2015 World Young Dressage Horse Finals – Outrage in the Five Year Olds!


Florina and Claudia Rüscher – wonderful in the five year old class…

Story Christopher Hector and Photos Roz Neave

By the time our big September stallion magazine was finished, there was only time to make it to the World Young Dressage Horse finals at the weekend, still better late than never. I did sit through the klein final for the six-year-old horses. It was a chance to get my eye in, and a handle on where the judges were heading.

I thought the judging was really subtle, and horse friendly. Aggressive over-riding was seen for what it was, and the scores adjusted accordingly. The standard of the horses continues to improve – although I have a slight worry that we are now developing a specialist breed of young horse horses. Which I guess is not surprising.

When I started trying to make sense of Warmblood breeding, the leading studbooks were still proclaiming the aim of producing an all-round horse. That’s like ancient history now, with specialist dressage and jumping streams well in place, and a specialist eventing stream emerging. Given that the market for Young Horses is highly lucrative, and that the process is so much quicker, why not a young horse stream?

Certainly when I look at the preliminary lists for the shows on this trip, the World Young Dressage Horse, the Bundeschampionate, and the European Championships, it is fairly apparent that the stallions that are siring the young horse starters, were in the main, young horse stars themselves (and in the vast majority of cases didn’t go on to ‘The Big Sport’) and the successful stallions in producing horses for the Euro Champs, were themselves, Grand Prix horses.

The winner of the six-year-old class was Quarton, by Quaterback out of a Don Schufro mare, the horse is a nice fusion, getting some of the legginess of Don Schufro (unfortunately, his head too) with something of the pizzazz of Quaterback – who, unlike Don Schufro who was a respectable Grand Prix competitor – stalled after his Bundeschampionate glory. It’s to be hoped that the stitching on the reins has been well checked, since the rider has a very firm hold. Just where do these little girls get all this arm power? Are they spending hours in the gym or does their riding time provide strength training enough?

So on to the Five-Year-old final. The judges were Susanne Baarup, Eddy de Wolff van Westrode and Isabelle Judet, with Dr Dietrich Plewa the judge entrusted with communicating the views of the panel to the masses. They were looking, he said, for quality basic gaits, the standard of training (remember that bit) and general appearance, conformation, temperament and quality.

Dear me he got all of those in abundance with the first horse out in the class, the Small Final winner, Florina, ridden with exquisite tact by Claudia Rüscher. The Hanoverian is by Fürst Romancier out of a Donnerhall mare, a nice fusion of young horse star, and Grand Prix master. Perfect frame, loose and soft through the back, the pair flowed around the arena, the mare’s ears pricked, her eye bright and engaged, and when asked to give rein on the half circle, she just effortlessly loosened her neck and followed the invitation down. At times the contact looked a little tight, like the noseband, and it was a less than perfect final trot, but everything else had been wonderful. Trot – 8.8 , walk 9.5, canter 8.6, submission 8.4, general impression 8.8 for a 8.82 total.

“A wonderful horse,” said Dr Plewa, and to that, amen.

Dorothee Schneider had another lovely soft test on the Trakehner mare, Zikade (Singolo / Tambour). Like Claudia, Dorothee sits sweetly in and with the horse’s back. 8.28 and the final was off to a great start.

The first jarring note came with the Spanish rider, Severo Jesus Jurado Lopez, riding for Holland on the Dutch stallion, Franklin (Ampère / Ferro). Lopez is based in Denmark where he works in Andreas Helgstrand’s stables. For the first time we saw some seriously unpleasant riding, the tension making the trot passagey, the walk choppy, and finally the pressure gets too much and the stallion blows up in the corner. Sadly the judges pay 9 for the manufactured trot, 7.2 for the walk, 8 for the canter, 7.4 for submission, and 8 for general impression, total 7.92.

Plewa told the rider that he would ‘like to see him more natural’, although it was ‘spectacular’. Back when the Grand Prix was very nastily spectacular, my friend Christoph Hess advanced the theory that Young Horse classes might bring about improvement, since the judges would have to go back to watching natural paces. Now, Carl, Charlotte, Helen and Isabell, seem to have turned around dressage at the highest level, it seems we have to guard against the disease of spectacular in the Young Horse Classes once again.


