July 28 — London, England
The German eventers usually count on a strong showing in the dressage phase, but when their leadoff rider at the Olympic Games, Peter Thomsen, encountered a resistant Barny, who was kicking out throughout the canter work, it was up to his teammates to put the nation back on course.
And they certainly delivered. At the end of Day 1, Ingrid Klimke slotted into first place aboard Butts Abraxxas (39.3) ahead of Dirk Schrade in second with (39.8). With World Champion Michael Jung still to come, Germany should certainly be in a good position headed into cross-country.
However, Great Britain’s Mary King sits third on Imperial Cavalier (40.9) over Australia’s Andrew Hoy on Rutherglen (41.7), and those two riders have 13 Olympic Games between them, so they’ll put that experience to good use over the next two phases. Hoy’s teammates aren’t far behind: Sam Griffiths sits seventh on Happy Times (45.4) and Christopher Burton is in eighth on HP Leilani (46.1).
U.S. rider Boyd Martin was the first rider down centerline, which is never the easiest way to start the day. He rode a forward test with Otis Barbotiere for 50.7 penalties and 13th place. Karen O’Connor was the top U.S. rider, scoring 48.2 for ninth place, while Tiana Coudray had a few mistakes in her ride with Ringwood Magister (52.0) for 18th.
“I really enjoyed my ride,” said Klimke. “I had fun. I thought that ‘Braxxy’ really did a super job. He came in a little bit scared and a little bit spooky. He was thinking about the atmosphere. Normally he’s quite relaxed when I come in, and here he was a bit like, 'Huh, this is something special!' I was very happy that right away he listened and was easy and supple. I still could ride the extension as much as I wanted in the canter and the trot. I really wanted to ride a very relaxed walk, and he behaved very well.”
Although Braxxy isn’t the flashiest mover, Klimke credited her father, Reiner Klimke, with teaching her how to get every point. “I grew up with the classical way of trying to work the horse, with gymnastics and really riding everything totally precise and correct,” she said. “You have to be very correct to collect the points with these horses that don’t have spectacular paces.”
And while his efficient gaits may not do him any favors in dressage, they’ll be in his favor come cross-country day.
The 15-year-old gelding is three-quarters Thoroughbred (Heraldik XX—Annabell, Kronenkranich XX). “Normally he gets to the finish and right away he breathes as if he could go again,” said Klimke. “He’s quite small and compact. He’s very quick and a little bit like a cat. When I saw the course, I was very happy that I have him here. He’ll be speedy around the corners.”
Making the time was the subject that came up most often among the top riders. The course isn’t the biggest four-star track, and the fences aren’t the most technically challenging, but the terrain at Greenwich Park and the turns on the course are going to make coming home inside the optimum time of 10:03 a challenge. Course designer Sue Benson predicted that only two riders might do so. 
“I think it’s a real easy course if you go really slow. But if you want to go really fast and be competitive, it could be the one of the toughest courses I’ve ridden because of the turns and the ground and the combinations,” said Martin.
Klimke and Schrade both said they appreciated that Benson had made the questions clear to the horses.
“If you walk it from your horse’s eye, you felt you saw the line, and the horse knows its job,” said Klimke. “There was nothing where you would say that they wouldn’t figure it out right away. But if you want to have the time, from the start, you have to go for it. You can’t miss it somewhere, not in one corner.”
The Hometown Heroes
The fans from Great Britain only saw two of their five riders go today, but that didn’t stop them from filling the stands, draping flags from every surface and cheering enthusiastically for the sport in which they traditionally excel.
“I could tell they all stayed behind me, and they were really good at keeping quiet when I came in,” said Mary King. “If they’d all cheered and roared, Imperial Cavalier would’ve exploded, and I would’ve found it hard to ride a test. They were ever so well behaved. He’s a horse that’s been at the top level for a few years, and word spread. People know that he’s a horse that’s got tremendous enthusiasm and energy, and I need all the help I can get from the crowds.”
