The Rio De Janeiro Olympic Story continued

by Heath Ryan | August 4, 2015

2nd June 2015

In the last column we discussed the beginnings of the Australian campaign towards the Rio Olympics. We discussed the characters as in the riders and of course the horses who are shaping up to be contenders for the Australian Dressage team and the Australian Eventing team. We discussed some of the tactics and pitfalls that these athletes will encounter and how unfair some of this will be. Heartbreaking actually and yet not really anyone’s fault. You do have to be crazy to be on this journey and courage and honour and the dream of representing Australia does come shining through in all of these characters about to be discussed. Most of all the passion and bond between horse and rider is special beyond description. This does make for the most fascinating and at times tragic spectating.

 

Dressage Riders first

Last month we studied the results of the Boneo Park Equestrian Centre dressage Grand Prix. We are only discussing the International Grand Prix classes as this is the class which will determine who makes the Australian team and who doesn’t! We spoke about the Bradgate Park International Grand Prix and the Werribee Park International Grand Prix. In all three classes Mary Hanna and Umbro were setting new Australian records smashing the 70% barrier. My feeling was that the Sydney CDI which was on May the 7th, 8th and 9th was going to see at least two more competitors follow Mary through that barrier. Fascinating was the fact that the biggest scores were being sprung off the private facilities namely Boneo Park and Bradgate Park where the surfaces of the dressage arenas were state of the art and the horses certainly did seem to respond.

Well Sydney CDI on the 7th, 8th and 9th of May was a bit of a disaster in terms of momentum and riders continuing to reach new heights. Just what we didn’t need at this point of time however life wasn’t meant to be easy and the whole group of Australian Grand Prix riders will regroup and challenge again. It takes more than this to stop an Australian on the charge and there were lots of new moves at Sydney which makes for interesting analysis.

The winner of the Grand Prix was Brett Parbery on DP Weltmeiser with a score of 69%. This was perhaps a little unexpected however Brett is such a perfectionist and does ride a beautiful test. Without doubt DP Weltmeiser is producing a better and better test. Throughout the whole competition there were very worrying discrepancies in the judging. There are five judges for this International Grand Prix dressage competition. Brett was marked first with one judge and eighth with another judge.

Second place getter was Mary Hanna on Umbro scoring 68.94%. Very close between Brett and Mary. Mary won with two judges and was seventeenth with one judge. The contradiction in Brett’s test of first and eighth does make you catch your breath. The contradiction in Mary’s test of first and seventeenth is a serious mistake.

Third place went to Judy Dierks and Diamond Star with a score of 68.7%. Again very close to both Mary and Brett. And it does have to be said ‘where the heck did Judy Dierks come from’ to be right up there at the pointy end? So far in all the International competitions this year Judy has not appeared. Now at one of the biggest shows in Australia Judy comes out of nowhere and seriously threatens the inform best riders. Not for a moment am I suggesting that she did not deserve to be in that position. Judy and Diamond Star were brilliant and have just added a new player to the Rio equation! Wonderful! Do we have anymore Grand Prix combinations in hiding out there biding their time to come in at the last minute and shock us all? This is a significant contribution to the building strength and momentum of the Australian based front running group of Grand Prix riders heading towards Rio. Judy had one judge who had her second as her highest placing and one judge who had her ninth. Not good!

Fourth place went to the New Zealand Julie Brougham on her little pocket rocket Vom Feinsten with a score of 68.26%. Holy smoke these top riders were close. Julie is seriously on the up and up and was here at the CDI last year where I do remember she did get a placing but certainly not right up at the pointy end as she did this year. New Zealand is having to make a very big effort and do come each year to the CDI to compete and they are producing, from a very small population of riders, some very impressive results. Julie had two judges who had her second and one judge who had her tenth. Clearly there is no real consensus with the judges.

Fifth place went to Kathryn Farrell on Luxor 118 scoring 68.2%. At the end of the day there was very little difference between the top placed riders. Luxor 118 is a beautiful horse and Kathryn is without question growing with each start. Goodness knows where this story will finish in terms of scores and performances by the time final Rio selections take place next year. Kathryn had two judges who had her third and two judges who had her ninth.

