Familiar faces will lead the United States charge in four-in-hand driving at this year's World Equestrian Games. Four years ago Chester Weber, Tucker Johnson and James Fairclough brought home historic team silver at the WEG, winning the first U.S. World Championship four-in-hand medal.
And those three are the most likely candidates for this year's WEG. It's anybody's guess whether or not they can repeat their medal of 2002, since world-class driving is governed by fractions of points and the top drivers are all very close.
Dressage in the United States is in a transition between the proven powerhouses who are on the brink of retirement and the talented newcomers on their way up. This year's World Equestrian Games team balances a few experienced pairs with exciting up-and-comers.
"We have no need to hide ourselves," said team coach Klaus Balkenhol after the selection trials. "We can be very proud internationally coming up against the other riders."
But the German and Dutch juggernauts are still in place and will be hard to bring down.
A radiant smile always graces Katherine Bateson-Chandler's face as she canters into the Grand Prix dressage ring at A. An up-and-coming talent, there's no place she'd rather be than on the back of a horse.
Although she's been riding Grand Prix horses for years, Bateson-Chandler is probably best known as Robert Dover's groom. She's accompanied him to the Olympics, World Cup Finals and hundreds of national competitions over their 15-year friendship.
For the uninitiated spectator, observing a dressage show is often compared to watching paint dry. The horses go in endless circles, and the most exciting part of the day happens during the Grand Prix honor round when eight hot, enormous warmbloods plunge and rear after being crowded into a 20 x 60-meter ring and told to take a victory lap.
It doesn't pay to tell Tami Hoag what she can and can't do. She'll just be delighted to prove you wrong.
A best-selling author and Grand Prix dressage rider, Hoag's set her sights on competing at the international level, and it would be foolish to bet against her.
Beating the odds is nothing new to Hoag. Her first pony bucked her off every time she rode him, yet she wouldn't give up her dream of riding. She never went to college, but that didn't stop her from writing seven consecutive New York Times bestsellers.
Calm, almost serene, usually describes Steffen Peters' demeanor, but he couldn't help showing some strong emotion as he racked up one unbelievable score after another in the Collecting Gaits Farm/U.S. Equestrian Federation Grand Prix Championship and World Equestrian Games selection trials, June 14-18 in Gladstone, N.J.
Riding Laurelyn Browning's Floriano, Peters swept all three Grand Prix classes, finishing on an outstand-ing 83.25 percent in the freestyle and a final average of 77.20 percent for the three days.
Wet weather and muddy conditions couldn't keep a determined Jan Byyny from riding two gritty cross-country rounds and propelling herself into first place aboard Task Force and second place with Waterfront in the Jersey Fresh CCI***, May 31-June 4, Allentown, N.J.
Byyny had planned to ride Task Force, a 14-year-old, Australian Thoroughbred (Blue Vein--Chicola Craft), at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** five weeks earlier, but a schooling accident prevented them from going.
Despite constant rain and cold temperatures, Cesar Parra and Horses Unlimited's Galant du Serein showed a strong performance in the CDI Cincinnati at Paxton Farm to win the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix freestyle on May 12-14 in Batavia, Ohio.
"The weather was awful. It was raining every single minute," said Parra. "But the footing stayed good, and I was so impressed at how helpful everyone was. The Paxton family took care of every single detail. They tried to really make it the best for us."
The temperature heated up and so did the competition on June 18 in the Collecting Gaits Farm/U.S. Equestrian Federation Grand Prix Championship. But Steffen Peters emerged with a hat trick of victories aboard Floriano, winning the Grand Prix freestyle on a score of 83.25 percent.
Peters also secured a spot for himself on the U.S. dressage team for the 2006 World Equestrian games, as did Guenter Seidel by winning the overall reserve championship. The selectors met after the competition to start the process of determining four more riders for the short list.