As the spring season winds down and we look forward to the summer and fall, our eyes turn toward the World Equestrian Games in September and the U.S. Equestrian Team’s selection trials in Gladstone, N.J., on June 1-2 and June 8-9. Looking ahead to the WEG, John Strassburger, the Chronicle’s editor, asked me in a recent e-mail, “Who is hot?”
I thought about it for a minute and decided we have a packed hothouse out there.
Starting with the big picture, there is, of course, the ironclad German team, with Ulla Salzgeber at the helm. She knocked me over the first time I saw her, when she replaced a team veteran in the European Championships several years ago. It was not only her ramrod-straight seat and effective riding that impressed me, but also her total composure and determination, which was evident even from the sidelines. She’s totally tough, in the right way, and it didn’t take her long to outdistance them all.
Her top horse is Rusty, who just won his second consecutive FEI World Cup Final, and her No. 2 horse, Wallstreet, is no slouch. But I understand there is already a third one ready to burst onto the scene.
Blue Hors Cavan, the Danish horse ridden by Lars Petersen, was the audience favorite at the World Cup, and we may be able to catch a glimpse of this combination since both horse and rider will be stationed in Virginia until their departure for Spain. Lars and his wife will return to Virginia after the WEG, while Cavan will probably remain at Blue Hors in Denmark.
The Spanish team is truly a hot group. Last year at Aachen (Germany), two of the Spanish riders claimed top placings in the freestyle, and Beatriz Ferrer Salat on Beauvalais ended up third in the World Cup. One judge had her winning, and her performances in the Grand Prix and the freestyle were convincingly accurate, light and effortless. This team on its home turf is going to be tough to tangle with for all the other nations.
The two dueling superstars, Anky van Grunsven and Isabell Werth, are a bit on the cool side, but not to the point that they have disappeared. Far from it! Although Bonfire had a tearful retirement at the World Cup Finals in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, rumor has it that her Intermediaire I freestyle winner, a Hanoverian named Salinero, is the next one to watch. She also won the open Grand Prix and Special on the Trakehner Partout, an extremely elegant horse who hasn’t been seen in competition for a couple of years.
Isabell placed fifth in the World Cup Final, squeezing the last drops out of 16-year-old Anthony. This horse has never charmed me much, but Isabell rides him so master-fully that he rises above his station again and again. On the American stage, we have more “hot” actors than ever, and the one that burns the brightest is Brentina with partner Debbie Mc-Donald. Many years ago, when Debbie rode in her first World Cup Finals, some European journalist condescendingly de-scribed her as “the housewife from Idaho,” and it really stuck in our craw. Well, I hope that same person is still tuned in to the American channel and paying attention!
We also have a strong field of American Grand Prix horses in orbit around Brentina. Lisa Wilcox has had several phenomenal seasons in Germany on the Worverk stallions, and we’re hoping that Lisa and Relevant keep up their winning streak to be contenders for our WEG team. Since the pair has already established themselves as serious players in the European theater, we’d have an ace up our sleeve with that combination on the team.
On the home front, the scores are rapidly rising to rival those overseas, and we ought to see the strongest Grand Prix field ever at the USET trials next month. We have Flim Flam, in the past always perfectly brought to peak condition at just the right time by Sue Blinks. We have Nikolaus, brilliant and always exciting both from the ground, and, I imagine, also from the view from the saddle exclusive to Guenter Seidel. Grandeur and Steffen Peters just returned from one of our stronger showings in the World Cup Finals.
Rainier and Betsy Steiner seem to have found the same wavelength, and their performance looks smoother all the time. Tina Konyot aboard supple and happy looking Abrikos is a pretty picture. The “other mare,” Rocher, ridden by George Williams, is a wonderfully honest horse who’ll certainly be knocking at the door. And we’re looking forward to seeing Etienne and Christine Traurig reunited and working their magic from the 2000 Olympics.
And that’s just the horses most likely to be in the top 10.
According to the USET listing of results so far, there are more than 50 horses nationwide seriously competing at Grand Prix, none of them scoring an average of less than 58 percent. How is that for hot?