King had a bobble in her last flying change when he got a bit off to the right and changed late, which she chalked up to tension. “But I was really pleased with most of his work. At four-star level it would be his best,” she said. “In Atlanta, I did a better test with King William, but this would be my second best test I’ve done at an Olympic Games. I love it.”
This is King’s sixth Olympic Games, but she's taking the cross-country as seriously as ever. “It’s a great challenge out there, a challenge of horsemanship,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a test of speed and agility around those corners, speed and control and power up the hills. They aren’t really huge fences, but the time’s difficult, so the speed will make the mistakes.”
She joked that she lives in Devon, where the hills are even bigger, so she’ll have no excuse if Imperial Cavalier, a 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Cavalier Royale—Gene Pool, Imperius), runs out of gas on course.
“We’ve already walked it once without the fences a month ago and then twice so far,” she said. “I’ll walk it each day. It’s the sort of course you need to walk a lot because it’s so twisty and turny.”
There was some local protest that Great Britain’s first rider of the day, Nicola Wilson on Opposition Buzz, had been short-changed with her score of 51.7 penalties, but as almost every horse down centerline put in consistent, accurate tests, the quality of the entire field was extremely competitive.
Stars And Stripes Strategy
Boyd Martin had a similar complaint about his test, saying he was disappointed in the score aboard the 10-year-old Selle Francais (Quidam de Revel—Java Barbotiere, Veneur de Baugy).
“I was thrilled with the horse,” said Martin. “He’s come a long way, especially in the training camp. It was a better test than what he did at [Rolex] Kentucky, and I feel like I couldn’t have done much better. Maybe I could have nailed the changes at the end a bit more, but the trotwork and the general canter I was really thrilled with. He can be a bit of a wobbly horse, and we managed to get him a bit steadier.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in this horse. I haven’t had him for a long time, but he’s all class, and he’s a confident horse, and he’s a brave horse,” Martin continued. “Unlike Neville [Bardos, one of his other four-star mounts], where I’m half terrified going into an arena like this, I’ve got a little bit more faith that this guy can keep his composure.”
Chef d’Equipe Capt. Mark Phillips said he chose Martin as the pathfinder for Team USA because of his own ability to stay cool under pressure. “He’s the best competitor on the team,” said Phillips.
Karen O’Connor had a surprise when it came to composure from Mr. Medicott. Although the 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Curising—Slieveluachra, Edmund Burke) has competed in the Olympic Games before with former rider Frank Ostholt of Germany, he was quite spooky coming into the arena. He had a good hard spook in the beginning of his test, and at the end he tried to take off before the final halt.
“I was surprised because he hasn’t done that,” said O’Connor. “When I went in there the stands are really high, and he loves to have a look at stuff. I think I had it except for the centerline where I had to go straight both the first and last time. The changes were good, and the extensions were good. He was a good boy. He’s got so much power. We changed from the snaffle to the double bridle this morning. I was grateful that we did so that I could have a little bit more leverage to be able to keep pushing. That’s what saved the test was to keep pushing all the time.”
O’Connor commented that it was the first time she could remember being allowed to school in the dressage arena during the familiarization period before the competition.
“It was a huge step forward for our sport to ensure the spectators a really good dressage competition and give the horses every opportunity to have their personal best,” she said.
Tiana Coudray, the third U.S. rider to go today, didn’t have the dressage test she was hoping for with “Finn.” The 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Master Imp—Cloonkeen View, Carrabawn View) cantered out of the halt and changed leads in the extended canter.
“It was disappointing for us. This is generally a really good phase for us,” said Coudray, 23, who’s riding in her first Olympic Games. “It wasn’t quite what we wanted to do here. It’s not disastrous. I had no expectations. But it was certainly a goal to put down a slightly better dressage test. The thing about the score is that it’s over three days, so I’ll move on.”
Dressage begins again at 10 a.m. BST on Saturday, July 29, with Atsushi Negishi of Japan on Pretty Darling. Will Coleman will be the fourth rider from Team USA at 11:20 on Twizzel, and Phillip Dutton will take the anchor position on Mystery Whisper at 2:38.
Find full results on the London2012.com website .