June 9—Gladstone, N.J.
It was good to ride early on Day 1 of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival Of Champions, as Steffen Peters cantered into the lead out of his 8:18 a.m. slot aboard Legolas.
“It was a perfect spot for me to ride. I like to get it done early in the morning,” said Peters, 47. “I loved it. I got to watch all the others.”
Tina Konyot took second place in the first of four Grand Prix tests that will take place over the next 10 days with Calecto V (72.78%), ahead of Jan Ebeling, who was first down centerline at 8 a.m. on Rafalca (71.53%).
Despite the early ride times, spectators packed the stands in the historic home of the U.S. Equestrian Team.
Legolas, a 10-year-old Westphalian gelding (Laomedon—Fürstin, Florestan II) owned by Akiko Yamazaki’s Four Winds Farm, appeared to notice the atmosphere toward the end of his test and was tempted to gawk just a little bit.
“He hasn’t seen much of the world yet. He noticed it, but he totally stayed with me,” said Peters, who brought the gelding over from Europe in December. “I’m very happy. That’s the best trot tour, walk tour, and piaffe/passage tour he’s done so far. I was able to keep 15 steps in place on every single piaffe. The half-passes felt great. It’s quite difficult to get him to walk as relaxed as he did today. Even after the walk tour he was at a 79. That is very exciting.”
The young Grand Prix horse did have mistakes in the one-tempis, which Peters admitted are still a work in progress. But the twos looked spot on, and Peters said he was thrilled with the start of the trials.
Although it’s always nice to win, Peters’ more likely Olympic candidate, his veteran Grand Prix horse Ravel, is resting up in his stall at Peters’ Arroyo Del Mar facility in California. Ravel, also owned by Yamazaki, earned a bye for the trials after his numerous top performances at international championships since 2008, so he’ll fly east on June 18 to join his teammates in preparation for their trip to England.
The exciting news for the other 14 competitors at the selection trials was that the United States would receive an individual spot for the Olympic Games in addition to three team positions. Colombia qualified for a team slot after a bronze medal at the 2011 Pan American Games (Mexico), which were held at the Prix St. Georges level. However, the country couldn’t field three riders with qualifying scores at Grand Prix (over 64 percent). So that opened up some spots for individual riders from other countries.
“It’s always better [to have four]. The more you have, the better the team spirit,” said Peters. “We knew from the start that for [position No.] 3, 4, 5 it’s going to be a photo finish. So it’s nice that one more person gets to join the team.”
“We’re going into this being so close,” agreed Ebeling, of Moorpark, Calif. “There’s Steffen and Steffen, and then there’s nothing for a while, and then all the others.”
Indeed, after the first Grand Prix test there was less than 2.5 points between second and sixth place.
Konyot, 50, was happy to be back in form with her 14-year-old Danish Warmblood stallion (Come Back III—Bahera, Rastell) after inconsistent results in Wellington, Fla., this winter.
“I had a tough beginning of my season in Florida because I lost my dog. I don’t think I did a very good job mentally in the first couple of months,” she said. “I had a rough time. I’m feeling better, and the two of us together make that combination.”
She said Calecto felt relaxed and supple during his test. “That big stallion neck of his, it’s sometimes not so easy to keep him nice and round and supple, but he felt wonderful today,” she said. “My second pirouette he thought he’d do on his own. I gave him a little correction, which he took nicely, and then he said, ‘Oh come on Mom, let me go ahead and do it.’ It was a little bit before its time, and I could have added one more stride to the pirouette. But I was able to save it.”
Ebeling, 53, is coming off a 15th-placed finish at the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Final (the Netherlands) in April with the 15-year-old Oldenburg mare (Argentinius—Ratine, Rubenstein) owned by Amy Ebeling, Ann Romney and Beth Meyer. Jan has been riding Rafalca for that last six years.
“I think she’s really matured,” he said. “I know her really well. She knows me really well. At first I was upset having to go first, but then I thought it doesn’t really matter. We go, we do our thing. She was great. I’m really happy with her.”
The Grand Prix Special will begin at 8 a.m. on Sunday, and the competitors will repeat those two tests next weekend, June 15-17. They are not performing Grand Prix freestyles this year in the selection trials, as the Olympic team medal will be decided by the Grand Prix and the Special.
“It’s so important to put a good Grand Prix and a Grand Prix Special at the Olympic Games. I can see why we’re doing it,” said Peters. “But, on the flip side, it is very special to ride a freestyle here at Gladstone.”
Find full results on FoxVillage.com.
Watch the tests live on the USEFNetwork.com.