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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

All Dressage Horses Pass Olympic Veterinary Inspection

Team USA's Rafalca and Jan Ebeling. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Fifty-three horses from 23 nations were successfully presented to the Olympic equestrian veterinary commission today. It was the first hurdle of the 2012 Olympic dressage competition, which begins Thursday with the Grand Prix.
Ravel's owner, Akiko Yamazaki, was on hand to watch her horse jog. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Having just seen the Olympic event horses in their "trot-ups," I was struck by two differences: 1) the eventers jog much better than many of the dressage horses, and 2) dressage horses are fat. OK, OK, I know our horses have different muscling, but some of these animals are downright zaftig.
Mistral Hojris gets the better of Laura Bechtolsheimer. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
A few horses got a little out of control during the jog, including 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games individual silver medalist Mistral Hojris. "Alf" dragged rider Laura Bechtolsheimer of Great Britain clear out of the jog track.

A few riders seemed unclear as to the jog pattern. Spanish competitor Jose Daniel Martin Dockx steered the PRE stallion Grandioso clear off the hard-surfaced jog track into the arena footing and had to be guided back by the vigorously waving veterinary officials.

Parzival and Adelinde Cornelissen of the Netherlands. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Only one horse, the KWPN stallion Painted Black, was sent to the holding box. A former mount of Dutch Olympic champion Anky van Grunsven, Painted Black was accepted for competition on re-presentation by his current rider, Morgan Barbancon of Spain.
Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan, at 71 the oldest athlete at these Games, with his mount Whisper. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Some horsy hijinks, a few unexpected laughs--it wasn't too bad a way to start the 2012 Olympic dressage competition.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

New Faces, Nations Lead After Eventing Dressage

Individual leaders after eventing dressage (from left): Yoshiaki Oiwa of Japan, Stefano Brecciaroli of Italy, and Mark Todd of New Zealand. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Hey, who are those faces representing the finest in international eventing competition?

Surprising many in the audience at Greenwich Park--and at least one of the riders himself--the usual powerhouses of Germany, Australia, Great Britain, and the U.S. weren't represented in the individual standings after eventing dressage concluded today. Topping them all was a rider pretty much nobody has heard of, from a nation that until today wasn't a blip on the eventing community's radar: Japan.

But Yoshiaki "Yoshi" Oiwa, 36, put in a stellar dressage test aboard the eleven-year-old Selle Francais mare Noonday de Conde (by Fidji du Fleury) to top the leader board with just 38.1 penalty points.

Nobody seemed more astonished at Oiwa's victory than the man himself.

"I couldn't believe it," Oiwa said of seeing his score. "Probably everybody was a little bit [shocked]. Nobody expected it. There are not many Japanese media here," he observed dryly.

Oiwa seemed a bit overwhelmed during the post-competition press conference, his reserved demeanor contrasting with the easy smiles from the second- and third-placed finishers, Italy's Stefano Brecciaroli and New Zealand's Mark Todd. Brecciaroli rode Apollo WD Wendi Kurt Hoev to 38.5 penalty points, and "Toddy" and Campino came in at 39.1.

For three years Oiwa has been based in Germany. He trains with Dirk Schrade, who's on this year's German eventing team with the horse King Artus.

Today's wild weather affected some of the rides. After a sunny and pleasant morning, the clouds rolled in and the wind kicked up almost exactly at noon. Soon Greenwich Park was deluged with rain, lightning, and thunder that forced the competition to cease for about ten minutes. The rest of the afternoon, it was on-and-off thunderstorms and rain showers interspersed with sunny breaks. Your reporter has never made so many quick outerwear clothing changes in her life.

Oiwa's mount had one spook at a crack of thunder. Mark Todd said, "There was a huge clap of thunder when I was getting on, and it was going on when the riders before me were in the ring. I was relieved that it let up, and the weather was fine for my ride."

The footing in the equestrian stadium was fine despite the rain, but competitors already dubious that they will be able to make the time on tomorrow's twisty-turny, super-hilly cross-country course are wondering what additional rain might do.

"If we get rain it will get slippery," Todd said. (We'll have to see about that, considering course designer Sue Benson's assurance that the ground has outstanding drainage.)

Also at the post-dressage press conference was Hans Melzer, the German eventing team's chef d'equipe and national coach. Although his team currently lies in first place, Melzer fielded questions about the (comparatively speaking) disappointing performance from 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games individual gold medalists, Michael Jung and Sam, whose two mistakes (a break to canter and an anticipated walk-canter transition) put them in eleventh place with 40.6.

