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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Wizard Is Magical at Olympic Selection-Trials Finale

Wizard and Adrienne Lyle trotting to third place in today's Olympic Grand Prix Special at the 2012 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

I saw Wizard for the first time at the 2011 Adequan/USDF National Dressage Symposium in San Diego. The thirteen-year-old Oldenburg gelding, owned by Peggy Thomas and River Grove Farm in Hailey, ID, displayed international-quality presence, movement, and suppleness. Equally impressive was his beautifully classical rider, Adrienne Lyle, of Ketchum, ID. It was hard to believe that this protege of Olympian Debbie McDonald was only 27 years old.

This morning, in the final leg of competition in the 2012 United States Equestrian Federation National Grand Prix Championship and 2012 London Olympic Games dressage selection trials, Lyle and Wizard pulled out the stops for an expressive Olympic Grand Prix Special test. Judges Hilda Gurney, Linda Zang, Jane Weatherwax, Janet Foy, and Lois Yukins rewarded their efforts with a score of 74.889 percent.

Met by huge cheers from Lyle's and Wizard's fans and by a beaming Debbie McDonald, the pair's effort was enough to put them in third place, behind GP Special winners Steffen Peters and Legolas (77.956 percent) and second-place finishers Tina Konyot and Calecto V (77.889).

Wizard's test was a highlight, but several other pairs had struggles today. Nature called Jan Ebeling's mount, Rafalca, at precisely the wrong time; and the fifteen-year-old Oldenburg mare flubbed her line of fifteen one-tempi changes as a result. (Happily, the remainder of their solid, flowing test was good enough for fourth place with 73.844 percent.)
Solid performance from Rafalca and Jan Ebeling put them in fourth today and third overall in the 2012 Olympic selection trials. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Fandango (Guenter Seidel) and Robin Hood (Susan Blinks) also had some trouble with the tempis. Legolas flubbed a change in the twos, and Otto (Todd Flettrich) showed better piaffe-passage than yesterday but had a couple of breaks in gait that looked like overeagerness. The result was that, unlike in yesterday's Grand Prix, nobody broke the 80-percent mark.

The Olympic selection-trials process comprised back-to-back weekends of competition at United States Equestrian Team Foundation headquarters in Gladstone, NJ. Competitors rode the FEI Grand Prix and the Olympic Grand Prix Special each weekend, with each test counting 25 percent. Steffen Peters' "big horse," Ravel, has a bye and didn't compete. That left the top four at Gladstone as Peters/Legolas, Konyot/Calecto V, Ebeling/Rafalca, and Lyle/Wizard.
Legolas checks out his national-championship trophy, held by owner Akiko Yamazaki. At left are FEI 5* judge Axel Steiner and Yamazaki's daughter. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Although the official US Olympic dressage "nominated entry" hasn't happened yet, the USEF is hoping to ship "five or six" horses to London, according to USEF national dressage technical advisor and high-performance coach Anne Gribbons. If our dressage team of three ends up being Ravel, Calecto V, and Rafalca (with Legolas going as a backup mount for Peters and Wizard and Lyle traveling as the reserve combination), it will mean that Peters will be the only Olympic veteran in London.
National dressage technical Anne Gribbons (left) with top GP Special finishers Jan Ebeling, Tina Konyot, Steffen Peters, and Adrienne Lyle. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Most athletes will tell you that making an Olympic team for the first time is an unforgettable thrill.

"Since I attended my very first Olympic Games, in 1976, I have wanted to make the team," said Konyot, 50, of Palm City, FL.

Like many other accomplished Grand Prix-level riders, Konyot has years of experience and many wins under her belt. But a rider needs the right horse, and finding or training the right horse is no easy feat, not to mention the feat of keeping him sound. Since Konyot began competing her Danish Warmblood stallion, now 14, in 2007, she and Calecto V have developed a strong bond. The pair represented the US at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, and Konyot is a cool customer who says she's good under pressure.

And pressure they will have: As I reported in yesterday's post, FEI 5* judge Axel Steiner predicts that teams at the London Games will need to earn scores in the mid-80s to put themselves in medal position. We'll need not only outstanding performances but something approaching a teamful of career-best tests to put ourselves in that lofty league.

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