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June 28, 2012

Road To The Olympics: Jan Ebeling, Part 3

Jan Ebeling and Rafalca received plenty of attention for their starring role in Stephen Colbert's skit about dressage on "The Colbert Report." Photo by Sara Lieser.

In this series, the Chronicle follows seven riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in London in 2012.

After placing third in the first Grand Prix (71.53%), fourth in the first Grand Prix Special (72.04%), third in the second Grand Prix (75.25%) and fourth in the second Grand Prix Special (73.84%) at the U.S. Equestrian Federation Dressage Festival Of Champions National Grand Prix Championship, which also served as the selection trials for the Olympic Games, Jan Ebeling and Rafalca earned third overall with a score of 73.16 percent. That third-placed standing put them fourth on the Fédération Equestre Internationale nominated entry list for the U.S. dressage team behind Steffen Peters on Ravel and Legolas 92 and Tina Konyot on Calecto V. Pending approval from the USEF High Performance Working Group and the USEF Executive Committee, the U.S. Olympic dressage team will be composed of Ebeling on Rafalca, Konyot on Calecto V and Peters on Ravel. Legolas 92 will be Peters’ alternate, and Adrienne Lyle will ride as an individual with Wizard.

It’s a big dream come true to make the team. I’ve had a couple of World Cup experiences, and I rode on the 2003 Pan American Games team in the Dominican Republic, but this is my first Olympics. Let me tell you, it’s amazing. It’s so exciting, and it’s a great honor to be able to represent your country.

We came to New Jersey on June 1, the Friday before the competition started, so we had about a week before to get settled in. [The selection trials were held over two weekends, June 9-10 and 15-16, in Gladstone, N.J.] We’ve done this trip before with Rafalca several times, so we know how many days out we need to be here to give her time to rest and get acclimated. This time wasn’t too bad because the weather was absolutely perfect. It stayed cool. There were two days where it was a little warmer, and it started to get muggy, but it was beautiful overall.

My strongest test [at the selection trials] was the second Grand Prix. I got my highest score of the weekend, and it was also the highest score I’ve ever gotten on Rafalca in the Grand Prix. It was a personal best, and it was a very good test.

Watch the test. Anne Gribbons and Christine Traurig watch from the sideline in the beginning.

I think Rafalca was getting stronger every time we went out. She had been getting stronger every time we went out for the last two years. I think there’s been a steady improvement to her steadiness. She’s very consistent. It’s a very positive thing about her. I think we really peaked at Gladstone, where it counted.

I felt confident going into the competition, even though the field was close together. Several of us were super close together, all within less than a percentage point of each other. I knew everyone was a seasoned rider, and most of us had seasoned horses. I think it could’ve been anyone. But I knew what I had; I knew what my horse could do. I think when you can go into a competition with that level of confidence it really does help. When I compete, I don’t think, “Oh, I have to win this one.” I just think about my riding. There’s not really anything else on my mind besides riding and doing my best ride.

So after the first weekend, when I was placed pretty well, I was getting even more confident without getting overconfident. I knew Todd [Flettrich on Otto] was still really close, and Adrienne [Lyle] was also close. The important thing to remember when you’re in that situation is that the others don’t sleep; they’re working just as hard if not harder. They want to make that team just as much as you do.

I was really thrilled with my scores. I didn’t see many of the other rides. In the first Grand Prix, since I went as the first rider of the day, I got to watch some other tests. But on the other days when I went further back, I think I watched maybe one other one. I don’t pay much attention to how the others are scoring because that’s one sure way to psych yourself out. I didn’t even really know how I had placed the last day.

On the last day, I was sitting in the tack room with Christine [Traurig], who was coaching me, and I said, “You want to go and watch Todd?” She said, “No, I’m not going. I can’t watch.” I said, “I’m done. There’s nothing I can do now. I’m going to go watch.”

He had a few mistakes and got some low scores, but then he came up, and I thought, “Oh, he can still do it.” Then I watched Adrienne’s ride, and her ride was very good. In the end, it wasn’t enough to put me out of my third place, but there certainly were a couple of tense moments!

Maybe it wasn’t close between the first two and the rest of us, but between the next couple of spots it really was a tight race. It was very gripping and suspenseful.

A Great Group

If you look at the list of our scores throughout the show season, everyone was very consistent and then we each had one show where it didn’t really happen. I was so thrilled for Adrienne to make the team. She’s worked really hard.

I think it’s a great group. We’ve certainly known each other a long time, and we’re all getting along beautifully. We’re all pretty long time friends. Steffen’s been around a long, long time, and I’ve known him forever. It’s the same with Adrienne; she’s been on the West Coast a long time, and I’ve been seeing her at the shows. I’ve known Tina for a long time too, even though she’s from the other coast. I think we’re all equally excited.

