Live from Omaha!

Live from Omaha!
On the scene at the 2017 FEI World Cup Dressage Final

Monday, June 16, 2014

Eight Is Enough (for a Trip to Europe)

It's possible Lisa Wilcox felt like the luckiest person in the room.

Riding Denzello, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Betty Wells, the 2004 US Olympic dressage team bronze medalist finished eighth in the 2014 US dressage World Equestrian Games selection trials, held June 11-15 at USET Foundation headquarters in Gladstone, NJ.
Lisa Wilcox and Denzello. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Thanks to 0.182 percentage point -- the overall average score difference between eighth-placed Wilcox (71.633) and Californian Kathleen Raine on Breanna (71.451), who finished ninth -- Wilcox, of Loxahatchee, FL, found herself seated at the post-competition press conference with the seven other riders whose placings in the 2014 USEF National Grand Prix Dressage Championship have earned them a ticket to Europe and a shot at making the WEG team.

"To be here was my goal," said Wilcox, who admitted to hoping beforehand, "Please, God, let me be in the top eight."

Wilcox's fellow travelers, officially known as the WEG short list, are (listed in ranked order):

1. Steffen Peters, San Diego, CA, riding Legolas 92, a 12-year-old Westfalen gelding owned by Four Winds Farm (overall average score: 76.036%)
2014 USEF National Grand Prix champions Steffen Peters and Legolas 92. To their right: judge Janet Foy; daughters of Akiko Yamazaki, owner of Legolas; sponsor Tim Dutta of the Dutta Corp.; USET Foundation executive director Bonnie Jenkins; Yamazaki; and USEF managing director of dressage Jenny Van Wieren-Page. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

2. Laura Graves, Geneva, FL, riding her own Verdades, a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (74.226%)
Laura Graves and Verdades. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
3. Jan Ebeling, Moorpark, CA, riding Rafalca, a 17-year-old Oldenburg mare owned by Beth Meyer, Ann Romney, and Amy Roberts Ebeling (74.134%)
Jan Ebeling and Rafalca. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

4. Adrienne Lyle, Ketchum, ID, riding Wizard, a 15-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Peggy Thomas (73.543%)
Adrienne Lyle and Wizard. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
5. Tina M. Konyot, Palm City, FL, riding her own Calecto V, a 16-year-old Danish Warmblood stallion (73.038%)
Tina Konyot and Calecto V. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
6. Caroline V. Roffman, Wellington, FL, riding her own Her Highness O, an 11-year-old Hanoverian mare (72.760%)
Caroline Roffman and Her Highness O. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
7. Shelly Francis, Loxahatchee, FL, riding Doktor, an 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Patricia Stempel (72.119%).
Shelly Francis and Doktor. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Leaving on a Jet Plane

KLM #644, departing this Wednesday from New York's JFK to Amsterdam, for all you flight-trackers out there. That's according to the man who should know: J. Tim Dutta, founder and chairman of The Dutta Corp., presenting sponsor of the 2014 USEF Festival of Dressage Champions and, naturally, the guy who's in charge of getting our precious equine cargo to the WEG and back.

Here's how eight riders and horses will be whittled to a WEG team of four.

As the top two finishers, Peters and Graves are on the team. Still, they must "demonstrate their continued preparation, soundness, and ability," as stated in the USEF selection process, by competing in at least one of the European CDIs designated as a "mandatory outing." Those shows are:

1. CDI4* Schindlhof, Fritzens, Austria, July 4-6. (Owned by the Haim-Swarovski family of Swarovski crystal fame, the Schindlhof estate looks like The Sound of Music meets the equestrian elite. No wonder we want to show there!)

2. The World Equestrian Festival/CHIO Aachen, Germany, July 11-20. The most prestigious horse show in the world will be a fitting final test of our WEG hopefuls.

Based on average rankings based on riders' scores in the selection trials Grand Prix test and at the mandatory outings, the other two members of Team USA will be chosen. The remaining four horse-rider combinations will be named as substitutes, in ranked order. August 14 is the FEI's "definite entry" deadline for the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

A Team Effort

If you're going to be a novice on the world stage, you could do worse than having Steffen Peters and Robert Dover at your side.

With nine Olympic Games between them (three for Peters, six for Dover), the competitor and the chef d'equipe have a lifetime of travel and show-prep experience to offer Graves, the first-timer.

"When it comes to the management of a three-day competition, I have a lot to learn," Graves said after the conclusion of the selection trials. "I'm looking forward to the expertise of a team coach and others to help learn how to manage the stress."

"I'd love to see Laura in Aachen, for sure," Peters said. Asked what advice he'd offer Graves, he said: "We need to train as if we're already in Aachen, already at the World Games. That little bit of adrenaline will take care of the rest. We need to step it up. If I had this freestyle [the quality of the selection trials performance] today, I'd be very happy."

But the process from today forward isn't a dictatorship. Said Dover of the two mandatory outings: "This [the choice of whether to attend one or both shows] is left up to the athletes -- what they think is in the best interests of their horses and themselves. Both are good shows."

"I'm open to suggestions," Graves responded. "I'm a total rookie. I also know my horse; he's exhausted after this long trip up the coast."

Rafalca, the elder stateswoman of the group, was also tired after Gladstone, said Ebeling, who expressed concerns over the back-to-back travel schedule.

"I have to admit I'm a little concerned. I had hoped I could keep the lead being in second [going into the GP Freestyle, which would have given him an automatic team slot]. I was hoping I could avoid that [having to show at Fritzens]."

It's possible Ebeling may be able to avoid it, after all. According to former US dressage national technical advisor Anne Gribbons, the WEG selection committee (of which she is not, however, a member) may find a way to allow Rafalca not to compete at the early-July show.

Even with the somewhat tired horses, some of which are fairly new to Grand Prix, "the standard here was amazing," said judge Janet Foy. "I've been judging the Florida horses since January but hadn't seen many of them since March. Their progress since then is amazing. I'm thrilled to see Rafalca so steady and reliable -- just a perfect team type of horse. And Legolas has come a long, long way; the changes [which have been the horse's weakness] -- Steffen's getting sevens.

"What is thrilling is to have this top group with such great sportsmanship to be mentors to the ones without that experience," Foy continued. "All the judges are happy with how the competition went. We're confident we did the best job and are sending the best group to Europe. Peter [Holler, an FEI 5* judge from Germany and the lone foreign judge on the panel] was very impressed."

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