After winning two individual bronze medals at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games last fall, it might seem like Steffen Peters would rest easily knowing he’s got one of the best horses in the world in Ravel. But every rider is aware that you’re only as good as the depth of your stable.
So it was with quiet satisfaction that Peters presented another superstar: Weltino’s Magic. He dominated the 15-horse field in the Prix St. Georges (76.27%) and Intermediaire I (76.40%) CDI classes at the Mid-Winter Dressage Fair in Burbank, Calif., Feb. 24 – 27.
Two qualifiers for the Pan American Games had already concluded in Florida, but this was the first West Coast quali-fier of the year.
“If [Peters] rides like that at the Pan Ams, he will win gold, no problem,” proclaimed Lorraine MacDonald, president of the ground jury.“This horse is the new Totilas of the small tour.”
FEI I-level judge Jayne Ayers said all the judges agreed about the quality of Peters’ rides.
“Frequently, scores from the side judges will be lower. But from the side, Steffen’s ride was even more impressive than from the front, and, therefore, those scores were actually quite a bit higher, because that’s where you see the amazing harmony, correctness and self-carriage of the horse, which you seldom see in its truest form,” she said. “He demonstrated that really intense harmony with the horse, complete understanding and an uphill balance and engagement that you can really appreciate from the side, not a forced or artificially trained uphill balance that is so often seen.”
“I’ve never scored a horse and rider so high in the Prix St. Georges,” said MacDonald. “This horse was a cut above the competition—obedient, willing, harmonious and brilliant, and an absolute role model for the division.”
Peters’ appreciation for his young star was evident. “For the Prix St. Georges, ‘Magic’ came into the ring a bit nervous, and going around the outside of the arena I was a little worried for a few minutes,” he said. “But once we entered the arena he settled right down and gave me lots of expression throughout the test.”
Riders were forced indoors on Saturday due to unusually cold and snowy weather, but Magic was unfazed by the change in surroundings. “There wasn’t really any difference for us in the Equidome. He’s a sensitive horse but a relatively relaxed horse. He was actually better indoors today than outside yesterday. He shows a lot of heart,” said Peters, San Diego, Calif.
“This was only his second I-1 test, and I was really excited about tackling the difficult parts of the test. He has such a phenomenal walk, and he does great on all the movements with coefficients, so we get lots of extra points in the savings account,” he continued.
Peters and Magic’s owner, Jen Hlavacek, credited Peters’ wife Shannon for much of the 9-year-old Westphalian gelding’s (Weltino—Diva, Diamond Boy) success.
“He came to Shannon for training, and she was quick to recognize his international potential and recom-mended we try to get him as a future mount for Steffen,” said Hlavacek, who purchased the gelding as a 4-year-old.
In one year, Shannon took the youngster from first level to the reserve title as a 6-year-old at the 2008 Markel/
USEF National Young Horse Dressage Championships.
“He had his challenges as a youngster, and Shannon deserves a lot of credit,” said Steffen. “She started him
as a young horse and was very patient with him and gave him all the time in the world. She was very generous in giving me the ride.”
Magic’s conditioning program is another factor behind his high scores. “Magic goes on his treadmill, not necessarily for a very long duration, but he does it every day and on an incline. It’s made a definite difference,” said Steffen.
“I hadn’t seen him for a couple of months, and I really noticed the difference here,” agreed Hlavacek. “He’s all muscle mass now.”
Marisa Festerling, Moorpark, Calif., finished second in the Prix St. Georges test (72.71%) aboard Big Tyme, her own 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Saros van ‘t Gestelhof—Elvira, Wendekreis). Even though mistakes in the Intermediaire I test placed her fourth (70.57%), the judging panel was complimentary.
“Big Tyme is an amazing horse as well and is a great prospect for the U.S. team. I was really, really impressed with this pair. Several costly mistakes hurt them the second day, but they still earned a score over 70 percent,” noted MacDonald. “For me, from what I saw here, [Weltino’s Magic and Big Tyme] are the best in the country.”
Quality In Abundance
Judges were pleased with the quality performances by all competitors in the small tour.
