Two Different Worlds at the Top of the Board at 2024 CDI Tolbert

2024 CDI Tolbert

Maria von Essen and Invoice score a double victory at the 2024 CDI Tolbert

Maria von Essen and Invoice score a double victory at the 2024 CDI Tolbert

In all the hustle and bustle of the 2024 World Cup Finals in Riyadh, some exciting and interesting moments in dressage sport almost seem to have gone unnoticed. 

At the CDI Tolbert on 11 – 14 April 2024 the long-awaited show come back of stallion Toto Jr happened and a Swedish shooting star launched herself as an Olympic team candidate with exemplary riding that should embody the future of competitive dressage sport.

Toto Jr Returns

The 2024 CDI Tolbert boasted a gigantic list of starters and showed that international competition sport from pony level through Grand Prix is thriving when hosted at good venues and on convenient dates. 

The return of the 13-year old Hanoverian stallion Toto Jr (by Totilas x Desperados), not with Edward Gal but Hans Peter Minderhoud, was something coming when Patrick van der Meer released his long list of combinations in January. Minderhoud first presented the popular breeding stallion to the public at the CDI Aachen Festival 4 Dressage in training. In Tolbert it was their CDI debut. 


Toto Jr in the Grand Prix

In the Grand Prix on Friday, Minderhoud had his hands full piloting the testosterone fuelled stallion, who was on the look-out for fellow equines. It led to quite some jaw crossing, tilting, and an open (sugared) mouth throughout the ride. However, as judges are clueless about scoring contact issues, particularly when it comes to outstanding moving horses with well know rider on top, this was not an issue at all. Hans Peter rode very nice trot half passes with huge crossing and a smooth, elastic rhythm (despite the open mouth). The trot extensions were too flashy in front and did not have enough overtrack with engagement coming from behind (too high a score: 6.9), the extended walk on the other hand had much overstep (too low a score: 7.8), the collected walk was tense. The passage was bouncy and energetic but with a lot of tail swooshing. The stallion showed very big two tempi changes, good straight one tempi’s, good pirouettes but the left exit lacked polish. The piaffe at X was quite swinging behind but on the spot. The end halt was not square, but who cares (7 – 8). Only two judges saw that (6). Boom: 73.544% and a second place on their premier.

In the Grand Prix Special on Saturday the horse was more focused. The snow white mouth was more closed but there was still plenty of tilting to the right. Still Toto appeared less fidgety in the bridle. The half passes were again impressive in ground cover, and the highlight was the extended walk with very clear, active overtracking. The transitions into piaffe were smooth and the piaffes were on the spot. The strike off to canter was late to the aid (6.7). The canter half passes were big as well as the two tempi changes. They finished with a square halt. The score was 73.766% which is almost the same as in the Grand Prix yet the ride looked smoother.. Second place again.


Toto Jr in the Grand Prix Special
(Photo © Roland Hitze)

This firmly puts Minderhoud and Toto Jr as candidates for one of only three Dutch Olympic team spots. It certainly puts the heat on Dinja van Liere (Hermes, Vita di Lusso) and Emmelie Scholtens (Indian Rock), as well as Marieke van der Putten (Titanium) and Marlies van Baalen (Habibi) who were considered the hottest contenders.. Throw Edward Gal and Total U.S. in the mix (as they are expected to appear at the CDI Exloo even though the organizing committee did not put them on the Masterlist (which they don’t have to)) and the Dutch Olympic race is on.

Talk of the Town: Maria von Essen on Invoice

The talk of the town was not Toto Jr, in fact, but the stellar rise of Swedish Maria von Essen on the 12-year old KWPN bred and Oldenburg registered Invoice (by Jazz x Ferro). Von Essen is a professional rider with a long-standing career, first as youth team rider, and then as senior competing Vivo (by Master x Vivaldi) and Ferdi (by Federweisser x Charmeur) at international Grand Prix level in the 2000s and until 2015.


Von Essen and Invoice

Von Essen then disappeared from the international scene for six years to make her come back on the late Piet Crum bred Invoice in 2021 at small tour level. The long-time student of Kyra Kyrklund then moved Invoice up to Grand Prix in June 2023 at the CDI Sopot. Owned by Alexanders Hovslageri & Häst AB, the gelding has been offered for sale but hopefully this will now be put on hold after their appearance in Tolbert, where they launched themselves as Swedish Olympic team candidates.

Invoice is definitely not easy in the contact either, but Von Essen rode him in an entirely different frame. Longer reins, an open gullet, there was length in the neck and a hand very softly working from on top of the withers. In the Grand Prix particularly the passage looked really nice in the silhouette, but he could have been even more collected. The piaffe had plenty of potential but was not so balanced. The front leg was put far under the body (sign of the self carriage and balance are not fully developed yet). The two tempi changes were easy going but could have been straighter, the ones were lovely. There were good pirouettes and you saw that Von Essen was riding very patiently, giving her horse the rein and space to lengthen the neck, instead of squeezing and pulling to keep it together. The piaffe at X was slightly crooked to the right, but the end halt was square. The judges saw a tiny bit of difference with the second placed pair and awarded Von Essen a winning 74,131% which is a personal best. 


Von Essen winning the GP Special

In the Grand Prix Special the pair upped the ante. They easily achieved overtrack in the trot extensions and is quite floaty in the half passes (like to see a bit more crossing). Also the passage could have been a bit more collected and regular, but the transitions were smooth. Invoice was not entirely relaxed in the extended walk and made an early transition into piaffe, but again Von Essen showed patient riding and while he was a bit restless in the mouth, the rider’s hands stayed quiet and she had an elastic contact with the reins. Invoice lost a bit of self carriage in the passage (more a slow trot) but then started to pick up real points in the canter work:  easy two tempi changes, easy ones.. it all looked very “peaceful”. In the extended canter he covered plenty of group but lost a bit of the 3-beat rhythm. The pirouettes were nice. They won again and this time with an exciting 75.000%. Invoice’s Jazzy temperament popped out of the box in the prize giving ceremony in which he refused to stand still.

What’s About the Walk?

The big tour was judged by Susan Hoevenaars, Clive Halsall, Thomas Keßler, Adriaan Hamoen, and Lars Andersson

It is no secret that the scoring of the walk has been a conundrum for dressage judges.  Quantaz and Dalera’s walk are examples of how frazzled judges can get when they have to score that movement. This was also proven in Tolbert, where the panel did not know what to do with an extended walk of a “famous” horse.

In the Tolbert Grand Prix, the walk of Annabella Pidgley’s Gio was an enigma: The KWPN gelding did not overtrack, did not relax, the neck with going left-right because of the hand aids. The judges thought that was a 6.1? In the collected walk there was a spook, it was tense, there was no instep, 5.6 ? The same problem happened in the Special, but the horse even jogged two steps in the extended walk. This time the panel dropped to 3.0 – 4.5.

Also the opposite seems a quandary. Helen Langehaneberg’s mare Schöne Scarlett showed a beautiful extended walk in the Grand Prix and it got 7.6? Why not more? Why always that finger stuck on the 6 – 7 button and when the riders have a ringing name the 7 – 8 button.. Interesting…

But let’s remember Maria von Essen’s performance which was so hope-giving. Can’t wait to see that pair in the show ring next.