Tuesday, May. 28, 2024

Peters Reaps Rewards With Ravel In U.S. Olympic Dressage Selection Trials

This talented young horse looked more impressive each time he entered the arena at the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival Of Champions.

For the past two years Steffen Peters has trained Ravel with the belief that he was an extraordinary horse. An injury set them back eight months, but Peters persevered and hoped that Ravel would be ready in time for the U.S. Olympic Selection Trials.


This talented young horse looked more impressive each time he entered the arena at the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival Of Champions.

For the past two years Steffen Peters has trained Ravel with the belief that he was an extraordinary horse. An injury set them back eight months, but Peters persevered and hoped that Ravel would be ready in time for the U.S. Olympic Selection Trials.

When Ravel made his Grand Prix debut in March a winning one, Peters’ dream started to look more likely, but it wasn’t until he swept the selection trials at the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival Of Champions in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., that Peters could relax, secure in the knowledge that five international judges agreed that this just might be one of the best dressage horses this country has ever seen.

The selection trials consisted of four Grand Prix tests. During the first weekend of the competition, June 21-22, the 12 top Grand Prix horses in the United States battled it out in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special. On the following weekend, June 27-29, they repeated the Grand Prix and performed the Grand Prix freestyle.

The two Grand Prix tests counted the most for the overall score, 35 percent each. The Special counted for 20 percent, and the freestyle was 10 percent. The top three riders from the selection trials earned spots on the Olympic dressage team.

Peters, San Diego, Calif., and Ravel led the field in every class, coming out of the trials with tremendous scores on the final weekend, a 75.25 percent in the Grand Prix and 79.50 percent in the freestyle.
“I’m so excited [about] how well Ravel takes that pressure. I think we can even turn it up a little bit in Hong Kong,” said Peters. “He just keeps offering and offering. There’s a little bit more in there. It’s an amazing feeling.”

As the riders headed into the trials, the U.S. prospects looked a bit weaker and greener than in years past, but it wasn’t just Ravel who rose to the occasion.

Debbie McDonald proved that Brentina isn’t ready to retire just yet, and Courtney King-Dye showed that she has not one, but two horses who can represent the team with consistent, solid scores in the 70s.

Until the trials, Peters, 43, had been playing it a bit safe with the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Contango—Hautain) owned by Akiko Yamazaki.

“We had a good season before, so you expect a lot from yourself, and it adds a lot of pressure,” said Peters. “When you’re done, and everything worked the way you wanted, it’s pretty normal to be beside yourself. There were areas where I took a little bit more risk with Ravel, which I didn’t do in the first four Grand Prix tests with him. Everything came together on the right date, and that makes it special. I risked it more in the flying changes and the extensions, rode them more forward.”

Peters said what he appreciates most about Ravel is how hard the horse tries. “He’s so ready to work and gives 100 percent all the time,” said Peters.

“He got a little tricky right after the extended walk [in the Grand Prix Special]. He was so sensitive. I was holding my breath, and as soon as I started breathing he had a little jig. He was so ready to do the piaffe.”

Gibson Gains Glory In USEF Intermediaire I Championship

Michelle Gibson scored a hat trick in the USEF Intermediaire I Championship by winning all three small tour classes aboard Don Angelo.

The 8-year-old, Oldenburg stallion (Don Larino—Elektina) won the USEF Developing Horse Championship last year with Gibson, and this year he moved up to successfully compete with his elders.

“I’m really proud of him,” said Gibson. “He stepped up to the plate. The first day he was a little bit tired or gave that impression a bit. The second day he pepped up. It was the same thing in the freestyle. He came in and said, ‘Everybody is looking at me!’ He likes that. Every day he got better.”

Terri Kane of Diamante Farms bought Don Angelo for Gibson as a 5-year-old. “We went to Germany and what really attracted us to him was his character. He’s a good guy,” said Gibson. “You can take him everywhere. He’s got three good gaits. He’s a very elastic, loose horse. That’s what I like in a horse. There’s not a whole lot more you can ask for.”

Based in Wellington, Fla., Gibson decided to make the trip to California with the relatively green horse when she discovered they were second on the ranking list coming into the championship.

“I go into every competition thinking that we’re going to do our best, and where we end up is where we end up,” said Gibson. “I just really rode what I felt was there. He felt a little bit tired in the warm-ups. But he came into the ring and had a little more energy. I’m really happy with how he’s responding to the crowd. It’s giving him a little bit of lift.”

Although Gibson, 39, said that Don Angelo performs all the Grand Prix movements, she’s in no hurry to bring him out in the large tour.

“It takes time to build the muscle and build the confidence to make a good Grand Prix horse,” she said. “I don’t want to push him too far. He has to want to do it.”


Instead, she has plans to bring her Intermediaire I champion from 2006, Lex Barker, out at Grand Prix this winter.

Steffen Peters placed second in the Intermediaire I Championship with Montango after a tight race with Shawna Harding and Come On III. Harding beat Peters in the Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I, but mistakes in her freestyle
landed her in third place at the end of the competition.

Although Ravel is a hot horse, Peters said he always keeps his relaxation and suppleness. On the last day of the trials, he raised the bar once again and asked the most of Ravel yet, because the combination was the last to go, and Peters knew what he had to do.

“When Debbie and Courtney came in with a 78, we had to go for it a little bit more,” he said. “We could have taken it a little bit conservatively, but I think you’ve got to know what’s in there, you’ve got to know what’s in the freestyle, and you’ve got to finish really strong so when you start up next time in Hong Kong, you carry that feeling over. That’s what I’m most excited about at the moment.”