Sixth place went to me on Regardez Moi scoring 67.86%. As I said in the last column Regardez Moi will not be going to Rio simply because he is too old and I am scared he would not survive the rigors of the trip to South America and then home again. Never the less when he is on song he is very difficult to beat and he will continue to make his contribution to the building momentum of the Australian Rio selection campaign. Regardez Moi was first with one judge and thirteenth with two judges. The judging was very disappointing.

So as I said at the start here there are five judges and as you can see only three of them decided that first place was in the top six competitors. So who else in the field was awarded a first place?

Dirk Dijkstra on AEA Metallic was awarded first with one judge and fourteenth with another to end up in eighth place.

Maree Tomkinson on Diamantina was first with the final judge and thirteenth with another to end up in tenth place.

So what did happen with the judges? I am sorry but this just has to be discussed. At the big International shows in Australia the organising bodies just have to get the best judges currently in the world. The truth is, judging is an awful job and requires excruciatingly highly developed skills to produce accurate judging. The difficulty is that dressage judging is subjective and this is a whole topic on its own which we are not going to discuss right now. The judging list for Rio De Janeiro Olympics is already out and these are the judges that our top riders are desperate to get exposure to. We cannot afford to sponsor lesser judges from lesser countries, no matter how nice they are. Not only did this judging clearly produce questionable outcomes but it also really upsets the very delicate balance of our good Australian judges, not to mention our less established Australian judges. The scoring did just go everywhere at the CDI in all the classes. Not just the Grand Prix. If we are going to have a slightly lesser judge on the Grand Prix panel at these International shows then let’s make it an Australian and hope that in time to come that individual will respond to the opportunity and become a guiding light in the future. The reason we here in Australia often have a budget judging panel is that the expense of getting these judges to a competition is almost unaffordable for the organising committee. So judges that will pay some or all of their expenses are often prioritised by Australian organising committees. The cost of getting these judges can be as high as $100, 000!! For those of you interested in an accurate figure and budgeting you would need to approach event organisers like Fiona McNaught or Deb McNichol or Kathy Drury-Klein or CDI organiser Toni Venhause to mention just a few of these tortured souls. So what is the answer? In my opinion this aspect of the sport should be picked up by the High Performance panel of Equestrian Australia. Money spent here would not only benefit the organising committees but also be a direct benefit to all the top competitors on the Australian scene. It would also be money directed at Olympics and World Championships and so much more focused than some of the monies being spent by High Performance panels at the moment. This is a High Performance issue and should be recognised as such at Equestrian Australia level.

So the Dressage events coming up in the near future to watch for, which are International, include Melbourne on June 6th, Queensland CDI on the 16th to the 19th of July, and Boneo Park on the 25th-27th of September. Hopefully the competition organisers and Equestrian Australia can resolve the judging issue.

 

Now for the Eventers

Last month I did talk about the significance of our Australian riders completing competitions with scores below the 50 penalty mark. Certainly the German team has the potential to finish with a whole team below 40 penalties. At the moment the Australians would be lucky to get a whole team under 65 penalties and this just is not going to cut it! We have in the past been able to represent the cutting edge of the world which was clearly illustrated by the 3 consecutive team Olympic gold medals at Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000. This is a very difficult zone to be in but we as Australians can do this.

Picking up the story from our last column Camden CIC crashed across the competition calendar on the 18th and 19th of April. This event is driven by Shane Rose and his wonderful committee and his long suffering wife Nikki and charismatic personality Michelle Hasibar. The entries here exceed 700 competitors. Just about impossible for any mere mortal to organise. You have to see it to believe it.

Camden Cross Country was very tough, in my opinion too tough but I guess I am a little biased as I did fall at fence five. Didn’t really get that far around to test the whole course out! Again I am only going to deal with the 3* class. Please keep in mind this is a CIC so although International it does not really have great influence on selection. The big selection events are going to be CCI competitions or otherwise known as three day events.

