Look, they're standing in order of height! photo by Keara

Look, they’re standing in order of height! photo by Keara

Okay, I don’t mean to sound glib here, but did anyone ever really think any other horse/rider combination was going to win this thing other than Charlotte and Valegro?  Before you start calling for my head on a platter, let me explain.  I’m a jumper rider, and I’ve gone on record before as saying I’m not the most educated dressage fan out there.  But sometimes when you know the least about something it’s easier to spot the difference between the great and the truly exceptional.

An there certainly was great dressage at yesterday’s 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final yesterday. It was the Freestyle class, which is a crowd favorite and something even someone completely unfamiliar with dressage can appreciate.  When I was on my way to my seat in the media section I heard someone in the concourse tell a friend that the freestyle class is like watching good dancing, except the partners are horse and human.

The horses were much more relaxed in Saturday’s Final than they were in Thursday’s class, as they’d had a chance to become accustomed to the electric atmosphere in the Thomas & Mack Center.  Several of the horses that went early in the class had some very nice rounds: Denmark’s Agnete Kirk Thinggaard led early on and was clearly very pleased with the effort from her partner, the very handsome 12 year-old bay gelding Jojo Az.  Germany’s Fabienne Lutkemeier entered the ring shortly thereafter and she and the chestnut Oldenburg gelding Qui Vincit Dynamis showed a very solid test to some powerfully dramatic music.  They had a couple miscommunications but were good enough to take the lead from Thinggaard.

Verdades, aka "Diddy", admires himself on the Jumbotron. - photo by Keara

Verdades, aka “Diddy”, admires himself on the Jumbotron. – photo by Keara

Then Denmark’s Mikala Munter Gundersen and My Lady came into the ring.  The pair had a very successful winter season in Wellington, FL, and they came to Vegas on a roll (no pun intended). My Lady is a very impressive-looking mare who looks like she knows she’s an eye-catcher, and she and Gundersen entered the ring to  Morcheeba’s “You Can’t Keep a Good Girl Down.” They continued to a very snazzy jazz medley that fit the mare to a “T” and had the audience clapping along during the final trip down center line. They scored a 75.018 and moved into the lead.

Sweden’s Malin Hamiltonand the drool-inducing dark bay gelding aptly performed their crowd-pleasing freestyle to a medley of songs from Fleetwood Mac. The adorable Mister X and his Russian rider Inessa Merkulova also  had the crowd riding along with them; the dark bay gelding is a little ball of adorable and looks as if he aims to please his rider with everything he does.  I thought their test flowed very nicely, he has a super extended trot and gorgeous piaffe/passage work,  and they also had the crowd clapping along with them as they finished up to the tunes of the Beatle’s “Lady Madonna.”

Next into the ring were Morgan Barbançon Mestre and Painted Black.  At 23, Barbançon Mestre was the youngest rider in the field, and her partner, at age 18, was the oldest.  They showed very powerful extended trots and flowing half-passes with nice crossover, some lovely one tempis and very solid piaffe and passage.  Painted Black tried his heart out for his Mom, and she rewarded his efforts and praised him effusively after they finished their test.  Her affection for him is visible and endearing, you can tell she absolutely appreciates how wonderful her boy is.

FEI World Cup Champions Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro  - photo by Keara

FEI World Cup Champions Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro – photo by Keara

Isabelle Werth followed Barbançon Mestre into the ring. I’m not sure if you can say Werth follows anyone, as she is absolutely the First Lady of dressage and a force unto her own.  She and El Santo danced to music that included popular songs from David Bowie and Queen.  El Santo saw boogey men by the judge’s booth at C and spooked, but Werth got him to come back to her quickly and moved on looking as if nothing happened.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Werth has ice water in her viens, she’s that cool under pressure.

And this is where things get difficult,  as I needed to leave to catch my plane home.  AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH! I was gutted about it and cried as I watched Charlotte and Valegro via FEITV live while on the rental car shuttle to the airport.  I cried because I was missing it and because they were so unbelievably good. (You can imagine the looks I got from the other passengers on the shuttle.) Are there any superlatives that haven’t been said about this pair?  The choreography to the music from How To Train Your Dragon beautifully showcases Valegro’s piaffe and passage work, as well as his powerful extensions and tempi changes. “Blueberry” seemed to enjoy the atmosphere in Vegas, and while they were just under their World Record mark from Olympia, I doubt anyone in the crowd cared.  Fellow HJU blogger Cheryl texted me after they finished and her text was three simple words that summed things up: “Oh my GOD!”  I tried calling her, but we couldn’t hear each other over the noise of the crowd’s cheering.

Edward Gal and Glock's Undercover. - photo by Keara

Edward Gal and Glock’s Undercover. – photo by Keara

Poor Edward Gal had to follow Charlotte (as if you could really say “Poor Edward Gal.” The man rode Totilas, for heaven’s sake.)  Glock’s Undercover was a lot more relaxed this second time in the arena, and it looked like Gal was able to ride him more and ask for more brilliance.  In an earlier interview Gal noted the crowd noise and clapping was disconcerting for his horse, but that the crowds watching and clapping during the schooling had helped him become more comfortable with the noise level, and that was evident in the horse’s freestyle performance and his score,84.696.

Steffen Peters and Legolas 92 were after Gal, and despite the fact that they did a crowd-pleasing test, the big news is that they were eliminated for a small spur mark left a small amount of blood on Legolas’ sides that was visible during the post-round vet check.  FEI rules are unequivocal on this, any amount of blood visible equals elimination, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Last to go were Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and the equine supermodel Unee BB. The Gribaldi son had a few early bobbles, but came back and gave von Bredow-Werndl his all afterwards, scoring 80.484.

The handsome Unee BB and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl - photo by Keara

Unee BB and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl – photo by Keara

There were a lot of super dressage performances in the Thomas & Mack center this week, but as anticipated, Dujardin and Valegro took the level to as close to perfection as it may ever be possible to get.  As Gal said,  “When I started out, scoring over 60% was something, then it was 70% and then 80% – but now it seems 90 is the new 80! To come out on the top now you need near-perfection, and with the horses we have we can compete very close to perfection.”

And it would seem Dujardin will come away from Vegas with more than a trophy.  After she thanked sponsor Reem Acra for her generous support of the series, the designer replied,“I’m very happy to do it. And you know Charlotte that your wedding dress is coming from me!”