|Germany's Isabell Werth and Weihegold OLD, the 2017 FEI World Cup Dressage Final champions. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
She’s now known as the “Queen of Omaha”: Isabell Werth of Germany, living Olympic equestrian legend and winner of two previous FEI World Cup Dressage Finals, today added a third Final win to her dizzying long resume of international triumphs.
US FEI 5* dressage judge Anne Gribbons, who presided at C for the Grand Prix Freestyle final, likened Werth’s mount, the 12-year-old Oldenburg mare Weihegold OLD (Don Schufro x Sandro Hit), to a ballet dancer. “Weihe,” as Werth calls her, has a prowess for piaffe and passage that was unmatched by any other in the 14-horse field, Gribbons said afterward. The mare’s contact and connection in the bridle are also practically without peer thanks to Werth’s world-class training and riding, Gribbons said.
A record crowd of 8,578—the largest so far at these Dressage and Jumping Finals at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha—was on hand to watch Werth become the only competitor to top the 90-percent mark. She won the 2017 FEI World Cup Dressage Final on a total combined score of 90.704 percent, with all seven judges—Gribbons, Maribel Alonso de Quinzanos (MEX), Raphael Saleh (FRA), Katrina Wuest (GER), Mariette Sanders van Gansewinkel (NED), Andrew Gardner (GBR), and Leif Tornblad (DEN)—placing Werth first.
Werth’s freestyle, ridden to a pleasant but not compelling instrumental medley, had a degree of difficulty of 9.37, according to audio commentator and retired FEI 5* judge Axel Steiner. Although it wasn’t the most difficult freestyle of the competition—that honor goes to Judy Reynolds of Ireland, whose routine aboard Vancouver K has an eye-popping degree of difficulty of 9.78—it was certainly among the most difficult, and the points Werth racked up in the double-coefficient movements including the piaffe and passage put her test on top.
“I’m really proud of Weihe. She did a great job,” Werth said afterward. “She was so focused. She knew it could be her day today. Laura pushed me up to show the best we could show, and it worked. It was a fantastic atmosphere and a fantastic competition.”
Exulting after her own nearly flawless freestyle was second-place finisher Laura Graves on her own Verdades. The fifteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding’s (Florett As x Goya) tremendous power and strength perfectly suited his music, a series of themes football fans will have heard many times accompanying National Football League TV broadcasts.
Graves’ freestyle had a degree of difficulty of 8.91, according to Steiner. One crowd-pleasing sequence was a series of two-tempi flying changes on a curved line, followed by a diagonal straight line of one-tempis toward the corner marker, which produced spontaneous applause. And the sequence that Graves added at the end of the ride to amp up the difficulty—a piaffe “fan” to the left and right, with “Diddy” then erupting in a monstrous extended trot up the center line to the final halt and salute—had the audience cheering so loudly Graves said afterward she had to guess at when to halt because she couldn’t hear her music.
Graves was certainly the favorite of the primarily American audience, but her technical marks couldn’t quite catch Werth’s. She finished second on a score of 85.307 percent, with all judges placing her second except for one, who had her third behind the eventual third-place finisher, Great Britain’s Carl Hester on Nip Tuck (83.757).
“I think I didn’t even realize how badly I wanted to win,” Graves said afterward. “I’m very competitive. When I saw the technical marks for Isabell’s ride go up and then [the broadcast crew] cut to a shot of the World Cup [trophy], I thought, ‘Oh, I want that so badly!’ To be honest, I was a little disappointed to come second, but as I said Thursday, coming second to Isabell, who’s number one in the world and has done this on so many horses, still feels an awful lot like winning.”
Nip Tuck, an enormous 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Don Ruto x Animo), was “bang on” with his instrumental music as Hester might put it. The music—I couldn’t identify it but it had that movie-score sound—had a pronounced percussive rhythm that perfectly matched “Barney’s” trot and piaffe/passage tempos.
Hester had a few small bobbles in transitions, and the piaffe didn’t always “sit” behind. His final halt, which followed a sweeping half-pass zigzag, lacked crispness. But Barney’s work is so correct, and Hester has an incredible feel for contact. He also has an incredible way of managing his famously hot and spooky mount, and Barney appeared relaxed and totally focused. Afterward, Hester expressed complete satisfaction in the way his horse—who also hasn’t been eating well in Omaha because he misses his longtime travel buddy, Valegro, who is now retired—rose to the occasion and handled the electric atmosphere.
“If somebody says, are you disappointed to be third, how can I be disappointed in a horse that did his absolute best?” Hester said.
The USA’s Kasey Perry-Glass on Goerklintgaards Dublet (Diamond Hit x Ferro) finished seventh on a score of 77.068. Their Tom Hunt freestyle, to music from The Avengers and Lord of the Rings, featured “Dublet’s” piaffe and passage, including passage half-passes, a relaxed and expressive line of one-tempis, piaffe fans, and a difficult transition from passage to extended walk. (Steiner’s comment: “That’s what an extended walk should look like, with the horse stretching to the bit.”)
The judges varied in Perry-Glass’s placing: from as high as fifth (Gribbons, at C) to as low as tenth (Saleh, at E).
In ninth was the USA’s newest and youngest international dressage horse, Rosamunde, who finished on a score of 75.879. The experienced Steffen Peters (who won the World Cup Dressage Final in 2009 aboard the legendary Ravel) said his goal was to give the 10-year-old Rhinelander mare (Rock Forever x Fidermark) a good, solid experience to build on in the future. But it certainly wasn’t a beginner’s choreography: With a degree of difficulty of 9.4 and choreography including steep half-passes and transitions from canter pirouettes directly into piaffe, Peters wasn’t babying the talented mare. It is evident watching “Rosie” that she will grow into her astonishing ability to “sit” behind; currently she can get her hind legs so far underneath herself that she can “pedestal” in the piaffe and have some difficulty getting out of it.
Peters promised a surprise in today’s freestyle, and it came toward the end of his test, when the strains of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” and Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” rang out for the final piaffe/passage work. Fans of a certain age will recognize the music as from Peter’s championship freestyle with Ravel, and it served as a nice coda to the new music, which included a vocal passage from Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Afterward, Peters said he hadn’t been entirely happy with Rosie’s trot music, and so he decided to replace it with the portion of Ravel’s music inasmuch as it suited Rosie so well.
But today was Isabell Werth’s day to shine, and the German Olympian got the party started early when she playfully sprayed Hester and Graves with sparkling wine while on the podium—then took a deep pull from the bottle, gave drinks to her podium-mates, and then gave each of the horses’ grooms a swig.
“This night I think we will have [a party]!” Werth said afterward at the press conference. She had effusive praise for Omaha, World Cup Finals organizer Lisa Roskens, and the entire event; so it looks as if the USA has a lot to celebrate right along with the German champion.