The winner of Camden was Shane Rose riding Virgil. Shane did a dressage of 44.6 penalties, he had 12.4 penalties on the Cross Country and did Show Jump clear. Shane finished with 57 penalties. Certainly a score that would attract your attention.

Second place getter was Tim Boland and GV Billy Elliott. Tim won the dressage with 40.8 penalties. Very good score. However on the Cross Country Tim and Billy Elliot did incur 22.8 time penalties. This speed issue on the Cross Country is the only weak spot for this amazing partnership. Tim and Billy Elliott were clear in the Show Jumping. To finish with 63.6 penalties.

Third place went to Jessica Manson and Legal Star. This is the young event rider from Western Australia who won Adelaide three day event 4* at the end of last year on her little grey pony called Trumby the Brumby. His real name being Legal Star however it is rumoured that he is also part Brumby. Jess scored 59.4 in the dressage, had 22.8 time penalties in the Cross Country and was clear in the Show Jumping for a final score of 67.6 penalties.

Fourth Place went to the Queensland young rider Isabel English who in my opinion has a destiny to ride for Australia at the Olympics one day soon. She was riding Feldale Mouse who is also a little grey and is part Connemara. Isabel and Mouse scored 59.4 in the dressage, they had 12 time penalties Cross Country and 4 jump penalties in the Show Jumping. Leaving them with a total score of 68.9 penalties.

Fifth place went to Soigne Jackson riding her wonderful throughbred gelding Gold. They had a dressage score of 56 penalties. Cross Country they had 10.4 time penalties and in the Show Jumping they had 2 rails down for 8 jump penalties. They finished on 74.4 penalties.

There were 29 starters in this top class and only 13 finished. The Cross Country was too tough.

Camden is just two weeks before the Sydney three day event and ordinarily we would consider it a wonderful pipe opener in the lead up to Sydney. On this occasion it certainly tested everyone but probably did not contribute to a Sydney programme as a confidence booster.

Sydney three day event was the 1st,2nd and 3rd of May and was indeed a CCI event. The field ended up being quite small, only 8 actually started. I think some of the riders had been given notice by the Australian selectors that they were very likely to be included on the Australian Trans Tasman team to compete against the New Zealanders on May 14th to the 17th and so these Australian riders pulled out of Sydney with a view to saving their horses for the New Zealand three day event. I think also some of the seasoned riders felt Sydney was too early in the season and the horses were not fit enough and also I would think Sydney next year will be a significant selection trial but this year was too early. Anyhow the eventual winner was Elizabeth Lowery on KL Kismet. This combination is without doubt very tough and very reliable. Sydney three day event  turned out to be really wet and the going was sodden and deep and exhausting. Elizabeth scored 54.1 penalties in the dressage, had 9.6 time penalties Cross Country and had three rails down in the show jumping for twelve penalties. This was a better dressage score for Elizabeth, her Cross Country was brilliant  as always, and the three rails down was disappointing. KL Kismet is likely to have one rail down however the very tough and tiring Cross Country course does mean that some horses are much more likely to have rails down in a three day event or CCI than they are in an International one day event or CIC. In a CIC the Show Jumping is done before the Cross Country and this makes a huge difference to some horses. Some horses will Show Jump clear providing they can show jump before they go Cross Country. The same horse will have numerous rails down if they Show Jump after Cross Country. At the Olympics and World Championships the Show Jumping is always done after the Cross Country. This is why the Australian selectors will pretty well only select from CCI results. The Show Jumping format and the fact that in a CCI the Cross Country is a ten to thirteen minute gallop as opposed to a CIC which will have a six to eight minute Cross Country gallop.

Second place went to the Western Australian girl Makayla Wood on her Thoroughbred mare Early Days. Dressage score of 55.4 penalties. Absolutely brilliant Cross Country round for just 6 time penalties however a tragic Show Jumping round with five rails down and 20 Show Jumping penalties. A final score of 81.4 penalties.

