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Monday, June 18, 2012

Paragon Is Headed to England

If you're a fan of the US Dressage Federation's Facebook page, you were among the first to learn that Heather Blitz and her horse Paragon will be traveling to England with the 2012 US Olympic dressage squad as the reserve pair.
Flying high: Heather Blitz and Paragon are England-bound. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Heather and Paragon, who finished sixth in the Olympic selection trials last weekend at the 2012 US Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival of Champions, actually finished one place too low to earn the invitation to be the traveling reserve. But as I explained in yesterday's blog post, invitations are extended in ranked order--and the fifth-placing pair, Todd Flettrich and Cherry Knoll Farm's Otto, declined the invitation.

Otto, a sixteen-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding who with Todd represented the US at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, instead is to be retired.

Otto has traveled across the pond many times, and the rider and owner preferred not to subject the horse to yet another trip with relatively little chance of actually competing. I suspect they believe that Otto probably doesn't have another WEG or Olympics in him, so it's better, kinder, and more dignified to retire him now. I'm sure it was a difficult decision to make, but Todd and Cherry Knoll Farm owner Margaret Duprey are to be commended for doing right by this wonderful horse.

In contrast, Paragon is a Grand Prix greenie: This is his very first season at the level--which makes his accomplishments all the more remarkable and a testament to owner Heather Blitz's training.

Theirs is a wonderful story: Heather was present when Paragon was foaled, and she has been the sole owner and trainer of the now nine-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding. Paragon is a rangy and leggy drink of water, just like his rider, with wonderfully expressive movement and a unique swanlike neck.

Even though Paragon won't compete in the Olympics unless misfortune befalls another pair, he and Heather will gain tremendous experience during their time in England.

Paragon will ship over with Ravel, Calecto V, Rafalca, Wizard, and Legolas on July 9, according to USEF national dressage technical advisor and high-performance coach Anne Gribbons. Stabled at a private facility about 90 minutes outside London, the horses will pick up their training on July 13. The following weekend, the American horses will get a tune-up--and some welcome foreign exposure--at a dressage competition at Hickstead, England.

On July 28, the final four--three team horses and an individual competitor--will ship to the Olympic competition venue in London.

So we bid "happy trails" to Otto, and then we look to the future. The Olympic machine is cranked up, with exciting happenings taking place almost daily. Tomorrow, it's hello Ravel! as The Big Horse arrives in Gladstone, NJ, from his home in California.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

And the Team Is...

The 2012 US dressage Olympic selection trials concluded yesterday. So who's going to the London Olympic Games?

The US Equestrian Team Foundation's Maureen Pethick wasn't exactly sure. Neither was US Equestrian Federation PR rep Joanie Morris.

Huh? How can we not know?

Try to decipher the International Equestrian Federation's (FEI) 2012 Olympic dressage procedures and you'll begin to understand why. It's complicated.

There are rules governing who and how many can make the team...whether a nation can send an individual and/or a reserve rider...even the exact hour by which any lineup changes must be announced.  Making things somewhat more confusing this year is the fact that our #1 rider, Steffen Peters, qualified with two horses: Ravel, who earned a "bye" and didn't have to compete at the 2012 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions in Gladstone, NJ; and Legolas 92, who won the Grand Prix championship title and thereby also qualified for London.

The questions began: Can Steffen ride two horses in London? Can someone else ride Ravel or Legolas if Steffen becomes unable to compete? Can the US send a reserve horse? How many horses will we ship to Great Britain?

For answers, I went directly to the one person I knew could straighten me out: Anne Gribbons. Anne, as you may know, is the USEF national dressage technical advisor and high-performance coach. So here's the deal, straight from the horse's mouth, as they say.

First, we begin with what's officially known as the nominated entry--the list of the top finishers at the Olympic selection trials who are qualified for London. Note in the USEF press release announcing the nominated entry that Steffen Peters holds both the #1 and the #3 positions, with Ravel and Legolas 92, respectively.

