeters. She jumped a lovely clear round on her ten year old black stallion ‘Lucero Ls La Silla’ but was too slow to be in the prize money today. Last but certainly not least, Pius Schwizer on ‘Baros,’a nine year old by Casco, finished the class off in absolute style. WHAT A RIDER! It seems like he never shifts in his seat and I could swear the fact that he had to ride like the wind to finish in the placings never even crossed his mind. With a steady lower leg and his weight sunk deep into his heels, Schwizer and ‘Baros’ glide patiently around the course, the horse bubbling up underneath him over each fence. With turns so quick, smooth and effortless they would make a moto GP driver jealous, this was a round to remember! Clear with a good time of 61.42 would see them finish in the placings, but still wasn’t fast enough to take top prize. The final scoreboard had Abdel Said of Egypt first, followed by the uber confident Alexander Zetterman for Sweden. In third place was Leopold Van Asten of the Netherlands, then Darragh Kenny on the irresistible ‘Chin Quidam Vdl’ for Ireland. The master himself, Pius Schwizer, took fifth place and Willem Greve on the super tidy ‘Girlpower 111,’ another for Holland, came in sixth.
With the first jumping class for the day complete, it was time for a healthy dose of dressage! I headed back to the boardwalk and followed the signs through the woods to the InterChem Arena to watch the Grand Prix Freestyle CDI3*. Diederik Van Silfhout rode for Holland on the nine year old liver chestnut Royal Dutch Warmblood gelding ‘Bonzanjo.’ The Jazz son was eye-catchingly light footed and active. Passage was a highlight for this combination, being extremely even in all four legs and demonstrating a very good rhythm. Unfortunately their piaffe let them down today. It became grounded at times and the transitions were too jumpy and erratic. Van Silfhout rode expertly to his music and ‘Bonzanjo’ demonstrated a beautiful elastic contact and soft frame, making for an overall impressive picture and a score of 75.7 and third place. In second place was the man I think earns my prize for the best dressage seat I have seen so far in my travels – Hans Peter Minderhoud, again for the Netherlands, on the fourteen year old Florestan 1 stallion ‘Glock’s Flirt.’ What can I say? WOW that horse can trot!! Better-than-textbook piaffe; passage half-passes; and extended trot that looked like the handsome horse’s legs went on for days; I was in heaven. And then…they walked. Ground covering, active and – what do we have here?! – for once walk music that wasn’t reminiscent of being in an elevator!! I tip my hat to you sir – a harmonious, fun and inspiring display of dressage with absolute world class riding. The canter was their weak point – the pirouettes being quite flat and the two-tempis at time lacking straightness – but this was easy to forgive when the rest was just so good. One final passage-half pass to finish a job very well done. What an honour to witness such a master at work. They crossed the 80% landmark to finish in second place.
I feel like a broken record but it was another Dutchman to finish off our top three placings and make it a trifecta for Holland – Edward Gal and ‘Glock’s Voice’ claimed first place on a score of 81.65. Since I first became truly interested in dressage, it has been a dream to watch Gal compete in the flesh and I grin as I write that after all these years it was no disappointment. If you were to look up the dressage-rider’s-dictionary definition of ‘flow’ – you would see this test. The big black horse looked like a fairy-tale creature as he entered the arena to dark, suspenseful, orchestral sounds and a strong drum beat that hushed the awe-stricken crowd. The thirteen year old De Niro stallion has the hind legs dreams are made of. As he came past me in half-pass I could have sworn they came right up under his chest and when they danced in the passage I fell in love – I didn’t know a horse could move like that. Extended canter straight into canter pirouette – the elasticity and power flowing so fluently from the hind legs, over the back and up through the shoulder was out of this world. Of course no test is ever faultless, and ‘Glock’s Voice’ kicked out in the final transition from canter to trot. Nonetheless: a convincing, deserving win to say the least.