"Michael Jung can live with the result because he never had an atmosphere like this before in eventing--this big, beautiful stadium, so many spectators," Melzer said.

Well, I beg to differ: The stadium and the atmosphere at the WEG in Kentucky was equally electric, if not more so. And I'll leave it at that.

At the end of the day (literally), the fact that we're welcoming new faces and new nations into the top ranks of equestrian sport is a welcome and refreshing trend. More important, it helps to show the International Olympic Committee that many nations indeed contend in equestrian sports--a very important factor in helping to ensure that horse sports remain on the Olympic program.

Tomorrow: cross-country!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ferris Bueller's Unplanned Day Off

The first day of eventing dressage competition just wrapped up at Greenwich Park. At the halfway point, German teammates Ingrid Klimke (Butts Abraxxas) and Dirk Schrade (King Artus) are in first and second place, respectively, with scores of 39.30 and 39.80. The veteran Olympian Mary King (Imperial Cavalier) from Great Britain lies in third with 40.90.

Butts Abraxxas, a 1997 Hanoverian gelding by Heraldik XX, is just as gorgeous as I remember from the Olympics in Hong Kong four years ago. He put in a supple and dynamic test with perhaps some quickening and tension during the medium trots but a most impressive halt: solid, square, and motionless even after the applause started. Klimke dropped the reins and Butts Abraxxas stretched out his neck and walked as calmly from the Olympic stadium as if he were on a hack.

Now that's my kind of horse.

As for the rest of the day's competition, unfortunately, I didn't see much of it. I had made the decision to skip the morning's rides in favor of the planned U.S. dressage-team press conference, which was scheduled in the Main Press Centre (a mile walk, two trains, and a shuttle bus away from the equestrian hub at Greenwich Park) for 11:00 this morning.

No problem: I was out the door extra-early and arrived at the MPC at about 10:00. Inquiring brightly about the conference's whereabouts, I was informed that the event, which evidently in dark of night had been rescheduled for 9:00 a.m., had ended some minutes ago.

Um...thanks for telling us, guys. And to Steffen & Co.: It wasn't for lack of trying that I missed you!

Press-conference transcript? Not available. Press kits (promised cool stuff available only at the MPC)? Nope, all out. Even the on-site Nikon shop had run out of its free camera rain covers. Yep, I was batting a thousand at this point.

At this point, knowing that I'd missed Boyd Martin's ride on Otis Barbotiere (he's currently tied for 13th place with a score of 50.70) and that I wouldn't make it back in time for Karen O'Connor's test on Mr. Medicott (in 9th with 48.20), I decided to take the advice of the Ferris Bueller's Day Off titular character and take a look around.

I explored the vast MPC (which makes our digs at Greenwich Park seem primitive) at length. Wandering back to the Stratford International Docklands Light Rail (DLR) station, I saw signs for "Olympic Village" and "Media Entrance." Exchanging my Olympic credential for a Village visitor pass, I was allowed to explore the public spaces, including a vast courtyard, a mock-up of an athlete's bedroom, and stores and services like those at the MPC.

I love dressage. I love eventing. I love watching horse sport--but I have to admit, my Ferris Bueller day was pretty fun. Enjoy these photos. Tomorrow I'll be in position for day 2 of eventing dressage--I promise.

Huge press workroom at the Olympic Main Press Centre, near the Olympic Stadium and other major competition venues. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Giant mural at entrance to Main Press Centre, signed by press members. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Free haircuts and beauty treatments at the MPC salon. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Hit the bar after a long day's workPhoto by Jennifer Bryant.
Fitness center. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 
Media shuttles are double-decker buses. Fun! Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 
Huge Olympics souvenir store. Note dressage horse on window at left. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 
The Olympic Stadium, site of last night's opening ceremony. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 
Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

No doubt which nations are staying where in the Olympic Village! I couldn't see Team USA from my limited vantage point. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Horse sports are featured prominently on this comforter, which graces athletes' beds in the Olympic Village. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Hang around the gate to the athletes' complex long enough and you're bound to see some athletes. I don't know who this Russian athlete is, but I liked his outfit. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Florist in the Olympic Village makes arrangements for athletes, sent by family, friends, and fans. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Even the volunteers and workers want to pose with a Olympic torch, a Beefeater, and the Olympic rings in the courtyard at the Olympic village. Photo by Jennifer Bryant. 
Forgive the photo quality. In the Olympic Village courtyard are tall, clear pieces of Plexiglass (or something similar) and a lot of white pens so visitors can leave messages. I wrote my own message, but in the sun the white ink disappeared except when it was reflected in the blue of my shirt. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Dressage Team Is Coming!