Third place went to Kirsty Douglas from Queensland riding her Irish Sport horse Cushavon Crackerjack. A dressage score of 54.5 penalties. Cross Country was clear but 41.6 time penalties and Show Jumping was also clear but three time penalties. Kirsty and Crackerjack are spectacular to watch jumping over a fence. Total penalties 99.1.

Machaela Martindale was fourth riding Kinnordy Gatow. A dressage score of 67.3 penalties. Cross Country was clear with 25.2 time penalties and two rails down in the Show Jumping with 8 penalties left her with a final score of 100.5 penalties.

Fifth place went to myself and Aspire R. My dressage returned a score of 49.6 penalties. A run out Cross Country incurred 20 jumping penalties as well as 32.8 time penalties. Two rails down for 8 Show Jumping Penalties for a final score of 110.4 penalties.

The real tragedy at the Sydney three day event was Isabel English on her wonderful little grey horse Feldale Mouse. She had a dressage score of 52.6 penalties. She did a very good Cross Country round for 18.4 time penalties and was jumping a super tidy Show Jumping round until fence 7a where there was some sort of miscommunication and Mouse got tangled in the rails and Isabel fell off. Immediate elimination. This was genuinely super bad luck! At the time they had 71 penalties so you could speculate that had she gone clear which she usually does at this level she would have won. I know you can’t do that because everyone could have won if they had just had a little bit of luck but this was a heart wrenching moment for one of our young riders.

I don’t think Sydney three day event 2015 produced any results that are going to impact on the Australian Rio 2016 team. It may have contributed to the education and experience needed to produced a result in the near future which is a Rio consideration. Sydney 2015 will be remembered as a tough slog through very wet conditions on the Cross Country.

Taupo three day event is held in New Zealand each year and is often the site of the Trans Tasman competition. The Australian team was made up of Shane Rose on CP Qualified, Katja Weimann on BP Cosmopolitan, Jessica Manson on Legal Star and Isabel English on Feldale Mouse.

Shane Rose and CP Qualified were superstars taking out first place. Shane scored an amazing 35 penalties in the Dressage. He went clear Cross Country with just 1.6 time penalties and was clear in the Show Jumping. Shane finished with a score 36.6 penalties. Now that is a smoking score and is seriously a clear announcement that Shane and CP Qualfied are a threat to the individual gold medal at the Rio De Janeiro Olympics. This is the first indication for nearly 15 years that we have a rider or riders that are starting to cross ‘The Gap’ between us and the cutting edge riders in the World. It is always a difficult job to haul in the front runners but it is really important to remember that front running is even more difficult than the job in front of those trying to catch up. This is no time to feel sorry for yourself or be daunted by the task in front. All front runners are always eventually caught. We just have to make sure that the ‘Catchers’ are the Australians. Shane and CP Qualified are clearly in the middle of breakaway run to catch the front runners. It is really important that the rest of our Australian based eventing hunting pack tuck in behind him and we cross this gap together. We need to do this together.

Second place at Taupo was Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation. Clarke will be feeling shattered and robbed to not have won Taupo. His dressage score was 39.4 penalties which was pretty damn good. And guess what? He finished on his dressage score to end the competition on 39.4 penalties. This is huge and I think would have won Taupo three day event clearly in all history except for 2015 thanks to Shane Rose and CP Qualified. Never the less we do need to be warned, Shane Rose and CP Qualified are not the only ‘Catchers’ charging across the gap. Clarke Johnstone is obviously also on the attack! It is critical we get some more Australians in there with Shane.

Third place went to Diane Gilder and Your Attorney. Diane had a dressage score of 54.5 penalties. Was clear Cross Country with no penalties and had just 2 time penalties in the Show Jumping. Diane spent a few years here in Australia working for Blair and Nicky Richardson and I am pretty sure bought Your Attorney as an ex racehorse from Blair and Nicky. Diane finished with a score 56.5 penalties and certainly will have caught the attention of the New Zealand eventing selectors. It is my guess that Diane coming third was completely unexpected in New Zealand and it will be fun to keep a little bit of an eye on her. After all it is an Australian horse!

Fourth place went to another New Zealander Emily Cammock and her horse Shaw Lee. They finished on a score of 65.5 penalties.

