Power and balance
two beings crackle with light.
The ground vanishes.
Power and balance
two beings crackle with light.
The ground vanishes.
I’ve got lots to write about our stay in Wiesbaden, but today I just have to share some of the photos from the Grand Prix Freestyle.
The weather has been better than expected here all week…. Until about an hour before the Grand Prix Freestyle started. It wasn’t just the forecast showers, unless you interpret “shower” as “dump buckets of water from the sky”.
When we arrived at the arena, just about the time that the rain started, the covered grandstand was already full, and there were spectators lining the rest of the ring several deep, all sporting rain gear or umbrellas. At the moment, they were watching an endless award presentation for the vaulting competition. Teams of kids were standing in formation in the pouring rain – in their spandex competition attire. Freezing, I’m sure! I turned to Axel, and his brother Uwe, who had joined us for this show, and said about the crowd, “I’m sure they’ll leave after the awards.”
They both shook their heads. They grew up in Wiesbaden, and they know this crowd. “They’re not going anywhere,” I was told. I was dubious. There was a bite to the damp breeze and I wondered if I was wearing enough layers.
The Brothers Steiner were right.
Those fans stayed not just until after the last musical ride, but but they stayed for the awards, too – at midnight, in rain that simply never let up. I am utterly in awe of them. They cheered for everyone, enthusiastically, before and after every single ride.
I decided if these riders were crazy enough to ride in this weather, and these fans were crazy enough to watch them, then I would be crazy enough to photograph it all. Fortunately the ringside cafe was bedecked with huge Henkel awnings, but even so, everything was really damp by the end…. It is nights like this when I remember why I spent a small fortune on my Canon Mark IV: weather sealing! Not to mention its amazing ability to see in the dark.
So hear you go!
Update: the rain never let up last night, and by this morning the warm up footing had washed out. So the last day of dressage competition at Wiesbaden was cancelled.
The course has been the same since 1924.
The track is dead simple: right lead around the outside, up the center, left lead around the outside.
There are no bending lines, just a few related distances, nothing of what we would consider “technical” in the world of Grand Prix jumping. There are only two striped rails on the whole courses, there are no standards in the shape of Shamu, or painted in the sponsor’s colors. There are no flower pots filling out the jumps. There is nothing on this course but old fashioned, permanent or natural looking fences. The only nod to modernity are frangible standards that collapse when a horse hits them rather than causing a rotational fall.
It is the most difficult jumper course in the world, and just completing it is an accomplishment.
Normally, in the VIP tent at a Grand Prix jumping event, three quarters of the patrons are not even watching the horses, they are talking amongst themselves, planning evenings or sealing deals. Not so here. This is riveting. Everyone is watching as the first horse begins:
The left standard of the first fence is part of the arena rail, so the crowd is just inches from the white flag. There may be umbrellas, because the rain starts and stops. Children may be running toward you as you approach it. You will be followed by the boom of a flying camera. The second fence is a redwood colored oxer, which visually blends into a shaded part of the crowd behind it. The rails fall easily from flat cups. Make a right turn toward the in gate and jump up an Irish bank, drop down for one stride across the in gate access and launch up and over the second Irish bank.
Continue the right turn and head for the water. This is an open water: no leading hedge, no potted plants decorating and demarking the edges of the span. Just a wide expanse of blue water to be cleared. Stretch over it, take a half half and wait for nine or ten strides to a tall grey vertical. A sweeping right turn under the many eyes in the two story VIP tribune, and approach the Hamburg Bank.
Launch up over the first white rail onto the bottom step of the bank. It’s a forward two strides to the next up rail to the highest level. At this point, at the flat top of the world, a horse will pause to figure out how exactly to get down the nearly vertical 16 feet of the back face. It was more straightforward in the qualifying round, with a clear galloping path beyond it the landing. Now there is a 1.6 meter white vertical placed one stride from the bank, and here, vertical means vertical, not a hint of a ground line to help find the take off spot.
Horses deal with this top of the slide question in any number of ways. They stop and stare. They test the slope. They back up. They rear in confusion. The brave ones walk to the brink, fold their hocks, lower their haunches, slide down and then bound over the vertical.
Clear this and the crowd will go wild. You’ll need to get your horse’s attention before the next fence, which is another part of the redwood colored second fence, this one a vertical…. No ground line on this one either. Continue right hand up the arena’s center for a vertical redwood gate. Gallop straight ahead for the massive birch oxer, a fly fence, then turn left for a living hedge and white rails beside the main grandstand. The crowd is ten deep, and they are an arm’s length outside the red flag on the right standard.
The Railroad Crossing in and out that comes next consists of two rails. That’s all, folks. A rail at the top of the standards, followed in one stride by a rail at the top of the standards. No filler, no ground rail, just five feet of air with a four inch thick pole over it. Think thats easy? Hans Guenter Winklers’ horse, decades ago, decided to go right under it instead of jumping it.
Turn left toward the Pulvermans Grob, named so because Pulverman, the original course designer, was year after year eliminated here. If you’ve ridden cross country you’ve been over coffins like this one: vertical, one stride, ditch, one stride, vertical…. But there are no penalties for rapping them on crosscountry. Here those rails come down if you breath hard on them.
Left past the VIP tribune, over a wall that is made of real stone, not painted plywood. Past the grandstand again, straight for a two stride combination of ditches and rails, left turn up the middle of the arena and finish over a brick wall.
This year we are treated to a jump off: two horses tied with four faults each. There were no clean rounds this year…. But that is not unusual.
Dressage Affaire was a beautiful show, as always, and designed to make everyone feel welcomed. From the coffee and cupcakes in the morning by the scoreboard, to the great competitor’s party on Saturday night (I heard it went on far later than we were able to keep our eyes open!) everyone seemed to have a wonderful time at Kim Keenan’s flagship show at Del Mar Showpark.
It was inspiring to see old hands turning in super rides (Ravel, Tip Top, Rafalca) as well as horses moving up the levels (U II, Flor De Selva, Farinelli), as well as numerous youngster strutting their stuff in the lower levels.
Axel did seminars during the Friday and Saturday lunch breaks, sponsored by Dressage Training On Line. On Friday, his focus was the requirements of second level, and Saturday, Prix St George. His rider on Saturday, Dr Mark Silverman, deserves a particularly hale “Hoo Rah”, having been volunteered for the job at the last minute. Not a big deal, you say? Mark says that he’s been so busy that he has only ridden a few times this year, and he insisted that the last time he rode through a Prix St George was back in 1984…. On Long Island…. I happened to have been at that show, photographing him , so please do not count on your fingers to reckon how long ago that was.
But the social highlight of the weekend was the housewarming party at Leatherdale Farms South. Doug and Louise Leatherdale and Sue Blinks graciously opened their home to a hoard of dressage riders, and treated us all to amazing food, wonderful wine, a very enthusiastic mariachi band, and tours of their beautiful facility. Residents of the 12 stall barn include grand prix veterans Robin Hood and Mark, who, when the music started, decided after their initial surprise, that freestyle night, apparently had come to their house. Mark was retired from competition in an emotional retirement ceremony on Sunday that had most of use dabbing our eyes. Thank you, Doug and Louise for sharing him with us, and thank you for a wonderful evening at your lovely farm.
All proofs from Dressage Affaire have now been posted. If you signed up at the show, you should have received your password via email by now: if you didn’t sign up at the show, please check the galleries to see if there is a gallery awaiting you. If you find your gallery, you can sign up on line: your complete gallery will be posted and your password will be emailed to your within 48 hours.
Meanwhile, enjoy the Highlights gallery: there were lots of beautiful horses, but there were also oodles of darling dogs, too….!