With the CDI3* Freestyle over, I rushed back to the Rotterdam Arena for the Rabobank Championship of Rotterdam. Forty eight horses started in this 1.55m class with €40,000 prize money where all clear rounds would jump off and the winner would be determined by the lowest score in the jump off alone. The first clear round for the class came from number three in the draw, Ben Maher riding ‘Sarena’ – a nine year old bay mare by Calvaro. I have a MASSIVE combination-crush on these two. The mare is powerful, confident and scopey and Maher is balanced, patient and cool as a cucumber. Such a chic pair to watch! A clear jump off and a time of 40.44 put them in a strong position at this early stage. My prize for the most impressive young rider in the class goes to Patrick Stühlmeyer who rode a very impressive round on the twelve year old Lando stallion ‘Lacan 2.’ Stühlmeyer gave the horse a positive, uncomplicated ride and allowed him to show off his evident natural talent. An unlucky rail unfortunately kept them out of the jump off.
When number forty four in the draw, Doron Kuipers, rode into the arena ready to jump off for Holland the grandstand nearly shook. The clear favourite from the host country was nearly three seconds faster than the fastest time so far with 35.93 seconds and so found himself in the lead with some very healthy breathing space. The stand erupted with infectious cheering and applause and the Dutchman waved his helmet in the air to share in the celebrations of a job well done. I was crossing my fingers AND toes when combination twenty five entered the ring – Jamie Kermond and ‘Quite Cassini.’ The eleven year old Holsteiner gelding by Cassini I has been jumping his heart out lately and after seeing them deliver an on-the-money double clear for third place at Hagen I was praying they could pull another super performance out of the hat. Every time I see the dream team from down under they look better and better. Confident, clean and effortless – they performed a SUPER clear round with a time of 38.02 seconds which put them into second place so far. As they cantered past the finish line and Men at Work’s “Down Under” blared through the speakers I couldn’t have been prouder to be Australian. I collected a few strange looks from the people sitting around me as I screamed ‘Go Kermo’ and I couldn’t help but think that with such consistent performances of late, this combination is in very good form for an individual placing at Rio.
My apologies for the poor quality of my photography skills/phone camera but here are a few snaps of the Aussie superstars in action!
Pius Schwizer was again a stand out for me – this time on board ‘Psg Junior.’ The nine year old Cornet Obolensky stallion unfortunately had two rails and a time fault in the jump off. At the end of the day, Billot Mathieu and ‘Shiva D’Amaury’ won the class for France with a time of just 35.68 seconds. In second place was Marc Houtzager on board ‘Sterrehof’s Uppity’ for Holland. Third place also went to a Dutchman: Doron Kuipers and ‘Zucces,’ followed by Lucy Davis and ‘Barron’ for America. Kermo finished in fifth position and behind him were Kent Farrington and the lovely “Blue Angel.”
The evening dressage session began at 5:40pm with the Interchem prijs Grand Prix Special. Ten combinations started with representatives from America, German, Sweden, France, Belgium and Holland. The standout winner was Diederik Van Silfhout with “Arlando N.O.P” – a ten year old approved KWPN stallion by Paddox. This horse carried himself in a lovely frame which looked soft, open and easy and the test was very rhythmical and flowed smoothly. The trot half passes were super with an average score of 8.4 and the passage was absolutely standout – what a back end!! – another average of 8.4. The extended trot was soft and ground covering. With a trot tour like this we were off to a great start! A very soft transition into walk and some nice, relaxed work shown here. Canter half passes were again very soft. Not as much x-factor as the trot but a good average of 7.7. Two-tempis very nice and even, 7.6. The ones were lovely: straight, even, soft and perhaps deserving of a little more than just 7.5. “Arlando N.O.P” sat very nicely into his pirouette left with a clear increase in collection for 7.7. The pirouette right was not quite as special: 7.6. The final trot work pulled some more big scores: 7.8 for the extended trot; 7.9 for the transitions between extended trot and passage; 8.4 for the passage – what a test! A very convincing win on 77.098%. Van Silfhout and “Arlando N.O.P” demonstrated a clear mastery of the work, developing an air of softness and ease which none of their competitors showed and which made them a combination worth keeping an eye on.
