Burbank, California – Steffen Peters, Courtney King and Leslie Morse will be joining Catherine Haddad in Las Vegas as members of the U.S. Dressage Team for this year’s Rolex Dressage World Cup. The three were the top finishers in the U.S. League Finals for the Dressage World Cup, held during the Festival of the Horse.
The deciding competition was Sunday’s $1,000 Grand Prix Freestyle for the U.S. Freestyle Championships. Peters and the 17-year-old Westfalen gelding Floriano (by Floristan 1) and owned by Laurelyn Browning took first place with a score of 78.70 percent. King and Christine McCarthy’s Idocus, the 17-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion by Equador, finished second with a score of 75.50 percent. Rounding out third was Leslie Morse and Tip Top 962, a 13-year-old Swedish stallion by Master 850 and owned by Morse.
Team coach Klaus Balkenhol expressed pleasure with the team he’ll now be taking to Vegas. Commenting on the two older, more experienced horses he noted that many good horses in their later teens have won Olympic competitions. “These horses are rock solid and healthy and will put in a good performance,” he said.
Balkenhol, who on Saturday expressed a bit of concern regarding the variances in judges’s scores, seemed much happier after Sunday’s competition. “It was shown today that good performances get good scores. It’s the rider’s job to give the judges a chance to give them good scores. It’s always the case in competition that some riders don’t get the scores they hoped for and go home disappointed and other riders get what had hoped. These are experienced riders and horses and we can feel confident when we show up in Las Vegas.”
Canadian “O” judge Cara Whitham was also full of compliments for the riders. “We were much happier today than we were yesterday. I think the riders gave us a super show,” she said. “Sometimes things didn’t go as riders planned but that’s the nature of the sport.” Then addressing the top finishers individually, Whitham said, “Steffen, hats off to you. It’s an absolute pleasure to watch you. And Courtney, you did a super, super job, really great today. You’re a lovely combination. And Leslie, you’re a dynamic combination and I think you’re going to have a great time at the World Cup. Good luck to all three of you.”
Shell Shocked Emotion
For both King and Peters, earning the trip to the World Cup with their older partners was especially emotional.
“Someone said I looked shell-shocked and I think that was pretty accurate,” King said. “My goal this year was to make the League Finals. I thought that was a good goal and I was really happy to make that. I was not expecting to make the World Cup.”
She said that every day spent with Idocus is special, regardless of the ride. “When it’s going badly, it’s still a blessing and when it’s going well, it’s just really, really emotional for me. I do think about when it will be time to retire him,” she said. “But right now he’s so happy and ready to work.”
Peters said he’s not alone in feeling a bit emotional over winning a spot on the U.S. World Cup team. “This has been very emotional for our whole team, because after the World Games, Floriano came home and the first month he felt really great.”
But soon after, the gelding began showing problems in one of his hind legs. The cause was a small tear in his suspensory, which was treated with an injection of stem cells. Floriano then had several months off. “At that time, we didn’t know if Floriano would come back and I had decided I would not compete him again if he wasn’t ready. My date for putting him back to work and giving him a chance for this competition was February 15,” Peters said. Hence, on February 15, Floriano went back to work. His full recovery was evident not only in his ride but in the phenomenal airs-above-the-ground he showed spectators during his victory gallop.
Leslie More and Tip Top Take a Break and Come Back in Rare Form
Leslie Morse was clearly thrilled about earning the trip to Vegas. This will make it her fourth World Cup competition, but she’s clearly not bored with them yet.
“I love the Las Vegas World Cup and I love the freestyle. I think it’s just a fabulous, fabulous event. I’m speechless to be going with Tip Top and we’re going to do the best we can.”
Tip Top also had a bit of time off this year. After returning from Europe last summer, the stallion went into quarantine in Florida at Michael Barisone’s farm and only returned to California in November. Morse said she gave him a bit of a let-down because she was busy putting her new property in order.
“We bought new property and were building and I wanted to give Tip Top time off and trail ride him,” she said. Morse also wanted to focus a bit on some of her younger horses. But then, she said that she got the show urge again and went back to work with the World Cup in mind.
