Canada?s prospects for a strong team result in dressage at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) are considerably rosier than they were four years ago. Selection trials for the 2006 WEG were never held because Canada had only four qualified horses and riders. This year the list of candidates is a record breaker?27 pairs had declared and six had already qualified by mid-May. Pairs have until July 31 to get the scores they need and more are expected to qualify.
Six-time U.S. dressage Olympian Robert Dover was hired to coach the country?s team in 2009, and he is excited to see such strong contenders already emerging. ?I'm very, very happy with the progress of the Canadian riders and horses,? he says.
A head-to-head selection trial for the 2010 WEG team is not part of the qualifying criteria. Not only is Canada?s geography an obstacle, but several of Canada?s top riders are based in Europe, which makes it even less practical. Instead, the team will be chosen based on the highest average scores achieved at CDI 3* competitions and higher. To qualify, a horse must achieve a minimum average score of 66 percent in the Grand Prix test in at least four competitions. The pairs that make the team will simply be those with the highest scores.
Canada?s impressive show-jumping and para-dressage results at the 2008 Olympics led the Canadian Olympic Committee and Sport Canada to include Equestrian in its list of sports to receive funding from a program called ?Own the Podium.? The success of the program at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver was evident?Canada led the world in gold medals. The hope is that support of summer Olympic sports will yield more podium finishes for Canada in 2012. To that end, ?Own the Podium? arranged for Canada?s dressage team to receive government funding, making it possible to hire Dover as the team technical coach/advisor and to send five Canadian pairs to European competitions in May and June. The European tour was not specifically tied to the WEG team selections, and those horses and riders who were not part of that group?they either stayed in North America to compete or were already based in Europe?could still make the team.
However, there is no doubt in Dover?s mind that the European tour was very much part of Canada?s WEG preparations. ?I encouraged riders to qualify and then take part in the European tour. It was a very important stepping-stone toward having a strong team,? he says. The European tour included four major competitions for Canadian riders: Wiesbaden, Lingen, Rotterdam and Aachen.
Of the five pairs who traveled to Europe, the highest ranked is Ashley Holzer and Pop Art. With Grand Prix scores consistently well over 70 percent, the pair have occupied a top spot on the FEI World Ranking?17th in May. Holzer and her a 13-year-old Dutch gelding also were easily the most seasoned pair on the European tour. ?Obviously, we know we have a star in Ashley and Pop Art,? says Dover.
The second-ranked Canadian on the European tour is Belinda Trussell and her 10-year-old Saxon gelding, Anton. In his second season at Grand Prix, Anton began to score consistently above 70 percent in April at the CDI 3* in Lexington, Kentucky. Trussell represented Canada at the 2002 WEG and 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Also breaking the 70 percent barrier in Kentucky was Bonny Bonnello and her Canadian Warmblood gelding, Pikardi.
Wendy Christoff and her 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Pfalstaff, hail from British Columbia and have already achieved the necessary qualifying scores for the WEG team. They won both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special at the CDI 3* Golden State Dressage Festival in April. WEG would be Christoff?s first time on the Canadian team.
Shannon Dueck has not called Canada home for a number of years, but the British Columbia native and her 9-year-old Oldenburg mare, Ayscha, are the fifth pair seeking WEG qualifying scores on the European tour. Dueck was the highest-placed Canadian at the 2002 WEG with Korona.
The list of pairs in the running for WEG but not part of the European tour includes six-time Olympian Christilot Boylen, who is permanently based in Germany and has recently been partnered with Famous Boy 2, a 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding.
Cheryl Meisner rides Carl Hester?s 2009 European Championship mount, Liebling II. Meisner is declared for WEG with three horses, including the 13-year-old KWPN stallion Paganini.
Victoria Winter has already achieved the qualifying minimum with Cindy Ishoy?s 2004 Olympic mount, Proton.
Jacqueline Brooks was on the Canadian team at the 2008 Olympics. She has two horses: her Olympic partner Gran Gesto and 11-year-old Balmoral.
Diane Creech, who was on the 2007 Pan American Games silver medal team, also has two horses: Devon and Wiona.
Dover is not shy about his goals for Canada in Kentucky this fall. ?We are doing very well right now. With three horses now scoring nicely over 70 percent, my feeling is that we are in the hunt.? He has no illusions about beating the current titans from Holland, but he does have his eye on a medal. ?When you think of the countries that can field a minimum of three horses over 70, there are not a lot of them. I don't do anything without thinking in terms of medals. I think we stand in good stead right now.? If the Canadian team fulfills the goals that Dover has set for them, it will be a historic first WEG dressage medal for Canada.
Karen Robinson is an award-winning equestrian journalist and freestyle designer based in Vancouver, BC. She is a frequent contributor to Dressage Today. Read her blog at DressageToday.com.
This feature appeared in the July 2010 issue of Dressage Today.