I don’t doubt for a minute that the right horses and riders were on the podium after the European Championship Dressage freestyles on Saturday. After watching Adelinde’s ride, I wasn’t sure if Edward would beat her. Until I saw him. He did have a pretty significant mistake in the one tempis, but clearly the judges gave him enough tens for other things to compensate. And honestly, the world has never seen the likes of Totilas. With Edward aboard, it is nothing short of magic. When Anky went (and I think it was a wise choice to go back to the French music, which more clearly enhances Salinero and highlights the choreography than Wibi’s subtle piano score), I actually wondered if she could beat Adelinde – the judges weren’t sure either, and were divided on the ranking of the two Dutch ladies. Artistically, Anky is still the queen in my opinion, even if Salinero is no longer the greatest athlete on the block. The best German result was Matthias Rath, in sixth. I don’t remember ever seeing the Germans finish so far down the board. Sure, they were lacking stars due to the loss of a few heavy-weights this summer (would someone please give Hubertus a new wonder horse? I miss him!), but it still has to be heartening to the rest of the world after such complete domination for the past many decades.

I do think the judges found a new way to lose their marbles, however. I wonder if one of them would reply to my email asking whether they made a collective, conscious decision to use the full scale of marks more than they have ever done before. The scores at these Euro Champs were so much higher than any championship in history, it’s almost as revolutionary as if someone shaved a second off the world record in the 100 m sprint. It’s true that higher marks will help the sport’s public image (though not even three world records could entice the Queen to watch what was going on outside the castle window – she escaped to Balmoral for the week). I just worry that they forgot the word ‘moderation’ in Windsor. Edward set a new world record with a mistake in one of the key exercises at Grand Prix level. He received 95% artistically from two judges, and 94% from another. The mood and energy of the music suit the marvelous Totilas, and there are some musical transitions that work with movements to give an opportunity for interpretation marks. Let me put it this way: I enjoyed that freestyle more than others which had a matching beat but absolutely no emotional element (Laura Bechtolsheimer’s music comes to mind), but as long as the rules clearly state that the rhythm of the footfalls must match that of the music, Edward’s freestyle is entirely lacking in that regard. Entirely. As I said in my blog a few days ago, the FEI should consider changing the rules on extensions and lengthening of the frame, but I do not believe they should change the rules about the music’s rhythm. If Edward rode to music that matched Totilas’ gaits AND had the right dramatic mood, the effect would be out of this world. But where on earth could the judges go with the marks in that situation, given how highly they have already rewarded music that simply does not meet the basic rhythm criteria?

Here is another bit of evidence about what happened with the marks this weekend: if you compare Laura B’s ride in Windsor with that in Hickstead (to watch the Hickstead ride go to www.horsehero.com and it’s free to register), it’s blatantly obvious the performance in Hickstead was better, especially later in the ride. Alf got very close to the edge in Windsor, and started getting very deep in the frame as a result. And yet, the scores for the two rides are almost identical, suggesting that the judges really did decide to give a 9 where they would have thought ‘8’ before, and so on. Maybe this is good for the sport in the long run, but I also think there has to be some method to the madness. Or at least an explanation from the jury. They can’t just say it was the best ever, because in that case we would have to believe that almost every horse in Windsor gave the best performance of its career – and the law of probability is not in favour of that explanation.

Rather than give a blow by blow of something you can all watch for free on youtube or for $$ on FEI TV (and the on-demand video is still not up yet on FEI TV), I thought I’d organize my reflections by awarding some prizes of my own concoction:

1. best halt – Parzival – a long walk down centre line to the first halt is as hard as an entry gets, at any level. Adelinde absolutely nailed it. I hope she got a ten for that. I understand why she chose Wagner music – though Ride of the Valkyries is technically cheating, since it’s from Die Walkure, and not Parzival – but the music was not goose bump material. And that’s too bad because she and her horse definitely are goosebump-worthy.

2. worst halt – you guessed it, Salinero – there was no first halt, and when Anky headed into her final halt, she grabbed the right rein (I think it was the right one) and yanked Salinero’s head around to the side as she came to the halt. Maybe she feared a bolt or maybe it was a device to get him to park all four feet even just for an instant; but it was an obvious and deliberate action on Anky’s part all the same. I do love that music, and I do think most riders in Windsor could learn a thing or two from Anky about riding TO their music.

3. cutest horse – I love Digby from Denmark. He doesn’t have the flashiest trot, but he really looks like he wants to do his job and technically the performance was very strong, other than a weird spook in one trot sequence. Unfortunately, if I hadn’t written down that she rode to Westside Story I would not remember what Nathalie the princess-with-the-long-name’s music was. That is one of the few Broadway musicals I actually like, but the arrangement for this freestyle could only be described as boring.

4. naughtiest horse – also a finalist for cutest horse, Favourit – he really gave Tinne’s seat and nerves a test, with a spectacular blow up in the canter depart that just wouldn’t die down for most of the canter tour. Full marks to Tinne for keeping him in the ring and for finishing on a positive note. I don’t think Favourit likes his Grease music very much. He was one of a number of exciting new comers that I haven’t seen before. The bar has definitely risen this year when it comes to quality of horse flesh. Another young talent of note was Patrick Kittel’s mount, a ten year old by Solos Carex with a silly name that I can’t be bothered looking up. Patrick also wins the prize for best judgement on not overfacing his horse with choreography. The booby prize for that goes to Susanne Lebek, who nearly blew Potomac’s mind with her much-too-relentlessly-difficult pattern.

