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A Night to Remember – FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final Musical Freestyle

Without a doubt the musical freestyle is one of the most popular equestrian spectator sports. The FEI Dressage World CupTM Final Musical Freestyle presented by Havensafe Farm was no exception. What a fun night for both riders and spectators. It was like a big party, and at the end of the night, personal bests were set, and Jessica von Bredow-Wendl (GER) and TSF Dalera BB won their second straight World CupTM on April 7 at the CHI Health Center Omaha. Nanna Skodborg Merrald (DEN) was second, and Isabell Werth (GER) was third. 

But there was so much more to this night than the top three.

Back-to-Back Wins for Jessica von Bredow-Werndl-Werndl

Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl (GER) and TSF Dalera BB. Photo credit: Amy K. Dragoo

Jessica von Bredow-Werndl (GER) and the mare TSF Dalera BB danced to a French music medley. The music was both light and powerful suited the mare perfectly as she was also somehow light and powerful. 

“And it’s a nice coincidence that the Olympic Games are in Paris,” she said. “I always love Dalera’s piaffe, and I so love the music and then at the end, I always get goosebumps. And I did it again, especially going down the last centerline. It was amazing.”

The Trakehner mare’s balance and straightness were nearly faultless. The horse can go from an extended canter to a canter pirouette seamlessly. The pair made it look easy.

“We are like soulmates,” von Bredow-Werndl said. “She loves me as much as I love her, and it’s really like a dream I’m living with her. She’s so special, and I enjoy cantering through the forest as much as doing piaffe with her. She is just a such a special creature to spend time with.”

Their partnership is clear, and the judges appreciated their quality. They unanimously placed them first with an overall score of 90.482.

Personal Best for Nanna Skodborg Merrald

Nanna Skodborg Merrald (DEN) and Blue Hors Zepter. Photo credit: Amy K. Dragoo

Last to go, and following the popular ride from Steffen Peters, was Nanna Skodborg Merrald (DEN) and the 15-year-old Oldenburg gelding Blue Hors Zepter. Their partnership has only been together for four months, and this was their third competition together. 

They put together a powerful performance with music made for the horse. And powerful he was. “He was really on fire,” she said. “I had to be so careful all the way around. It was difficult to come back after the extended canter.”

Skodborg Merrald said it was the biggest success of her career so far. It was a strong performance that garnered a personal best score of 87.146 percent and second place.

Isabell Werth Enjoying the Moment

Isabell Werth (GER) and DSP Quantaz. Photo credit: Amy K. Dragoo

Perhaps the rider that had the most fun was Germany’s Isabell Werth riding DSP Quantaz. Their music was a montage of 80’s hits including Total Eclipse of the Heart, Holding Out for a Hero, Straight from the Heart, and It’s a Heartache.

Werth smiled and played to the crowd while executing a technically difficult freestyle that included double canter pirouettes, piaffe pirouettes and 22 one-tempis. The crowd came alive and cheered in appreciation of a legendary rider with nothing left to prove. She may as well have some fun. Her final score of 85.761 placed her third.

“I think it was his best freestyle so far,” she said. “I really enjoyed my ride. The crowd enjoyed it.” However, when asked what movements the 13-year-old gelding enjoyed the most, her answer was simply “forward and backward.” 

The Rave Horse

Steffen Peters (USA) and Suppenkasper. Photo credit: Amy K. Dragoo

Probably the most anticipated ride of the night was Steffen Peters and Suppenkasper. Peters, making his sixth World CupTM appearance, rode to the music that made him go viral during the Tokyo Olympics.

Peters said they tried to step up the program from Tokyo and tweaked the music at the end. “The crowd liked it. Mopsie liked it, and I liked it,” he said. Peters commented on how much the 15-year-old gelding enjoys the freestyle. “He matches the tempo of the music,” he said. 

The crowd’s energy built as the pair turned down their final centerline. At the end the crowd erupted, cheering their favorite. Peters could feel the love. “Yes, that was amazing,” he said of the crowd’s reaction. “Everybody was standing up, and I had my arms straight up in the air. I hope everybody could see how excited and happy I was. I’m so proud of Mopsie.”

