Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Grand Prix Special Bronze for Steffen Peters and Ravel!

Grand Prix Special medalists Laura Bechtolsheimer (silver), Edward Gal (gold), and Steffen Peters (bronze)

Folks, the drought is over. With a score of 78.542%, Steffen Peters and Akiko Yamazaki's Ravel rode to the first individual dressage world championships medal for the US in...well, a long time.
Peters and Ravel

On a day when a number of horses looked a bit tired from the Grand Prix exertions of the past few days -- exacerbated, perhaps, by a temperature spike that pushed the mercury up around 80 -- some of the top competitors actually seemed more relaxed and able to deliver better performances. Ravel was one of them, and he looked comfortable on the sunny, dry afternoon very much like home in San Diego.

But another horse that looked more relaxed was Moorlands Totilas, Edward Gal's ten-year-old black stallion, and Gal said afterward that "I could take more risk" in the Special than in the Grand Prix. "I had a really good ride today."
Gal and Moorlands Totilas

"Really good" meant a string of scores that started to be reminiscent of the legendary gymnast Nadia Comaneci's record-shattering 10s at the 1976 Olympics: 10 after 10 after 10. Tens for passage. Tens for piaffe. A 10 for a canter pirouette. Tens for the extended canter. There were just enough marks of 8 and 9 to temper the eye-popping string of high marks, but at one point during the test, I wondered whether Gal was going to get a 90. He finished with an 85.708%.

And then there was the huge, fabulous Mistral Hojris, who stayed right where he'd placed in the GP -- right behind Totilas -- earning a score of 81.708%.
Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris

"It's exciting to be a part of the sport when it's being pushed up so far so fast," Bechtolsheimer said. "It used to be just Isabell and Anky; you knew one of them was going to win."

It's hard to believe that the poised, gracious, well-spoken Bechtolsheimer is just 25 years old. Clearly, she stands to bring glory to the British team for many years to come.

And speaking of people who seem genuinely nice and without a DQ attitude, I'd add Gal and Peters to the mix. I've known Steffen since the late 1980s (I rode with him when I lived in San Diego), and he's obviously a good businessman and an exacting taskmaster, but he's a wonderful horseman and a pretty down-to-earth guy. It's special getting to see someone you know compete and excel on the world stage. My suspicions that the medal ceremony were a special moment for Steffen were borne out when he wiped away a few tears while standing on the podium.
An emotional moment for Peters

Yes, those were tears, Steffen said afterward. "Only Shannon [his wife] knows how tough that was to miss a medal in Hong Kong [the 2008 Olympics, where he and Ravel were fourth]. I never really admitted it before now." Knowing that "we didn't have an individual medal in the US for a really long time" made the moment particularly emotional, he said.

One Unplanned "Air Above the Ground"
Hang on! Exquis Nadine goes airborne with Hans Peter Minderhoud. Photo by
One of the Dutch team gold medalists, Hans Peter Minderhoud on Exquis Nadine, was favored to place highly in the Special but had an error-marred test capped with a dramatic disobedience. Nadine resisted in a passage-canter transition and later swapped leads early during an extended canter. During the final piaffe-passage tour down the center line, the mare stopped, sank part way onto her haunches, then gave an enormous leap that drew gasps of horror from the audience. Had Nadine kicked out with her hind legs in midair, it would have been nearly a textbook capriole.

A Judge's Perspective 

Mary Seefried of Australia attended the post-competition press conference, as is customary for the head of the ground jury. Like Stephen Clarke yesterday, she fielded questions about scoring discrepancies. She affirmed that the WEG dressage judges did indeed meet yesterday evening for a review of the rides (albeit not of every test, due to time constraints) and called the session helpful, although she acknowledged that "the FEI standard deviation is 5 percent" -- so in some cases, there is work to be done because scores on occasion varied more widely.

Of the top finishers in the Special, Seefried said, "What impressed the judges with the first three [finishers] was the harmony. They were -- do I dare use the word? -- classical. Their horses were so well trained, so responsive. And there was the precision of the riding itself."

Seefried also praised the "wonderful Spanish horse": Fuego XII, a twelve-year-old PRE stallion ridden by Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz of Spain to a fourth-place finish and a score of 76.042%. She said that the Spaniards' dedication to improving their dressage standing internationally shows in the selection of horses and in their performance, willingness to work, and impulsion. There is really no difference between the Iberian horses' training (or, by extension, judging) and that of any other dressage horse, she said.

No, Toto's Not Coming to Kansas

Rumors were flying today that Moorlands Totilas had been sold to the United States. Gal vigorously denied the scuttlebutt and said "not true."

Oh well. But Toto and Gal look to be a perfect match, so I'd kind of like for them to stay together. Now, if Gal would like to become a US citizen and bring Toto with him, I don't think anyone in this country would complain!

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