Andreas Helgstrand and Fiontina, and before you say, just an isolated moment…






The test of Andreas Helgstrand and Fiontina (Fassbinder / Romanov) was, quite simply disgusting. The mare was hauled together so crudely, that at one stage it looked as if she might fall over. That awful dealer’s trot, with the front legs waving, the rider hauling her down in front. The poor mare is crooked a lot of the time, hauled around by half halts that are so rough and aggressive. Sure this is a wonderful mare, but it is genuinely difficult to ‘see’ her as she is ridden so out of rhythm and given no opportunity to show her natural brilliance. Sadly the once knowledgeable European dressage crowd has been dumbed-down since most of them love this display of flash and trash. But, after the judges have taken his pupil to task, surely they will nip this ugliness in the bud?

Not so. 9.2 for that awful artificial trot, 9.3 for the walk, 9.2 for the canter, 8.5 for submission, 8.9 general impression. Total 9.02, sadly the jury has lost its nerve and caved in to the pressure.

In the break I talk to a few of the people I really respect on the dressage scene, they are unanimous, this is appalling judging.

“If this is dressage, then we must throw the classical principles out the window,” said one enormously successful trainer of young, and Grand Prix, horses… Aside from a clutch of wildly patriotic Scandinavians, I could find no experienced observer who was not outraged.


Quantensprung and Vera Nass

The Hanoverian stallion Quantensprung (Quando Quando / Donnerhall) is everything Fiontina was not: loose, rhythmic, and sweetly shown by Vera Nass. Trot 9.1, walk 9, canter 9, submission 8.7, general impression 9 for an 8.96 into second, but the forces of darkness are still in the lead.


Fiontini goes more sweetly than her sibling for Severo Jurado


Luckily for the judges, Hanne Lund, who bred both the mares, had two foals that season, and Fiontini goes more sweetly than her sibling for Severo Jurado, who received his warning earlier in the class. This is truly another super mare, properly engaged, and quite relaxed, she is much nicer – or has been given the opportunity to show her qualities better – than her two months younger sister (both bred by ET). The crowd starts to applaud as she comes down the centre line, and you suspect there is a small round of applause in the judges’ box as she strides towards them. Fiontini has got them just a little off the hook.

Trot 9.8, walk 8, canter 9.1, submission 9.6, general impression 94, for a total of 9.18 and victory.

Still it is hard not to feel a bit soiled by the judging on the second place getter…

73 thoughts on “2015 World Young Dressage Horse Finals – Outrage in the Five Year Olds!

  1. How come this kind of riding is allowed? Andreas should have been sent out; it’s outrageous cruelty what he does, this isn’t dressage riding, this is performing tricks on a robot horse………..with a mouth tight shut with a overtight nose band! Horrible!

  2. You are so right. I was there during the whole time, we had a exhabition there, and I saw so many awful pictures. I am breeding horses for 40 years now and I don’t want my horses ridden like this.
    So many horses hadn’t the opportunitiy to open their mouth. Totally closed. Also the mare which won the 5 year old class. They needed to men to open the leather. That is not right……

  3. Until judging honestly reflects the FEI rules and principles, horses will
    Suffer endlessly for the greed and ego of humans who pretend to understand horses.

  4. How about we change the sport with rules that move towards and reward lightness- every test, young horse and GP, should include at least a full circle, if not a figure 6 or serpentine on a swinging rein (not JUST a stretched neck, but actual loop in reins), at GP allow snaffles, make spurs optional instead of mandatory, and create a wedge used on the bridge of nose to measure the tightness of nosebands and make sure they are LESS then snug. In the young horse classes, add a full score for ‘naturalness and lightness’- riders leaning back against the bit would no longer win the class. In the rule book- again, for young horses AND GP- require that to get a 9 the movement must be done on light contact, and for a 10, with a float in the rein. You could still get an 8 for a remarkable movement on tight reins, but to get a 9 or 10 it should be truly awe inspiring- AND LIGHT!!!!! AND lets boycott stallions and young horses coming from the Andrea Stranglehand, er, uh Helgstrand.

  5. The judges may be dropping scores a little for this over aggressive riding, but the riders should be barred from competition if it looks abusive. And it does. Also, an isolated moment? Really? Even if this was…. an isolated moment of abusive riding does not equate with harmony. Period.

