In the men’s competition, the surprise of the day was Heppler of Switzerland, who bested Germany’s Heiland by a hair with a new Dr. Strange theme on Monaco Franze.
Even with an initial bit of disharmony with the horse, Heppler was able to finish on top, thanks to his challenging choreography and incredible height on his dismount.
Heiland, also on Monaco Franze, performed a War Horse-themed programme, full of equally difficult movements. His emotional performance highlighted his tremendous flexibility, as well as his strength and ability to work in concert with his horse.
Heiland’s rivalry with Heppler has certainly been taken up another notch after their respective showings in Madrid.
Coming in at third, Balazs Bence of Hungary on Hot Date Tek (sharing horses is a common practice in international vaulting) gave the crowd-pleasing performance of the day.
His old-time circus theme played to the audience, while his lanky frame seemed made for his cartwheel and tricky one-footed dismount; a fantastic showman utilizing every moment of his one minute, twenty seconds in the ring.
Francesco Bortoletto of Italy, on Rosenstolz, finished fourth with a score of 8.067, with high artistic scores for his dramatic interpretation of classical music. As a lunger for the Italian junior team, Bortoletto is gifted at working with his horse for a harmonious performance.
Two American vaulters rounded out the men’s competition, which will see the addition of Australia in subsequent legs. Kristian Roberts took a fifth place finish with a score of 7.466 on Dante, while countryman Daniel Janes, also on Dante, ended sixth with a score of 6.541.
Both Americans showed how tough the level of competition will be this season for the top-ranked vaulters. And with both men using Dante, who was slightly spooked at the start of Janes’s programme, the importance of veteran lungers like Nelson Vidoni, who managed to settle Dante, can’t be underestimated.
If Madrid is any indication, FEI World Cup Vaulting will see an exciting series, as gymnastic and equestrian skills are put to the test together in the five upcoming legs leading to the March finals in Dortmund, Germany.