Despite Drama, The Dutch Earn WEG Dressage Gold

Sep 28, 2010 - 2:45 PM

Lexington, Ky.—Sept. 28

While the Dutch dressage team’s day started horribly with the elimination of Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival for blood in the horse’s mouth, it finished on a considerably higher note—with a team gold medal and the World Championship title at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

The Dutch finished with 229.74 points over Great Britain (224.76) and Germany (220.59). While the Netherlands has picked up numerous individual gold medals at World Championships, this was the nation’s first ever team gold.

“It was a difficult day a little bit for us because Adelinde is not here,” said Dutch rider Edward Gal. “On one side we are very happy, but on one side really sad for her. She knew she could ride a really good test, and then this kind of thing happened. We are very disappointed for that, but of course we’re happy.”

With a score of 84.04 percent and numerous scores of 10 in their test, Edward Gal and the 10-year-old black stallion Moorlands Totilas did not disappoint their fans in their first U.S. performance.

“For me, the start with Moorlands Totilas was quite difficult,” Gal said. “When I came in, they all started shouting, and that made him a little tense. The first part of the test I had a little tension, and that was quite difficult for me. But after the walk, I felt him relax a little, and then the canter was good. But every time it’s amazing to ride a horse like that.”

Listen to an interview with Gal.

But Totilas and Gal didn’t have quite the margin of victory they’ve become accustomed to—Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris of Great Britain put in a stunning test for 82.51 percent. This was also Great Britain’s first dressage medal at a World Equestrian Games.

“It was definitely the best score and best ride I’ve ever had,” said Bechtolsheimer. “He’s never felt so good. He didn’t make any mistakes, and I’ve never been able to ride him so full of energy but still really relaxed and listening to me. Today he made my life pretty easy, which is a special thing for your horse to do for you, especially in an atmosphere like that. The fact that it was rewarded with the best score I’ve ever had was great.”

Listen to an interview with Bechtolsheimer.

While Germany arrived at the WEG hoping for silver, they had to settle for bronze. Their riders were consistent (Isabell Werth on Warum Nicht FRH with 75.40 percent, Cristoph Koschel on Donnperignon with 72.63 percent, Matthias Alexander Rath with 72.55 percent and Anabel Balkenhol on Dablino with the drop score of 67.70 percent), but it wasn’t enough to overtake Great Britain after Bechtolsheimer’s test.

“I think we needed a bit more points, but Laura did a great job today, so there was no chance for us to become silver—what we thought, what we wished,” Werth said. “It’s easy; they were just better, and we need to work for it. I think we need to come closer and come back in a few years to be back in the middle of the table [at the press conference].”

Listen to an interview with Werth.

A New Sense Of Excitement

With 14 pairs scoring more than 70 percent, president of the ground jury and judge at C Stephen Clarke rwaxed enthusiastic about the quality of today’s rides and the competiveness of the field.

“I must congratulate all the riders on such good scores,” Clarke said. “They all really took high risk, and made it exciting for the public and everyone to watch. It was nail biting, especially sitting where I was. It was a really, really top level. The sport just keeps on getting better and better. It’s so exciting now because there are so many combinations. Not so many, but several that really can fight for the top places. The door is opened. It’s whoever takes the most risks and pulls them off on the day gets it. It’s very exciting for us.”

But, like the Dutch riders, it wasn’t an entirely positive day for Clarke.

“I think that was possibly the worst moment of my career, and I’m sure it was for poor Adelinde as well,” he said of having to excuse her from the ring this morning. “I thought I would have a second heart attack to have to do that, but there was no choice. There is no discussion.

“She was so gracious because she obviously didn’t realize, and the blood was obvious and visible. And the moment I said, ‘I’m very sorry, but there’s blood in the mouth,’ she turned the horse’s head, saw the blood, and it was the end of discussion,” he continued.  “It must have been devastating for her, but that’s horses, you know, and she took it like a real professional.”

The Familiar Feeling Of Fourth

The U.S. team (218.23) narrowly missed a bronze medal, just as they did two years ago at the Olympic Games in Hong Kong.

