For anyone enthralled with ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ I’m guessing they have not seen the real dancers. The Grand Prix Freestyle combination is a unique opportunity to watch a team of two unite to bring out the best of their performance when choreographed to the right music. And at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, this was the night when the individual final for dressage riders and horses had their chance to show why they truly are the horse version of this TV series.
While everyone in the Grand Prix Freestyle has to include all the same moves including the typical piaffe, passage, extensions, pirouettes and the more conservative walking, how they bring that combination together with music is nothing short of spectacular when it works.
In this final individual round that combination was German rider Jessica von Bredow-Werndl aboard TSP Dalera who scored 91.732 % to win the gold medal. While it was no surprise that a German dominated this final competition, it was surprising that this newcomer to the Olympic world took the victory ahead of 5-time gold medal winner Isabell Werth (89.657%).
When asked what it meant to know that the victory was hers, Jessica recalled the moment earlier in the evening when she had the feeling that for her this might be the night. “What I felt was that from the very first second to the very last second, [Dalera] was with me. She was incredible tonight.”
Isabell also felt as if she had claimed a victory with Bella Rose 2. In her explanation, she made it clear that victory comes in many levels, sometimes you have a horse that can win an Olympic medal and other times you are still in the process of getting to that point.
“I’m really happy today,” commented Isabell. “Bella was fantastic and I am satisfied. It was just a great feeling that the little mare performed that way.”
While it was expected that the Germans would dominate all three medals, it was clear once the final German, Dorothee Schneider’s and Showtime FRH entered the performance arena, that Showtimes was not his usual self and appeared very tired. A bobble in the pirouette where Showtime nearly stopped was the end of their higher marks.
Instead, that third place victory went to two-time Olympic gold medalist, Charlotte Dujardin, who scored 88.543.
“He has done only one other freestyle in his life. This is an incredible moment for me to be sitting here. I’m really proud of him,” said a clearly happy Charlotte.
There was no doubt before even watching the top 18 riders perform their own freestyle, that these would be the best of the best. Not only do the Olympic Games allow the very best to slide to the top, but the screening process used culls the original competitors in such a way that the end result are the best Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire combinations of human and horse rather than human to human. To watch how in sync the horses were with the music was incredible to watch.
While the two Team USA riders who did perform, Steffen Peters with Suppenkasper and Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo, did not make it into the medals, they still reached for the stars with great freestyles. At one point in Steffen’s ride his horse did a piaffe passage tour so in synch with every beat that it truly made you understand that horses feel the beat too.
Although the final 18 riders starting in the Grand Prix Freestyle got there because of their scores, once the Freestyle began the only thing left from their Grand Prix round was that they were competing in the reverse order of their original scores but this time the final results no longer existed as they were starting on a clean slate.
While everyone was looking forward to watching all 18 combinations, there was no doubt that the crescendo was really in the second half of the class and ultimately the last few riders. The first rider in the order was Canadian Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu, and those mentioned above were all part of the final group of six riders.
But then again, it is not only those who finish at the very top that captivate viewers, but it is often those who are competing for the same country. In our case, for the Grand Prix Special team competition the performances put in by Team USA were actually better than anticipated, when they garnered a Silver medal right behind the 15 time gold medal German riders. The performances put in by Steffen had definitely gotten their attention but it was their first time teammate Sabine Schut-Kery who had surprised many when she almost matched strides with the best in this class. As it turned out, Adrienne Lyle opted to withdraw Salvino from the class feeling that he was not quite up to another challenge especially before his flight home.
In the end, whether they were standing on the podium or just thrilled with their horse’s performance for the audience it was a chance to watch the true stars in Dancing with the Horses.