Young horse shows are forever the topic of debate. Do they encourage good training of our dressage horses from the very start, fast-tracking them towards success in the higher grades? Or do they lead us to breed a new type of horse: the young horse class winner – a horse who is flashy and eye catching at five years old but does not have the ability to train through to Grand Prix? Whatever your opinion on young horse shows – the Bundeschampionate is undeniably one of the most popular in the world and each year thousands of people flock from all over the world to Warendorf to see the German young dressage and jumping horse championships. The dressage classes are held for three, four, five and six year olds with horses and ponies separated into their own competitions. For three and four year olds, mares and geldings also compete in a different class to stallions.
To produce a quality young horse requires a different skill set to riding at Grand Prix. Young horses are a different kettle of fish to their older, more educated counterparts. They make mistakes. They wobble and lose balance and get a fright. To ride inexperienced horses in the big atmosphere of a major show requires patience, feel and a good rapport between horse and rider. Since the World Young Horse Championships at Verden there has been much discussion about the type of horses we are breeding and what is being rewarded in these competitions.
My interest in particular stems from my having recently broken in my own young dressage horse and so I am deliberating whether the Young Horse competition is a suitable pathway for us.
Having attended a number of young horse competitions in Australia, including PSI Dressage and Jumping with the Stars for many years, I was really keen to get to one in Europe to see first-hand how the horses and judging compare. Even more than this, I wanted to see some of Europe’s famous young horse riders in action. My first job after leaving high school was as a young horse rider and I have continued to have a great interest in and admiration for the riders who dedicate their careers to the art of producing a horse from a wobbly, nervous breaker into an international competition superstar. It is no secret that a horse is a mirror of its rider and the results do not lie: it is the same riders producing winning horses year in and year out. As Carl Hester is quoted as saying, “sometimes you have to give up the opportunity of a lifetime for the horse of a lifetime” and this is why finding the right young horse rider is half the journey in producing a winner in these classes.
Walking into the grounds at Warendorf I was first struck by the sheer size of the place. It is HUGE! … far bigger than any of the other major shows I have attended. Warendorf is very spread out with the dressage and show jumping competition areas separated by an enormous trade village. Whilst this made for great shopping, it consequently made it tricky to watch both disciplines. Unfortunately, despite being beautifully nestled into gardens and woods, the venue was neither waterproof nor suited to the number of spectators in attendance. It rained for much of the day I was there and without any undercover viewing areas it was quite difficult to see much in these conditions. On top of this, the dressage arena had only a relatively small grandstand on either long side and so spectators were crammed into every nook and cranny to see. When you’re only five foot tall, it’s nearly impossible to get a good vantage point in these conditions. I did my best to see as much of both disciplines as possible, and managed to watch closely a number of the horses in the six year old dressage final.
Heiner Schiergen rode Damon Hill son “Daley Thompson.” This elegant horse entered the ring with a lovely open gullet which was pleasing to see. Sadly, as the test continued a lack of balance was evident and caused a few problems. “Daley Thompson” fell through the downwards transitions and became tighter and more closed in the frame during the lateral work and the canter. The changes weren’t established and this cost them quite a few marks. The soft, harmonious picture which entered the arena had been lost through the laterals and spoilt by a lack of balance by the end. They finished with 8.0 for trot, 7.5 for walk, 8.0 for canter, 6.5 for submission, 7.5 for general impression and a final score of 7.5 for thirteenth place.
Next up was Lisa Lindner riding the “Quarterback” son “Quotenkönig.” This liver chestnut with bling showed much more flow than the previous horse and the trot work had great impulsion. The rhythm and frame remained consistent through the lateral work and there was good balance carried through to the walk. The walk pirouettes lacked a little ‘march’ but weren’t bad by any means. Canter was my favourite pace for this horse, with most of the changes obedient and correct (although one change right was a little late behind). The canter half passes were well executed and there was a standout consistency in the contact and frame which made this a very pleasant combination to watch. 8.5 for trot, 8.0 for walk, 8.5 for canter, 8.0 for submission, 8.5 for general impression for an overall score of 8.3: a good score which had them placed second so far and would see them finish fifth. Interestingly, “Quotenkönig” was placed fourth in the five year old final of the 2014 Bundeschampionate.
“Sunlight” for Yvonne Reiser was a big, leggy bay. Although he seemed a bit large and long, he was extremely light on his feet. I really liked the soft, open gullet in their trot work, even if there were moments where “Sunlight” lost his balance a little in the medium trot. The walk was active and showed clear lengthen and shorten which is too often neglected. The canter work was nice, with obedient and expressive changes both ways, however the point of balance was not so consistent at canter. The poll was dropping in some of the turns and through the half pass which was a shame. Great medium canter and back to the better frame for a strong finish. 8.0 for trot, 7.0 for walk, 8.5 for canter, 8.5 for submission and 8.5 for general impression leaving them on a final score of 8.1 and third place so far. This was undeniably a very attractive combination and “Sunlight” has a presence which holds him in my memory as a horse I will be keeping an eye out for in the future. They finished the competition in seventh place.
