Steffen Peters and Floriano passaged down the centerline to the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” to score 78.70 percent at the U.S. League Final in Burbank, Calif., and secured their place at the Rolex FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Las Vegas, Nev.
That music may have been just the inspiration that Peters needed to stage an impressive comeback with Floriano at the Festival Of The Horse, March 29-April 1.
The refrain of that song (Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow/Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here/It’ll be better than before/Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone) describes what he’s had to do to make it to the World Cup Final this year.
Even though Peters led the U.S. dressage team at the World Equestrian Games (Germany) last August, and capped off his accomplishments with a fourth-placed finish in the Grand Prix Special, his path in 2007 has not been smooth sailing. Floriano sustained a suspensory injury after the WEG, and it was questionable whether the 17-year-old, Westphalian gelding (Floristan I—Wichita) would ever compete again.
“This win was very emotional for our team and everyone who was involved with Floriano,” said Peters, San Diego, Calif. “The first month after the World Games he felt great, but then he started having some problems with one of his hind legs. His veterinarian, Dr. Rodrigo Vasquez, did a hell of a job performing a small stem cell surgery. Stem cells were injected into his suspensory for a small tear. At that time we had our doubts that Floriano would come back. I made it clear that I would not compete him again if he wasn’t at the level he was in Aachen.”
But Floriano clearly wasn’t ready to retire yet. When Peters put him back to work on Feb. 15 after three months off, he proved that he had the drive to perform. “I still had to hold him back. He still really wants to do it,” said Peters.
That desire was obvious to the spectators as the pair put in two polished performances in the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix freestyle, leading the class by as much as 5 percent in the Grand Prix.
Peters was pleased with the pirouettes and piaffe in the Grand Prix test. “His piaffe felt more and more in place,” he said. “It was a little bit on the careful side today. Floriano is 17, and over the next three weeks we’re going to wrap him in cotton and make sure he stays as healthy as he is right now.”
His Grand Prix freestyle contained one uncharacteristic mistake in the two-tempi changes, but Peters laughed it off. “Sometimes it happens,” he said. “We’re just human and horses are horses.”
Peters also said that if their preparation for the Final goes well, then he’ll be prepared to take more risks, especially in the extensions and in the piaffe, in Las Vegas to reach for a few more percentage points.
On both days of competition Peters expressed his disappointment that fellow competitor Guenter Seidel was unable to compete Aragon. The Bavarian Warmblood passed the jog at the beginning of the competition but injured himself later in the day. Seidel decided to take the gray home to have his own veterinarian examine him.
“I felt really sorry that Guenter couldn’t show,” said Peters. “The competition wasn’t quite the same without him. He’s a good friend and a hell of a team member.”
She’s Off To See The Wizard
But Seidel’s withdrawal left the door open for Courtney King to earn her first opportunity to represent the United States with Idocus. The 29-year-old from Sherman, Conn., placed third in the Grand Prix (68.37%) and then improved her performance to take second place in the freestyle (75.50%) riding to tunes from The Wizard Of Oz.
“Somebody said that I looked shell-shocked, and I think that’s pretty accurate,” said King after her freestyle ride. “My goal for this year with Idocus was to make the League Final. I thought that was a good goal. I was really happy to make that, and I was not expecting to make the World Cup. I’m really thrilled.”
A stressful flight to California left King with little time to prepare. “I had to be creative in how to keep him tuned but not burned out,” she said. Their lack of perfect preparation showed a bit in the Grand Prix test when Idocus missed a one-tempi change and showed some tension during his test.
“The judges told me there was only one problem with the test and that was that his mouth was open,” said King. “This had been a problem in the past, but it’s been really good lately. I have to play around with the bridle, switch bits. I thought the piaffe and passage were really good. I thought the two-tempis were good, and I was happy with the pirouettes. I’m very surprised and disappointed about the mistake in the one-tempis because it’s not something we normally do.”
But they recovered in the freestyle and put in a harmonious test that showed off their proficiency in the changes with a complicated pattern of two-tempis to one-tempis on a figure eight.
“Courtney did a super, super job,” said Fédération Equestre Internationale O-level judge Cara Whitham. “It was great fun and a lovely combination.”
King expressed her joy in showing the 17-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Equador—Eretha). “Every time I show him it’s a blessing, and when it was going badly, it was still a blessing,” she said. “And now that it’s going well, it’s really emotional for me. I do think about when it’s time to retire him. When they give that much to you, they don’t deserve to be pushed a day beyond when they’re not willing anymore. I don’t know when that will happen, but I do my best to keep him happy, keep him fresh and keep him loving his job. So far he hasn’t given me a backward glance.”
