"Well, that's a surprise," one spectator remarked sarcastically after Olympian Steffen Peters swept not one but two of the national titles up for grabs in Gladstone, New Jersey -- and also claimed the reserve championship in one of the divisions, for good measure.
|Steffen Peters and Legolas 92 passage their way to Grand Prix Freestyle victory, in the process clinching the 2014 USEF National Grand Prix championship and the #1 spot on the US WEG dressage team. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
Riding Four Winds Farm's 12-year-old Westfalen gelding Legolas 92, Peters, of San Diego, CA, took the national Grand Prix title (as expected) with an overall average score of 76.036% -- which was given a healthy boost after Sunday's winning Grand Prix Freestyle score of 79.700%.
Peters had already visited the winner's circle earlier in the day, collecting the Intermediaire I national championship title with Four Winds Farm's newest superstar, the seven-year-old Rhinelander mare Rosamunde. He also took the reserve I-I title aboard the eight-year-old Oldenburg mare Apassionata, owned by Tracy Roenick, who led her mare into the Dick and Jane Brown Arena for the awards ceremony.
|Perhaps the only equestrian skill Steffen Peters lacks is the ability to ride two horses at once. He's on Intermediaire I champion Rosamunde while owner Tracy Roenick handles his reserve-champion mount, her mare Apassionata. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
When a competitor is at the pinnacle of his or her career, it does sometimes seem as if victory is a foregone conclusion. But there are a couple of factors that need to be considered.
First, Steffen Peters is arguably the only American dressage competitor with a string of horses rivaling that of the top Europeans. Those riders don't have just one "big" horse to pin all their hopes and dreams on; they have perhaps five or 10 -- large tour, small tour, plus some talented youngsters. As former USEF national dressage technical advisor and current FEI 5* judge Anne Gribbons (who was on the ground jury at Gladstone this year) has pointed out, such depth not only gives the rider competitive options but also keeps him or her plenty busy going down center line. Not to say that the other riders at Gladstone aren't experienced, but Peters has more top horses than they do. All that showing experience counts for something -- perhaps evidenced by the fact that, while other riders said they were eating light (or not at all) before their tests, Peters was tucking into a nice hearty lunch of chicken and pasta before his Grand Prix Freestyle. (Nerves? What nerves?)
Second, if name recognition were a guarantee of top placings, then 26-year-old Grand Prix newbie Laura Graves would not have given Peters a run for his money -- and believe me, she did. Riding her 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Verdades, Graves was little more than one percentage point behind Peters in the Grand Prix Special and the GP Freestyle -- 74.549 vs. Peters' 75.647 in the Special, and 78.425 vs. 79.700 in the Freestyle. The judges placed Graves above 13 other riders, all of whom are much better known than she.
There are always going to be disagreements over scorings and placings. Some who were in the audience at Gladstone were disappointed that Olympic veterans Jan Ebeling and Rafalca's dynamic and difficult new freestyle was not rewarded with a score higher than the 76.150 it received. Caroline Roffman's fun, upbeat Katy Perry routine suits Her Highness O well, and some said they thought it ought to have scored higher than the 73.775 it received. And so it goes.
But don't take my word for it. Here's the video of Legolas 92's winning freestyle. What do you think? Did it deserve to win?
Click here for video