International Olympic Committee dressage rules for London permit only three horse-rider combinations per team. In addition, each athlete may be paired with only one horse.

Translation: Steffen Peters may ride either Ravel or Legolas, but not both, according to Anne Gribbons.  Ravel is the top horse, so he is the team pick. But because the USEF wants to ensure that Steffen will ride, Legolas will ship to England as a reserve mount for Steffen only--no "catch riding" allowed at the Olympics, Anne explained.

The #2 team slot goes to the #2 finisher in the selection trials: 2012 USEF national Grand Prix reserve champion Tina Konyot on Calecto V. With the #3-ranked horse being Legolas, the third team slot therefore goes to the #4-ranked combination: Jan Ebeling on Rafalca.

Here's where things get interesting. According to Anne Gribbons, the #5-ranked pair, Adrienne Lyle on Wizard, will travel to London with the intention of competing as individuals. However, "Wizard will be a team horse and not compete as an individual should something happen" to a team horse or rider, Anne said.

But wait; there's more. In the press conference following the selection-trials conclusion, Anne stated that the USEF's intention is to ship "five or six" horses to England. So who's #6?

That would be the horse next in line in the ranking succession whose rider and owner grants permission for the horse to travel to England strictly to wait in the wings as a reserve horse. If Wizard gets "called up" for team duty, horse #6 could then compete as an individual.
Will Todd Flettrich and Otto travel to England with the US team? We'll know today, according to Anne Gribbons. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

As it stands according to the selection-trials results, "Otto would be the sixth horse," Anne said, referring to Todd Flettrich's mount. But agreeing to travel in this reserve position is not obligatory, and so "the rider and owner have to have a chat and decide" what to do, she explained. Todd and Otto's owner, Margaret Duprey of Cherry Knoll Farm, West Grove, PA, have until today to tell the USEF yes or no (although I suspect Anne already knows what the answer will be).

Should they decline, then the USEF will extend the invitation to the next-ranked pair (Heather Blitz on Paragon), and so on down the line. One way or another, the lineup will be finalized by day's end today, Anne said.

Regardless of how many horses we ship to England, only four will actually wind up at the 2012 Olympic equestrian venue, Greenwich Park, Anne said. The US contingent will spend the last two weeks of July at a rented farm situated about 90 minutes from the venue, she said. Come time to ship to Greenwich Park, assuming Ravel, Calecto V, Rafalca, and Wizard are sound and healthy, those four horses will head to the Olympics, and Legolas and Otto will remain behind.

For a detailed look at Greenwich Park and the upcoming Olympic dressage competition, see my Olympic preview in the July/August issue of USDF Connection, the member magazine of the United States Dressage Federation. (Not a member? Here's how to join.)

In my next post, I'll continue my interview with Anne Gribbons, who discusses the Olympic travel timetable and the American dressage riders' chances in London.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Humor and Horses, Not Politics, Rule at Gladstone

USEF national dressage technical advisor Anne Gribbons (left) and newly minted Olympians Jan Ebeling, Tina Konyot, Steffen Peters, and Adrienne Lyle show their foam-finger spirit. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
The New York Times photographer and political writer at the 2012 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions  expressed surprise that dressage enthusiasts have embraced comedian Stephen Colbert's "Colbert Report" dressage bit, which has gone viral, at least in the equestrian community.

No surprise there, considering the recent NYT story portraying dressage as a fusty, snooty sport populated only by the so-called 1 percent--including, of course, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann. Ann, a dressage rider herself, co-owns the Oldenburg mare Rafalca, who is  London Olympics-bound with rider Jan Ebeling.

With a "Dressage #1" foam finger in one hand, a beer in the other, and tongue firmly in cheek, Colbert proclaimed dressage his "sport of the summer" and said it was "perfect for Joe Six-Pack" (while showing footage of Rafalca passaging).