  6. Helgestrand did the early training on my mare & left her with some mental baggage that she carries with her to this day. This was when he was quite young so he has been (and has been getting away with being) a dressage nazi for a long time. He did the same to Matine & look how the world raved about how fabulous that was!! I really don’t understand how he keeps getting these wonderful horses. How could anyone in good conscience sell him a horse much less pay him to train one! When money talks integrity goes out the window! !

  7. Outlaw bridle flashes. If you couldn’t tie their mouth’s shut, it would tell the real story.

  8. How on earth will incorrect training and riding EVER be stamped out if it’s rewarded with high marks?!!

    This is where dressage is so very wrong. Even the pictures are horrific. Until this way of going is penalised they will continue clearly believing it’s correct!
    That poor horse!
    I may be a poor, talentless amateur but I know what feels and l

  9. Terribly over flexed. Remove all nose bands as a rule. Shameful to force a horse.

  10. Are these the young mare Charlotte Dujardin rode earlier this year? They both looked so lovely then……

  11. I’m afraid until the judges stand up to be countered this appalling riding will continue. There was nothing whatsoever that appealed in the combination of Andreas and his horse. This is not riding as I know it. If he does this here god only knows what he does at home

  12. This kind of riding is no better than the hideous cruelty routinely carried out on the poor American trotters. How could the judges POSSIBLY score Fiontina’s forced performance so highly? I bet we don’t see this unlucky mare in another 3 years time.

  13. Thank you for this insightful report. There is a careful, still hesitant move back to ‘classic’ according to HDV12, which is encouraging, but maybe too little too late to sway a certain type of audience. The comment “If this is dressage, then we must throw the classical principles out the window,” is spot on.
    Either we will return to classic principles in main stream dressage or there will need to be 2 discipilines: “Poodle Dressage” and “Real Dressage”. “Real” dressage is always based on the HDV12, a system that creates an able and willing equine athlete, not a means in itself. Christoph Hess in the foreword to the English edition of the HDV12: “The H. Dv. 12 is—so to speak—the bible of classical equestrian sports. It is the foundation needed by every rider interested in systematic schooling for himself and for his horse.”
    For the sake of the horse, we must return to these principles and uphold what is proven to be the kind, compassionate, horse-beneficial classical approach – an approach without short cuts. Let ‘ribbon hunters’ do something else.

  14. This is not dressage. She was not a happy horse. It made me very sad. This needs to stop!

  15. Absolutely agree Chris we come all the way from Australia to see these wonderful horses treated like this it’s beyond words how bad these riders are, total abuse .

  16. Stacey Brown, the writer is saying the opposite – that it was not an isolated moment.

  17. Nice Foxtrot on Fointina in second picture. I had no idea gaited horses were used in this competition! The one front foot on the ground displays a nice foxtrot. The “art” is being lost to money. Thank you lovely riders that strive to actually follow the rule book and ride horses the way they move best, with: DR101 Object and General Principles of Dressage
    1. The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through
    harmonious education. As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible,
    but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the
    2. These qualities are demonstrated by:
    a. The freedom and regularity of the gaits;
    b. The harmony, lightness and ease of the movements;
    c. The lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating
    from a lively impulsion;
    d. The acceptance of the bit, with submissiveness/throughness (Durchlässigkeit)
    without any tension or resistance.
    3. The horse thus gives the impression of doing, of its own accord, what is required.
    Confident and attentive, submitting generously to the control of the rider, remaining
    absolutely straight in any movement on a straight line and bending accordingly when
    moving on curved lines.
    4. The walk is regular, free and unconstrained. The trot is free, supple, regular and
    active. The canter is united, light and balanced. The hindquarters are never inactive or
    sluggish. The horse responds to the slightest indication of the rider and thereby gives
    life and spirit to all the rest of its body.
    5. By virtue of a lively impulsion and the suppleness of the joints, free from the paralyzing
    effects of resistance, the horse obeys willingly and without hesitation and responds
    to the various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious
    balance both physically and mentally.
    6. In all the work, even at the halt, the horse must be “on the bit.” A horse is said to
    © USEF 2015 4
    be “on the bit” when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage
    of training and the extension or collection of the gait, accepting the bridle with a light
    and consistent soft submissive contact. The head should remain in a steady position,
    as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the
    neck, and no resistance should be offered to the rider.
    7. Cadence is shown in trot and canter and is the result of the proper harmony that
    a horse shows when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion and balance.
    Cadence must be maintained in all the different trot or canter exercises and in all the
    variations of these gaits.
    8. The regularity of the gaits is fundamental to dressage.

