Week Two Of USET Dressage Selection Trials

Debbie McDonald and Brentina Win Grand Prix And Move Into Top Spot

Despite an outbreak of hives two hours before her Grand Prix test, Brentina with Debbie McDonald onboard, won the Grand Prix at USET Headquarters in Gladstone, New Jersey, on Saturday, June 8, scoring an impressive 71.280%. McDonald didn’t break out in hives, but she had her own mental hurdles to overcome. “This was the most stressed I’ve ever felt in any competition,” said McDonald, adding that her stress comes from her own mind. “You tell yourself to shut up. It was difficult. I get quite nervous. Walking around drives me insane. I feel better when I get on.”

The win pushed McDonald and Brentina into first place overall in the Selection Trials for the World Equestrian Games, edging Sue Blinks and Flim Flam out of the lead and into second place overall, and putting Guenter Seidel and Nikolaus 7 down a peg from second to third overall. Seidel on Nikolaus 7 was third today with 67.76%, and Blinks was fourth earning 67.20%.

Moving up in the overall score is Christine Traurig on Etienne, who placed second behind McDonald in the Grand Prix today with her score of 68.960%. Traurig came into the trials in 11th place and has now rocketed up to fourth place overall.

Dealing With the Pressures

McDonald, 48, of Haily, Idaho, said that she felt the pressure in this class after her disappointing fifth place finish in last weekend’s Grand Prix. “It was a much better test [today]. I don’t know why. I was just as nervous. We’re better acclimated,” said McDonald. She said that Brentina, owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas, was “better in last weekend’s Special,” which she won with 73.40%. McDonald called her ride today, “Conservative, but it was a strong, clean performance.”

Brentina was not given any medication for her hives because of the competition. McDonald said she chose to let the 16.2-hand, 11-year-old Hanoverian mare “overcome it on her own. She wasn’t acting itchy.” McDonald stated that she did not plan to be excused from competing in the Freestyle on Sunday. “I think she’s fine.” The mare’s breathing was much better this weekend and McDonald noted that it is the humidity, not heat, that bothers Brentina, and she does not anticipate that Spain’s warm climate will present a problem.

Guenter Seidel Closer to Another USET Team Spot- page 3

Guenter Seidel, 42, of Del Mar, California, who has been competing two of Dick and Jane Brown’s horses each day of the Trials, is in close rivalry to be selected as one of the top six who will go on to vie for the final team of four to represent the United States in Jerez. Seidel remains in seventh place with his 2000 Olympic mount, the 15-year-old Dutch gelding Foltaire, while his obvious contender is Nikolaus 7, a 17.1-hand, 13-year-old Westphalian gelding.

In overall percentages, with the lead that McDonald has (60.086%) and Blinks close behind her (59.626%), it will be extremely competitive for a berth on the team between Seidel (59.530%), Traurig (58.230%), Stephen Peters and Grandeur (56.856%), and Betsy Steiner and Rainier (56.466%), factoring in that German-based Lisa Wilcox is likely to take one of the six slots on the short list.

“I’m not that concerned [about close scores],” Seidel said about his ride today. “I just wanted to have a good ride more than anything.” Seidel blamed himself for his third place finish and drop in the rankings, calling his ride “disappointing.”

“It was me, my bad riding,” he said. “I needed to push it and I didn’t do it. He was sleeping through the test.” Seidel said he didn’t know how to account for that, but noted, “I’m not that familiar with him. I’m used to just giving him a little spur or a cluck and he’d do it, but it didn’t happen today.”

Traurig and Etienne Continue to Strengthen

Christine Traurig, 45, of Carlsbad, California, and currently based in Germany, said that because she came into the trials ranked so low, she had not expected the Trials to be a close competition for her. “I was really happy,” she said of today’s ride. “I couldn’t ask for more.

It was a rocky road getting here. My feeling was we put in a solid test. My goal was to come here and do a good job. I have no expectations beyond what is realistic. You have no idea how happy I am to have him back. I love him.” After her final salute in today’s ride, Traurig hugged the 18-hand, 14-year-old Westphalian gelding for most of the long side of the arena on her way out and her, “Ah! Good boy!” was audible as she exited.

Traurig said that she would aim Etienne, her Sydney Olympics mount that is currently owned by Kelly Trierweiler, for the World Cup in 2003, but for the 2004 Olympics, she has a younger horse in the wings that is starting Prix St. Georges.

