Tuesday, May. 28, 2024

Australians Overwhelm First Session Of Dressage

Husband and wife Lucinda and Clayton Fredericks stole the show in the first session of dressage, Aug. 9, on Saturday morning, giving the Australian team quite a lead (67.4) over the second-placed U.S. team (85.8).

Lucinda had the best test of her career with Headley Britannia, scoring a 30.4, almost 7 points ahead of Clayton (37.0). Gina Miles also had her best score to date, to stand third (39.3).

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Husband and wife Lucinda and Clayton Fredericks stole the show in the first session of dressage, Aug. 9, on Saturday morning, giving the Australian team quite a lead (67.4) over the second-placed U.S. team (85.8).

Lucinda had the best test of her career with Headley Britannia, scoring a 30.4, almost 7 points ahead of Clayton (37.0). Gina Miles also had her best score to date, to stand third (39.3).

“I thoroughly enjoyed that ride,” said Lucinda. “She’s so little, she’s actually quite easy to maneuver around the arena. She stayed in front of me as much as she can. She’s not flashy or a big, smart mover, but she’s very correct.”

Lucinda said she did everything she could in the team trot-ups prior to selection to not follow her husband, since Ben Along Time’s flashy movement makes “Brit” seem even less fancy in comparison. “Ben Along Time comes along and flashes away, and then Brit comes in and goes tick, tick, tick,” said Lucinda with a laugh. “But the judges get to know them, and I think they appreciate that she’s very correct, and they really appreciate how much effort she puts in. The art of her is to go in and not trot [around the ring before the bell] unless you’re in an extended trot so they can’t see that it’s an average trot.”

She said her experience competing in Grand Prix dressage has given her an edge, just as Mark Todd or Blyth Tait’s grand prix show jumping experience gives them an advantage. “It’s just a little bit more confidence, and dressage is all about confidence and your partnership and knowing your horses.”

No one knew better than Clayton just how good Lucinda’s test would be. “I said earlier I think she’s going to be my biggest competition, so I think that’s going to be the order of the day,” he said.

There was some commotion in the far stands behind the judges during Clayton’s test, when some protestors were being removed. “On that other side, there were some people making real big noise,” he said. “I don’t know what it was. It didn’t distract [my horse], but I certainly thought, you know, who are they?

“Dressage can always be better; I’d be happy if I was on a 0 score,” he added. “I’m pleased with [a score of] under 40. If I finish on 37, I’m sure I’ll be somewhere close to the medals, so I can’t be disappointed with that. What can I say? He’s a star horse no matter what happens at this Olympics. I’m very proud of him and very pleased to be here and be representing Australia.”

Good For Gina   
Miles has wanted to break into the 30s for a long time, and she was thrilled to do it at her first Olympic Games. 

“We did just the right amount of warm-up,” she said. “We’ve been working on condensing it, so we don’t use up all his energy, which is hard for me, because I always want to get it perfect in the warm-up. He stayed nicely forward. I could have ridden my changes better, and we’ve been working on that over the winter. It was hard for him as a young horse, and he’s gotten so much better over the winter, but obviously you come into a pressure situation and you lose a little of what you’ve gained over the last couple of months.”

Amy Tryon and Poggio, currently in seventh after the first session of dressage, provided the first U.S. score (46.5). Tryon started her morning by giving Poggio a jump school at 4:45. (This meant she was up at 3:30).

“It kind of loosens his back a little bit, and I don’t have to spend a ton of time warming up, which helps him,” she said.

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She had her hands full before her test, as Poggio spun around at the sight of the television camera at C, but she regrouped and had him back to business quickly.

“It’s hard because every time we’ve been in [the main arena to school] it’s been such chaos that the horses were sort of expecting that chaos, so I was happy there’s not a lot of people in there and not a ton of atmosphere right now, but at the same time they can hear the clanking of people moving in the bleachers and stuff like that,” she said.

But she was pleased with her test. “He’s a stronger horse now than Athens, and I’m starting to understand with help of Mark and Sandy Phillips how to break apart a test and ride it for each movement to get the most out of each movement,” she said. “We work very, very hard to trot pretty. For this horse, I’m very pleased.”

Some Surprises

The British team got off to an unusually poor start in the first session of dressage, with Spring Along being spooky for Daisy Dick and Parkmore Ed being tense for William Fox-Pitt.