5. best tail – Augustin – another remarkable 9 year old, this fellow has a tail that matches the rest of his handsomeness. I think he’s one to watch, though I can’t remember anything about his music except that the beat matched.

6. worst rhythm violation – Carl Hester – not once did Liebling II’s Tom Jones music match his gait. The worst affront was the canter music. The passage music was close to matching, but for goodness’ sake folks – adjusting tempo when it’s only off by a few beats is one of the easiest parts of music editing!

7. most ripped off rider – Emma Hindle – possibly because she went so early in the evening, but I don’t think Matthias should have beaten her. I would almost venture to say Kyra shouldn’t have beaten her either, though after her small mistake in the two tempis, Emma did only a minimum number of ones, which would have cost her in the choreography, and possibly the score for the ones. Kyra did have a big mistake in a pirouette, but she had a second chance at it, which would have rescued her mark. I just love Lancet. He is such a genuine, generous horse. For any of you sloppy or crooked riders out there: Emma would make a great visual model to try and emulate.

8. strangest body movement – Matthias Rath – it was a kind of squirming, most evident in the pirouettes. I don’t know how else to describe it. His horse also had some strange moves, with very odd steps in the left trot half pass.

9. most tired horse – hands down, Whisper – he really did look pooped. Monica had to kick hard in the piaffe pirouette near the end. She wins second prize for rhythm violations, and first prize for lack of theme. Smooth Criminal and Pirates of the Caribbean? Well, I suppose you could call it the Peter Pan Syndrome freestyle.

10. longest horse – Max – I can only imagine how long he’d be if he didn’t have such a masterful rider. FEI TV zoomed in so the world could see that Kyra holds her curb rein on the outside, rather than the inside. I noticed there weren’t any one-handed displays on this occasion. Like Anky, she reverted to a tried-and-true program, which I prefer to the strange tunes she recently introduced but then put away again.

11. most patriotic judge – Eric Lette – I’m cheating a little here, because I’m referring to the team competition, not the freestyle. For those of you who don’t remember or didn’t know, Eric Lette was Mariette’s predecessor on the FEI DQ Committee. When Mariette took over, he seemed immediately to become persona non grata as a voice in the sport. Mariette goes away, and boom! He’s back on a championship panel. Funny, that. Anyhoo, back to my point. While he was DC chair, he was sometimes referred to as God. He would certainly still have that status with the Swedes, especially a couple of those in Windsor. Patrick Kittell, 12th in the GP team test, was ranked 5th by Lette who sat at C; he had 19th placed Minna Telde ranked 14th. He showed no love for Imke Schellekens-Bartels and Sunrise, though, putting her 25th, with a score 8% lower than Markowski, who ranked her 5th. But the plot thickens: the next day in the Special, Lette took a break and Markowski now sat in the god spot, at C. Lo and behold, he thought much less of Sunrise when seen from centre line, ranking her 11th with the lowest score of the panel. I sure wish that on-demand footage was up so I could see for myself what it looked like…

My FEI TV subscription paid for itself and more with just this one event. The live streaming worked splendidly, and the full screen option was surprisingly good resolution. Another totally cool thing about staying home and watching it on the web was that afterward, I could take all my new-found inspiration straight to the barn and ride later the same day. Now that they’ve conquered the MAC compatibility issues, perhaps they can turn their attention to a few things I am sure I’m not alone in wanting to see improved:

– teach your camera people not to zoom in on the horse’s head or rider’s hands during the tempi changes. Save the artsiness for other places, like when they go around the short side. We need to see the legs in the flying changes, please.

– get the on-demand video up more quickly. For those of us working stiffs who can’t stay up all night to watch live competition on Greenwich Mean Time, the live show wasn’t an option. Why not put the coverage up as soon as possible? It’s now two days after the freestyles are over, and the footage still isn’t up there. What up with that? We know you have the video, and you can’t see any of the event without a subscription, live or after the fact. It seems to me you are losing some subscription opportunities by not being quicker with the on-demand footage. Youtube is fast and free.

– no commentary please! I realize that the commentary is a useful benefit when you are trying to reach a public that doesn’t know much (or even anything) about dressage. But don’t forget your main supporters from within the sport. I would bet that the majority of people watching the Windsor dressage on FEI TV already know what a piaffe is, and whether a half pass had the quarters trailing. In the regular tests, I just mute the sound. But in the freestyles I am a hostage to the constant prattle which makes it at times almost impossible to hear the music. This is no slight on Richard – I know he is only doing what is asked of him, and at least his comments are relevant.  I don’t know who that Judy woman was, but she said some things that were just, well, dumb. You know what would be awesome for the freestyles? An option to watch the video without commentary. That way the newbies could choose the version with commentary and get told what to think, and the rest of us could enjoy the show uninterrupted by someone else’s opinions. I couldn’t watch the jumping and of course the on-demand footage from that isn’t up, but I did watch the video of Kevin Staut’s winning round from yesterday. The commentators were ALMOST SILENT through the round. I want some of that golden silence for the freestyles. Pretty pretty please?