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.
Although the Grand Prix division has 15 entries, it's short of a few name horses. Tuny Page is in Europe with Wild One, working with German pro Hubertus Schmidt. Brentina has recovered from her WEG injury, but isn't showing yet.
Guenter Seidel's ride, Aragon, is also on the injured list, but is expected to be back in the groove by next year. Leslie Morse decided not to bring Tip Top east from California this time around--the division isn't a selection trial for anything, as it often is. And European-based Catherine Haddad is here, but her horses didn't make the trip.
Oh, and poor Melissa Taylor. Her mount, Succes, got this far but didn't make it into the ring after he came up with a hot nail in one of his hooves just hours before the Grand Prix. And she was informed of the problem just as she was ready to enter the arena for the Prix St. Georges on Schumacker Solyst. Good timing.
The Grand Prix section is only one of five divisions being contested at the Collecting Gaits Farm Dressage Festival of Champions (presented by Paul Miller Auto Group.)
I always feel a bit sad seeing the Festival name being used just for dressage, because there was a time not too long ago when the Festival was a multi-discipline deal that included reining, endurance, show jumping and driving.
But when the footprint of the USET grounds became smaller after a golf course was built there, it wasn't practical to produce such an ambitious show anymore.
We're happy to at least have the dressage, which also includes divisions for juniors, Young Riders and the Brentina Cup, open to riders 18-26 making the transition from juniors to Grand Prix. The other senior championship is the Intermediare I, which this year is a selection trial for next month's Pan American Games in Brazil.
Speaking of which--news bulletin here--the Pan Ams WILL include eventing after all, it was decided yesterday. Problems with the footing and construction of the jumps on the cross-country route threatened to relocate the discipline elsewhere, but with the help of U.S. course builder Eric Bull, the situation was rectified and eventing is going to happen.
Now back to dressage. We've only had the Prix St. Georges so far in the I-1 section, and it was won by Regent, with Chris Hickey riding. No surprise there. Chris had done very well earlier this season.
Mythilus, who probably would have been Regent's greatest rival here, is not on the roster. He is also ridden by Courtney, so when U.S. dressage coach Klaus Balkenhol suggested that she should compete at Aachen (where Steffen is also headed) and get some pre-Olympic European exposure with Idocus, the Pan Am Games were no longer doable. The two competitions are too close together on the calendar, and too far apart geographically to make competing in both practical.
But Courtney told me today that Idocus isn't going to be able to go to Aachen because of the demands of his breeding schedule. Since he had problems here on the heels of breeding the last time, she doesn't want to risk trouble and not have him at his best in Germany. The horse's owner has contracts that must be fulfilled in that regard, and because Aachen was rather a last-minute idea, they were already in place.
Of course, hindsight is 20-20, but she does admit to experiencing some heartbreak in not being able to try for the Pan Ams with Mythlius. On the bright side, she noted that he's nearly ready to do Grand Prix, so she can move in that direction now.
Chris's PSG score was 71.150, and not too far behind was the impressive Sagacious HF with Lauren Sammis up, earning 70.150. They were the only two in the division who broke 70 percent, however.
I asked Chris about what kind of a horse Regent is (he looks like a pleasure to me) and here is what he told me.
We'll see how it goes today and tomorrow as the section wraps up. I'll send you another postcard Monday morning to let you know the way it all comes out.