July 28, 2010 -- The country's best dressage horses and riders are getting ready to come to the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation headquarters for next month's World Equestrian Games (WEG) selection trials, but the most celebrated combination in the group--Steffen Peters and Ravel--won't be competing here.
Ravel has just gotten a "bye" from the trials that should go a long way toward preserving him for the event that really counts: This fall's Alltech FEI WEG in Lexington, Ky. It's a smart move, enabling Ravel to stay at home longer in Southern California, steeped in the routine and environment that have brought him to the top of the American rankings and earned him a place on the world stage.
"I asked for it," Steffen said of the bye. "I think it was the right decision to make it as easy on Ravel as possible."
Of course, it's a disappointment for fans attending the trials, especially if they won't be able to come to the WEG. But consideration of the horse is most important.
Short of wrapping him in cotton, everything should be done to make sure Ravel is ready to put his best hoof forward at WEG. He is set to be both the pillar and the centerpiece of the U.S. squad there. The spectacular 12-year-old Dutch warmblood gelding, who won the 2009 World Cup finals and then swept all the honors at Aachen two months later, is the highest profile U.S. contender on the international dressage scene. Without him, the American arsenal would be missing its best shot for a medal. And of course, Steffen may be able to claim the individual medal that eluded him at the 2008 Olympics, where he finished fourth.
He'll be facing probably the best dressage line-up ever, including world record-breaking super horse Moorlands Totilas with Edward Gal aboard and his teammate from the Netherlands, Adelinde Cornelissen on Parzival. Then there's Germany's Isabell Werth who has been competing successfully through the spring and summer with Warum Nicht and Satcho, as well as Great Britain's Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris. But when Ravel is at his best, he, too, presents a formidable challenge. And the bye should help him be at his best when it counts the most.
Steffen said it opened a door for him to seek the bye when officials decided that the team horses would not, as originally planned, have to stay on at Gladstone after the Collecting Gaits Farm/U.S. Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival of Champions that is hosting the trials Aug. 6-8 and Aug. 13-15. Instead, they could leave and come back Sept. 4, when the mandatory pre-WEG training session gets under way. So that gave Steffen a good reason to stay at home for as long as he could.
In addition to being a fabulous rider, Steffen is a great manager of horses, so he does whatever is necessary to make sure his mounts are ready for the big occasion. Ravel had a relatively quiet year. Steffen chose not to go to Europe, and instead made his biggest show the January Exquis World Dressage Masters meet in Wellington, Fla., where he won the Grand Prix and finished second in the freestyle to Olympic gold medalist Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands on Salinero. (She won't be on the Dutch dressage team at the WEG because Salinero had an injury that put a kink in his training schedule. Anyway, her nation's incredible depth means she can finally sit out a big competition.)
Steffen isn't sure yet whether he will have to enter a show on the West Coast before heading East, just to keep Ravel in tune.
"This so brand new. The bye was just approved yesterday,'' explained Steffen, who said he will speak to technical advisor Anne Gribbons about what she'd like to see Ravel doing before he comes to Gladstone. If he needs to enter a show in California, he will.
"Otherwise, we'll do some test rides in Gladstone(during September). One way or the other, we'll definitely run through all three tests," said Steffen, referring to the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Special and the freestyle.
"We had the luxury of taking it easy after the Del Mar show (last spring) and it's extremely hard to keep a horse peaked for that long. I think they can stay at the top of their game for about three months. May and June were real easy and we were able to pick it up right on time to be hopefully just right in Kentucky," he commented.
Steffen is flying to New Jersey for the final day of the trials, so he can attend a mandatory team meeting the next day. His potential teammates include another Californian, Sue Blinks with Robin Hood, number two behind Steffen and Ravel in the final rankings; Tina Konyot with Calecto V, who just made a very strong showing in Europe, as well as Leslie Morse with 2006 WEG veteran Tip Top, recovered from colic surgery earlier this year.
Other prospects include Todd Flettrich and Otto, who competed well in the Grand Prix at Aachen; Katherine Bateson Chandler with her new but very experienced mount, Nartan; Jan Ebeling, who has two chances with Sandrina and Rafalca, and European-based Catherine Haddad. She brought her younger mount, Winyamaro, but her more experienced horse, Cadillac, did not make the trip. Adrienne Lyle (Wizard) and Lauren Sammis (Sagacious) also are among the key contenders.
Even without Steffen and Ravel, it should be quite a show. Watch for coverage of the trials and the other national championships beginning August 6 on EquiSearch.com.