The small city of Blainville, located just north of Montreal, was treated to an evening of world-class dressage competition with the 10th annual ‘Musical Freestyle Extravaganza’ on Saturday night, June 30.
The grande finale of the CDI3*-W Blainville Dressage International held June 27-30 at the Blainville Equestrian Park, the ‘Musical Freestyle Extravaganza’ proves just how popular dressage can be. 1,400 tickets are sold for the grandstand seating at $15 each, and two VIP Tents with tables seating six are sold out by April each year. In total, more than 2,500 people pack the Park for an evening of equine entertainment.
With its electric atmosphere, the evening is also a favourite among riders. As Ashley Holzer, who has competed in venues all over the world noted, “People talk about Devon being the place to show at night but Blainville is even better. It is great that they build a show just like you would find in Europe. You can bring your family and friends, and they are really treated to a real night of entertainment. Blainville is my favourite show.”
Holzer had even more reason to like Blainville after riding away with a decisive victory in the Grand Prix Freestyle. Having suffered disappointment in Thursday’s Grand Prix when Pop Art failed to cooperate in the piaffe to place third overall with 66.375%, the 10-year-old chestnut Dutch Warmblood gelding was in a much more willing mood on Saturday night. Demonstrating high quality gaits that included impressive piaffe and passage, Pop Art showed himself to be a gifted Grand Prix horse and Holzer showcased his strengths to music from the Epcot Center Fireworks show at Walt Disney World, compiled by Canadian freestyle designer Karen Robinson. Holzer was rewarded with a score of 77.200%, the highest ever given in the ten-year history of Blainville’s ‘Musical Freestyle Extravaganza’. One of the five judges, Canada’s Elizabeth McMullen, even went as high as 79.500% in her mark.
“He was a little overwhelmed at the beginning, he has never seen anything like this before, but he settled down and did his job,” said the Olympic Bronze Medalist who purchased Pop Art as a six-year-old. “I would love to go to the Olympics with this horse. It would be a huge feat on an 11-year-old horse, I understand that, and I am very aware of his welfare. My primary goal is to keep him happy and healthy.”
While Holzer’s test was technically very strong, Jacqueline Brooks gave her former employer a run for her money with a highly artistic performance set to music from the feature film, ‘Alexander’. In a fluid, forward ride void of tension or resistance, Brooks had Gran Gesto, a 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Anne Welch and Brinc Ltd., on her side as they negotiated their program, which included an extended canter into a one and a half pirouette and strong transitions from passage to piaffe and back to passage again. Their final score of 75.300% was the highest they have ever received in CDI Grand Prix Freestyle competition.
Nova Scotia’s Cheryl Meisner, 25, rose to the occasion in Blainville, having spent the winter training and competing in Europe with Bert Rutten. Meisner and Paginini, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion, were animated and active and had interesting choreography set to music by Croatian pianist, Maksim, to earn a score of 68.700%. Close behind in fourth with 68.050% was Cindy Ishoy and Proton whose Freestyle features music from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ as well as ‘Candy Shop’ by rap artist 50 Cent.
Tina Busse-Irwin and Nancy MacLachlan were evenly matched in the Freestyle. Unfortunately, communication issues between Busse-Irwin and Amicelli, her leggy chestnut Holsteiner gelding, cost her points during her Tina Turner and Lionel Ritchie freestyle for a total score of 64.550% to stay just ahead of Canadian Dressage Team veteran MacLachlan whose Spanish-themed freestyle highlighted the passage and piaffe of her Ukrainian-bred gelding, Ariston, to earn 64.400%.
While Brooks settled for second in the Grand Prix, she and Balmoral, an eight-year-old Canadian-bred gelding, were the clear winners in the Intermediaire Freestyle. Brooks was flawless in executing the choreography of her freestyle program, which featured a very high degree of difficulty including an elevated, ground-covering extended trot and three tempi flying changes on a 20-meter circle. Set to the soundtrack of the feature film ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ by Kurboom, Brooks did her music justice with a brave and daring ride, and had the crowd so wrapped up in emotion that they almost expected Captain Jack Sparrow to appear on the centerline for the final salute. While a cameo by Johnny Depp surely would have guaranteed her marks of ’10’, Brooks still received scores of ‘9’ from the judges for a final percentage of 76.000%. Stephan Clarke, President of the Ground Jury, remarked that Brooks’ performance was a perfect example of how the freestyle is meant to be ridden, with the rider truly interpreting the music.
“When a horse puts everything that he has into the test like that, it is amazing,” raved Brooks, who also won the Prix St. Georges with 70.950%. “He was happy and comfortable in front of that many people. It is wonderful to have a partnership like that.”
Of the 13-horse starting field in the Intermediaire Freestyle, for which riders have to qualify from the Prix St. Georges (which had 23 entries) and Intermediaire I (20 entries), four were Canadian-bred. In addition to Brooks’ Balmoral, other Canadian-bred horses included Liz Steacie’s Mikayla, whose well-ridden rock and roll program saw them finish fifth with 66.700%, Ute Busse’s Dover’s Finest who is by Eastern Ruler, and Alan Young’s Canadian Sport Horse mare, Stella, who is by Sue Ockendon’s flagship eventing stallion, Espiritu.
Canadian Olympian Belinda Trussell, who is showing Grand Marnier at the small tour level for the first time this year, placed second in the Intermediaire Freestyle with a score of 71.350%. Their performance was harmonious and featured music that complimented the elastic movement of the horse.
“This is his first time in this type of atmosphere, and he was really with me and trusted me despite all of the people and all of the commotion,” said Trussell of the elegant 10-year-old chestnut Hannoverian gelding she and her husband, Mark, purchased as a two-year-old. “I love his personality, he is a character. He is the comedian of the barn, and he loves to work.”
After competing at the 2004 Olympic Games, Trussell took time off from her show schedule to concentrate on starting a family. Now that Matthew is two and Sophie is almost one, the busy mother is back on the international show scene with Grand Marnier, who is by Grand Cru.
Having spent several months last fall training with Finnish sensation Kyra Kyrklund, Gary Vander Ploeg of King City, ON, took third place with a score of 67.550%. Riding Cezanne, an 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding, Vander Ploeg, with his trademark showmanship, gave a classical and artistic presentation to edge out Quebec’s own Armand Volkenborg who placed fourth with a score of 67.150% riding Seigneur, a promising eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Jazz.
In its 10th anniversary, the level of competition was the highest yet, leaving spectators and competitors alike looking forward to next year’s edition of the Blainville Dressage International.