Steffen Peters is still overcome by emotion when he talks about his bronze-medal win at last month’s Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games, Kentucky 2010. Tears came to his eyes at the WEG when he stood on the podium to receive his medal and they returned Saturday evening when he spoke about his WEG experience at the New England Dressage Association’s annual awards banquet. “He was really there for me,” Steffen said of his WEG partner, the 12-year-old KWPN gelding Ravel, owned by Akiko Yamazaki, as his eyes again filled with tears. "What he offered that day was unbelievable." Steffen and his wife, Shannon, are the featured clinicians for this year’s NEDA Fall Symposium. The dressage power couple tag teamed the NEDA event, which runs from Oct. 29-31 in Hadley, Mass., and their combined popularity was evident in that more than 400 people turned out on Saturday. During his banquet speech, in which he also got a standing ovation, Steffen made it clear that his WEG success belonged not to him, but to Ravel and to Shannon.
Failure to bring home a medal at the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong had hounded Steffen for two years because he believed that Ravel deserved the recognition of an international medal. “I wanted that medal for Ravel and it was hard not getting it.” The WEG finally gave Ravel what he had earned and Steffen said that success, which included the pair’s best Grand Prix Special score ever – a 78.542 percent – was due not only to Ravel’s talent but to an amazing support team.
“There is no way to do well without an amazing support team and the leader of that team is Shannon,” he said looking at his wife. Not only does she keep him on track during important competitions, but Steffen said she covers the home front when he must travel for training, which greatly reduces his worries and stress. He credits Shannon with having the better horse management skills in their partnership with a base of knowledge that can put many farriers and veterinarians to shame.
“There is no one better than Shannon,” Steffen said. “It’s amazing what I have learned from her and trust me, it’s also amazing what the shoers have learned from Shannon.” Although Steffen is the better known half of this team, Shannon’s skills as a trainer and instructor were clearly evident during the NEDA symposium. She helped many riders understand how their body type impacts their center of balance and how that then impacts the horse.
“So much in riding is really about our balance,” Shannon said. Women tend to sit more forward on the shoulders of the horse, making it more difficult for horses to engage from behind. Shorter-waisted riders have a lower center of balance, which tends to give them a more solid seat. Longer-waisted riders generally need more core strength to maintain their balance in the saddle. Long-legged riders have an advantage over shorter-legged riders, but those long legs can be useless if lacking strength.
Surprisingly, many riders don’t consider their own body type when choosing a horse. For example, short-waisted riders do better with short-backed horses. Shannon, herself, has no qualms admitting when a horse isn’t right for her. Even her body type can’t always effectively ride an 18-hand horse. “You need the right horse for your body type in order to produce a test that really shows lightness and self-carriage,” she said.
With his talented support team behind him, Steffen made clear his next big goal – the 2012 Olympics in London. One thing that has thus far eluded him is that perfect freestyle ride. “I’ve yet to have a freestyle that feels perfect. So far, it always feels like something still needs to be tweaked.” Perhaps the next Olympics will produce that perfect freestyle.