Although a few fans have expressed disappointment in Colbert's routine, most--including Ebeling himself--have embraced the unexpected publicity boost and run with it.

Quick-thinking equestrian company SmartPak has shipped a dressage outfit to Colbert, who reportedly has agreed to take a dressage lesson from New Jersey-based Olympian Michael Barisone at a yet-to-be-determined date. And after today's Olympic Grand Prix Special and the conclusion of the 2012 US Equestrian Federation National Grand Prix Dressage Championship, red "Dressage Is #1" foam fingers were distributed to audience members, who waved them enthusiastically behind an understandably volatile Rafalca and a game Jan Ebeling.
Jan Ebeling, Rafalca, and the foam-finger fans. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Ann Romney said she begged off one day of her husband's current campaign bus tour to attend the competition today. Talking to equestrian journalists who were more interested in her horse and her riding than her husband's politics seemed to come as a welcome change for the dressage enthusiast, who took up riding as therapy for multiple sclerosis.

Eliciting understanding nods and laughs from the reporters and photographers who clustered around her, Romney said: "Giving speeches is easy. Going down center line--now that makes me nervous!"

Between the political campaign and Rafalca's successful bid for the 2012 US dressage Olympic team, "It's been an incredible year," Romney said. She declined to forecast Rafalca's chances in London, saying, "You never know with horses."

The Romneys will be in London for the Olympics, Ann Romney said. An accomplished rider herself, she does get to ride Rafalca--understandably not so much these days, however. "When the day comes that she retires, I will ride her," she said.
Ann Romney (right) chats with US dressage Olympians Jessica Ransehousen and Hilda Gurney. Gurney was a member of the Olympic selection-trials ground jury, and Ransehousen owns Lord Ludger, the mount of para-equestrian champ Rebecca Hart, who received a special award from Romney. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Motherhood also may be in Rafalca's future, Romney said. No stallion has been selected yet, but "We do like Utopia," Romney said, referring to herself and co-owner Amy Ebeling, wife of Jan Ebeling.

In a final gesture of support to the dressage community, Ann Romney presided over a special presentation to Rebecca Hart, who won the 2012 USEF National Para-Equestrian Championship earlier this week.
Ann Rommey poses with 2012 USEF National Para-Equestrian Dressage Champion Rebecca Hart on Lord Ludger. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
New York Times guys, other mainstream media, Mr. Colbert: Come join us! You'll find we dressage types are a pretty decent bunch overall, and we hope you've gotten a sense of why we love our sport and our horses so much. Bring on the foam fingers and half-pass us a beer!

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.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Doin' the Colbert Bump

The crowd at the 2012 US Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival of Champions in Gladstone, NJ, was reveling in the "Colbert Bump."
Good sport: Jan Ebeling does his Stephen Colbert imitation of Jan Ebeling. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

That would be the "Dressage: Sport of the Summer!" feature by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, highlighting presidential candidate Mitt Romney's ties to our sport via wife Ann's co-ownership of Olympic contender Rafalca. (Did you miss it? Watch it and read my blog post here.)

Everybody at Gladstone, including Rafalca's rider, Jan Ebeling, is enjoying dressage's newfound status as household name. The excitement seemed to bubble over in the form of markedly higher scores in today's FEI Grand Prix, the first test in this second and final weekend of Olympic selection-trials competition.

After playing "always a bridesmaid" to Steffen Peters both at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and last weekend at Gladstone, today Tina Konyot was finally a bride. Aboard her Danish Warmblood stallion, Calecto V, Tina achieved a career high GP score of 80.149 percent to beat Steffen on Legolas (78.660).

Tina Konyot and Calecto V pirouette their way to Grand Prix victory. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Calecto showed tremendous adjustability, power, and suppleness. Steffen Peters praised the stallion's superior canter work as helping to give him the edge over the inexperienced Legolas today.