Fifth place went to yet another New Zealander Abby Lawerance on Pseudonym finishing with a score of 66.5 penalties.

The next Australian to finish was Katja Weimann on BP Cosmopolitan. Katja had a dressage score of 47.1 which easily is her best test ever. (as far as I know anyway) Katja unfortunately had 20 jump penalties which means she had a stop or a run out. This is not at all typical for Katja. She also had 18.4 time penalties and a rail down show jumping added another 4 penalties to her total score of 89.5 penalties and 7th place.

Jessica Manson and Legal Star had a Dressage score of 52.5 penalties. Like Katja I would think that this is far and away her best dressage score and does auger well for the future. Jessica also like Katja had a run out or stop Cross Country for 20 jumping penalties. Again this is seriously out of character for Jessica and Trumby. They had 16.8 time penalties and in the Show Jumping had one rail down for another 4 penalties. Her final score was 93.3 penalties and 8th position.

Isabel English and Feldale Mouse are going through a tough time at the moment. They started well with 50 penalties in the dressage which is again a super duper score and I would imagine far and away the best dressage score they have ever produced.  Unfortunately a fall on the Cross Country meant they were eliminated. I am sure my commentary is completely unwelcome here but here it is. I personally cannot believe the Australian selectors asked or allowed Isabel to run Sydney three day event and then back up just under 2 weeks later at another International three day event. I know it is easy to be clever in hind sight but I was shocked as soon as I heard about this selection and indeed I did have this discussion with a number of other 3* riders at the time. I know I am old fashioned and come from the era when we did roads and tracks and steeplechase and the horses would take months to recover. However my horses still find the three day event tough enough and in an effort to keep them sound and able to enjoy competition with longevity I would always spell my horses for at least three weeks after completing a three day event. Personally I feel that taking Isabel to New Zealand after she completed the Sydney three day event was not in the best interests of Australia’s future or Isabel’s future. I am fully aware that I at the same age would have jumped at the opportunity and done the same thing that Isabel has done. I am however disappointed that the selectors did not take responsibility for the bigger picture.

At the time of writing Melbourne three day event was just around the corner and it did have a very interesting field with 23 starters in the 3*. For me the hot favourites will be Shane Rose on Virgil. Shane is obviously in the zone after his Taupo win and he will be out to have a final score under 40 penalties. This will make it very tough for everyone else.

The Australian one day event champion in Murray Lamperd and his horse Don Skipcello will now get a proper testing. There is no question as to how brilliant Murray is. Just a question as to how reliable he is and can he measure up to somebody like Shane who has launched an attack on ‘The Gap’. It would be a good thing for Australia if Murray measures up.

Christine Bates and Adelaide Hills will be feeling a bit miffed to have been left out of the Trans Tasman team and so I am sure that privately Christine will feel she has something to prove. Even without feeling she has something to prove Christine is a ferocious competitor. I am expecting Christine to be in the top 5 anyway.

All the way from WA comes the sheep farmer and competitor extraordinaire Sonja Johnstone. She is riding Misty Isle Valentino who I have never heard of but I am sure is capable of upsetting all the odds. Just never underestimate Sonja.

Stuart Tinney, the ultimate professional, is there on Warhawk. I am sure Stuart will jump impressively. The question is simply, can he extract a good enough dressage test from Warhawk.

The Victorian rider Will Enzinger is riding the New Zealand horse Britannica MVNZ. I know Will thinks this is a good horse so we will soon find out.

Recently Kentucky 4* three day event was run in the USA and Michael Jung won this event on his team Gold medal World Championship mare plus individual silver medallist Fisherrocana FST. They finished Kentucky on a score of 39.3 penalties.

Recently Badminton 4* three day event was run in Britain and the event was won by William Fox-Pitt on his World Championship Stallion who won an individual Bronze medal Chilli Morning. His finishing score was 39 penalties.

Can Melbourne throw up another Aussie combination that can finish under the 40 penalties? That is where the cutting edge is today. That is where our Rio team has to be pitching.

Cheers

Heath

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