The first half of the event saw many improved performances over Day 1, and it was clear the horses had sorted their nerves about the enormous arena.
Heading into the interim break, Sweden’s own Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén was in the lead on a score of 80.718 percent, having taken the first position from Ireland’s Judy Reynolds, who turned in a stellar performance on Vancouver K for 79.350 percent.
Silfvén had the crowd wild with appreciation for her one-handed pirouettes on Don Auriello and a crisp final salute right on the music.
Kittel thrills supporters
Sweden was again in the spotlight after the intermission, with the much-anticipated Freestyle programme from Patrik Kittel.
The big question was whether Delaunay OLD would stay with him, and indeed the connection was better on Saturday than with the previous day’s Grand Prix test.
With the crowd clapping in unison to the music of Guns N Roses, the pair made their way down the centre line to their final halt and a score of 82.464 percent and a new lead.
The next three riders tried to top Kittel in vain, but there were some lovely performances. Adrienne Lyle of the USA moved into second place for the moment with a score of 81.832 percent on Salvino, a personal best for her.
Graves rises to the occasion
Emmelie Scholtens and Hans Peter Minderhoud, both of the Netherlands, had lovely rides to scores of 80.782 percent and 80.286 percent, respectively, but it was Laura Graves of the USA who laid down a serious gauntlet with a score of 87.179 aboard Verdades.
Earning the first 10 on Saturday’s scoreboard for her left half pass, Graves showed off a beautifully relaxed Verdades giving one of his best performances that got more difficult as it progressed. The pair’s two changes were beautiful, as were their pirouettes, but would it be enough to hold off Werth?
“It’s fractions of points - it’s so, so close on the podium,” said Graves as she watched on. “It makes it so much more exciting.”
And exciting it was, as one by one the next riders looked for medals and new records.
Dane Daniel dazzles
Daniel Bachmann Andersen of Denmark, who won two World Cup qualifying legs, was in serious contention with Blue Hors Zack, scoring a personal best of 85.468 percent and moving into second place.
Andersen did an incredible job of maintaining consistent activity with Zack, especially in the piaffe, and completed a programme full of tricky tempo and dynamic shifts. His partnership with his horse is made all the more trusting in light of the fact that Zack is actually blind in one eye.
Up next, Kasey Perry-Glass of the USA moved temporarily into third, with marks of 84.975 percent, well earned after nailing her one tempi and not giving away a single point, even as her programme got more and more difficult towards the end.
Werth hits the top
The Swedish crowd were still clapping enthusiastically when reigning champion Isabell Werth and Weihegold entered the arena. Werth’s peppy programme made every move look easy, and her famous seamless transitions were as superb as ever.
Werth’s piaffes were in keeping with her nickname of the “Piaffe Queen,” but she did make one error in her single changes. Would it cost her the top podium position?
“It was a little mistake, but the rest was really perfect,” said Werth. “Just one mistake of mine, but she deserves 90 percent,” she added, referring to Weihegold’s attentive and expressive execution of the programme.
Luckily for the German duo, the rest of the performance more than compensated for the mistake, and with a score of 88.871 percent, Werth took over a commanding lead.
But Werth’s countryman Helen Langehanenberg was still left to ride, and the medals were far from decided.
Langehanenberg, the 2013 FEI Dressage World Cup™ champion in Gothenburg, was hungry for a win. Damsey’s gorgeous extended work in a programme with a high degree of difficulty stood out, right down to the final canter to the finish. So caught up in the excitement was he that Damsey halted nearly on top of the judge at C, to no small amusement from him and the spectators.
“He was so energetic,” enthused Langehanenberg, describing the moment. “When the audience started clapping, I really had no idea how to stop!”
Damsey’s energy and smooth tempo changes held him in good stead, and the pair were rewarded with a score of 86.571 percent, propelling them into third place and thrilling Langehanenberg.
“There are no words, to be honest. I always believed in this horse, and I have a special relationship with him. It was fun. I went in and said, ‘Just enjoy.’ Do it with Damsey and do it for us. When we enjoy it, the audience enjoys it, and hopefully the judges as well.”
In the end, Daniel Bachmann Andersen had to settle for fourth place, but as a young, up-and-coming rider, there are certainly World Cup medals in his future.
It was a great day for the Americans, with Perry-Glass taking fifth place and Lyle coming seventh. The Swedes were happy as well, seeing home athletes Kittel in the sixth-place slot and Silfvén in ninth. Rounding out the top 10 were Scholtens in eighth place and Minderhoud in 10th.
The Dressage world will surely see more from other nations breaking into the World Cup circuit, with exciting performances from Russia, Belarus, South Africa, and the Dominican Republic.