With a solid and steady performance marred only by a mistake in the one-tempis ("It was my mistake," Jan Ebeling said), Rafalca also achieved a career best GP score, 75.255 percent, to put them in third place today.

The exciting new combination of Adrienne Lyle and Wizard put in a dynamic test that showcased the horse's incredible reach and uphill movement to finish fourth with 73.298 percent. WEG veterans Todd Flettich and Otto had a few bobbles, including an uncharacteristic reluctance to piaffe, putting them in fifth place with 73.106 percent.

FEI 5* judge Axel Steiner, who was today's expert commentator, said of the competitors afterward: "Everybody started peaking at the right time. Several people really pushed up their scores from last week to this week." He pointed out that Tina Konyot started out her test with an average of 92 percent, having earned two marks of 10 within the first five movements.

Tina Konyot lets Calecto V go in their Grand Prix victory gallop. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

With just one more test--tomorrow's Olympic Grand Prix Special--remaining in the quest to make the US Olympic dressage team, Steffen Peters on Legolas currently stand in first place, followed by Tina Konyot, Jan Ebeling, Todd Flettrich, Adrienne Lyle, and Heather Blitz. (I'm not counting Steffen on Ravel, who already hold the #1 team slot through a bye.)

"I think the final decision is going to be tomorrow," said Axel Steiner. "It's very tight." It sure is: Less than one-tenths of a percentage point currently separates Legolas from Calecto V.

Steiner offered a reality check in the midst of pre-Olympic euphoria. Even with our top riders hitting the 80-percent mark, nations such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain are hitting even higher octaves.

"Denmark had an over-80-percent ride just last week," he said. "The Swedes are coming on strong too."

So what are the Americans' Olympic dressage medal chances? Steiner said it's realistic to hope for "a strong showing as a team, maybe sneak some people in in the individual [competition]. Are we in the top three right now? Probably not.

"Eighty percent won't be enough," Steiner continued. Especially in the individual competition, winning scores should be in the mid- to high 80s, he said.

"We can expect big scores," Steiner said.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's Olympic Grand Prix Special, which begins at 8:30 a.m. Live-stream the competition via the USEF Network.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Power to the Para-Equestrians

I quit complaining (mostly) about how hard it is to ride dressage after I watched the para-equestrian dressage riders at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

My errant left shoulder? That right hip that can have a mind of its own? Shaddup already, I told myself. These elite para-equestrians are good--better than some of you able-bodied folks reading this, I'll wager--and they are physically disabled.

Many of these accomplished riders' disabilities are fairly serious. Some, they were born with. Others were the result of accidents or injuries. Some para-equestrians are missing limbs or are confined to wheelchairs when out of the saddle.

Think about it. Could you ride if you had only one leg? Only one arm? Poor motor control? And yet these equestrians are literally set free when they're on horseback, and they turn in dressage tests and freestyles that are seriously difficult. No "gimmes" or pity here.

For the first time at the US Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival of Champions, the competition this year includes the selection trials for the 2012 London Paralympic Games. It is a treat to see, as we did at the 2010 WEG, our nation's best dressage riders competing at the same venue as our nation's best para-equestrian dressage riders.

Para-equestrians are classified into grades, or levels of disability, in official classification events in which they are evaluated by a physiotherapist or specially trained physician. The grades range from IV (the least disabled) to I (the most disabled, subdivided into walk-trot and walk-only divisions). The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) governs para-equestrian dressage.

2012 US National Para-Equestrian champion Rebecca Hart on Lord Ludger. Photo by Lindsay McCall.
At Gladstone, NJ, at the Festival of Dressage Champions, Grade II rider Rebecca Hart, of Unionville, PA, earned her fifth USEF National Para-Equestrian Dressage Championship title--and presumably, although the team hasn't been formally named yet, a trip to London. Hart rode Lord Ludger, a Holsteiner gelding owned by dressage Olympian Jessica Ransehousen, also of Unionville.

