Live from Omaha!

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

So Close...

For a heady few hours, it looked as if the USA was going to clinch the dressage team bronze medal at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. But then Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro came in and spoiled it all.

The five-member ground jury—including the USA’s own Lilo Fore—universally placed Dujardin and the twelve-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Negro x Gerschwin) first, with an average score of 85.271 percent. Sixth from last in the field of 100 horses, Valegro soundly beat the previous day’s front-runner, Bella Rose 2, ridden by Isabell Werth of Germany (81.529).

“I had a fantastic ride today,” Dujardin said of “Blueberry.” “He felt really, really good; he’s felt good all week. He went in and he really, really did perform.”
WEG team gold medalists Germany. From left: chef d'equipe Klaus Roeser, Kristina Sprehe, Fabienne Lutkemeier, Isabell Werth, Helen Langehanenberg, and head judge Stephen Clarke of Great Britain. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

But Dujardin’s stratospheric score wasn’t enough to knock the German team off the highest step of the medal podium. The all-women team (Helen Langehanenberg/Damon Hill NRW, 81.357; Kristina Sprehe/Desperados FRH, 78.814; Fabienne Lutkemeier/D’Agostino FRH, 73.586; and Werth) claimed the team gold medal with a total score of 241.700. And we should point out that the gold medal was theirs despite the injury and withdrawal of the horse considered Germany’s front-runner, the 2010 WEG gold medalist Totilas (under Dutchman Edward Gal) with current rider Matthias-Alexander Rath.

“We bought her as a three-year-old,” Werth said of Bella Rose 2, whom she says may be the best horse she’s ever ridden. (That’s saying a lot, considering Werth’s numerous Olympic and WEG appearances and medals, including gold ones, with such famous mounts as Gigolo and Satchmo.) “This is one of the diamonds you find in your life. I had the luck already with Gigolo and with Satchmo to have some diamonds, but she is really something special. She is so beautiful, so proud, with great charisma.” Bella Rose 2 is a ten-year-old Westfalen mare (Belissimo M x Cacir AA).

Team Great Britain (Carl Hester/Nip Tuck, 74.186; Michael Eilberg/Half Moon Delphi, 71.886; Gareth Hughes/DV Stenkjers Nadonna, 69.714; and Dujardin) took silver with 231.343. And even with two horse/rider combinations pinch-hitting at the last minute when team horses suffered injuries, the Netherlands (Adelinde Cornelissen/Jerich Parzival NOP, 79.629; Hans Peter Minderhoud/Glock’s Johnson TN, 74.357; Diederik van Silfhout/Arlando NOP; and Edward Gal/Glock’s Voice, 72.414) won team bronze over Team USA (227.400 vs. 222.714, respectively).
 
The bronze-medal winning Dutch team (Hans Peter Minderhoud, Edward Gal, Diederik van Silfhout, and Adelinde Cornelissen) shares a laugh at the post-medal-ceremony press conference. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Judge Stephen Clarke, who was president of the ground jury for the team competition, said: “The whole thing was outstanding. It’s unbelievable that, year after year, the standard gets higher and higher, and our sport grows more and more. We should all be very excited and very positive about it.”

The US team of Steffen Peters/Legolas 92, Laura Graves/Verdades, Adrienne Lyle/Wizard, and Tina Konyot/Calecto V finished in the same order as at June’s WEG selection trials. Peters had the high score of 75.843, despite two mistakes in the one-tempi changes. As before, Graves was hot on his heels with 74.871, with her nemesis being “Diddy’s” apprehension of the TV cameras lurking between the judge’s booths, which caused him to stop dead momentarily during his extended walk. Lyle’s solid test aboard Wizard earned them a score of 72.000, and Konyot’s mostly solid test with Calecto V had a few small errors for 69.643.
 
Yikes! Verdades spies a monster in the bushes during his Grand Prix test with Laura Graves. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
If you were a horse, you'd be scared too. Glock's Voice and Edward Gal of the Netherlands negotiate the monster in the bushes, aka an FEI TV camera. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.


According to Peters, he pushed the envelope with Legolas 92—and almost pulled it off. “The rest of the test was probably the best we’ve done,” he said afterward. “I really fought for my team, fought for my country. We risked everything. The extensions felt better than before, and we really went for it in the half-passes. The strong points are the piaffe-passage. A wonderful feeling—very supple, very energetic. We went for it in the one-tempis, and that’s where the mistake happened.”
 
One-tempis might be Legolas 92's Achilles heel, but this one looks just fine. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Peters, who was hospitalized with pneumonia prior to the Aachen CHIO and was forced to withdraw from the competition, credited his wife, Shannon, with keeping both Legolas 92 and Rosamunde in top shape, riding until her husband was able to get back in the saddle. In fact, he said, Shannon uncovered a bit more suppleness in Legolas than Steffen even realized the horse had in him.
 
Floating: Laura Graves and Verdades show why they're putting the international dressage community on notice. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
For her part, Graves handled her first appearance on a truly international stage with grace. Saying she’s not normally a nervous competitor, she admitted: “When I was warming up, I said, ‘I have this pain in my stomach. I don’t get nervous.’ [US dressage chef d’√©quipe] Robert [Dover] said, ‘That’s nerves.’ I said, ‘I’m not nervous; I have a pain in my stomach.’ He said, ‘That’s what nerves are.’ So yeah, I was very nervous,” Graves concluded with a laugh.

In the twelve years Graves and “Diddy” have been together, she’s learned that he’s the type of horse that overreacts if he’s pushed when he’s scared. He’s an honest type who spooks only when he’s truly scared, so she knew there was no point in pushing him when he froze momentarily in the walk, she said of the twelve-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Florett AS x Goya) her mother found as a yearling.

“He has a lot of points to earn with his walk; he has a super walk, so whenever we miss it from tension like we did today, it’s a real bummer,” Graves said afterward. “Still, everything else…there were no mistakes in the changes and I’m super happy with how his piaffe is coming along. So I’m really proud to be here.”


Of the WEG experience, Graves said: “It just keeps feeling like the next step. This is the big boom you’ve been waiting for. When you find out you’re on the team, you kind of expect fireworks and rainbows falling from the sky. This [going in the WEG arena for the first time] is the big bang for me.”

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