Today was the 2012 US Olympic dressage team's last day at Layham Hall, their pre-London training base in England. As I write this, riders Steffen Peters, Tina Konyot, Jan Ebeling, and Adrienne Lyle are standing backstage somewhere at the Olympic stadium, waiting to march in with the rest of Team USA.

US Equestrian Federation national dressage technical advisor and coach Anne Gribbons won't be there tonight; she's stayed behind until after Ravel, Calecto V, Rafalca, and Wizard depart tomorrow for Greenwich Park. Meanwhile, she sent me this report:

"All horses/riders doing well. They have their last work sessions this morning and then head into London for Opening Ceremony. I am staying behind and going after the horses leave Saturday morning. 
Team USA: Steffen Peters, Adrienne Lyle, Anne Gribbons, Tina Konyot, and Jan Ebeling at their English training base outside London (during a rare non-rainy moment). Photo courtesy of Anne Gribbons.

"The horses arrived in top shape due to a direct and smooth flight with minimal road travel. 
Training camp has gone smoothly, and the team spirit is great. We have been housed at the most wonderful facility owned by Linda and Jack Keenan, and they have been the most fantastic hosts. No wish was unfulfilled, the horses loved the ambiance with rolling hills and mares and foals in the pastures. Calecto and Paragon have had their own turnout fields and all our horses are in the same cosy barn. 

Traveling reserve rider Heather Blitz preps Paragon for a show. Photo courtesy of Anne Gribbons.

"Dr. Mitchell [US dressage-team veterinarian Rick Mitchell, DVM] is here full time to pamper our equines, the grooms are a wonderful group who take excellent care of the horses and have a very good time together, and the staff is on top of scheduling and organizing our daily lives and  progress from one venue to another. Every horse / rider combination has been working diligently on polishing their act, and I ran them through two show dress rehearsals  with video sessions last week. The youngsters, Legolas and Paragon, have both benefited from the program as well, and they look very promising for future teams.
At team processing
"We went to team processing a few days ago and received an abundance of clothing and gifts, which made the grooms giggle even more, and the riders got a first look at London and we all realized we really are going to the Olympics!"

Many thanks to Anne for taking time out of her busy schedule to keep the US dressage fans updated! 

Cheerio from London! Tomorrow I hope to see all our riders at the US dressage-team press conference. Now I'm signing off to continue live-streaming the Olympic opening ceremony (no, I couldn't get a ticket). But I do have a photo source, so I hope to share a photo of our riders with you tomorrow.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Your Guide to the Games

Follow me to Greenwich Park: Line of traffic inches through the town of Greenwich near the 2012 Olympic equestrian venue. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Greetings from London! The 2012 Olympic Games commence tomorrow with the opening ceremony. Are you ready?

Some of you have been asking how to watch the equestrian competition. First off, no, it won't be broadcast on the US Equestrian Federation streaming network (NBC controls all US broadcast rights). And no, don't expect to see lots of equestrian coverage on your local NBC TV network, although NBC will be broadcasting the opening ceremony, which begins at 9:00 p.m. London time on Friday, July 27. (London is five hours ahead of the Eastern time zone.)

Fortunately, for the first time ever, NBC Universal and its Comcast subsidiary will be live-streaming all 32 Olympic summer sports. It's free, but you need to register and get your account set up in advance. (You also need access to an Internet-enabled computer, laptop, or mobile device.) USDF members, I detailed the process in the July/August issue of USDF Connection. If you missed that issue, here's what you need to do.

Verify your eligibility. Registrants for the live-streaming service must be current subscribers in good standing to a pay-TV service (cable, satellite, or "telco") that carries the channels MSNBC and CNBC. Gather your provider name and account number, and then:

Go to Click on the "Live Extra" link (the "Click Here & Get Ready" red button on the home page). Follow the steps for selecting your TV provider, registering your account, and creating a login. NBC promises that then all you'll have to do is log in before your desired competition starts, select it, and enjoy.