Yvonne Reiser and “Sunlight”
The next horse into the ring is one I have seen a lot of talk about on social media coming into and since the event. “Lady Loxley M” owned by Carola Koppelmann and Franz-Josef Münker and ridden by the former is a strikingly beautiful black Rhinelander mare by “Lord Loxley.” She came into the competition in Warendorf in a strong position, having won the qualification class held at the Holtkamper Dressage Days in Bielefeld-Holtkamp in May this year with an impressive score of 8.3. What a classy mare! Cadence, power and maintaining a good rhythm and balance throughout the test. Her medium paces were effortless, especially the trot, and she has a clear adjustability which made her a cut above the rest. The walk is active and ground covering. The changes were not the most expressive of the class, but were all obedient and correct. 8.5 for trot, 9.0 for walk, 8.5 for canter, 9.0 for submission and 9.0 for general impression to beat their qualifying score and finish on 8.8 overall. This score had them in second place so far, a position they maintained throughout the competition. A great score and well deserved – this was a classy, well-polished pair who made a lasting impression.
Next into the ring was the current leader with her second ride for the final, Norwegian rider Isabel Bache and “FünfSterne.” On first glance, this eye-catching horse was every bit ‘my type.’ Bright orange with bling to boot and decked out in Equiline, what more could a girl ask for?? “FünfSterne” has an eye catching trot with expensive front legs and a textbook uphill way of going but today was a little tighter through the back and straighter in the legs than “Lady Loxley M” just before. I noted with interest that “FünfSterne” is ridden in a drop noseband. The changes were clean and obedient both ways but the canter half passes could have used a little more expression. Nonetheless it was an extremely professional test and Bache presented the horse expertly. The shining feature for this combination was the consistently uphill, open and easy frame. 8.0 for trot, 7.5 for walk, 8.0 for canter, 8.0 for submission and 8.0 for general impression to finish on 7.9 and be in fifth place so far. Bache’s second ride finished in eighth place, coincidently the same position they finished in last year in the five year old final at the 2014 Bundeschampionate.
Ines Knoll rode the striking grey “FBW Fairplay H” by “Fürst Honestein” on whom she won their Bundeschampionate qualification event on 8.5 in May this year. Poor “FBW Fairplay H” was subject to the return of the rain and whilst he worked very well despite the conditions, there were a few moments of head tossing which spoilt the marks for submission. This horse has a real ‘look at me’ presence and it was easy to see how he had qualified with such a great score. Sadly, today he was just a little too long in the frame and slow off the ground to be up amongst the top horses. Some moments of discussion re the contact and trouble with the changes both ways were too costly to recover from. 7.5 for trot, 8.0 for walk, 8.0 for canter, 7.0 for submission and 8.0 for general impression left them on a score of 7.7 in provisional seventh position. At the conclusion of the competition the combination were in twelfth place, a little disappointing after their fifth place finish in the five year old class at the same event last year.
By now the rain had set in and seemed to be here to stay, so I decided to call it a day and make a dash for some shelter. Unfortunately I missed the winner, Isabel Bache on board “Fasine” who from all accounts were exceptional with scores of 9.0 for trot, 9.5 for walk, 9.0 for canter, 9.0 for submission and a perfect 10.0 for general impression to finish on 9.3, 0.5 ahead of “Lady Loxley M” in second place.
After a lengthy drive and train trip home (a five hour journey in total), I finally made it out of the rain to the safety of my bed to reflect on what I’d seen. Germany’s big sister of Australia’s Dressage and Jumping with the Stars was incredible. The sheer size of the venue and the crowds were overwhelming and the trade village had everything from custom boots to spas for both horses and humans. The six year old class pleasantly surprised me. I have come to expect great venues and beautiful horses, but what I liked about what I saw at Warendorf was that the riders seemed sympathetic to the young horse mistakes made due to inexperience. That’s right folks – even the best young horses in the world make errors. Some of the best six year old horses still hadn’t mastered the changes. Wobbles in the contact or losing the balance in the corner are things that can happen to all young horses.
What I liked even more was the evidence that the judging also supported these young horses. A horse could struggle with its changes and still score an 8.0 for canter, or have a few whoopsies in the balance but still finish in the top ten. What had happened in one movement was the past and was left behind as they moved on to finish their test. After the final halt every rider patted and hugged their horse and the whole crowd cheered. If young horse shows can be used as a chapter in the book of a horse’s learning journey, and not the final pages, they can help shape better horses at the top level. The best riders presented their mounts such as to show off their natural talents but also the training foundations they have laid for the future, with the FEI always in mind. Mistakes are part of training and they were neither masked nor punished. THIS is what I see as the future of young horse shows – a platform to celebrate training and anticipate what is to come as these horses grow and develop. A crucial stepping stone in the long road to Grand Prix.
There are many factors to be considered when breeding and training horses for the future of our sport. That being said, I was happy with what I saw at Warendorf and am hopeful for what we will see in the international Grand Prix classes in five and ten years’ time if these young horse classes can be used as part of the process, not the final goal.