With the Grand Prix Special over it was time for the class everyone was buzzing with excitement for – the Interchem prijs Grand Prix Freestyle. Tonight our competitors danced for judges from France, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Germany in the hope of winning this prestigious event. First out was Laurence Vanommeslaghe for Belgium on the sixteen year old Hannoverian gelding “Avec Plaisir,” by A Jungle Prince. Funky music with a hint of symbols and drums had the crowd wanting to dance along. The trot was good – active half passes but unfortunately the back end a little lacklustre in the extended work. The piaffe, however, was nice and the final passage very nice, only the transitions were not always perfectly smooth. The walk work was super with an extended walk which stretched down and took the neck beautifully forward! The canter work was the highlight for this combination. Very impressive light and shade in the music which beautifully accented the pirouettes and straight-as-a-ruler one-tempis. Unfortunately “Avec Plaisir” was opening his mouth slightly at times which was damaging for their score today and they finished on 72.30%.
Next up were Bernadette Brune and “Spirit of the Age Old” for Germany. This eleven year old Oldenburg stallion is by Stedinger – now based in Australia and standing at Revelwood Warmblood Stud. Unfortunately today the extremely handsome “Spirit of the Age Old” woke up on the wrong side of the stable. He was very muddled behind in his entry, performing a combination of tranter and piaffe. The extended trot started MEGGA bad also ended with problems behind. A nice canter pirouette but more problems in the half passes – too much tightness and jumping on the spot to produce the work this horse is capable of. Brune decided to retire – fair enough – and give this beautiful horse another chance on a better day. You can’t win them all!
Number three in the draw was Kathleen Raine for America on “Breanna” – a fifteen year old Hannoverian mare by Brentano II. A sweet walk entry and then straight into the one-tempis – WOW!! A very impressive start to make the judges sit up and take notice. With Michael Jackson-themed music the audience was interested from the word ‘Go’. “The Way You Make Me Feel” starting playing and I felt excited. A nice trotting horse and some good music and we were on our way – the huge crowd nodding along. This is what I love about the freestyle!! Unfortunately it seemed like “Breanna” ran out of gas today and by the end of the test the work was a little laboured, especially the canter pirouettes. This is a nice horse and they have potential to be a real combination to watch, however today they finished with just 70.075%.
Claudia Fassaert rode the elegant De Niro Oldenburg mare “Donnerfee” for Belgium. What a fun soundtrack! A mash up of instrumentals of dance hits including KC & The Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way I Like It” and Lipps Inc’s “Funky Town.” Extended trot into passage on the opening centre line showed off this mare’s super talent for the trot work. The piaffe could still get a little stronger but it’s well on its way. Something about this mare’s front legs in the trot tour is irresistible. Her walk is active, ground covering and elastic. A very nice canter half pass into counter canter which turned across the arena for a pirouette over the centre line was interesting and well executed. One final set of extended trot-passage-extended trot was the cherry on top and a perfect finish to a job well done for 74.00%.
The second American combination was Arlene Page and “Woodstock.” Our first KWPN for the class – a twelve year old gelding by Havel. This sporty, modern liver chestnut was a very nice type and quite light on his feet. I LOVED these canter pirouettes – even, light, soft, collected, balanced, waiting with an ease of effortlessness and lots of height in the wither. What more could you want?! The passage was very nice and springy, it seemed as though every time Page’s leg breathed against “Woodstock” he bounced up off the ground underneath her. Unfortunately “Woodstock” trotted in his changes and by the end of the test was tending too downhill. Their music was very nice, but there was a real air sense of ‘I’ve heard this before’ which spoiled it a little. Page has an enviable seat, making for a most elegant picture overall, and they finished with a score of 73.825%.
Next in was my self-confessed favourite and my second opportunity to watch him and drool today – Hans Peter Minderhoud for Holland. This time ‘HP’ rode the thirteen year old Jazz son “Glock’s Johnson TN.” From the minute he entered the stadium it was clear the crowd adored him and he was met with foot stamping and cheering galore. As soon as HP raised his hand and the music began to flow from the speakers I knew why I had felt such a sense of déjà vu with Arlene Page’s music just before: she had used this same track. Luckily some awkwardness was avoided as HP had created a new soundtrack combining music he has already used in previous kurs. Elastic, rhythmic passage in and out of the first halt and I had fallen in love all over again. The piaffe is so natural for this horse – confident, even and rhythmical. A real standout! A textbook – perfect canter half-pass ‘zig zag’ into SUPER extended canter made me want to get on and feel this beautiful horse for myself. He has a way of cantering that looks so soft and bubbly it’s almost too good to be true. A score of 81.050% was well deserved and at this stage in the competition they really were a class above the rest.
