The Student and the Master: Watching Olympic Dressage With Obi-Wan

Candace Wade, a relative dressage novice, jotted down her commentary last week while watching the Olympic Individual Dressage Freestyle finals with her dressage expect friend … we’ll call her Obi-Wan.

Horse Inspection COUNTRY DAY 5 OLYMPIC GAMES RIO Dressage Individual . Grand Prix. BRA TAVARES de ALMEIDA Luiza Pic Richard Juilliart

Dressage Individual . Grand Prix.
Pic Richard Juilliart

My initial response to dressage and ballet had been the same — it’s pretty, but I didn’t get the rapture devotees radiate (then I experienced the Kirov Ballet). Now I would absorb high-level dressage with coaching from someone who would point out what I was seeing and what I should be seeing. The Kirov made me sweat and the Olympic Grand Prix Dressage Individual Freestyle Final made me cry.

I plied my dressage-guru friend, Obi-Wan (we’ll call her Obi for short), with fresh strawberry waffles and mimosas to watch the Freestyle Final with me and help me understand what to look for. Obi’s mentor was classically trained in Vienna – old school Vienna. In the age of color commentary and sound-bite snippets, here are our unfiltered thoughts: Obi’s classical training and my layperson’s sense of what looks balanced, effortless and … well, when a horse stumbles or a rider falls off I know something is wrong.

Cathrine Dufour and Cassidy (DEN)

Obi: Remember, the goal in dressage is to achieve steady consistency marked by purity in the gaits and definition of the movements. The freestyle allows riders to capitalize on their horse’s strengths, but all the required moves must be included.

CW: [slurps mimosa]

Obi: Cassidy’s piaffe looks unsteady and doesn’t show good flexion in the hocks. The half pass isn’t crisp: it lacks the appearance of two legs moving at the same time. He’s not truly pushing from behind.

Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados (GER)

CW: They’re coming into the freestyle in a very respectable fourth place.

Obi: Yes, this is a horse with presence, but he also looks to have a stiff hock, and that’s detracting from the overall performance here.

CW: He looks like he’s hopping at the pirouette.

Ovi: He’s dragging a toe — see? It makes him look like he’s working harder than he should be to complete that turn.

CW: Oh, but those flying changes look effortless. And that square halt!

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro (GBR)

CW: So, Obi, what’s with some of the spurring I’m seeing?

Obi: Well, watch this pair and you’ll see a difference. See her quiet hands? How she doesn’t need to be urging him forward all the time?

CW: He’s perfectly in time with the music! And I can see what you mean now in the half pass.

Obi: Yes. Now watch how that hind foot over-strides the front at the walk. See that?

CW: … Sure! [drinks more mimosa] Look at his happy skip!

Obi: … Yes.

Dorothee Schneider and Showtime (GER)

Obi: Ah, look at this piaffe! Note the triangle shape of the hocks fully engaged.

CW: Ooh, strawberry waffle. His neck looks very … elegant.

Obi: Actually, it looks overbent and the poll is not the highest point.

CW: [eats waffle]

Isabell Werth and Weihegold (GER)

CW: Oh, was that a misstep?

Obi: It was! Good eye. Now, she is having some nice moments of crisp syncopation, and this next piaffe is nice and steady.

CW: Kind of a clumsy transition there.

Obi: True. And this pirouette looks a bit flat.

Severo Jurado López and Lorenzo (ESP)

CW: This pair. The pizzazz!

Obi: I agree. This horse’s transitions in and out of gait are seamless; he’s covering ground in his extended trot. that early piaffe was springy with balanced and loaded hocks, though there was a little bobble when he got almost too engaged —

CW: The one-handed passage!

Obi: — the angle in his hocks match; his legs cross over nicely in the half pass —

CW: That pirouette!

Obi: — the elevation of his forequarters and the lowering of his haunches make that pirouette look bright. Don’t you agree, Candace?


Want to catch up on full replays of the Olympic equestrian events? They’re all available at NBC Olympics online with a paid cable subscription, so you too can pour yourself a mimosa and kick back to relive the magic.

Go riding!

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