“I had such a good time judging these classes because I got to give so many high scores,” said Ayers. “So many good horses and very well ridden. There were some really brilliant movements shown, not just by one horse but by several. Of course, we did see some tension from horses being on the muscle and feeling the cold weather. But the riding was so good that, while we had some blowups, overall this energy was put to good use and created some extra brilliance, engagement and collection. You don’t see this all that often, so it was a real treat.”
FEI I-level judge Natalie Lamping predicted the Pan Am-qualifying competitions will get even tougher as the season progresses.
“The quality of horses at this level has gotten really good. You don’t always know who’s going to win on any given day, which makes the judging very interesting,” she said. “Having judged a Pan Am qualifier in Florida already this year, I was thinking that it will be really great to see these horses, from both the East and West Coasts, all in one ring at the same time at the selection trials.”
MacDonald agreed that the fight for a team spot will be intense. “There will be four movements that determine the winner: the two canter pirouettes, extended walk and collected walk,” she noted. “For me, that’s what will make the difference. Everybody else can pretty much do everything, but these four movements will make the difference.”
The Canadians Are On A Mission
In order for Canada to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games, the dressage team will have to place first or second at the Pan Ams (disregarding the U.S. result). Thus, the pressure is on to field a stellar team, and two Canadians showed they’re in the hunt at the Mid-Winter Dressage Fair CDI.
Karen Pavicic, Richmond, B.C., rode her own 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding Don Daiquiri (Don Cardinale—Neastate III, Rubenstein) to second in the Inter-mediaire I test (71.97%).
“With this pair we saw a huge improvement from the day before,” said MacDonald. “This is a wonderful horse with three beautiful gaits.”
Pavicic also claimed blue in the Inter-mediaire I freestyle (72.41%) ahead of fellow Canadian Dominique Culham Buckland, riding Denise Turner’s Utango DG (70.33%).
“I was very happy with both Karen and Dominique; they showed progress each day,” said Robert Dover, Canada’s interim dressage team coach.
“They’ve come from Canada where you don’t have a lot of shows, and they travel to Cali-fornia where all of a sudden you’re in a CDI but not quite in a show rhythm yet. So I will be looking for continued improvement in two weeks at Del Mar and also for the next CDI here in Bur-bank next month.”
Dover said the Canadian prospects are off to a good start for earning a medal at the Pan Am Games in Guada-lajara, Mexico. “After watching almost 50 horses in Florida two weeks ago, I believe that both Karen and Dominique would be very competitive in the top group of Canadian riders trying out right now. There’s still a long way to go between now and figuring out who that team will be. But that won’t be my job at that point, “ said Dover.
His contract with the Canadian team will expire on April 3, the final day of the CDI-W/Y/J Burbank. “I’m hoping they will send my replacement to that show so that I can work with him or her, and we can have a nice transition,” he said.
She’s Not Quite Done Yet
After last fall’s Great American/USDF Region 7 and CDS Championships, young rider Mackinzie Pooley, Coto de Caza, Calif., made the difficult decision to retire her beloved 20-year-old Olden-burg (Rubenstein—Jonkalla), Jonkara. A decorated veteran of multiple CDIs and championships including the Adequan FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championship and Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Festival of Champions, Pooley said Jonkara didn’t have anything else to prove.
“I brought her home and gave her several months off. We just hung out and went trail riding,” explained Pooley. “In the middle of January I began riding her in dressage work again for fun, and it was going really great, so I was like ‘hmm.’ She loves to work and was so enthusiastic to be working again.”
Jonkara displayed her affinity for com-petition by winning the CDI Young Rider Team Test with a score of 70.87 percent.
“If she didn’t want to do it, she wouldn’t. So when she says stop, we’ll stop,” Pooley said. “She knows her job, so at this point I’m just focusing on keeping her fit, healthy and happy.
But she’s going great and only getting better.
“This has totally been a surprise for me to be able to have another year with Jonkara, but she really will be done after this year,” continued Pooley, who turns 18 this year. “I’m going to college, and I have my young horse coming up. But I would love to make the NAJYRC Region 7 team with her one more time.”
After moving indoors for the Individual Test, Morgan Heinrichs, Longmont, Colo., rode Orlando to a winning score of 67.67 percent, and Catherine Chamberlain traveled from Chandler, Ariz., to ride her own Verdicci to a freestyle victory (66.25%).