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Monday, June 11, 2012

The Steffen & Steffen Show

For the first time in the history of American dressage, we may have a rider in the enviable position of bringing not one but two mounts to an Olympic Games.

The European superstars are accustomed to such a cornucopia of equine abundance. Isabell Werth, Anky van Grunsven, and the like have "strings" of big-tour and small-tour horses. For them, the question so often isn't whether they'll qualify for a major championships, but with which horse.

But as United States Equestrian Federation dressage technical advisor and high-performance coach Anne Gribbons frequently points out, in this country top dressage riders are more likely to have one "big" horse. If that horse becomes unfit to compete or is sold, the rider is effectively out of the running, no matter how good he or she is.

For at least one US Olympic dressage contender, the days of pinning every hope and dream to one mount may be over. Even before the 2012 US dressage Olympic selection trials began last weekend at the 2012 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions, we knew that Steffen Peters, of San Diego, CA, would be on the team, as his flagship mount, Ravel, had been granted a bye not to compete at Gladstone. What we didn't know was that Steffen would emerge from the first weekend of competition the clear favorite to clinch the 2012 USEF National Grand Prix championship title and therefore the #2 Olympic-team slot -- on a different horse.

That's right: Aboard Legolas 92, a ten-year-old Westfalen gelding, Steffen swept both the FEI Grand Prix (76.064%) and the Olympic Grand Prix Special (77.933%). If Legolas keeps this up for the second round of competition this weekend (a second GP and GP Special), he'll win the GP championship and Steffen will be in the enviable position of having a reserve horse to take to London, according to Anne Gribbons.

As Anne explains, International Olympic Committee rules do not permit "catch riding," and an athlete may compete with only one horse in dressage. So the likely outcome is that Ravel will be the team horse and Legolas will be the reserve -- which would ensure that Steffen will ride for the US in London, one way or the other.

None of this would be possible without Akiko Yamazaki, who owns both horses. It is a fact of the top levels of equestrian sport that the horses tend to cost more than riders can afford on their own. Even a young horse can be prohibitively expensive if it shows superstar potential. At the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, of the US dressage riders, only Tina Konyot owned her mount, the Danish Warmblood stallion Calecto V (the pair is currently sitting in the number-two spot in the 2012 USEF Grand Prix National Championship standings, making a trip to London look promising).

So we thank Akiko and all the other generous sponsors and owners, and we wish Steffen the best. Yeah, he's a lucky guy, but he's damned talented and he's made a lot of his luck happen from years of hard work. And if all goes well, maybe I'll get to snap a picture in London like this one, taken at the 2010 WEG.

Steffen Peters ascends the individual bronze-medal podium at the 2010 WEG. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

4 comments:

  1. Ravel was bought as already upper-level horse, no? What is L's story?

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    1. Legolas was a Grand Prix horse in Germany under Ulrich Kasselman, according to the bio in the Festival of Champions program. He's only been in Steffen's barn since December.

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  2. Yes, bravo to Steffen AND Akiko Yamazaki!!

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  3. Yay, Steffen!!! He is a fantastic rider and clinician! It couldn't happen to a nicer person! I wish him and his team all the best in London!

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