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Irrational Exuberance – Charlotte and Valegro December 23, 2013

Posted by mikeschaffer in competition, dressage.
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Let’s get something straight right off – Charlotte and Valegro won the recent world championships with a wonderful ride. There is no question about that. Had the judges given her a wonderful score that would have been fitting and unquestionable. But they gave her the best score of all time. They said it was the best freestyle dressage test ever done. Well that’s just loopy – and there is no question about that.

The fact is Valegro is an amazing horse with big, huge gaits. Not only that but he’s a saint for putting up with her pulling on his mouth once per stride. Sometimes CD pulled harder than others, but keeping her arms that straight with her elbows in front of her, every time she rocked her shoulders back (which was every stride) she caught him in the mouth. And he still performed beautifully. To put this in perspective, I honestly think Mathias Rath could ride him successfully – that’s what a trooper this horse is!

The musical portion of the ride (which I suppose should count in a musical freestyle) remains horribly amateurish. It’s not a musical program at all, just a collection of a few measures from each of the following:

The march from the Great Escape for every piaffe/passage
The theme of a James Bond movie for the trot ext.
Pomp and Circumstance for canter work
Some fanfare I can’t place
The bells for every canter pirouette
(and a couple of other bits here and there)

So you get few measures of one thing, cut poorly to another, back to yet another, repeated so there is never any “story” (for lack of a better word) which makes it difficult to accept the idea that she “interpreted” it well.

There were also serious technical errors that should have been marked harshly but apparently were not. The initial halt was not square and rather than a transition from halt to passage, he walked out of it and passaged from that. At about the 2:45 mark there was a transition that should have been canter to passage but had a momentary halt in there, further along there was a transition from walk to canter that had a trot step snuck in.

The pirouettes were large, the piaffes moved forward, and there was some uneveness in the passage and changes of the sort that indicates stiffness or resistance on one side rather than soundness issues. Even with these problems, it’s still a great test. But how do you look past these and decide it’s the best of all time?

Well the judges did make that claim so I thought I’d put this in some historical perspective and look at an 86% winning ride from just a few years ago, Anky on Salerno at the 2006 WEG.

While watching this notice that the initial halt was square and transitions cleanly to passage. Salernos piaffes were on the spot his passages even. The canter pirouettes tight, the transitions throughout were not only technically pure, but done exactly on the correct musical moment. The music of course reflects the fact that somebody gave a damn and put together a program of a quality you would expect at the world championship level. I don’t think that’s too much to ask!

And finally, and this is very important, notice that Anky also rocks her shoulders back every stride. However, because her elbows are back and bent, she is able to open them in time with her motion so she does not bang Salerno in the mouth once per stride. As a result she gets a near perfect performance from a very sensitive Salerno who is not as forgiving or as gifted a mover as Valegro.

Here’s the link:

http://youtu.be/MPJGEzI3aIc

Mike

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Comments»

1. Whistle, Grin, and Ride - December 23, 2013

As a musical freestyle designer, I was a bit surprised that they pieced together a bunch of excerpts as you listed, unlike having real musicians create something that flows with consistent instrumentation, allowing the choreography to tell a story. The music in a freestyle is supposed to enhance the horse and rider performance. I have been to freestyle competitions where literally 1 chord, droning on for 5 mins. and merely adjusted in tempo for all gaits, actually took a top placement. This proves something that I have come to believe of how the music aspects of musical freestyles are judged——–they’re not. As much as the rules state otherwise, it really doesn’t matter one whit.

2. Josephine Lavage - February 25, 2014

Funny how anything negative or critical gets wiped from the comments!

mikeschaffer - February 25, 2014

No Josephine, Not funny or mysterious. I simply don’t approve comments that don’t address the content of the article. For instance, in your previous comment, which did not get approved, rather than take issue with any of my observations or conclusions, you simply state I must be an “armchair critic.” That adds nothing to the conversation and strongly suggests you lack the knowledge of dressage to be capable of making a lucid remark. So, unless you can figure out how to justify fantastic scores for piaffes that move forward, pirouettes that are large, transitions that are sloppy and the other issues mentioned, please spare me the trouble of having to hit the “trash” button.

Thanks for your cooperation,

Mike

3. Josephine Lavage - February 25, 2014

Mike thanks for your reply. In the first reply I left I think there were some very valid points but it got wiped! So to address your critique, it seems to me that you see everything as negative. Charlotte has trained the horse from scratch, it is she that has developed his power and he is only the second horse that she has trained to GP. The use of her shoulders is the half halt and her hands are always forward towards the mouth. The straight arms are not classical but that assists her core. Salinero never halted in any test I saw! His hind legs were never connected and he was not over a swinging back a true sign of his training, roll kur. Happily Valegro is not trained in this way as he is trained by the best in the world Carl Hester and since this test you are dissecting they have improved even more.

Josephine Lavage

mikeschaffer - February 26, 2014

Hi Josephine,

So to address your critique, it seems to me that you see everything as negative.

