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Friday, September 14, 2012

At a Crossroads

A final salute to the 2012 Olympics: Adrienne Lyle and Wizard of Team USA. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

If an Olympic Games and a Paralympic Games are as wonderful as the ones in London 2012, their conclusion brings a bit of wistful sadness. It's hard to see something so special come to an end.

As joyous as the performances and as thrilling as Great Britain's hard-earned victories were, many US dressage fans are feeling more down in the dumps than usual. After having won team bronze from 1992 to 2004, we'd become accustomed to our status as dressage medalists. But London was the second Olympics in a row to leave the American dressage team off the podium.

Depending on whom you ask, the medal-less status is anything from a nonissue to a crisis. Some argue, reasonably, that any horse and rider can have an off day, and that failure to medal in such exalted company is no reason to hang one's head in shame. After all, those in London had made it to the Olympics -- no easy feat!

Others perceive that, at the high-performance level, as it's called, competition is a big-stakes affair. Medals, and the promise of more medals to come, help lure donors and sponsors. Or to put it more bluntly, people tend to back a winning team but few want to back a loser. To further complicate matters, by not medaling, a nation must qualify to participate in a future Olympics, meaning that we need to fight to get in the game for Rio 2016.

The question that many are asking is: Why did the US not medal, and what can we do about it?

The consensus seems to be that, although American riders are top-notch, our crop of horses, at least at the time of the London Games, was outclassed, eclipsed by a new breed of superhorses (Exhibit A: Valegro). So the solution to the problem would seem to be: Buy Valegro or horses of his quality, or breed a Valegro or horses of that quality.

In the months and years to come, we shall see whether our rising stars -- Wizard, Paragon, Legolas, Pikko del Cerro HU, and others -- are of that caliber. And I have a feeling that sales of top dressage horses will engender even more scrutiny than in the past, now that we see how assembling a dressage dream team of horseflesh vaulted Team GB from pretty much nowhere to Olympic gold in a short four years or so.

Great Britain's lottery helped to fund its equestrian teams. In the US, we depend largely on the largesse of private sponsor/owners. But presumably even wealthy patrons don't have unlimited resources. Can American dressage find the necessary funding? Should doing so be the priority of those who govern our sport? These are not easy questions to answer. The only thing I'm willing to bank on at this point is that these issues will receive a lot of attention and debate over the next four years.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Great Britain, Already Olympic Dressage Team Gold Medalists, Scores More Gold at Paralympic Games

The 2012 Paralympic Games equestrian team medalists (from left): Germany (silver), Great Britain (gold), and Ireland (bronze). Photo by FEI/Liz Gregg.
Team Great Britain was unstoppable at the 2012 London Olympic Games dressage competition, and our friends and rivals from across the pond did it again at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

The British Paralympic equestrian team (Lee Pearson/Gentleman, Grade Ib; Sophie Wells/Pinocchio, Grade IV; Deborah Criddle/LJT Akilles, Grade III, and Sophie Christiansen/Janeiro 6, Grade Ia) claimed gold with a total score of 468.817.

Paralympic equestrian team silver went to Germany, with a team total of 440.970: Angelika Trabert/Ariva-Avanti, Grade II; Britta Napel/Aquilina 3, Grade II; Steffen Zeibig/Waldemar, Grade III; and Hannelore Brenner/Women of the World, Grade III.

The team bronze medal, with a total score of 428.313, went to Ireland: Eilish Byrne/Youri, Grade II; James Dwyer/Orlando, Grade IV; Geraldine Savage/Blues Tip Top Too, Grade Ia; and Helen Kearney/Mister Cool, Grade Ia.

Team USA (Dale Dedrick/Bonifatius, Grade II; Rebecca Hart/Lord Ludger, Grade II; Jonathan Wentz/Richter Scale, Grade Ib; and Donna Ponessa/Western Rose, Grade Ia) finished seventh with a total score of 417.528.
Team USA's Jonathan Wentz and Richter Scale on their way to fourth place in the Grade Ib Individual Championship test. Photo by Lindsay Yosay McCall.
Wentz, 21, of Richardson, TX, had the best individual placing of any American equestrian at the Paralympics: fourth in the Grade Ib Individual Championship test with a score of 70.348 percent. The gold medal went to Australia's Joann Formosa on Worldwide PB (75.826). Great Britain's Lee Pearson on Gentleman, so accustomed to Paralympic gold medals, had to settle for silver this time with 75.391. Austria's Pepo Puch on Fine Feeling won bronze with 75.043.

US Paralympian Rebecca Hart also made a strong showing in London, with a fifth-placed finish in the Grade II Freestyle on a score of 73.250 percent. It was an impressive rally after a somewhat disappointing eleventh place in the Grade II Individual test on 68.286.

Hart's Grade II teammate, Dale Dedrick on Bonifatius, was tenth in the Grade II FS with 69.150.

As in the Olympic dressage competition, Team GB also dominated the individual dressage medals. The big winner was Grade Ia rider Sophie Christiansen, who won gold in the Grade Ia Individual and Freestyle in addition to her team gold. Christiansen was the only equestrian athlete to score three gold medals at these Paralympic Games.
Natasha Baker of Great Britain exults after her record-breaking score and gold medal in the Grade II Freestyle. Photo by Lindsay Yosay McCall. 
Another British rider, Natasha Baker, made headlines of her own for toppling the Paralympic record in the Grade II Freestyle. Aboard Cabral, Baker broke the 80-percent mark, earning a score of 82.800 to win the gold medal. Baker also took gold in the Grade II Individual championship test, with a score of 76.857.

Congratulations to all the Paralympic equestrians and their horses, coaches, horse owners, and supporters!