Steffen wiped away the tears as he stood on Bronze Medal podium after finishing the Grand Prix Special. It had been two years, 34 days and a few hours since he barely missed getting the Bronze at the Beijing Olympic Games and he’d been counting the days.
“I never admitted how much it bothered me to miss getting that medal. That it finally happened today it was huge. I just can't believe how lucky I am to ride a horse like Ravel. Certainly it was a huge pressure for the team but we haven't had an individual medal for the U.S. in a long time and then when it happened I simply was beside myself.”
Steffen paved the way and gave the U.S. its first World Championship individual medal and he was honored to do that. And what better person than Steffen! His kind way of riding a horse speaks volumes. The way his horses respond to him is inspiring to those of us who watch from the sidelines.
Any other year Steffen's score of 78.542 would have given him the Gold Medal but this was a year of new nations on the podium and incredibly talented horses. In the past Germany has often dominated the Gold Medal spot and Dutch rider Anky van Grunsven and Germany’s Isabell Werth have taken turns winning Gold and Silver.
But not this year as this was to be the year of the Dutch, the British and the Americans.
“I felt quite short on the podium standing between Steffen and Edward,” commented Laura Bechtolsheimer who rode Mistral Hojris to the Silver Medal (81.708) to represent Great Britain. Although she was born in Germany, she only lived there a year and although the Germans would gladly take her back she is all British.
“There is a really good atmosphere between our riders. It's exciting to be a part of this sport when it's developing so much. It is a lot more open. It used to be it was Isabell or Anky. Now we feel like we have a chance and are given that chance to win a medal,” she added.
While Laura’s ride was superb, the talk around the dressage world has been all about Edward Gal and Moorland’s Totalis. Even on a bad day his Gold Medal victory was a certainty.
“What impressed the judges about the first three horses was the harmony,” commented Mary Seefried, President of the Ground Jury. “These horses were so well trained, so responsive and the precision of the riding itself. It was goose bumps territory for all of us watching.”
Those bumps were also poppin’ for the fourth place Spanish rider Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz.
“For the wonderful Spanish horse is his willingness to go. He must give his rider a fantastic feeling because he is always there,” she continued.
I can recall year’s back at the Olympic Games when the Spanish first arrived with their grey PRE horses determined to show the world that their horses could compete with the best of them. That first year they did well but it was also a learning curve for them and with the knowledge they gained they started to choose horses that were not just good at piaffe and passage but also could do the other movements well.
“We happen to know that the Spanish team set out to do international dressage and I think that program has also influenced the type of horses that have been chosen,” continued Mary. “Sometimes the horse can be a little bit over expressive. Here we had Spanish horses that had lovely paces, wonderful impulsion and trained no differently than the other horses.”
All these riders were ecstatic and Edward was pleased with the way things had gone for the Special. In the Grand Prix Totalis got a little nervous when he entered the arena to the roar of the standing crowd, something all of them face every time they enter the arena. But for the Special his horse was more relaxed. “He gave me a great ride today,” commented the Dutch rider, a grin from ear to ear.
Those who have had the fortune to watch Totalis are aware of his expressive movements and are curious to know how it feels to ride such an elegant mover.
“It is so difficult to explain it because you have to ride him to feel it. He gives me so much energy and power but you feel you can control it. Also, he doesn't want to do any mistakes. He is such an amazing horse. I don't think I will ever get a horse like that,” said Edward.
nd while the stallion is a happy horse, Totalis is sometimes difficult to get from the stables to the stadium, but after this week Edward commented, “when you have two Gold Medals it is not a problem.”
In the press conference the conversation took a detour back to the topic that had been discussed the day before about the discrepancy in how the horses were being marked.
“Last night we had a meeting for a couple of hours watching videos and talking,” commented Seefried. “I think it was a very informative discussion for all of us. There were some differences that we do not find acceptable. The FEI says there can be a difference of 5% and there should not be more than 5%. We are very aware of this issue. We want to improve that position and I think the way to do that is through education.”
It was certainly refreshing to see that the judges recognize that a standard needs to be set keeping the politics out of the judging. Maybe it’s this effort being put into the judging that has helped all the countries to try even harder to step up to the plate. Certainly for Holland, Great Britain and the United States this is good news to know that the playing field is a lot more open. It was a good year for these countries to have such great horses and riders to showcase.
Now the riders have one more test to go to show their nettle. The Freestyle gives them more freedom to show off their horse’s movements. With what we’ve seen so far, what a show this is going to be!
As always, feel free to email me with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.