    I wonder what rules the judges are going by?

  18. Not a good moment in picture of Fiontini. More with front legs than hind legs because too much on the hands causing restriction. Therefore the body gets longer than the steps. Sad

  19. I live in Denmark and I can tell you there are a lot of people here who despise Andreas Helgstrand and his riding. But unless the judges start downvoting the bad riders nothing will ever change.

  20. This horse looks extremely unhappy with Andreas riding. The last 2 photos make me sad to see a horse so strapped down and so over bent. Think he needs to go to Carl for some training before being allowed on another youngster.

  21. I find it utterly appalling that this abhorrent style of riding, is accepted by any judge at any level!! This is NOT dressage, I cannot fathom it, and I despair for the poor horses who suffer it so helplessly

  22. If we want this tight , forced way of riding to stop, it has to start with the judging!! These crappy riders are being rewarded by the judges marks.
    How disappointing for the really great riders and horses to be beat by these others? Shame on the judges!!

  23. Unfortunately this trend is equally affecting the lower BD levels too. Having recently witnessed a very well known british rider compete in regional championship elementary. The horse was anchored in so tightly, the hands in the air working backwards. The back tight, tail swishing and lack of consistent rhythm. Us mere mortals world have been lucky yo crack 60%. Not this rider, placed 2nd with an unbelievable score (70) ahead of a young girl who rode a beautiful harmonious test! One could be forgiven for suspecting agendas? Where has the consistency of training to make the judging more reliable and consistent? They should be more accountable!

  24. Could someone please explain what HDV 12 is referring to?

    What ever happened to the criteria that the horse “goes through its back”? How can a horse with its back dropped, by conformation or training, be rewarded for the resulting leg flings? If that’s what the standard is, a National Show Horse is the way to go!

  25. Please, please keep up the honest reporting. I’ve been sickened by these poor, cruelly ridden horses in so much pain. It’s disgusting! I am so grateful I have stopped breeding!

  26. it sickens and saddens to the deepest part of me. How can any normal thinking feeling person NOT see the pain and pressure these poor horses are tolerating. And if this is what these riders are doing in this public arena, we can only cringe at the idea of what they would do at home away from the public scrutiny. While your honesty is credible your articles are still soft around the edges. PLease do do what you have the power to do to bring this to its knees.

  27. Oh those evil grooms of Andreas Helgstrand tightening up those nosebands again! He should be careful because soon, folks will think it’s HIM doing this LOL (talk about not getting the message the first time!). Anyone who still sponsors this man is equally guilty of the abuse in my opinion. By continuing to show horses which so utterly fail the point of dressage, Helgstrand is basically flipping us a gloved middle finger. I think the world should return the sentiment.

  28. It’s interesting to have my eyes further educated in the lows of performance.
    These horses are not even fully developed in their spines yet, and they are being subjected to tremendous torque on their neck and joints. All of the photos show this, with only one photo showing the poll as the highest point.
    All had tight nose bands and excess frothing at the mouth.
    Such beautiful horses, trying so hard. I am sure the good riders like Christopher Hess, and Luis Lucio and masters such as Walter Zettle would not approve. How can we make a old type of competition that is based on Classical Dressage?

  29. Extraordinary that a prominent rider at a high level competition would still go out with a noseband this tight. If the purpose is indeed to prevent the horse from opening the mouth (itself an example of ignorance of equine biomechanics and training), once the noseband is tight enough to keep the teeth together, there is no further gain from tightening the noseband further. The resultant crushing of the soft tissues around the nose is painfully evident in these pics of Helgstrand.

  30. keep up the good work reporting, this is horse abuse, disgusting. Which rider?Let the pictures do the talking!