I didn’t envy Paulinda Friberg of Sweden who had to follow such an incredible performance. Friberg rode the fourteen year old Donnerhall mare “Di Lapponia T.” There were lots of things I really liked about this test. Their music was very dramatic, with a strong base, which created a really good atmosphere. “Di Lapponia T” was beautifully open in the gullet and had a consistently soft frame. The piaffe was quite good and I really liked the extended canter. Overall, the mare has three impressive paces and the kur was well choreographed with a good soundtrack. I took particular notice of the seamless transition in the music between the trot and the walk – I didn’t even notice it had changed! There was also a dramatic crescendo from the final pirouette into the tempis which was stunning. The mare hopped a little in the final piaffe and the pirouettes needed a little more jump but overall: A super super mare and a great picture for a score of 76.325%.
Second last In the draw was the name on everybody’s lips : Edward Gal with “Glock’s Undercover N.O.P.” – a fourteen year old KWPN gelding by Ferro. Having already witnessed the magic that is Gal this morning I was practically bursting with excitement to see him again tonight. The beautiful black horse is impressive to say the least and as they entered the ring there was complete silence from the crowd – and here lay the problem: there was complete silence from the speakers too. For a minute I thought perhaps it was just my hearing letting me down but it became clear that Gal had chosen to have music so quiet it was barely audible so that “Glock’s Undercover N.O.P.” could experience performing the kur in the large stadium in a less adrenalized state. Unfortunately this spoilt the test considerably as the star feature of this class is that it is ridden to music. Nonetheless, “Undercover” clearly has more talent in one hoof than most horses in all four legs and I have NEVER seen piaffe like that. I don’t think I really imagined piaffe could BE so elastic, energetic and fluid. When this horse does extended canter his front legs are up around his nose and he has undeniable charisma. Moments of tension, such as lack of immobility in the halt, tightness in the jaw in the changes and hurried pirouettes, combined with the lack of music produced a real air of walking on eggshells, so to speak, which made the big scores we have come to associate with Gal impossible today and they finished with 77.90%.
By now I was starting to think HP had it in the bag and nobody could touch him out the front with his plus 80% score. Last but not least was Patrik Kittel on “Watermill Scandic” for Sweden and this sixteen year old KWPN stallion by Solos Carex was about to bring his absolute A-game. A bold canter entry into a square halt. The opening passage-piaffe-extended trot revealed just what “Watermill Scandic” had that nobody else had demonstrated so far: mastery. This big, brassy chestnut horse may not have the knees-around-face movement of “Undercover” but he also had none of the tension and none of the mistakes. He made childs-play of technical choreography and produced a nearly faultless test. His trot rhythm is so perfectly even you could set a metronome to it at any given moment. The canter is scopey, balanced and supple and the pirouettes were very good. Textbook one-tempis and some final trot work to finish off – what a performance! Kittel wowed me not only with his seat, his choreography or with his horse’s talent but with his training. The hours spent perfecting that piaffe. The number of times he would have ridden the one-tempis straight at the mirror to ensure they were perfect. The thousands of passage-piaffe-passage transitions it would have taken to make them that seamless. They finished in first place on a score of 81.875% and it couldn’t have been more deserving. Today it was a true case of practice makes perfect and it was a perfect win for Kittel and “Watermill Scandic.”
As I gathered my things and joined the enormous crowd pouring out of the stadium I was buzzing with inspiration and a re-fuelled love for this crazy sport of ours. There is nothing like the best in the world to make you remember what is so magical about the rhythm of a horse’s heartbeat. Today I saw incredible training, horses with more talent than I knew was possible, seats I would sell my soul for, bling to drive a magpie crazy, riders who made our sport into an art and sportsmanship to be proud of. I saw the Australian flag flying high for Jamie Kermond and some of the riders I have dreamed about for years. My inner child was well and truly fed and Rotterdam I thank you. You certainly did not disappoint! I truly believe there is no show quite like Rotterdam – emerging from the woods like a scene from a fairy-tale to reveal world class sport. What a dream come true!
Until next time,