Wilcox In Germany Needs 2 Points More Than Fourth Placed Rider at Gladstone

German-based Californian Lisa Wilcox, 36, who qualified with two horses owned by Gundula Vorwerk and Dr. Claus Crone-Munzebrock, was number one going into the trials. However, Wilcox elected to remain in Germany and not to participate at Gladstone. In order to stay in contention for the team, her current score of 73.145% with Relevant 5, a 16.3-hand Oldenburg stallion, must be two percentage points higher than the fourth-placed rider at Gladstone.

McDonald, Traurig, and Seidel, the current top three, have mixed feelings about Wilcox not competing in the Selection Trials with them.

“She’s proven herself over there. It’s a journey to come here, but I have to journey too,” said McDonald. “She’s committed to being there and I hope it works out for her.” McDonald also added that Wilcox did not experience as much stress as those riders at Gladstone. “It’s not fair,” she said. “It would be nice to go head-to-head. That changes the whole thing.” McDonald, who will not be going to Aachen because of the quarantine restrictions on mares, said that it would be “politically hard to go over there and beat her.”

Seidel said that it would “be nice” if all the riders competed together and that he hoped it would not become a habit that riders stayed in Europe instead of coming to the U.S. to qualify. “It’s risky to take a chance,” Seidel said of Wilcox’s decision to count on her score as being able to stand up to the others plus 2%. But he also pointed out that Wilcox was riding breeding stallions.

Traurig agreed adding that the health risks involved in a long journey and the loss of breeding business is a “big point,” but she also said that if Wilcox had competed at Gladstone, the scores would have been different.

“If she were here, her scores would be so high it would pull us all up a little,” said Traurig adding that the judges wanted to see Wilcox on the team and that made their judging reserved. “Everybody realizes our selection procedures are that way. I’ve watched her ride. She should be on the team.” Traurig said that this was a “psychological” factor with the judges. “The judges didn’t go in with that motive [to score the competitors lower so Wilcox would be assured of making the team], it’s just there.”

Debbie McDonald and Brentina Prepare For Sunday's Freestyle- page 7

McDonald said that because Brentina went well and felt good, it didn’t matter where the judges placed her, but, “She could have had a higher score,” though she admitted that today’s test was not the best she’d ever done due to her nerves.

To prepare for the Freestyle on Sunday and to try to help with her nerves, McDonald said she planned to listen to her music and enjoy it. She said the trials for her were “not a lot of fun,” calling them “gut wrenching” and “intense.” Listening to her freestyle music will help her because, “I like it. It’s jolly and it fits the mare. It puts me in a good mental state.” She called the music “cabaret-striptease-y stuff.” McDonald said the most special thing about Brentina is, “Her heart. She doesn’t know what ‘no’ is. She’s very special. She almost reads your mind.”

Traurig and Etienne's Story Continues

Traurig will use the same Freestyle she and Etienne performed at the Sydney Olympics, which uses mainly classical music. Because they have only been reunited since September, she has not had time to prepare a new kur.

She said what is most special to her about Etienne is their experience together dealing with the “ups and downs. You think it will never happen and he comes through. He’s got a lot of heart, but he’s a chicken.” Asked if she thought he was happy to be back with her, she exclaimed, “Oh, you betcha!”

Traurig said that since they’ve been reunited, Etienne’s eating habits are back to normal, he is getting back to where he was in competition, and he’s becoming less spooky. She says she takes care of him herself, doing all the grooming and turning out, and staying close to him. “I like doing it. It keeps me busy and keeps me calm.”

Seidel’s Freestyle is to the music of Fernando’s Hideaway. He describes Nikolaus as “a very athletic, powerful horse.” Seidel added that he would put in a different type ride tomorrow from what he did today. “I will definitely change my tune tomorrow,” he quipped. Seidel said he feels the pressure as the others do but reacts in a different way because of his nature; he becomes quiet rather than nervous.

Of the 12 riders who started the Trials, two have withdrawn since last weekend: Tom Noone and Fresco, and Shelly Francis and Gala.

The riders receive four scores over the two weekends of Selection Trials and each score makes up a percentage of the final score. Last weekend’s Grand Prix counted for 30%, the Grand Prix Special counted for 25%, today’s Grand Prix counted for 30% and the Freestyle on June 10 counts for 15%. Following the trials, up to six horse-and-rider combinations will compete in Europe to determine the final four-member team for the WEG.

Mary Hilton for DressageDaily.com