Peters said it was “probably one of the best rides I’ve had with him.” Indeed, it was. The pair scored a personal best of 83.921 to finish fourth and was the highest placing American.

AnnA Buffini – Rider and Singer

AnnA Buffini and her own FRH Davinia la Douce gave a strong performance. Their music, which included the theme from the movie Top Gun Maverick and vocals recorded by Buffini herself for the walk tour, was quite moving. “I’m a singer as well,” she said. “I’m a worship leader, so to have my two passions come together is incredible.”

The music fit the mare’s personality and attitude well. “I hope they (the crowd) loved it as much as I did. We made this for them, and I hope we made them proud.” Buffini had a popular ride with a final score of 77.843 and a sixth-place finish.

Alice Tarjan Starts the U.S. Contingency

Alice Tarjan, another rider making her first World CupTM appearance, rode the 10-year-old mare bred in the U.S. by Maryanna Haymon’s Marydell Farm. They danced to a custom composition of music that complimented Serenade MF’s feminine, elegant stature. “I think it’s still a work in progress,” she said of her ride. “But I’m really happy the horse was super good like she always is.”

Their performance was clearly better than in the Grand Prix. There was no miscommunication in the piaffe today. She finished with a solid score of 75.207 to place ninth overall.

Unfortunate Withdrawls

It was a difficult World CupTM for some. The field of 17 dropped by three with the earlier scratches of Hermes and Franziskus to leg injuries. Then Torveslettens Titanium RS2, Marieke van Der Putten’s (NED) mount was withdrawn Friday morning due to a colic episode. The horses’ welfare is paramount, and we hope that they all recover quickly. It was, however, disappointing for the many dressage fans who had gathered to see them. 

The Joy of Dressage

The event was clearly huge for the riders making their first World CupTM appearance. There were quite a few of them as six of the 13 riders and the countries of Singapore and Lithuania were making their World CupTM debuts. In some cases, it seemed the scores were less important than the significance of competing successfully on the world stage in front of a well-educated and extremely appreciative dressage audience.

Singapore’s Debut

Caroline Chew was one of the riders making her World CupTM debut for both herself and her country of Singapore. With her 19-year-old gelding Tribiani, they performed admirably and were visibly thrilled after finishing. “It was hugely exciting,” she said of her ride. “We were nervous going in, but I just felt like he really grew into himself and offered me everything he had. I was really pleased with how he felt.”

Music Tells a Story

Justina Vanagaite (LTU) and Nabab. Photo credit Amy K. Dragoo

One of the best things about the musical freestyle is that the crowd gets a glimpse into the personality of horse and rider. And you know when the horse approves of the music. It just all fits. An excellent example was that of Justina Vanagaite (LTU) and Nabab representing Lithuania. The large, sturdy horse looked perfectly appropriate doing piaffe to the Emperor’s Theme from Star Wars by John Williams.

On their final centerline, Vanagaite rode the passage one-handed to the Ukrainian war song. “I’m supporting Ukraine with all my heart,” she said. “You can see it here [referring to a Ukraininan ribbon pined on her shadbelly]. You can hear it in my music.”

For full results, click here.

To read about the FEI Dressage World Cup Final Grand Prix, click here.

Writer’s Note

Like many of the riders, this was my first World Cup™. While I was there to do a job and report on the results, I must admit I watched the freestyle as a fan. I was nervous for the U.S. riders, and I got misty-eyed several times. Isabell Werth and Steffen Peters had freestyles that were so energetic and fun that you couldn’t help but get wrapped up in them. And maybe, just maybe, I’m a little biased because while I loved the top three finishers, I was disappointed that Steffen didn’t make the podium. But overall, from start to finish, it was a fantastic event. My appreciation goes out to everyone who made the night unforgettable.

Thanks to Vitaflex for our coverage of the 2023 FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final, including rider interviews, competition reports, photos, videos and more!⁣

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