  31. What a wonderful, truthful commentary and report. I was already shocked in the preliminary class with the judging of the stallion Franklin. Totally manufactured and more “uphill”(?) than required for the Grand Prix. I was shocked to see also 9 for the trot. I was so relieved when he was taken to task in the final. But, as you say, the panel seemed to cave under pressure with the rest of the class.

  32. Agreed, Helgstrand is disgusting, but that picture of Quantensprung and Vera Nass is no better as the horse also have only 1 leg on the ground in a trot which is supposed to be to-beat – can’t see why the praise goes for that !!

  33. Anyone who lets Andreas Helgstrom NEAR their horse doesn’t deserve to own horses. If the cavesson and flash hadn’t been cranked down so tight I suspect we would have had a glimpse of another blue tongue. Disgusting.

  34. Yes the judges were wrong to give those scores but what about the spectators? They have more of a voice. It will only take a few people with a backbone to stand up, yelling out their opposition to the cruelty to encourage others to do so as well. The longer people sit on their hands and do nothing, the longer the horses will live with cruelty, because ‘obviously’ those cruel riders are doing nothing wrong…. right?

  35. Judges at all levels are human and so subject to all kinds of external influence.
    Perhaps we should make their job easier by altering the rules a little. For example, the removal of any type of noseband at any level above Elementary, or at any Championship competition. Hopefully by the time the horse reaches these criteria it will be accepting the bridle well. If not, resistance will be very obvious (even to the uneducated), particularly if it is prolonged.
    Not allowing any noseband at all means that there can be no argument about whether or not it is too tight, or who over-tightened it.

  36. I do not agree with you phrase “sweetly shown” when the horses mouth has extended by 3 inches through bit pressure only to be stopped by the jaw clenching noseband. I am truly disgusted by all performances and seeing young horses subjected to this kind of work.

  37. You can tell just by looking at the foot falls in the photos that there were problems in the Trot and Canter. In the second photo her front foot is still on the ground when her diagonal hind leg isn’t – I thought trot had a two beat rhythm. In the canter photo she has three hooves on the ground at once.. also incorrect. I wish the FEI would just ban Helgstrand. He’s a horrible rider, if he’s riding them like this in public – even after the controversy of his show at his own stable- I would really hate to know what he does behind the scenes!

  38. Take away the noseband altogether then you would see the true partnerships and the bad riders would fail horribly!!!

  39. The expression on the face of Helgstrand is so mean. You would never let your children alone with someone that looked like that, yet people entrust helpless animals to him. The expression of the horse reflects its pain. Often I cannot stay to watch. I recently decided I would “boo” riders and trainers who ride like that – in all disciplines. Someone has to advocate for the horses. It seems no matter what we do, they still try to please us.

  40. Dear Chris,

    I understand your comment absolute right. What we have seen is the price the whole dressage sport (and the breeding) – and much more the horses – must pay for the demand that the sport should be more spectacular to get more visitors in TV and more fans. Since more than 15 years we can hear this demand from organizers, judges, marketing experts and also some riders and trainers. If that, what we have seen by an experienced rider like Andreas Helgstrand and that what we have seen in judging, is really dressage and dressage judging, it would be no loss, if this kind of “sport” will leave the Olympic family in the next years. If the real fans of the dressage in the sense on the basis of the principles of riding and the classical training and education of horses cannot stop this development, the changed thinking and opinion in the public in the cases of animal welfare will do it rapidly.

  41. Can nosebands get any tighter!?! It’s frightful. These wonderfully talented young horses are under far too much pressure at such a young age. It’s no wonder only a small percentage make to the world Grand Prix stage. Watching happy horses in any discipline is magic, ears pricked and relaxed. However, these beautiful equines are quite the opposite. I would dread to imagine what their training regime is at home. I sincerely hope the example of Carl, Charlotte, etc carry over to these young horses classes.

  42. Totally agree with Sandra – quote ” but what about the spectators? They have more of a voice. It will only take a few people with a backbone to stand up, yelling out their opposition to the cruelty to encourage others to do so as well. The longer people sit on their hands and do nothing, the longer the horses will live with cruelty, because ‘obviously’ those cruel riders are doing nothing wrong…. right?”
    Might take balls but if just one person has the courage to boo then surely others will follow.

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