The 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games is serving as a rite of passage for two members of Team USA dressage.
Riding in her first senior international FEI championship competition is Laura Graves, 27, with her 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Verdades (Florett AS x Goya). The pair, who finished second at the WEG selection trials, impressed audience and judges alike at the European shows since the 2014 Dutta Corp./USEF Dressage Festival of Champions and stand to do the same here in Normandy tomorrow. Graves is poised, with an enviable confidence and maturity in her riding. The future looks bright for her and “Diddy,” and with luck this will be the first of many appearances for this talented pair.
|Tina Konyot and her Danish Warmblood stallion, Calecto V, in the team Grand Prix test at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
For Graves' teammate Tina Konyot, Normandy will be memorable for a very different reason. Konyot, who was the first to go for Team USA this morning to earn a score of 69.643 percent, said after her ride that the 2014 WEG will be the swan song for her longtime equine partner, the 16-year-old Danish Warmblood stallion Calecto V (Come Back II x Rastell).
“I am very, very happy,” Konyot said after her Grand Prix test, ridden in a light drizzle and cool temperatures under grim skies. “I had, obviously, little mistakes that cost you points [they had a mistake in the one-tempis and slightly undershot the last center line], but overall I’m thrilled. And he was quite energetic. I feel like I got an 80,” she said with a laugh.
“It was my goal to get here with my horse,” Konyot continued. “It’s his last hurrah. He’s in the three-plus club: He’s done two WEGs and an Olympic Games. There are only three other horses in America that have done that.”
Will Konyot hold a retirement ceremony for her horse? In her own way, she will: “I’m going to Deauville to ride on the beaches Friday and Saturday. That’s my ceremony.”
With Calecto, Konyot also participated in the 2010 WEG in Kentucky and the 2012 London Olympic Games. Of the three competitions, she said: “It’s all a wonderful experience. This may be a bit…” she trailed off, her eyes welling with tears. “I’m retiring him and I don’t know what it’ll be like not to have him. I have a younger one coming up, but it’s a big experience to get here, to be here with my boy the last time.
“He’s not the greatest dressage horse, but he is the greatest horse in the world. There’s no other horse that’s going to go galloping down the beach in Normandy. Out of these 103 horses [in the WEG dressage competition], he’s the only one that will do that.”
But who knows: Konyot said she “absolutely” plans to breed her horse of a lifetime after he retires. With a little luck, perhaps some of Calecto’s talent, heart, and temperament (“He’s a big teddy bear,” Konyot said) will be passed down to a younger generation. Watching the normally steely Konyot struggle to talk through her tears, it's a safe bet that nothing would please her more than to see her stallion pass his own torch.
|Singin' in the rain: A torrential downpour didn't affect Wizard's focus or relaxation, and he and Adrienne Lyle hit the rider's goal of a 72% in the team Grand Prix test. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
As for the other US rider who competed today, Adrienne Lyle on Wizard, this pair—in the international arena on a team for the first time after competing as individuals at the 2012 Olympics—is definitely on the rise. The fifteen-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Weltmeyer x Classiker), owned by Peggy Thomas, is “getting fitter and fitter” following his pre-WEG European training and competition tour, according to Lyle, 29. These two are entering their prime, and today it showed in Wizard’s relaxation and elasticity even while doing a Grand Prix test in a downpour, each footfall producing a spray of sand and mud on his face, legs, and belly.
“I was thrilled with how he went. He didn’t get fazed at all,” Lyle said afterward. She praised the footing for remaining secure even during the deluge.
Told her score—72 percent on the nose—Lyle exclaimed, “Yay! That was my goal, to hit a 72, so I’m thrilled. You just want so badly to do well for your team.”
As some dressage fans may know, the 2014 WEG dressage-team selection process caused some controversy when the selection committee removed Caroline Roffman and Her Highness O and named Lyle and Wizard to the team instead. Obviously Lyle is aware that some tongues wagged, but she had high praise for Roffman and her mare and said that “I think everyone had the team’s best interests and the horses’ best interests at heart. We just kept trying to improve as the summer went on, to let Wizard speak for himself [as a strong candidate].”
Currently lying in seventh place, Lyle is sure to advance to the Grand Prix Special on Wednesday; the top 30 combinations, plus any ties for 30th place, will qualify—meaning that Konyot, currently 17th, also may go on.
Before today’s Grand Prix, Lyle said, Wizard “was a little amped up, and I spent a few days cantering long and low, trying to burn off the energy. Now we can build the energy back up and go in with a little more horse. And the Special for us has always been our stronger test—big extensions, collected work. I never worry too much about that one.”
Still, she’s glad that her mentor and longtime coach, Olympian Debbie McDonald, has returned to Europe for the WEG. McDonald, who also coaches Laura Graves, has racked up plenty of frequent-flyer miles this summer, flying back and forth for the CDIs at Rotterdam, Aachen, and Hickstead. If McDonald’s hard work pays off, she may get an extra-special gift for her birthday this Wednesday: a chance to see one and perhaps two of her students vie for WEG medals in the individual Grand Prix Special.
|Kristina Sprehe and Desperados FRH of Germany are in the lead in the team dressage competition going into day 2. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
The leader going into day 2 of team GP competition, Kristina Sprehe of Germany riding Desperados FRH, has set the bar high with a score of 78.814%. In second are Hans Peter Minderhoud and Glock's Johnson TN of the Netherlands (74.357). Great Britain's Carl Hester and Nip Tuck are currently in third place with 74.186.