First Time US Dressage Rider Wins a Leg of the World Cup on U.S. Soil

Friday, April 17, 2009

How could I not focus this article on the first leg of the Dressage World Cup where Steffen Peters is now leading by almost four points.This is the first time in the history of the World Cup that a U.S. rider has won a leg of the World Cup on U.S. soil.  It was a spectacular day for the United States.
Steffen did it with brilliance, kindness, panache and consistency. It was that last bit that was the demise of many of the other expected leaders who started out strong but were not consistent to the end.  While Steffen’s victory was certainly sweet there was mixed emotion about our U.S. riders.  Steffen’s position was next to last and that certainly is a great position to be in.  
Jan Ebeling aboard Rafalca were not as lucky. 

Jan was probably in the most hated position as the first pair to go in the order.Two years earlier Jan and Rafalca had performed the test ride and now they were back to show how they’d improved but going first was not what they had envisioned but they were still hopeful.

Early in her test Rafalca spooked and that unfortunately impacted many of the later movements.  I asked Gil (Merrick) what he felt caused the spook and his initial reaction was that “it was the shadows.”

When I saw Axel Steiner, one of the top international judges, in the press room I after the rider I decided to ask him what he saw.Axel felt it was just the horse’s inexperience.  “The far end of the arena looked different to him today.  He was definitely not comfortable with that end of the arena.”  Jan did his best to make it to the end of the test and when he did announcer Brian O’Connor congratulated him on being a true sportsman and seeing the ride through right to the end.
That was only the beginning of the problems for the U.S. riders. 

Next in the ring was Leslie Morse on Kingston.  We had high hopes for this combination because they were strong in the warm-up the day before.  Kingston entered the arena looking okay but there was something amiss.  Seconds later as they moved down the centerline and turned left it suddenly became clear that the horse was lame. 

Again I asked Axel what he saw.He said that he noticed right from the start that Kingston was holding back just a little bit and it was after that corner that it became clear the horse was lame. From where I was shooting you couldn’t see what happened but you could hear the bell. At first we thought they went off course but when Leslie quickly dismounted we knew that the problem was more serious.  She displayed all the finesse of a true sportsman and raised her arms to the audience and then led her mount out of the arena. 

Later that day the USEF sent out a statement which included comments from the Team vet Dr. Rick Mitchell who noted that Kingston showed some discomfort when starting his test which was a surprise to everyone. Leslie included her comments in this release as well saying that she felt that the ringing of the bell by the ground jury was justified as the horse’s best interest must be first and foremost.

The Pressure Was On Steffen And Ravel – Could They Do It

That was two down with only one to go but that one more was what our hopes were resting on.  As Steffen and Ravel continued through the test we wondered if they would duplicate what had happened with both Anky Van Grunsven and Isabell Werth.  Both riders started out with strong tests but ultimately their consistency was lost and their scores reflected this. 

For Steffen that polish stayed right until the end and it was coming down the last centerline that Steffen realized things were good.  “I heard this noise in the audience,” he commented and knowing that the audience was seeing the scores he felt something must be good.  “It was then that I thought, Oh my God, this could be it,” commented Steffen.

As soon as he ended his ride out went his arms followed by the typical Steffen smile and the typical Steffen point.  What is the Steffen point you ask.  Well, that’s when he points to his horse giving Ravel all the credit.

The roar in the audience must have woken up the neighbors.  Even the U.S. photographers could not contain their excitement.  This was a record setting moment and if anyone deserves a victory it is Steffen Peters.

Once the final rider competed we photographers had four minutes to position ourselves outside the arena.  We were given very strict instructions and told that if we did not follow them we would not be able to photograph the awards presentation.

Once in the ring we waited impatiently as first the 10th through 4th place riders were announced before the final three were brought in.  Those top three were Steffen and Ravel with their leading score of 77.915 followed by Anky Van Grunsven aboard IPS Painted Black totaling 74.17.  Isabell Werth and Satchmo, the pair that claimed an Individual Silver and Team Gold at the last Olympic Games in Hong Kong, were third (73.745).

Immediately there was some unexpected drama.  When the white horse with the American flag entered the arena just before they played the National Anthem that entrance spooked all three horses.  Later in the press conference, Marty Bauman, who heads up the World Cup media center remarked, “That was probably because they aren’t used to seeing a U.S. flag.”  We all laughed at the possible truth in that statement.

Steffen Talks About Ravel

Following the press conference Steffen talked a bit more and thought back to Ravel at the Olympic Games and compared that to the World Cup.  The Olympic Games was their first time competing in an international competition.  Imagine that your first time starts in an Olympic Games. There the combination did incredibly well but Steffen could tell that Ravel’s mental maturity “wasn’t quite there.”

In Hong Kong he was still looking around at things but here when Ravel entered the arena it was clear that Steffen was his focus and nothing else.  “He offered every single movement and didn’t hold back.”

Part of Ravel’s obedience comes from the fact that “we have a mutual admiration for each other,” explained Steffen.  “I respect him and he respects me.” For the Steffen and Ravel, for the United States and for the audience, this was one of those days “where everything just clicked” and the joy we all felt was respected in the standing ovation that Steffen and Ravel received.

Well there you have it.  This was an historic moment for the U.S. but naturally we have even higher hopes.  We are looking forward to Saturday and hoping that after the Freestyle Steffen Peters will be named 2009 World Champion.

So stay tuned as the World Cup Finals continue to unfold and as always feel free to email me with your questions or comments at