In my first paragraph I pay tribute to what a very good test it is – however it’s not the best test ever, not even close. There were just too many objective technical flaws for that score. So because the judges over scored it I was pointing out a few of the reasons why I thought that.

Charlotte has trained the horse from scratch, it is she that has developed his power and he is only the second horse that she has trained to GP.

True and admirable, but irrelevant in terms of judging a test.

The use of her shoulders is the half halt and her hands are always forward towards the mouth. The straight arms are not classical but that assists her core.

I’m afraid that’s simply not true. The straight arms do not strengthen or assist her core, they weaken it. This is why straight arms are not classical – it’s not an appearance issue, it bio-mechanics and plain old vector forces. If you want to “feel” this from the ground you can learn how with my little booklet:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AO7E4X8

It’s very short (and only $0.99). As for the half-halts, they should not be done with the hands in the first place. Worse, because she’s got straight elbows they cannot be and are not elastic.

Salinero never halted in any test I saw! His hind legs were never connected and he was not over a swinging back a true sign of his training, roll kur.

And yet he went to 3 Olympics, won 2 individual Golds, put in a very respectable 80 something percent ride at the ripe old age of 16(?) at his last. How do you explain that? (And when you’re done with that, please explain why I’m not supposed to criticize CD because I’m not competing on the world stage, but you get to criticize Anky and you don’t even have a lower level video of your riding on the net? Just saying…)

Happily Valegro is not trained in this way as he is trained by the best in the world Carl Hester and since this test you are dissecting they have improved even more.

His scores have continued to rise, but honestly I think his performances have been declining. This isn’t the first time judges have lagged behind reality on a big name horse. As for the rest, you put up a good fight for your home team.

Nice talking with you Josephine.

4. Josephine Lavage - February 26, 2014

I certainly do have competition results at advanced level and I am also a judge up to Intermediare I I critiqued Salinero to show the flaws in your argument, it was ok for judges to mark him up despite his way of going being totally incorrect and yet a horse that is so correct makes small errors in an otherwise high quality performance and you choose to take it to task. The quality of the way of going is first and foremost in a judges mind when judging and should not be taken in with leg movers as many judges were at the time of Salinero. Good horsemen always look to the hind leg first as without engagement there can be no collection nor expression, I would also add look to the harmony.

mikeschaffer - February 26, 2014

Josephine, I’m afraid this conversation has degenerated into the standard, fairly mindless, Anky hater nonsense. This will probably end it.

I certainly do have competition results at advanced level and I am also a judge up to Intermediare I

I didn’t ask for competition results – I pointed out there is no video of your riding on the net. That tells you something in this day and age. Nor do you turn up on any list of dressage judges or professionals I could find. In all honesty this along with the total lack of specificity in your comments is… curious.

I critiqued Salinero to show the flaws in your argument, it was ok for judges to mark him up despite his way of going being totally incorrect

But you didn’t “critique” Salinero. You pointed out his halts were an issue and he isn’t built uphill. In terms of a technical critique or response to the list of attributes I mentioned in his favor, you said, “ew, icky.” Hardly interesting or what one would expect from a judge.

yet a horse that is so correct makes small errors in an otherwise high quality performance and you choose to take it to task

You see why I’m ending the conversation here – the list of objective technical faults in that test do not amount to “small errors.” You don’t or can’t address them so we’re back to a dull, boring shouting match. No point to it.

The quality of the way of going is first and foremost in a judges mind when judging and should not be taken in with leg movers as many judges were at the time of Salinero.

Standard railbird silly speak. For a horse to have the perfect transitions (generally, Salinero also did them in exact sych with the music) and maintain the rock steady tempo within a gait from collected to extended and throughout lateral work and around corners the way Salinero did, he MUST have a supple swinging back. There is absolutely no other way that can happen.

Valegro has no tempo at all. He does collected work in one tempo, extended gaits get faster and slower, lateral work is something else yet again. This is not my subjective opinion, I’ve counted the time between hoof beats in freeze frames. This is a absolute red flag that there are serious basic problems. It also explains why the music is such a horrid patchwork quilt. He can’t be ridden to music because music has tempo. So they play a lot of different bits and pieces of music with different tempos to cover it up.

Good horsemen always look to the hind leg first as without engagement there can be no collection nor expression, I would also add look to the harmony.

Knowledgeable horsemen look at the entire horse and movement first. You claim there’s no engagement therefore no collection but it’s Salinero that does the perfect transitions into and out of the piaffes, does them in place with the forefoot coming to mid-canon and rear feet to the ankle. No he doesn’t sit but he isn’t built to. Yet Anky has him doing piaffes to near technical perfection and Vallero wanders.

So Josephine, I hope now you see why I trash messages that don’t address the articles, have no useful content or show any good technical arguments for one side or the other. How boring. It’s also an incredible waste of time since it’s far less that 1% of readers that send in this silliness.

I’m also disappointed, for a brief moment I thought we could have a useful technical discussion, but I guess it’s not going to happen.

Mike


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