Live from Omaha!

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Laura Graves Isn't in Kansas Any More

Laura Graves and Verdades passage their way to a 77.157 and eighth place in the WEG Grand Prix Special. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

After her Grand Prix test yesterday, Team USA’s Laura Graves talked about adjusting to the realization that she and her horse, Verdades, had been named to the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games dressage team. It didn’t all sink in until yesterday, she said, and when she first heard the news there were no “fireworks and rainbows.”

Maybe someone overheard Graves’s comment, for “Over the Rainbow” was among the medley of songs playing during her spectacular Grand Prix Special test today (more on those songs in a minute).

“Diddy’s” tension all but disappeared today, and we saw the horse who wowed us at the WEG selection trials in June. Better than at Gladstone, actually: There was an added power and expression to Diddy’s piaffe and passage, and the test was spot-on accurate. Best of all, he achieved that elusive goal of making the extraordinarily difficult Grand Prix Special test look elegant and easy.

“He was just really nice to ride—which is why we do this, isn’t it?” Graves said afterward. “To go in and have a ride when you can’t be too critical of anything is a really nice ride to have.”
GP Special gold medalists Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Graves’s score of 77.157 percent vaulted her into the lead—for a while, anyway. But the British and German juggernaut came along, and reigning Olympic champions Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro took the definitive and unshakeable lead with a score of 86.120 percent, which would have been even higher had it not been for a momentary resistance in the walk-piaffe transition and a mistake in the two-tempis. (Australian judge Susan Hoevenaars, the head of the ground jury today, quipped afterward: “We wanted to give her 90 percent, but she wouldn’t let us.)
GPS silver medalists Damon Hill NRW and Helen Langehanenberg of Germany. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
On Dujardin’s heels through the entire competition and finishing second again today was Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg with the fourteen-year-old Westfalen stallion Damon Hill NRW (Donnerhall x Rubinstein I). Damon Hill is a fabulous athlete with an impressive piaffe-passage but lacks just a smidge of Valegro’s elasticity and range. An almost mistake-free test with a slight loss of balance in the piaffe after the walk put Langehanenberg in silver-medal position with a score of 84.468 percent.

A newcomer to the international-championships scene claimed the individual GPS bronze: Kristina Sprehe on the thirteen-year-old Hanoverian stallion Desperados FRH (De Niro x Wolkenstein II). From Sprehe’s wide eyes and at-a-loss-for-words responses in the post-medal ceremony press conference, it was evident that the 27-year-old Sprehe was amazed at her medal-winning score of 79.748 percent.

Graves and Verdades ended up eighth in the Special, beating tenth-place finishers Steffen Peters on Legolas 92—just as Peters had predicted could well happen one of these days. Legolas’s GPS test was a marked improvement over yesterday’s Grand Prix, with one mistake in the one-tempi changes on the center line and a final score of 75.742 percent.
Fans cheer on the American riders. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
“It was tricky because in the warm-up, he didn’t want to stop after nine [tempi changes],” Peters said afterward. “I was super-excited that he actually quit on nine. And I had a better feeling than yesterday in the Grand Prix, and seeing those two American flags up there, making it into the final, that’s just awesome. We’re ‘keeping it in the family.’” But make no mistake: Peters isn’t ready to cede to Graves just yet. “Legolas has a hell of a freestyle,” he said.

Unfortunately, this was not Adrienne Lyle's day. A test marred by a series of mistakes gave the fifteen-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Weltmeyer x Classiker) a disappointing score of 69.202 percent for last place.

"My horse was not himself; something was bothering him," Lyle said afterward. 

Another disappointed competitor was German team gold medalist Isabell Werth, whose mount, Bella Rose 2, was withdrawn from the individual competition because of what the German federation called inflammation of the sole of the foot. When I find out more about that, I'll let you know.

Name Those Tunes

Oh, and about that music: Each rider gets a background-music medley of instrumental tunes, obviously chosen to reflect the nationality and the horse’s gaits, during the tests. The music is loud enough over the PA system that the effect is not unlike watching a freestyle, although Laura Graves said it’s not as loud in the arena itself. The effect can be pleasing or distracting, depending on whether the tempos match (they’re often not perfect) and whether the music selection seems appropriate for the pair. For instance, Carl Hester of Great Britain rode his Special aboard Nip Tuck to Rolling Stones tunes—OK, that makes sense. But the Netherlands’ Hans Peter Minderhoud on Glock’s Johnson TN rode to “Werewolf in London” followed by “It’s Raining Men.” To borrow from Forrest Gump, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

On Deck: Freestyle Friday

The second individual-medal dressage competition, the Grand Prix Freestyle, takes place Friday after the horses and riders enjoy a well-deserved rest day tomorrow. Audiences will be watching eagerly for Graves’s new freestyle: She says she’s amped up the difficulty and changed the choreography to improve the flow.

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