For tablets and smartphones. The NBCOlympics Live Extra app will enable you to live-stream Olympic coverage to your Internet-enabled mobile device. Download the appropriate app and follow the instructions to set up access.

Coverage minus streaming.'s "On the Go" page is also the download source for the NBC Olympics mobile website and mobile apps. Use these as your mobile guide to schedules, news, results, and coverage listings. You'll also be able to access selected Olympics photos and video.

Equestrian Competition Schedule

You'll have to get up early to catch some of these live, although replay will be available on the NBC Olympics site, according to the "Live Extra" usage instructions.

The three Olympic equestrian disciplines (eventing, dressage, and jumping, scheduled in that order) overlap one another a bit on the calendar, although competition never runs concurrently. Times given are London local time. Schedule source: FEI.

July 27: First horse inspection, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
July 28: Team and individual dressage, 10:00 a.m.-4:45 p.m.
July 29: Team and individual dressage, 10:00 a.m.-4:45 p.m.
July 30: Cross-country, 12:30 p.m.-5:40 p.m.
July 31: Second horse inspection, 8:15 a.m.-9:30 a.m.
              Team final jumping: 10:30 a.m.-1:10 p.m.
               Individual final jumping: 2:30 p.m.-3:35 p.m.
July 31: Horse inspection, 5:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
August 2: FEI Grand Prix, 11:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
August 3: FEI Grand Prix, 11:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
August 7: Olympic Grand Prix Special (team medal final), 10:00 a.m.-4:25 p.m.
August 9: FEI Grand Prix Freestyle (individual medal final): 12:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
August 2: First horse inspection, 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
August 4: First qualifier, 10:30 a.m.-2:05 p.m.
August 5: Second individual qualifier/team competition round 1, 11:00 a.m.-2:15 p.m.
August 6: Third individual qualifier/team medal final, 2:00 p.m.-4:45 p.m.
August 8:  Second horse inspection, 9:30 a.m.-10:15 a.m.
                  Individual round A, 12:00 p.m.-1:30 p.m.
                  Individual round B/individual medal final, 2:45 p.m.-4:05 p.m.
Happy viewing! We equestrian-media folks are prepping our cameras for tomorrow's first eventing horse inspection. I'll post news and photos tomorrow. Cheerio from London!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I'll Take My Mix Tape and Go Home

Back in the day, we made mix tapes for boyfriends, girlfriends, parties, and our own listening enjoyment. (Today we make playlists instead.)

A lot of early dressage freestyles probably got created the same way: with a dual cassette deck and a stack of vinyl.

My fantasies of one day creating a freestyle soundtrack armed only with the modern equivalent (my trusty iMac, GarageBand, and my cherished iTunes music library) were pretty much dashed when I saw this new video of Swedish Grand Prix-level competitor Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven and her horse, Don Auriello. Tinne's freestyle designer, the Dutch guru Cees Slings, put together this fascinating split-screen look at horse and rider performing their new freestyle (we'll see it at the London Olympic Games in a couple of weeks), and the professional recording session of their custom-arranged, custom-performed, custom-everything music. (It's a medley of songs by The Who, in case you were wondering.)

Who's Anton? - Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén & Don Auriello's London 2012 Freestyle - from Cees Slings on Vimeo.

Now, the super-deluxe custom dressage freestyle is nothing new. The first one that I recall receiving a lot of attention was "Bonfire's Symphony," the original orchestral piece composed for Bonfire and Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands. That performance won an individual silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

These fascinating looks at the tippy-top of our sport are reminders, however, that dressage at the Olympic level is not really the dressage that I (and possibly you, too) engage in every day. The underpinnings (the basics, as it were) are the same: good riding, good horsemanship, good care and management, and above all else a love for the horse and a commitment to his welfare. At the elite level, however, it's serious. I'm sure it's exciting and thrilling to be Tinne or Anky or Steffen or Isabell...but I'm also sure there is pressure the likes of which we hobbyists cannot imagine.

OK, I take that back. I suppose we can imagine the pressure, if we translate it to what we feel in our jobs. For at that level, being a top rider and competitor is a job. Vying for medals is serious business, and therefore it is a bona fide business investment to hire a roomful of professional session musicians to perform one's freestyle music.