King has trained with Peters on and off and intends to work with him in San Diego until the Final.
She’s Wild About The World Cup
While the United States was only guaranteed two spots for the World Cup Final this year, the FEI issued two wild cards for U.S. riders as well. One went to Catherine Haddad, who lives in Germany and qualified in the Western European League. The other was saved for the third-placed rider at the League Final.
Leslie Morse, Beverly Hills, Calif., claimed that spot with Tip Top 962, her 13-year-old, Swedish Warmblood stallion (Master—Hortensia). This will be Morse’s fourth World Cup Final and her second consecutive with Tip Top.
“I love the World Cup,” said Morse. “I love the freestyle, and I think it’s a fabulous event. I’m speechless to be on my fourth World Cup and to be going with Tip Top. I think we’re going to have a blast. We’re going to do the best we can and spend a couple of weeks on focus and good work, and I think it will be really fun.”
Morse showed a brilliant but inconsistent freestyle with Tip Top set to danceable swing music. While the half-passes, pirouettes and passage were impeccable, she ran into real trouble in the two-tempi changes, and Tip Top broke several times to trot. She was able to recover for the one-tempi changes, however, and added in additional two-tempis at the end before passaging into the halt.
“Other than the glitches, it’s a dynamic combination,” said Whitham.
Morse said part of their trouble was a long break from showing after the WEG last August. “We just bought property and are building, so I just wanted to take my time and give Tip Top some time off, bring Kingston back and get him started going and fit. I wanted to take a little bit of a break from the show ring.”
But when the allure of competition called to her again, she made the World Cup Final her goal. “I think that we’ve made an incredible improvement from last year,” she said. “Without the bobbles and mistakes, which will work themselves out, the quality is getting very good.”
U.S. Dressage Team Chef d’Equipe Klaus Balkenhol was pleased overall with the riding at the League Final, especially the improvement from the Grand Prix to the freestyle.
“They were certainly awake to the fact that only good performances get good scores,” he said. “It’s always the case in competition that you have some riders who don’t get the scores they were hoping for, and they go home disappointed. Then there are other riders who get the scores they had hoped for and that’s just the nature of the sport.
“We can be confident in what we show up with in Las Vegas,” he continued. “These horses are rock solid and healthy and will put in a great performance. The performance we saw here today doesn’t take a back seat to the performances we see in Europe.”
Rising Stars In The Stable
Although Floriano and Idocus received the most attention over the weekend at the Festival Of The Horse, they aren’t the only talents that Steffen Peters and Courtney King have in their barns.
Peters dominated the other CDI Grand Prix classes with Akiko Yamazaki’s Lombardi II. He won the Grand Prix (68.25%) and the Grand Prix Special (72.84%).
The dynamic, 16-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Landgraf walks a thin line between brilliance and tension but showed he was capable of remarkable work, especially in the Grand Prix Special.
“He’s a very hot, high-strung horse with lots of talent,” said Peters. “He’s more talented than Floriano, but he doesn’t have quite the heart yet.”
Lombardi showed how anxious he can get by trying to spin and leave the arena at the beginning of the Special.
“We were coming down the ramp, and he thought it would be much more beneficial to him to leave the arena,” said Peters. “That wasn’t to my benefit. We just have to be very patient with him. He still was a little nervous coming down centerline, but as the test went on he settled down.”
Although Lombardi is an older horse, he didn’t start the Grand Prix movements until he was 12. “I don’t think he’s used up very much,” said Peters. “With some horses it takes a little longer.”
While Peters took home the Grand Prix prizes, King scored a hat trick in the CDI small tour with Richard Malloch’s Mythilus, a 13-year-old, Dutch Warmblood gelding by Ferro.
“I couldn’t have been happier with ‘Myth,’ ” said King. “He’s often been a horse where the scores are good, the tests are good, but the feeling is that he’s not really on my seat. I feel like between the last show and this show Myth has turned a corner. He was so light, on my seat, on my aids the whole time.”
King also showed her other small tour horse, Rendezvous, to a first and second place in the open show.
“I wanted to see how they would do against the other coast, and I was very happy with that,” she said. “Right now they’re pretty safely qualified for [the Pan American Games selection trials in June]. I may just do one more show in May to ride the freestyle again and not have two months without showing. Then if they make the Pan Ams, I’ll go in Grand Prix afterwards, and if they don’t make the Pan Ams, then I’ll go in Grand Prix at the end of the summer.”