“Obviously for our team it’s a little bit disappointing,” admitted Steffen Peters, who placed third individually with Ravel (78.59%). “There’s no doubt that I really, really wanted to get the bronze medal for the team. I came out of the ring and I said, ‘Sorry guys, it’s not quite enough.’ But it’s awfully close, and the three rookies on the team—I thought they did a wonderful job too.”

Listen to an interview with Peters.

While Peters badly wanted a team medal, he said he tried not to think about the 80 percent-range score he’d have to achieve when he went in the arena to meet this goal.

“I’ve made the mistake before of chasing the scoreboard, and that was last year in Florida, and really it was one of my worst tests ever,” he said. “Today I rode exactly what Ravel was offering. A 78 is one of our higher scores, and that’s exactly the score we had the last year in Las Vegas [where they won the FEI World Cup Final]. And to just keep that up and maintain that—that’s just as hard as bringing a horse up to this level.”

Peters’ teammates were further down the scoreboard at the end of today than they would have liked. Tina Konyot placed 16th with Calecto V with a 69.91 percent, and Katherine Bateson-Chandler was right behind her in 17th with Nartan (69.61%). Todd Flettrich and Otto provided the drop score of 66.55 percent.

“I wanted to do that best I possibly could, and I didn’t do that best I possibly could,” said Konyot, who was making her U.S. team debut. “It was good, and I wanted to do better for the team. That horse has it in him. He’s a very special horse. I learn something every moment, and I’m going to learn something between now and tomorrow in the Special.”

Konyot earned high marks on most of her movements but made costly mistakes in a few. Calecto broke into canter in the second extended trot, and his second piaffe was slightly irregular. And on the final centerline, the stallion halted instead of piaffing.

“Do I have boot marks on my breeches? I’m kicking myself for the mistake at the end,” Konyot said. “I think I just had a little too much confidence at the end and didn’t ride it, obviously. It’s never the horse, it’s us. I love that boy so much, and it was our best ever, and he felt great. So maybe I just said, ‘OK, this is feeling so wonderful!’ and he said, ‘Would you kick me, please?’ He thought it was over, and then he picked up the piaffe again. It was sheer stupidity on my part. All I had to do was just close my legs a little bit and keep riding him.”

But Calecto had highlights in the canter tours, with excellent pirouettes, zigzags and changes. Konyot was also very pleased with his walk. It was a relief to feel the stallion settled in the show arena after he’d almost bucked her off in the warm-up.

“I grabbed the saddle—I had to hold on,” she said with a laugh. “He’s so happy and so fit, and he’s squealing. He walks up here and is like, ‘Oh, this is so much fun!’ ”

Peters also said Ravel has felt fresh this week, but he wasn’t surprised.

“We got a lot of criticism that we didn’t show up in Europe this year, but it was the right decision to keep them bubble wrapped and fresh for the show,” he said.

Ravel had a small bobble at the very beginning of his test, breaking into canter for a stride immediately after turning off the centerline at C. But the pair went on to earn 8s and 9s consistently, as well as a few 10s on movements like their half-passes and extended canter.

“The flying changes felt really good, and I think the canter pirouettes were probably the best ones he’s done so far in an arena,” Peters said. “He surprised me a little bit how much he wanted to go in the canter extension. I collected him in the corner, and I gave him the rein, and he just went like there was no tomorrow. So I was a little bit concerned about that transition back, but it worked out beautifully.”

Peters will be in contention for an individual medal in the coming days, and with Cornelissen’s elimination from the competition today, their chances of making it onto the podium have only increased.

“Today, third place. That’s awesome,” Peters said. “Let’s face it—both No. 1 and No. 2 were over 80 percent today, but this gives us good momentum going into tomorrow. And I’m going to do everything I can to hold that position and fight for more.”

Peters said he’ll try not to push for too much more in the Grand Prix Special though, because although it’s Ravel’s best test, it also requires a very delicate ride.

“We have to be careful, because there’s so much walk in there, and then that walk-piaffe transition can be sometimes a little tricky. So I can’t go crazy before,” he said. “But I love the test. I love those long, floating half-passes in there. I can’t wait.”

Be sure to visit the Chronicle’s WEG Dressage page and find full dressage results on the WEG website.

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