Gladstone, N.J., June 16, 2007 -- So far, the U.S. Equestrian Federation's Grand Prix Dressage Championship has been Steffen Peters' show, just as we expected.
Even though he's riding Lombardi II instead of Floriano, the horse who took him to glory at the World Equestrian Games and before that, to the 2006 national championship here, Steffen still delivers his tests with laser focus and aplomb in the sand ring at the venerable U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters.
He won the Grand Prix on Thursday with room to spare after scoring 70.417 percent, to 67.958 for second place Krisi Harrison-Naness on the magnificent white Andalusian stallion, Rociero XV.
Things were a little tougher for Steffen yesterday in the Special, because Idocus was feeling far better than he did when he gave a lackluster performance for Courtney King in the Grand Prix to wind up fifth. Lombardi and Idocus were tied on 71.76 percent in the Special, but the stand-off was broken in Steffen's favor by a margin of a single point on the collective marks.
I talked with Courtney about what happened Thursday and how much her stallion had improved yesterday.
Steffen has his work cut out for him with Lombardi, who is not an easy ride. Luckily, Steffen doesn't make many mistakes, but as he explains in this sound byte, he walks a fine line with the bay Holsteiner.
Lombardi is more of a challenge than Floriano, according to Steffen.
"There's a huge difference in the comfort level. Flori goes in there and does his job and that's not quite there with Lombardi," he said.
I've seen Lombardi and Idocus more than Rociero (who was third yesterday on a score of 70.160 percent), so the accomplishment of the Andalusian (or PRE, as the Spanish call the breed) was a pleasant surprise for me. He's a storybook horse, with smooth and flowing gaits, unlike the Andalusians so much in prominence at the 2002 WEG in Jerez Spain, who seemed more vertical in both build and performance.
I know in the past that some judges weren't crazy about Andalusians, so I wondered if Krisi had encountered prejudice in the show ring.
"I did feel it at the beginning, I don't feel they always know what to do with him," she said, "but I feel the last couple of shows they gave us marks when we deserved them and didn't give them to us when we didn't."
Despite the fact that he's not a conventional warmblood, Krisi never had a question about whether she should ride Rociero.
"When the owners talked to me and I saw a video of this horse, I called them back and felt so passionately about this horse I just knew it was my horse to ride," she commented.
Turns out he is as wonderful to deal with as he is to show.
"There's nothing studdy about him whatsoever. He is the nicest horse to handle," Krisi enthused.
She is being helped here by her friend Debbie McDonald, who left Brentina home and has been busy with lots of USEF meetings. While everyone was partying in the trophy room overlooking the ring after the competition yesterday, Debbie was in the high performance dressage committee confab in the offices below. I hope they didn't run out of food and drinks before the meeting broke up and the committee could get to the party; the gathering was mobbed when I looked in on it.
I have been fascinated by the double French braid job on Rociero's mane, which hangs below his shoulder when it's loose. Turns out that Krisi braids it herself, and it only takes 20 minutes or so.
Krisi said although they use purple Quicksilver shampoo on Rociero, they have to be careful; if it were left on too long, Rociero would become lavender rather than sparkling silver. I thought it would be a nightmare to keep him clean, but apparently Rociero is pretty neat. Krisi said you do have to keep after yellow stains, though, because otherwise they set in and become permanent.