Long-Distance Gratification

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I still haven’t recovered from the USDF Convention in Las Vegas two weeks ago – well maybe the convention but not the cigarette smoke that invaded the ventilation of the casino hotel or the sinus infection I’ve had ever since. Thus I wasn’t about to head out for any holiday activities last weekend, so I curled up with my computer, my puppy and my kitty to watch the Festival of Champions Grand Prix Freestyle from Wellington, Florida, on Saturday night. I’m hugely impressed that this service is available free on USEF Network.

Spike the Cat watches Steffen Peters and Rosamunde with me during the Festival of Champions freestyle broadcast.

Spike the Cat watches Steffen Peters and Rosamunde with me during the Festival of Champions freestyle broadcast.

I am still rather amazed by seeing dressage live at home, much less instant scores and placings on my computer for most shows or videos on You Tube the next day. We used to get schooling show results a month later by newsletter or recognized-show results within a couple weeks via Chronicle of the Horse. If you made the Late News in the Chron a week after the show it meant you’d won a championship and was a Big Deal.

I was a bit dismayed by what appeared to be a sparse crowd in attendance at the Festival, especially when compared to the enthusiastic crowd at the World Cup in Vegas back in April. Of course, thousands more were like myself, watching it at home or will be able to review the rides online. Watching a video is great if you can’t be there, but it also changes your impression of the horse in a lot of ways.

I feel that a video of a ride rarely looks as good as watching the horse live except, of course, that you can see the horse really up close, which isn’t always possible live. The impression is flattened into two dimensions and there is no peripheral vision. You really don’t see the whole horse, because the camera chooses what you will focus on. Therefore, an expressive horse will look less so than in real life, and small mistakes seem heightened.

Laura Graves had a lot of miscues in her freestyle on Verdades that were easy to spot (she scored 75.125% to Steffen Peters with 77.675% on Legolas but won the overall championship). What was harder to see, because I wanted a longer view from the camera at times, was the overall quality and expression of her horse’s gaits, and that was part of what kept the score as high as it was. I really appreciated the commentary by Kathy Connelly on the USA Network broadcast, informative but not distracting from the performance or the music. It was also cool to hear her commentary and see the individual movement scores when I went back to the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special tests earlier in the week.

Later this week, I watched the winning freestyle by Carl Hester on Nip Tuck at Olympia in London, available on You Tube. (Hester scored 83.750%, winning over Charlotte Dujardin at 82.55% on Hester’s Uthopia.) Two tiny mistakes caught my eye, one a transition from canter to passage plus a slight loss of balance in a passage half pass, neither of them required movements and thus likely not earning a deduction. At the same time I was blown away by the overall quality of his seamless transitions throughout the performance, so I had to slap myself mentally to disregard the tiny oopsies. The intrusive BBC commentary made me really appreciate Kathy’s subtle voiceover on the U.S. Festival broadcast.

Hester commented later that he had packed the test with difficulty in his effort to win, which made the smoothness of the performance all the more impressive. Here’s his opening on the centerline, timed perfectly with the music: 1. Halt at D, to passage, to piaffe, to piaffe pirouette, to passage, to canter, to canter pirouette, to turn at C. Whew!!!

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