Some have referred to Klaus Balkenhol as a "miracle worker" for achieving team silver at the 2002 World Equestrian Games, but if one looks at the record, US Dressage began to make its mark in 1976 Olympics, winning team bronze under the tutelage and guidance of the late Col. Bengt Ljunquist.
Ljunquist began the modern day legacy that has put American dressage on the international medal rosters. Still revered and admired to this day by the movers and shakers in this country, former students such as Linda Zang, Kay Meredith, and Elizabeth Madelener, have carried his teachings and influence into what is now a solid and successful program today.
Before there were regional championships, as we know it today, the Colonel Bengt Ljunquist Memorial Championships was founded in 1983, in his memory and in his honor, to stimulate regional dressage competition at the USAEq levels. With huge entries, and many competitors vying to qualify for this popular competition held each fall in the eastern US, his legacy and contributions continue.
Col. Bengt Ljunquist began riding at age 10 in his native Sweden. He became a career officer in the Swedish cavalry and was six times the national champion. But he had far greater success in the international circles as a fencer (epee) and was once reserve world champion. He competed on five Olympic teams for Sweden, four as a fencer (winning two medals) and once in dressage, in Tokyo in 1964. He was also the team's reserve rider in Rome 1960. Following the abolition of the cavalry, he retired to train and teach dressage.
Col. Ljunquist and his wife Marta settled in Potomac, Maryland, in 1970 where he quickly became established as a dressage coach. He instructed people at any level and at both ends of the country. His "Practical Dressage Manual" published in 1976, is still a popular text today. He inspired riders and influenced judging, and his leadership ability quickly made him a unifying force. He coached the US 1974 World Championship Dressage squad, the gold-medal-winning Pan American Team in 1975, and the bronze-medal-winning Olympic Team in 1976, and the fourth place finishers at the 1978 World Championships. He died of a heart attack while on vacation in Sweden in July 1979 at age 67.
"He was a teacher who instilled confidence in his pupils coupled with a love for an uncomplicated but classical way of riding. He was an influence so great in dressage in this country that his scope will not be fully realized for years to come." Kay Meredith 1979
"Col. Ljunquist was a fortunate man. He was able to set forth a method of teaching into…print and widely accepted. He saw his best pupils, inspired by his leadership, apply his methods so as to achieve brilliant success in international competition. He thus achieved a lasting movement in the history of equitation in the United States. For all of this, his legion of pupils, friends and admirers are duly grateful." Alexander MacKay-Smith, Chronicle of the Horse, 1979.