The United States
By Nancy Jaffer
The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) are a compilation of world championships in eight equestrian disciplines--virtually an Olympics for horse sports. As riders and horses in countries around the world get ready, Americans have a rare opportunity to showcase a U.S. dressage team in top international competition before a home crowd in Lexington, Ky.
With three outstanding European dressage squads in the forefront, the U.S. team will have its work cut out for it to obtain a medal, and the pressure of being the home squad in the first-ever WEG outside of Europe is tangible. This spring the U.S. WEG team prospects seemed thin as mishaps occurred: Courtney King-Dye had a terrible fall in early March that fractured her skull and left her with a long road to rehabilitation ahead. In June, Olympic medalist Guenter Seidel fractured his pelvis in a fall, putting him out of the running on Dick and Jane Brown's U II. Although the U.S. team appears to have an uphill battle, "You should never take anything for granted," says Eva Salomon, the U.S. Equestrian Federation's (USEF) managing director of dressage, adding, "Never be pessimistic because things can change."
By July, some exciting new combinations had appeared, and USEF Dressage Technical Advisor Anne Gribbons noted, "I am a lot more confident now."
The top U.S. horse, of course, is Akiko Yamazaki's Ravel, the 12-year-old Dutch-bred gelding who won the 2009 World Cup and dominated Aachen last year with Californian Steffen Peters in the saddle. Ravel won't have met the top Dutch horse, Moorlands Totilas, in competition until the WEG, which makes it an even more exciting event for spectators. Peters also has a shot at an individual medal, which barely eluded him at the 2008 Olympics. In June, Peters was fifth on the FEI World Individual Dressage Ranking List. He thinks the WEG has the potential of being one of the best dressage shows ever. "In the whole history of dressage, you've never seen a top five like we currently have," he says. But he won't be chasing scores at the WEG. He just wants to show Ravel to his potential on the days he competes. As for his match up with the world's number-one horse and rider, Peters states, "I'm not afraid of Edward [Gal] or Totilas. I'm sure it will be a wonderful competition."
Gribbons, who went to California in June to see Ravel, noted he looked fabulous. And of Peters, she says, "If he's not the best rider in the world, he's one of the best. And he knows how to make a horse peak at the right time."
Tina Konyot would have made an international team on several occasions except for a variety of misfortunes. This may be her time. On her 12-year-old black Danish-bred stallion Calecto V, she won the Freestyle at Dressage at Devon last year, then went on to sweep the WEG test event this spring before a trip to Europe, where Calecto V was fourth in the Austrian Grand Prix in Fritzens. Konyot, a Connecticut resident, is once again reaching for her dream.
Gribbons notes that Konyot is "a natural rider with a wonderful feel for a horse--a beautiful woman on a beautiful horse." She adds that the European judges also seem to like the combination and that Konyot, who comes from a famous circus family, doesn't lack for showmanship.
Here are the rest of the top contenders who were heading for the WEG selection trials in August: Leslie Morse's Tip Top 962 was the 2009 U.S. national Grand Prix champion and was on the bronze medal squad at the last WEG in 2006. The 16-year-old Swedish stallion survived a life-threatening bout of colic in March. But the pair was back to work shortly afterward, and he seemed primed for a good effort in the trials with his California-based rider. Morse, who is Tip Top 962's co-owner with Laura Petroff, has been working with Olympic and WEG medalist Debbie McDonald.
Californian Sue Blinks, the 1998 and 2002 WEG veteran who also rode on the 2000 Olympic bronze medal team, is aboard Robin Hood this time. He is not as seasoned as his rider and demonstrated that by losing his composure in the covered arena at Del Mar while finishing seventh in May's Grand Prix. The 12-year-old Dutch gelding, owned by Blinks with Louise and Doug Leatherdale, regained his focus and came back to win the Grand Prix Special.
"Robin Hood has wonderful collected work," says Gribbons. "His piaffe, passage, transitions and pirouettes are spot-on."