Peters and Morse are both from California. King, who is from Connecticut, is doing some training with Peters and will remain in California until the World Cup. They will be joined there by Catherine Haddad who was granted a fourth spot on the U.S. team by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) based on scores earned in Europe. She and her horse will travel from Europe on the charter flight with the other European competitors. And Balkenhol, will now remain in California to work with all of the team members leading up to the World Cup competition being held in Las Vegas April 19-22.
Of the three remaining competitors, Florida’s Arlene (Tuny) Page took the fourth-place spot with some inconsistencies. Her mount, Wild One, was the youngest at age 11 and looks to have a bright future. New Jersey’s Michael Barisone chose to debut a completely new freestyle aboard Jane Suwalsky’s Neruda. There was no shortness of excitement, but there is work to be done on transitions. Small bobbles seemed to plague their test. This was most likely the final competition for Jennifer Smith’s mount named Parocco ridden by Jeremy Steinberg. Steinberg rode a steady test, but said the also 17-year-old gelding may retire when returned home to Washington.
Peter’s repeated his comment from yesterday that it was not quite the same without friend and fellow competitor, Guenter Seidel, who had to withdraw after his horse, Aragon (owned by Dick and Jane Brown), came up lame in the warm-up following a jog earlier in the week. Donna Richardson was also forced to withdraw today when her Jazzman developed a temperature.
Peters, King and Morse will spend the next few weeks working with Balkenhol in California in preparation for the Rolex FEI World Cup Dressage Finals. They will ship together to Las Vegas on April 16. They will be joined there by Catherine Haddad who was granted a fourth spot on the U.S. team by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) based on scores earned in Europe. She and her horse will travel from Europe on the charter flight with the other European competitors.
Four American riders at the World Cup held in America – we’ve come a long way. Leslie Morse summed it up when she said, “This is kind of fun!”
Results Grand Prix Freestyle for Freestyle Champions
- 1 - Steffen Peters - Floriano - 78.700
- 2 - Courtney King - Idocus - 75.500
- 3 - Leslie Morse - Tip Top 92 - 73.00
- 4 - Arlene Page - Wild One - 71.050
- 5 - Michael Barisone - Nerudo - 70.750
- 6 - Jeremy Steinburg - Parocco - 67.800
Burbank, California - At the conclusion of his grand prix ride, Steffen Peters, of San Diego, CA, looked over at his wife, Shannon crying with emotion, at the in-gate. He knew it was a good ride. “If she doesn’t cry, I know it’s just a so-so test.” The judge’s panel agreed, awarding Peters and Floriano, owned by Laurelyn Browning, a winning score of 73.417. At 17, the flashy, chestnut gelding still seems at the top of his game. “I did not have to push him at all,” Peters explained. “He felt really strong.”
In an exciting and toughly contested race, the second through fifth place riders were all within a percentage point of one another. Edging out her competition, was another Californian, Leslie Morse. Ring her bay stallion, Morse showed some brilliance, but the risk caused a couple of mistakes, she hopes to put behind her tomorrow.
Courtney King and Michael Barisone seemed thrilled with their respective third- and fourth-place finishes.
King said she was very pleases with her horse, Idocus, also an older mount. “He felt happy and honest.” She also sited some mistakes in the one-tempi’s and was hoping to smooth out some of the transitions before tomorrow.
Barisone’s mount, Neruda, has one of the “biggest” passages on the circuit, and it was impressive to watch today. When asked how it felt to ride, he responded, “It’s great! He [Neruda] makes me look good.”
On a more somber note, Peters spoke on behalf of all the riders during the press conference, commenting on their disappointment at not having their friend and veteran competitor, Guenter Siedel, in the mix. Seidel’s grand prix horse, Aragon, the 16-year-old grey Bavarian Gelding, owned by Dick and Jane Brown, had to withdraw from the finals on Friday. Seidel explained, “Aragon passed the jog, no problem on Thursday, then injured himself later in the day.” The decision was made to take the horse home for evaluation and treatment. Peters went on to say it is always the horse that matters and to “save him for future competitions.”
For the U.S. League Finals and Freestyle Championships, scores from the grand prix do not actually count, but rather determine the order of go for Sunday’s freestyle. Barisone explained that riders never feel that is entirely true, as it is important to leave the judges with a good impression. “You have to be credible and solid. Don’t leave the judges with the feeling you are going to struggle.” Particularly important when, as Barisone is, a rider is debuts a completely new freestyle.