This is not intended as a criticism of elite horse sport, or session musicians, or freestyle (I happen to like all three). It's a roundabout way of saying that the Olympic Games are another horse show and yet not another horse show. They are the same, and the rules are the same (more or less) as at any other FEI dressage competition; yet there is an intensity, a fierce patriotism, and a palpable feeling of pressure at Olympic Games and World Equestrian Games that just aren't there at other horse shows.

It's a crucible, these Olympic Games--wonderful, but demanding. I admire those with the mental toughness to get there. And just maybe I'll get so inspired by this year's freestyles that I'll come home and start fiddling with GarageBand. Hey, you have to start somewhere.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Different Kind of Equestrian Royalty

When dressage enthusiasts wish to disparage a horse and rider for performing movements as "tricks" instead of from a foundation of correct basics, they call it "circus riding."

You might not want to use that phrase around Tina Konyot.

Konyot, 50, of Palm City, FL, is the second-ranked member of the 2012 US Olympic dressage squad with her Calecto V. She also happens to descend from an illustrious and celebrated circus family.

Tina Konyot and Calecto V on their way to a career high score and the 2012 USEF National Grand Prix reserve championship (and a berth on the Olympic team). Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

I don't know whether things are different today, but at one time, equestrian circus performers were bona fide elite riders and trainers. Sure, their horses could rear on command and do other "tricks"; but they could also execute FEI-level movements and probably also do some pretty outstanding haute école work.

The Konyot family, of Hungarian origin, is legendary in circus lore. Tina Konyot's great-grandfather Leopold Konyot joined the circus in 1870 as a teen and later married the daughter of a circus owner. Their twelve children--among them Tina's grandfather Arthur Konyot--became circus equestrians and acrobats, especially well known for their bareback riding.

In 1909, the Konyot family immigrated to the US to perform in John Ringling's Barnum & Bailey Circus. They returned to Europe a few years later and founded their own circus, whose success was interrupted by the death of Leopold's wife, Henrietta.

Shortly before the outbreak of World War I, Arthur Konyot married Manya, a Russian ballerina. Their son, Alex (Tina's late father), was born during wartime; and their daughter, Dorita, was born post-war, while the family was performing in circuses in France.

Arthur Konyot was a renowned animal trainer, and his children became outstanding equestrians. Around the time of World War II, Arthur, Manya, Alex, and Dorita Konyot pursued their circus fortunes in America, with much of the family eventually settling in Florida. (The Sarasota area, known as the "home of the American circus," is the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.)

Tina and her brother Randy are the children of Alex Konyot and his wife, Josephine Berosini, a Czech-born high-wire circus star.

The Konyot family and Josephine Berosini have been inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame.

"More Comfortable in the Saddle Than on a Sofa"

That's how Tina Konyot describes herself, and now that you know her history, it should come as no surprise. She grew up goofing off on horseback, jumping bareback and bridleless, galloping ponies--everything you'd expect from the horse-loving kid of a horse-loving, acrobatic circus family. She enjoys riding her Olympic mount, the fourteen-year-old Danish Warmblood stallion Calecto V, bareback and in a hackamore during their afternoon walks. She thrilled audiences at the 2012 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions when she unleashed Calecto in a full gallop and a "look, Ma, no hands" pose during the victory lap, then calmly pulled him up and walked sedately out of the Brown Arena. Now that's training.

Konyot and Calecto's first major international appearance was two years ago, at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. The horse has improved since the WEG--at Gladstone, they earned a career high score of 80.149 percent in the Grand Prix, besting eventual champions Steffen Peters and Legolas--and he shows a freshness and an enjoyment of his work.

"He is my pet," Konyot says of her horse. "He's my boy. He knows he can play"--and, of course, he also knows when it's time to buckle down and work.

Konyot is especially proud that "I've developed him. No one else has contributed. No one else has sat on him. It's all my own training"--that is, "the Alex Konyot school of training," his daughter says. "Little ways of making weaknesses stronger."

She purchased Calecto at auction in Denmark as an eight-year-old, at that time schooling Prix St. Georges-level work. Other bidders were uninspired by the horse, who would "swing badly in the changes," Konyot says. But she liked his walk and his canter, and "You only buy what you can afford."

A Unique Path

Tina Konyot has charted her own course from her family's legacy to the Olympic stage. Her skill and showmanship are proof that you may be able to take the girl out of the circus, but you can't take the circus out of the girl. She's giving "circus riding" a whole new meaning.

(Source for the Konyot family history: articles on Tina Konyot's website, including the Circus Ring of Fame induction speech.)