“He finds every flower pot terrifying,” said Dick. “He just got spooky, but we held it together. He has never done that before. It is really frustrating, but 51 is not a nightmare. I hope they don’t need my score.”

“Obviously I’m disappointed,” said Fox-Pitt. “He is capable of a lot better. He was very tense, and I thought at one point we weren’t going to get in the ring. He was just very aware of where the action was, and it was very hard to keep him straight and confident when he wanted to leg it back to his friends.”

In fact, Fox-Pitt said his horse hasn’t really been settled since arriving. He also lit up when practicing under the lights the other night. “He’s been fit for a while and building up to something and nothing to do for a while—a lot of time in quarantine and a lot of time here. It’s like he’s kind of lost track of things. But any horse can get lit up.”

Fox-Pitt said the girth rub that caused him to be held at the horse inspection yesterday was better today, although the ground jury was going to have a look at it after his test. “They’re entitled to have a look at him, and they conceded it wasn’t anything to be concerned about,” he said of being held at the first horse inspection. “I was never in any doubt about that. The vets weren’t concerned at all; it’s just that the ground jury was curious.”

A Legend
Mark Todd started the day off as the first to go in the ring, with the familiar voice of Brian O’Connor of the United States announcing and explaining a bit of the scoring to stands that were surprisingly full for 6:30 a.m.

The two-time gold medalist for New Zealand had retired after the Sydney Games, but eight years later, he’s jumped back into the sport he once dominated, although, he claims, he’s a bit rusty. Still, he was pleased with his test today aboard Gandalf.

“Given the time frame we’ve had, I couldn’t have asked him to go better,” he said. “He could have been more together and livelier, but I was delighted.

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“It’s been a little bit harder sort of getting myself back in gear, but honestly, being here, it doesn’t feel like I’ve been gone at all. Eight years have slipped by very quickly.

He said one of the biggest challenges of his return is having just one horse to ride. “Before February, I hadn’t jumped a fence in almost eight years, so getting my eye in—it’s not as good as it was eight years ago.”

Too Hot To Trot?
The U.S. riders don’t seem daunted by the heat, and so far it seems to be fairly mild in terms of temperature and even humidity.

“This [weather] is normal,” said Tryon. “It’s like riding in Florida every year.”

Today, it hasn’t even rained.  The high was 85 degrees, with 70 percent humidity, but the weather is definitely a much-discussed topic.

“I was warned about the heat and humidity when we came out here, but they didn’t tell me I was going to nearly drown as well,” said Todd. “This is the first time I’ve ridden in the last three days that I haven’t gotten wet.

“It’s really hot—I’m dripping,” he added. “I tried to keep my tailcoat off as long as I could, but 7 minutes before my test, I had to put it on. It felt like 7 minutes in a sauna.”

It was starting to get more uncomfortable as the last horses finished at around 10:00 this morning.

“It’s very strange—this is the first time I’ve ever done dressage at 6:30 in the morning, but you know, it doesn’t feel like 6:30,” said Todd. “The lights and everything make it like daylight. Once you get on and get out there, it doesn’t really matter what time it is. When you’re used to competing everywhere, it’s just another arena. You’ve just got to get used to putting up with whatever the climate or anything else dishes up to you. As far as an arena and a facility, this is first class.”

Kyle Carter of Canada took a different approach, since he was afraid of interrupting his warm-up to put his coat on. “I might have made a mistake showing up right off in my wool coat,” he said.

The unusual schedule to accommodate the weather may have caused the most inconvenience to Clayton Fredericks, who couldn’t get into the barns early enough to start his preparations as he’d planned.

“This morning, we had a little altercation with getting in to the stables, I mean we’re on early and we can’t work our horses as we would in a normal situation,” he said. “I wanted to ride a little bit earlier than the times. They said they’d be flexible, but when we got here they were very officious. I got around it, but all these things are different than normal competitions, and that’s probably why, at the Olympic Games, it’s a lot harder to keep your focus. They weren’t going to let you in until 3:30 or something, and I wanted to be there a little bit earlier, only because I don’t want to rush. We just want to take our time and have a nice, relaxed preparation.”

But from the standings at the moment, it doesn’t seem as if the delay caused him any harm.

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