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July 24, 2009

Peters Does The United States Proud At Aachen

He and Ravel celebrate the Fourth of July in Germany with a clean sweep of the Grand Prix CDIO.

Steffen Peters arrived in Aachen, Germany, as the reigning Rolex FEI World Cup Champion and left with another unprecedented victory—winning all three Grand Prix classes in the CDIO at the Aachen World Equestrian Festival, held June 26-July 5.

No U.S. rider since Robert Dover in 1987 has won the Grand Prix of Aachen, and no American citizen has ever won the Grand Prix Champion of Aachen, a title that goes to the rider with the highest scores in all three Grand Prix tests.

Peters, 44, left Germany for San Diego, Calif., in 1985, but the Aachen public celebrated him like a hometown hero.

There was little else for the German fans to cheer about—without their superstar Isabell Werth, who couldn’t compete due to an ongoing doping investigation (July 10, p. 58)—the team finished a disappointing second to the Netherlands. No German riders could be found in the top three in the CDIO, a sad letdown for a competition that has seen a German champion 16 times in the past 20 years.
 
Aachen also allowed Peters to prove that his World Cup victory aboard Ravel in Las Vegas, Nev., wasn’t due to being on U.S. soil or the fact that top rider Anky van Grunsven brought her second-string mount.

Peters and Akiko Yamazaki’s 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Contango—Hautain) started the weekend off with a bang by winning the Grand Prix (77.83%) by more than five percentage points over the Netherlands’ Hans Peter Minderhoud and Exquis Nadine (72.46%).

“The CHIO Aachen is the best horse show in the world,” said Peters. “After winning the World Cup Final in Las Vegas, it was important for me to present Ravel here at Aachen and to measure him against the best combinations in the world. To do very well with him here became a dream of mine when we stayed here on the Aachen show grounds during our quarantine before going to Hong Kong last year [for the 2008 Olympic Games].”

Van Grunsven’s IPS Salinero wasn’t on his game in the Grand Prix, and the Dutch Olympic champion had to share fifth place with Germany’s Matthias Rath (71.36%) after an extremely tense, hot ride.

“I was a better trainer than rider,” she admitted. “Salinero was nervous—he spooked in the trot, and that cost me valuable points. That wasn’t good enough, and I have mixed feelings—I am pleased about the team victory, but I would have liked to have won the competition.”

She managed to give Peters a hard fight in the next two tests. He eked out a win in the Special (76.91%) over van Grunsven (76.58%), but everyone wondered if Peters would be able to beat the “Freestyle Queen” the following day.

Van Grunsven certainly laid down a challenge with her high score (84.50%), but there were a few places where the 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding could’ve improved. He didn’t always produce a clear four-beat walk, and he was foiled again by his nemesis—the final halt—at the end of the test.

Her freestyle still demonstrated outstanding artistic value, however, and the extended gaits showed a lengthening of the frame, while the piaffes looked smooth and rhythmic. When Peters and Ravel performed a problematic first canter pirouette, it looked like he might have to leave victory to the Dutch combination, but he laid down the rest of his very difficult freestyle test flawlessly, and Ravel demonstrated great ease and expression for 85.60 percent.

“I have a fantastic horse,” said Peters. “He has such a great temperament. He will work each day. He’s always very relaxed, and today I really took a lot of risk. To have a horse like Ravel, whom you can really rely on, makes you mentally stronger, and I was quite relaxed myself today. I think our performance is due 70 percent to the horse and 30 percent to me as the rider.”

Peters also trained with Johann Hinnemann, his coach from when he lived in Germany, for two weeks before Aachen, and he credited his old trainer for his achievements.

Van Grunsven showed good spirits over her second-placed finish. “I am very pleased that Salinero has performed better over the last two days. Unfortunately, we had a small disturbance in the extended trot,” she said. “Of course I would have preferred to win, but it’s very good and important that the sport remains exciting, and that nobody knows beforehand who is going to win.

“I am very glad that Steffen is American, so he can’t be a threat to us at the European Championships in Windsor [England],” she joked.

The Dutch Triumph


Although van Grunsven might not have had her best weekend, she did enjoy a Dutch team victory in the dressage Nations Cup.

The fact that the Dutch could beat Germany without a top performance from their team leader only proved what depth the team has. Minderhoud had no trouble stepping into van Grunsven’s place, finishing second in the Grand Prix and third in the Special and freestyle with “Nadine.”

Minderhoud and van Grunsven were joined by Marlies van Baalen, who finished 13th in the Grand Prix (68.42%) aboard BMC O’Jay DVB. Up-and-comer Sander Marijnissen rounded out the Dutch quartet aboard Dutch Warmblood gelding Moedwill for 20th place (65.70%).

Although the German team clearly missed Werth, another Olympic champion reappeared from a five-year absence—Ulla Salzgeber rode her rising Grand Prix star Herzruf’s Erbe to 15th place in the Grand Prix (68.12%). She joined a strong team of Olympic individual bronze medallist Heike Kemmer and Bonaparte, who finished seventh in the Grand Prix (70.72%), Rath aboard Sterntaler-UNICEF and Ellen Schulten-Baumer with Donatha S (67.78%).

Another shock followed the disappointing team performance for Germany. Salzgeber’s 10-year-old Rhinelander gelding warmed up just fine for the Special, but as he entered the arena, he let out a shriek and pulled up on three legs. He had somehow twisted his fetlock, which immediately began to swell, and Salzgeber had to get off and lead the lame horse out off the arena.

Although Salzgeber feared the worst, a veterinary inspection after the competition showed only a strained ligament, which should take a few months to heal. However, Salzgeber will no longer be a contender for the European Championships with “Herzi.”

Third place went to the British team. Emma Hindle and Lancet, veterans of the 2008 Olympic Games, led the team with their eighth-placed finish (70.42%) in the Grand Prix.

Mixed Results

The judging was a point of contention during Aachen. Only the Polish judge, Wojciech Markowski, placed Ravel lower than first in any test. But this near-perfect agreement about the winner didn’t extend down to the lower-ranked riders.

Germany’s Katrina Wüst, who judged at C during the freestyle, had to admit in the press conference that the judging had been “lousy” in the Grand Prix. She said it improved in the Special and freestyle.

However, the judges often diverged by two or three marks, even when judging from the same angle. In the Grand Prix, the judges’ final scores for Salinero ranged from placing him second to 11th. In the Special, it was Kemmer’s Bonaparte who could have finished anywhere from third to 10th place depending on the judge.

But, the overall standard of the starting field could have been higher for Aachen. In the Grand Prix the faults piled up for nearly every combination except the winners. So this might have explained the discrepancies in the judges’ scores.

Some very promising horse-and-rider combinations just needed to smooth out a few details for much higher scores. Germany’s Rath started off his Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special test quite strongly with Sterntaler-UNICEF, but then he had faults in the canter tour and showed just five steps of piaffe on the final centerline.

The other U.S. rider competing in Aachen was Catherine Haddad, who is based in Vechta, Germany. Her 12-year-old Danish Warmblood Cadillac didn’t find favor with the judges, but he did present active, rhythmical piaffe and passage tours. The extended trot is not his strongest move-ment, but the extended walk was excellent in the Grand Prix. Haddad finished 26th in the Grand Prix (63.61%) and 23rd in the Grand Prix Special (64.37%).

 
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