Rafalca is staying in Gladstone while I go back to California for a week, and she’s having a week of rest. I think all the horses deserve a few days off work after the trials. The team will assemble on July 7th and then fly out on the 9th. Then they go into training camp in England.

I’m just going to do everything the way we’ve always done it at home. We have a very good recipe that works well. The week after her break we’ll do lots of long and low work and transitions forward and back. We’ll do trot-canter transitions and then transitions between medium canters and back. We don’t do a whole lot of mediums, but we’ll just be going a little forward and a little back to loosen her up and get her limber and staying relaxed and submissive. Before we start getting back into doing piaffe and passage it’ll be several days of easy work and loosening her up.

At this point, Rafalca and I know each other so well. We’re like an old married couple, and I know where to go with her and how far to go, and I know I can depend on her. She knows she can depend on me too. I think that just adds to our consistency.

Christine, who coached me the two weeks of Gladstone, did a tremendous job. She was super helpful. I feel really lucky I have someone like her with me every step of the way. I feel as lucky as when I compete in Europe and get to work with Wolfram Wittig. They’re two super trainers who really complement each other in their approaches. It’s so much fun to have those two be part of my training program. I think it shows in the success too.

Everybody talks about the rider and the horse, but it takes so much more. There are also the coaches, my family, my spouse, the grooms, everyone. We have Sanne Vondel here with us, and she knows Rafalca so well. I think it’s equally important the horses are not just happy when they work and are being trained and ridden, but they also have to be happy all the other times. They have to feel good when they’re in their stalls. That’s really the job of the groom, and I think we really have it covered with Sanne. We have a great groom, great coaches, family support and support from sponsors—everything is there. It really seems to work.

Dressage: Sport Of The Summer

Because Rafalca’s part owner is Ann Romney, wife of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, dressage was featured on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” on June 12. Stephen Colbert played clips of Rafalca doing a freestyle on the show, and he named dressage the “official Colbert Report sport of the summer.”

I thought the show was hilarious. We got so much mileage out of that. It was really well done, and I think the sport of dressage really got a lot of recognition from it.

I had no idea beforehand that Rafalca would be on the show. Someone said, “Great piece, did you see it?” I said, “No, what’s everyone talking about?” I ended up watching it with some friends, and we just laughed and laughed. I thought Stephen Colbert’s imitation of a horseback rider was interesting. I think he needs to work on his form, but maybe we’ll teach him some lessons.

Everyone was talking about it at Gladstone, and I got asked if all the media attention was a distraction many times that weekend. It is a big distraction, but I think I’m pretty much on top of my game as far as the mental aspect goes. Once I started to sit down and focus on my test then I wasn’t thinking about anything any more.

Those are things you practice at home before you run into distractions like this, whether it’s media distraction or anything else. You have to learn to focus and not lose your focus. There are certain exercises you can do, but you have to practice those. It’s just like practicing your riding and making sure you’re fit enough to do it. The brain is also a muscle, and we do use it in riding too. The brain is a muscle all athletes use, and I think people forget that sometimes.

Watch the USEF rebuttal.

Fast Facts About Jan Ebeling

Age: 53

Hometown: Moorpark, Calif.

Olympic Contender: Rafalca, a 15-year-old Oldenburg (Argentinius—Ratine, Rubinstein) mare owned by Ann Romney, Amy Ebeling and Beth Meyer, and bred by Erwin Risch Menslage.

Competition Highlights:

3rd place National Grand Prix Championship, USEF Dressage Festival Of Champions (N.J.) (2012)

1st place Grand Prix freestyle, Burbank CDI-W (Calif.) (2012)

2nd place Grand Prix, Burbank CDI-W (Calif.) (2012)

2nd place Grand Prix freestyle, Del Mar CDI-W (Calif.) (2012)

2nd place Grand Prix, Del Mar CDI-W (Calif.) (2012)

1st place Grand Prix, Burbank CDI-W (Calif.) (2011)

1st place Grand Prix freestyle, Burbank CDI-W (Calif.) (2011)

10th place Grand Prix, Reem Acra/FEI World Cup Dressage Final (Germany) (2011)

11th place Grand Prix freestyle, Reem Acra/FEI World Cup Dressage Final (Germany) (2011)

15th place Grand Prix freestyle, Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final (the Netherlands) (2012)

16th place Grand Prix for the freestyle, Hagen CDI (Germany) (2012)

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "Jan Ebeling's Road To The Olympics Will Culminate In London" ran in the July 9, 2012, issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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