Wellington, Fla.—June 11
It was another night of personal bests for many riders at the U.S. Dressage Olympic Shortlist Mandatory Event under the lights of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
Adrienne Lyle and Salvino topped their previous best Grand Prix Special score to earn an 81.83 percent and sit atop the leaderboard.
“I just wanted to be able to put in another solid test with him. He feels really good. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in warm-up,” she said. “He got a bit fresh and excited walking over because he heard all the clapping, and he got a little wound, but he was able to get it together and go in, so all good experience. Piaffe and passage felt really secure and confident. We had an unfortunate mistake after the pirouette—he sat so hard in the left pirouette then went to jump out into the ones and got his legs tangled up for a second, but after all, he’s only human! He was still able to get it together and do the ones and the other pirouette and went back to business. Final centerline felt super, and he came out feeling fresh and fit. I think that’s a huge test in this heat and humidity.”
While the observation event is not a selection trial, Lyle’s performances over the week will be a major leg up for her chances of selection for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Horses will be subject to another vet check before a final selection of three pairs plus a traveling reserve is made by June 21. Two other reserves will also fly to Aachen, Germany, before the final flight to Tokyo with four horses.
Betsy Juliano’s 14-year-old Hanoverian stallion (Sandro Hit—Dynastie, Donnerhall) doesn’t have a lot of experience showing under the lights with Lyle, but he had no problem this week, winning the Grand Prix test as well.
“He’s the horse you’d want with you down in the trenches,” said Lyle. “He totally gets it, and I always feel like if I start to slip up he’s right there to catch me. Those are special. There’s not many of those you sit on in your lifetime.”
The event was also a chance for riders to choose their own background music for the Grand Prix Special, which they’ll take with them to Tokyo. It’s not meant to be as intricately built around the test and is not scored. Several riders admitted to being a bit behind their music or tuning it out because it wasn’t played as loud as freestyle music would be.
“The music, I could hear it in parts, and I really like my music and it’s fun, but it’s not a freestyle, so I think we’re very focused to tune out other parts,” said Lyle. “I’m curious to see the audience reaction though, because I think if it engages the audience and they like it then that’s super.”
Steffen Peters and Four Winds Farm’s 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Spielberg—Upanoeska, IPS Krack C) Suppenkasper finished second on 79.53 percent. They earned 80 percent scores from three judges.
Peters was pleased with a clean test and said he went for the extended trots and rode the half passes really forward and the passage more collected.
“Actually a little more collected than usual because I could hear the music, and it was a little ahead of me, so it clearly showed me that I had him a little more shorter and higher in the passage. [He was] super honest,” he said. “The changes were clean, really good pirouettes. That’s what you want. You want a clean test and a reliable horse to go to Tokyo. He’s fit and he can handle this temperature really well. I always knew he would be a good horse for Tokyo because he has so much go. Even today I didn’t really have to push him. What a lucky guy I am to ride a horse like that.”
Peters said he was just enjoying the ride as he finished up his test in front of an audience of more than 700 people.
“I came around that last corner and said, ‘Let’s imagine we’re at the Olympic Games. This is not just a trial, let’s go for the Olympic Games.’ Just that last minute of inspiration in there,” he said. “The entire day yesterday and today I just kept visualizing this test. It’s a step up from the Grand Prix. If it would have been a 78 that would have been fantastic, and a 79 is just icing on the cake. With the first three judges at 80 I thought we had it, but it was close.”
Sabine Schut-Kery, who was second in Wednesday’s Grand Prix, finished up in third with a 78.29 percent on Alice Womble’s 15-year-old Hanoverian stallion Sanceo (San Remo—Rivera, Ramiro’s Son II).
“It felt honest and rideable, and it matched with the warm-up,” she said. “When you go in the ring there was an extra little spark without being not in control of that or ahead of me. He felt really rideable, and for my last ride I said it was really fun, and I have to say this was fun too. I always want to aim for a clean test, and we had a mistake in the twos. It’s so touching, but also important, how honest he is. It becomes more and more.”
Chef d’equipe Debbie McDonald was thrilled with every rider. “I’m super excited. I think we have three extremely strong combinations who are capable of scoring above 80 percent, and I don’t think we’ve ever had this type of depth before. There were many great rides tonight and it’s exciting for U.S. dressage,” she said. “This event was the smartest thing we could have done in this year with all the various challenges and logistics. Hopefully when we get to Tokyo it will pay off, but either way, it was a good for these riders to feel what the horses were like in this environment.”