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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ebeling and Rafalca Get US Dressage off to a Strong Start

Jan Ebeling and Rafalca in the Grand Prix for Team USA. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Jan Ebeling said he was "very happy" with his "good ride" on Rafalca in the Grand Prix at the 2012 London Olympic Games today.

Ebeling was the eighth to ride today and the first to go for the US dressage team. The fifteen-year-old Oldenburg mare (by Argentinius) put in a steady and accurate test with just a few moments of loss of balance or a slight loss of thrust from her right hind leg to earn a score of 70.243 percent.

"I think my second pirouette started out a little bit large; she jumped off the line a bit. But overall it was great. My piaffes were really nice, and that's something that's really improved over the last couple of months. I think the frame was good: She was up, and she felt really good. She's fit, and I think she's peaking just at the right moment," Ebeling said afterward.

Other than eventing's Zara Phillips, whose royal connections enthralled the mainstream media, Ebeling is probably drawing the most mainstream-media attention focused on an equestrian at these Olympic Games. The reason, of course, is Ann Romney's part-ownership of Rafalca, which was unremarkable before her husband, Mitt Romney, decided to run for the US presidency. So Ebeling fielded the expected questions from Bloomberg News and the like about Mrs. Romney and about how he's dealing with the spotlight.

"It really ended up being a good thing for the sport," Ebeling said. "I don't really get distracted by these things. I have a pretty good way of focusing. And if I don't want to talk to anybody, I don't answer my phone!"

And yes, Anne Gribbons, Ebeling's first halt looked pretty good. (He said the coach has been on him to improve that movement.) But he admitted to almost saluting with the other hand than the one he normally uses--his one admission of nervousness.

Ebeling had to explain to the mainstream media present what "amped up" means in terms of how Rafalca felt today. It's a good thing, in case you were wondering, but "the trick is to manage it," he said.

Ebeling's good showing gets Team USA off to a solid start. Fellow team members Steffen Peters/Ravel and Tina Konyot/Calecto V go tomorrow (Tina first of the day at 11:00 and Steffen at 2:35). Adrienne Lyle/Wizard, riding as individuals, go at 12:51.

But Team GB has definitely issued the challenge, with two of its riders earning today's top scores. Carl Hester on the 2001 KWPN stallion Uthopia (by Metall) holds the lead with a score of 77.720 percent. The dark-bay stallion put in a Grand Prix test with great suppleness, relaxation, elegance, and scope.
Great Britain's Carl Hester and Uthopia lead the GP standings with 77.720 percent. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Close behind Hester is teammate Laura Bechtolsheimer on the 1995 Dutch Warmblood gelding Mistral Hojris (by Michellino). The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games individual silver medalist earned a score of 76.839 percent for a test that had plenty of expression but a couple of mistakes: an early change after the extended canter and a mistake in the two-tempi changes. "Alf" looked a bit "on the muscle," and although he didn't appear resistant or stiff, Bechtolsheimer appeared to be working pretty hard, with a decent amount of weight in the reins.

Team Canada, unfortunately, is left licking its wounds after David Marcus on Capital was eliminated after the horse had a meltdown in the middle of the sudden drenching downpour that came as quickly as it went. With teams of three and no drop score, Marcus's failure to finish knocks Canada out of the team competition. Ashley Holzer, who rides Breaking Dawn tomorrow, therefore will ride only for the individual-medal qualifier and not for a Canadian team medal.

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