Brian O'Connor - Reflections of the USEF Dressage Festival of Champions from the Announcers Booth!

Brian O'Connor at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
Brian O'Connor at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games

The Gladstone Olympic Trials and National Championship week is drawing to a close and we have seen some terrific performances and some wonderful riding. I base my observations from the announcer's booth at both the Dressage and Para Equestrian booth(s) where I get a pretty "up close and personal" view of the events. But before I talk about the riders and horses, let me express our sincere thanks and gratitude to all the volunteers who make this happen each year. Many of the workers have been here for over 10 years - stewards, runners, gate keepers, scorers, e-scribes and regular scribes, security staff, stable managers and night watch personel - each one a part of a fantastic team to work with. The USEF championships cannot happen without each and every one who participates, it truly is the best and well oiled machine there is. This whole gang could do the Olympics and World Championships tomorrow without even batting an eyelash ....they are that GOOD!! Hats off to all!

Now for the Grand Prix Dressage - Steffen, of course, is getting a "bye" with Ravel which is good thinking on everyone's part. This partnership is the anchor to our 2012 team and should be able to get on the plane, show up in London, tack up, and go for the gold. So, he brought the "new kid " Legolas to show us his talents. The first weekend he swept both classes with great scores in the upper 70's which is a pretty good showing for the rookie. Tina Konyot and the veteran Calecto V had strong performances and finished is second, with Todd Flettrich and Otto, and Jan Ebeling with the lovely (and stronger performing mare) Rafalca close on their heels in third and fourth. Pierre St. Jacques and Lucky Tiger put it one of the best tests I have ever seen them do in week one, and put in a very lovely Grand Prix test in the 3rd round. Remember that this is a four part Olympic and championship series with 25% of each test counting for the final standings - 4 tests over the 7 days is a lot to do. Three horse and rider combinations withdrew after the first weekend: Katherine Bateson Chandler with Nartan, her World Championship mount; Ceasar Para with the newly purchased Van the Man, and finally Lauren Sammis with her Pan Am gold medal horse Sagacious HF. All the others moved on to week #2.

Steffen drew the first time of the Grand Prix (round 3) and laid down a great test marred only by a few mistakes and set the tone for the day. Todd and Otto were solid and consistent just like the first two rounds. The judges were all spot on and had very consistent scores throughout the two weekends and were rewarding good riding and penalizing even the smallest of mistakes (as they should - it is the Olympic trials). Jan and Rafalca were elegant and engaging and the mare is getting better and better. But the best was yet to come, Tina and Calecto came in and put in one heck of a test showing strength,  suppleness and agility. I have watched this pair ever since they started and this was by far the best thing this combo has ever done and the judges gave them just over 80% making them only the second pair to EVER achieve that high of a score in the Olympic or Championship trials! Ravel was the only other horse to get above 80%. Tina has been doing a lot of strength training (hill work) with Calecto and it really showed. During the Florida tour this past winter, Calecto V seemed to get stuck in his piaffes/passage tours and pirouettes, but now he is lifting off the ground and looks stronger than ever and to the delight of all of us, put is one of his best tests ever. What a lovely ride Tina had and the crowd went wild when the scores were posted and announced. I was very proud to announce that 80%, let me tell you!

So we move on to the finals on Saturday for the Grand Prix riders, round 2 for the Intermediare I riders and the Brentina Cup (for Young Adults) starts round 1. For the I-I riders it is gonna take a whole lot of ridin' and scorin' to beat the lovely, talented pair of Caroline Roffman and Pie! They put in such a wonderfully smooth (yes that is the word.....smoooooooth) test in the Prix St Georges and they are totally living up to the reputation they earned during our Florida tour. Caroline is riding so well these days and her partnership with Pie is really second to none. We anticipate another lovely ride on Saturday from the current leader of the I-I Championships for 2012. Caroline is here for the 5th time, has won at this venue multiple times in three divisions - this seems to be her "turf".

So, to wrap up on Friday night late (after a smashing sponsor party with lightning bugs, deer, bats, and all) I wish all of you a great weekend and come on out if you can to Gladstone for the weekend. I promise you will not be disappointed. Your USA Olympic Team will be announced so come out and wave the flags! And, if you have not seen the Steven Colbert report on dressage (related to the Romneys) go to his website and type in dressage. He has a funny "poke" at us and I have written a rebuttal song to his version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" which I hope to sing and record on Sat at the Trials. Follow me on Facebook for more info! All the best, Brian O'Connor