The reserve champion was last year's champion pair, Grade Ib competitor Jonathan Wentz, of Richardson, TX, riding NTEC Richter Scale, a Shire-cross gelding owned by Kai Handt.

In third was Donna Ponessa, New Windsor, NY, a Grade Ia competitor riding Western Rose, an Oldenburg mare owned by Wesley Dunham.
Paralympic hopeful and third-placed 2012 US National Para-Equestrian championship finisher Donna Ponessa is all smiles at the press conference. Photo by Lindsay McCall.
A team of four dressage riders and horses will represent the US at the 2012 London Paralympic Games. The four horse-rider combinations and two alternate combinations will be named July 16, according to US Para-Equestrian Association PR manager Lindsay McCall.

We salute all of our talented para-equestrians and the owners of their wonderful mounts!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ready or Not, Olympic Dressage Goes Prime Time!

For years, we American dressage enthusiasts have bemoaned our sport's lack of mainstream recognition -- no TV or newspaper coverage, blank stares at cocktail parties, and the like.

That's all changed.

Last night, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert proclaimed (tongue firmly in cheek) on "The Colbert Report" that dressage is his "sport of the summer" and that Jan Ebeling's mount Rafalca is his new favorite athlete. And yes, Rafalca is co-owned by US presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife, Ann; and so yes, there were lots of not-so-subtle digs at the Romneys' moneyed status. Have a look:

You know the old saying "Be careful what you wish for"? Well, we wished for more recognition -- and we got it. I hope that Colbert's bit intrigues some viewers enough that they decide to learn more about the sport of dressage. And can you just imagine how much airplay and ink we'll get if Jan and Rafalca make the Olympic team?

Get your foam fingers ready! Now that's a USDF merchandising opportunity if ever I saw one.

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.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Let the Games Begin

The goal: Representing one's country in international competition
It's the day before the first round of 2012 US Olympic dressage selection trials; and fittingly, my Olympic Games press credential just arrived in the mail. (Whew.)

The fifteen horses and riders contesting the 2012 United States Equestrian Federation Grand Prix Dressage Championships (minus Steffen Peters' mount Ravel, who was granted a bye) are getting ready for the veterinary inspection (the "jog") as I write this. Assuming all pass, they'll get under way bright and early tomorrow, Saturday, June 9, at 8:00 a.m. EDT at United States Equestrian Team Foundation headquarters in Gladstone, NJ.

The contenders will ride the FEI Grand Prix test tomorrow and the Olympic Grand Prix Special (a different test from the FEI GP Special) on Sunday, June 10, also beginning at 8:00 a.m. New Jersey weekend temperatures are forecast to soar into the upper 80s, so I'm sure the competitors are thankful they'll be riding in the relative cool of the morning.

Although we won't be seeing Ravel at Gladstone, we'll most certainly be seeing Steffen Peters. His other Grand Prix-level mount, Legolas, is also an Olympic contender. (Can you imagine having not just one but two Olympic-hopeful horses?) And Steffen will also be riding in the Intermediaire I championship with rising star Sundance.

The USEF Network will be broadcasting both Grand Prix classes, which are part of the 2012 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions. Other championship divisions being held this weekend are the FEI Pony, Junior, and Young Rider. See the USEF Network link for a complete schedule.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Come with Me to London!

Three of my favorite things are: dressage, the Olympic Games, and the city of London.

Put the three together and I'm in horse/equestrian sports/Anglophile heaven.

This weekend at the 2012 United States Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival of Champions, the road to London begins in earnest for American dressage hopefuls. The top 15 horses and riders in the country  will contest the FEI Grand Prix and the Olympic Grand Prix Special in the first of two weekends of competition comprising the 2012 USEF National Grand Prix Dressage Championship and the 2012 US dressage Olympic selection trials.

Follow this blog for coverage, commentary, photos, interviews, and as much behind-the-scenes info as I can cram in.