Postcard: 2017 FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final – Freestyle

April 1, 2017—She’s the best dressage rider on earth, and keeps on proving it. Germany’s Isabell Werth did not disappoint in taking the FEI Dressage World Cup freestyle this afternoon for the third time in 25 years.

“Today I felt it’s our day,” said Isabell. “I was really enjoying the ride. Today it was really just perfect.”

Isabell Werth gives fans a thumbs-up after finishing her freestyle on Wiehegold OLD with a phenomenal score of 90.704 percent.

While her victory was predictable, it also was worth watching for the refinement of her performance with Wiehegold OLD. Every beat of the music and every step the black mare took were beautifully synced by Isabell, who has more Olympic gold medals than any other equestrian, ever—which includes eventers and show jumpers, too. At age 47, she continues to show dedication and artistry that undoubtedly will add more titles to her record.

Isabell Werth and Wiehegold OLD on their victory pass in Omaha.

The audience of 8,578 showed its appreciation of Isabell’s artistry and her score of 90.704 percent, but it was also vocal in its support of the American favorite, Laura Graves. The roar of approval for her performance began after Laura and Verdades did a piaffe fan on centerline and then showed off a flashy extended trot. The sound from the audience crescendoed to the point that “I couldn’t even hear my music, so I kind of had to guess on the final halt,” Laura revealed. 

“But knowing that the crowd approves, especially in your home country, is amazing.”

The fans loved the USA’s Laura Graves and Verdades.

Laura and her coach, Debbie McDonald, had worked on increasing her freestyle’s degree of difficulty to show the judges what she and Diddy could do. The effort yielded a personal best score of 85.307, but it wasn’t enough to come close to the queen. Isabell, however, did note that competing against Laura gave her a push. With Valegro retired and his rider, Charlotte Dujardin, moving on to other horses, Laura is Isabell’s biggest competition.

The freestyle definitely fueled the feeling that Diddy has even more to give. I talked to Laura about how things went here, and when she thinks she’ll catch up to Isabell. Click on the right-pointing arrow to watch her video interview. 

I saw Debbie in the bustling trade fair and asked for her thoughts on Laura’s ride. Debbie has made all the difference for Laura, who burst on the scene in a big way at the selection trials for the 2014 World Equestrian Games, and has been improving ever since, coming close to the podium at the Olympics last year.

Listen to what Debbie had to say, it’s quite interesting. Click on the right-pointing arrow for her comments. 

Laura’s success should give hope to those who aren’t able to spend wildly on a horse that can make it to the highest levels of the sport. Laura’s mother, Freddie Graves, bought Diddy off a video when he was a weanling. We were talking about it in the trade fair, so feel free to listen in by clicking on the right-pointing arrow. 

The top three in the freestyle were in the same order that they placed in Thursday’s Grand Prix qualifier. Carl Hester did a beautiful job with Nip Tuck, who doesn’t have the same natural gifts as Wiehegold or Verdades, but can execute an amazingly complicated combination of movements.

He was marked at 83.757 percent, with two judges giving him artistic scores above 90 percent. (There are two marks from every judge; the other is a technical score.)

Carl Hester of Great Britain and Nip Tuck make an elegant pair.

Carl is the architect of British dressage success and the man behind the phenom that is Valegro. He and I chatted about his ride and “Barney,” as Nip Tuck is known. Click on the right pointing arrow to listen. 

Judge Ann Gribbons, president of the ground jury and a former U.S. coach, remarked on the quality of the field in Omaha. She noted that everyone brought their top horse. So even those who didn’t make the podium were a treat to watch.

Judy Reynolds of Ireland is in a situation similar to Carl, in that her horse is not as expressive as a Verdades or as flowing in the transitions as Wiehegold. So Judy makes up for it with a complicated test that causes you to marvel at the ability of a horse to do so many different movements in combination.

She didn’t break 80 percent, coming in at 79.571, but even those marked lower had so much to contribute to a memorable afternoon. Inessa Merkulova rode to the strong beat of Russian music, appropriate, because that’s where she’s from. Mister X, her dark bay Trakehner, is a dynamic mover and a real presence—just like his rider. Inessa shows great emotion when she finishes a test, raising both hands in triumph and hugging her horse’s neck in a way that shows her devotion for him.

I thought all the rides were memorable. Even Joao Victor Marcari Oliva of Brazil, 14th and last with a score of 70.321 percent, did a beautiful job with his cresty gray Lusitano stallion. While the judges didn’t give him their highest marks, the crowd loved him.

U. S. rider Kasey Perry-Glass, who is also taught by Debbie, had a smooth performance on her 2016 Olympic mount, Goerklintgaard’s Dublet, to wind up seventh on 77.068 percent, a nice number that will increase as she goes along.

The only other American in the field, Steffen Peters, was ninth with Rosamunde in her first World Cup on 75.879 percent. Steffen is one of just two American to have won the World Cup final (Debbie is the other). His title came in 2009 on Ravel, who was succeeded by Legolas. Now Rosie has succeeded that horse, and she is still a work in progress.

“She tried extremely hard,” Steffen said, noting the Rheinlander mare is only 10 and new to the game at this level.

“For a young grand prix horse, playing for the first time with the big boys and girls, this was awesome,” he said.

While the freestyle was an improvement over her Grand Prix, he noted, “it is very difficult to go way up from the Grand Prix on the second day.”

As has been the case all week here, there was enormous praise for the Omaha show and those who put it on.

Ann Gribbons said she loved the facility.

“After this experience, I wonder if we have a better one,” she said.

“It was amazing. It was like any show in Europe.”

Steffen said he’d love to come back to another World Cup in Omaha, and not just because he enjoyed a great steak here the other night.

But who knows if another Omaha Cup is in the cards? First, the next American final will be in Las Vegas in 2020. So you have to figure that even if Omaha wants the Cup again (and I haven’t asked), it couldn’t happen until 2022 at the earliest, because 2021 likely would go back to Europe or some other part of the world.

This has indeed been a remarkable experience, especially for those who didn’t know what to expect in Omaha. Dressage is over and we have only one more day of competition with the show jumping final on Sunday. If you’re interested in that, check out, where my postcard will be linked on Sunday.

To see more about the Cup finals, go to

Until then,

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