It’s show time! The whole team is packing up, and we are set to leave for Kentucky on Saturday night.
Logistically speaking, this part of the journey to the WEG is one of the easiest since the entire dressage team is in one place—Gladstone—and we are all headed to the same location. Horses and grooms will all be shipped together by van to the Horse Park, and all of the riders and support staff will fly into Cincinnati or Lexington.
Winyamaro and my groom are getting dropped off near the Horse Park at Reese Koffler’s stable in Georgetown. Since W and I are the reserve combination, we are not allowed at the venue unless we are called up to substitute for another pair. We stay on standby at Reese’s place until the vet check is complete and all four American horses are given the thumbs up to start at the WEG.
I don’t expect to be called up. I have a really good feeling about our team this year. I think it is one of the best-prepared teams to ever represent the United States. We have good planning and super support staff to thank for part of this, in addition to a group of dedicated and skilled riders who are not only talented in the saddle but also good horsemen as well.
The combination of Steffen Peters/Ravel is of course one of the best pairs in the world. This horse belongs on the list of my all time favourites to watch because of his natural elasticity and fluidity. If you had asked me last year in Aachen (the last time I saw him live) what Steffen could improve on this horse I would have answered “very little,” so I am surprised to see how much he has improved since that time in his career. He is stronger, more through and more impressive than ever before. It has been a pleasure to see him train.
Tina Konyot and Calecto are also on an improvement curve. This pair has taken the USA by storm this year, training nearly always for first place and coming home satisfied! What few people talk about is that Calecto is actually a very young Grand Prix horse—a work in progress—so potential for improvement is unlimited at the moment. And improve he has. If I compare the tests that I have seen him do over the summer to the test ride he just completed a few days ago, Tina has laid down several new and important brushstrokes on the canvas of her masterpiece. My hat goes off to her for some concentrated and skilled riding over the last few weeks.
Nartan is a horse that I know well and have seen many, many times in competition. One would think that a horse of this age and experience would just go like clockwork and need very little tweaking on the road to a big competition. But he has a new rider in Katherine Bateson-Chandler, and they both needed time to get to know each other and create their own image together. Over the past few weeks they have succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination and have morphed into one of our strongest, most elegant pairs.
Otto is also a horse that I know well. Along with Katherine and Nartan, Todd and Otto needed some time to sort each other out and become true dance partners. But because this pair has been together for much more time than Katherine and Nartan, we saw their success already in doing just that at the Selection Trials in August where Todd rode Otto with a confidence and flair that they had previously not shown. Kudos again to our support staff for getting this pair into even better form over the last few weeks.
The combination of Anne Gribbons and Steffen Peters working together on the ground has greatly contributed to the improvements I have seen in our horses during the training camp at Gladstone. Supplementary training—like videotaped test rides and discussion with top judges and meetings with the sport psychologist—has also been a real plus in creating a strong, solid team.
I’m still not ready to answer that frequently asked question about our medal chances. But having taken part in of the U.S. dressage team’s preparation for the WEG, I can say that our chances are much greater now than just a short time ago.
I’m off to pack…again. Big sigh. I love to travel, and I have always said that home is where your horse is, but I’m looking forward to unpacking for good one day! I hope to see everyone in Kentucky.
I’m Catherine Haddad, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from Gladstone, N.J.
Training Tip of the Day: During an intense season of showing, pay special attention to your horse’s natural training rhythms. Notice if he gives his best performance on the third day of hard training or the day after a rest day. Use these observations to create your best performance on the day of the Grand Prix.