U.S. Team Chef d’Equipe Klaus Balkenhol felt he saw some nerves today and thinks the rides will be much stronger tomorrow. About the whole experience of East and West Coast riders competing for those coveted spots and international recognition, Barisone pointed to Peters and said, “He’s living the dream, but we’re all shooting for that dream.”
- 1. Floriano– Steffen Peters (California) 73.417. 17-year-old Westfalen gelding; owned by Laurelyn Browning
- 2. Tip Top 962 – Leslie Morse (California) 68.458. 13-year-old Swedish stallion; owned by Leslie Morse
- 3. Idocus– Courtney King (Connecticut) 68.375. 17-year-old Dutch stallion; owned by Christine McCarthy
- 4. Neruda– Michael Barisone (New Jersey) 67.792. 12-year-old Dutch gelding; owned by Jane Suwalsky
- 5. Wild One– Arlene (Tuny) Page (Florida) 67.542. 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding; owned by Arlene Page
- 6. Jazzman– Donna Richardson (California) 63.833. 16-year-old Dutch gelding; owned by Donna Richardson
- 7. Parocco– Jeremy Steinberg (Washington) 63.625. 17-year-old Wurtenberg gelding; owned by Jennifer Smith
Donna Richardson sadly withdrew Jazzman from the Grand Prix Freestyle competition that is part of the U.S. League Finals and U.S. Freestyle Championships after the 16-year-old gelding came down with a fever of 104.
Richardson believes that Jazzman, a Dutch Warmblood by Arnethist, wasn’t well during Saturday’s Grand Prix for the U.S. Freestyle Championships. “I probably shouldn’t have even ridden him yesterday but I did because I didn’t know. That’s when you wish they were like humans and could say, I don’t feel well today. I’ve got to hand it to the horse, to do a test like that with no spurs when he was probably feeling crappy. He tried. He tried to please me. He’s always done that. I love that horse,” said Richardson as tears filled her eyes.
Richardson, of San Marcos, California, was clearly disappointed. She considered them a long shot for the U.S. team for the upcoming World Cup in Las Vegas, but said she and Jazzman had both worked so hard to come back from injuries and she wanted the world to see just how good is her horse during Sunday’s freestyle.
“He had two and a half years off due to a suspensory injury. I brought him back and we qualified for this Championship on our scores at the beginning of the year last year when he wasn’t even at full strength. Now he’s at full strength and I thought, ‘now I’m going to show what this horse can really do.’ I’m really disappointed that we couldn’t do our freestyle because his freestyle is really good. I mean he’s been getting 71 with his freestyle,” Richardson said.
Adding to the pair’s bad luck is the fact that Richardson broke her elbow six weeks ago and had to give both herself and Jazzman almost a month off. “I was hurrying to watch the Super Bowl and I was jumping out the back of the truck and I fell off the trailer. Two weeks ago, I got back on him again, and just one week ago, I really started working him. He came back so well and was doing really, really good,” she said.
The Wednesday before the Burbank show, Richardson schooled Jazzman at home and said he felt fantastic. “He was eager and really wanted to go, but then the day before the show he didn’t quite look right, but it wasn’t anything you could put your finger on,” she said. On Friday, Jazzman seemed to have recovered, but during Saturday’s Grand Prix ride the “fizz, the bounce just wasn’t there. “ Still, the pair turned in a clean test, but it lacked energy, earning them a final score of 63.833 percent.
By Saturday evening, Jazzman wasn’t eating well and by Sunday morning, it was clear he was ill. “He started really pawing this morning and so we had the vet out. Turns out he had a temperature of a 104,” Richardson said. The veterinarian believes the horse a virus from which he’ll quickly recover with some rest.
Richardson has already entered Jazzman in the Del Mar CDI and she’s looking forward to showing people then what her horse can really do. Although he’s 16, Richardson said Jazzman has a lot left in him. “I look at him as a low-mileage 16. He spent two and a half years of his life just grazing in the pasture. Actually, I’m rather low mileage too.”