It was a new freestyle for Ravel, and the crowd responded appreciatively to the familiar strains of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil” and “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. Other themes included a piano rendition of Mark Knopfler’s “Romeo And Juliet” and music from the 2002 Fédération Internationale de Football Association World Cup, which was held in South Korea.

Experience Pays Off

While Peters was just discovering the depth of his horse, McDonald appreciated how much Brentina still has left to give.

“My favorite part about riding Brentina is that she just wants to do it,” said McDonald. “It’s just me directing. She does it all on her own. She’s so ready. If I squeeze a bit too much, she tries to do something right away.”

McDonald finished second to Peters in every test except the second Grand Prix, where she finished third behind King-Dye and Harmony’s Mythilus.

“Brentina is quite sassy. I love it,” said McDonald. “She has so much life at 17. I think she has more life now than she had four years ago. We do a lot of interval work and not a lot of schooling on the movements.”

For McDonald, Hailey, Idaho, every ride on Brentina is quite emotional. She plans to retire Peggy and Parry Thomas’ Hanoverian (Brentano II—Lieselotte) mare next year at the 2009 FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Las Vegas, Nev.

“I think she’s fitter and in better shape than she’s been in years and years, but she deserves to have a great retirement,” said McDonald. “I don’t want to use her up. We want to try to do embryo transfers with her.

Mr. Thomas, who just turned 87, donated [the Thomas & Mack Arena] to Las Vegas. I think there’s no better place to retire a great horse in front of a great sponsor. For me it was a no-brainer. That’s the place it’s got to be. I just want it to be memorable, and I don’t want there to be a dry eye in the house.”

Like Peters, McDonald risked more and more with Brentina as the trials continued. Brentina was injured last fall during a trip to Europe, so McDonald only competed in two qualifiers prior to the trials.

“For what I want from her right now, I could not have asked more. I’m trying to peak at the right time, so this is what I wanted out of her right now,” said McDonald.

The chestnut mare had a few unusual mistakes in the first weekend of the trials, but McDonald wasn’t concerned. “I decided I’d rather have her be fresh and have a few mistakes then have no gas at the end of two weeks,” she said.

And Brentina certainly looked fresh as she headed into her freestyle, a performance that left the audience standing on their feet and clapping in time with the music.

“Sometimes I just can’t contain myself. I probably shouldn’t do that,” said McDonald of encouraging the crowd to clap. “But for me, the fun part about the freestyle is to get the audience involved. It’s the one time I think we can really promote the sport. I’ve got a horse that loves it, so why not?”

Brentina performed to a Motown medley with Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” featured prominently as well as The Commodores’ “Brick House.”

“This could be the last time I ride that freestyle. It’s really emotional,” said McDonald through tears. “I’ve had an amazing career with this horse. She’s given me everything that she possibly can. I couldn’t ask more of her. The fact that she’s coming back, I haven’t had that much time in the ring with her, she feels so fit and so clear, that is just amazing. I’m thankful for everything I have right now.”

McDonald also admitted that at 54, she sometimes wonders if she’s too old to compete at this level. “When I’m in there with younger people, I kind of doubt that I should be there. Seeing that I can hang in there still was really great. It’s a nice feeling.”

The Rookie Steps Up


One of those younger riders was King-Dye, 30, who cemented her place on her first Olympic team by finishing third overall with Harmony’s Mythilus and fourth with Idocus.

“This is the culmination of 21 years of work,” said King-Dye, New Milford, Conn. “To be lucky enough to have a sponsor who is allowing me to ride horses of this caliber and to have the training that I’ve needed and to have the horses stay sound and fit, there’s a lot of luck that goes along with that hard work. I feel really grateful. You can work as hard as you possibly can. You can be a great rider and never get the chance. The fact that it’s happened in my life and this early, I just feel really thankful for all the stars out there working in my favor and all the people along the way who have given me the opportunities to do this.”

Like Peters and McDonald, King-Dye also suffered a setback with “Myth” that meant he wasn’t quite at his peak for the trials.

“I made a mistake with his shoeing two months ago, and it took a month to get over it. He’s been getting a little bit better since then,” explained King-Dye. “I feel like Myth is on an upward turn. I felt really good about it. I really couldn’t have asked him to put in better tests considering where he was a couple of weeks ago.”

The 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Ferro—Flemiena), owned by Harmony Amateur Sports Foundation and Leslie Malone, improved with each test, culminating in an impressive 78.05 percent in the Grand Prix freestyle. Like Ravel, Myth was debuting his freestyle to music centered on a Cat Stevens song, “Sad Lisa.”

“Last week on the first day I was a little conservative,” said King-Dye. “I couldn’t trust him enough to let his frame out. This extra week of work let me go for things more and trust that I was not in the passenger’s seat, but in the driver’s seat.”

King-Dye might have beaten McDonald in the Special but for a rider error at the end of the test. She mistakenly turned across the diagonal for the extended trot instead of continuing down the long

“The Grand Prix is so similar, and that’s the test we always ride,” explained King-Dye. “I’ve only ridden two Specials with Myth before. I came back to trot, and he felt really good. I just went for it in the wrong direction.”

On To Hong Kong

As long as horses and riders stay sound, it will be Peters, McDonald and King-Dye who represent the United States at the Olympics in Hong Kong in August.

“I think we have the strongest horses,” said FEI O-level judge Axel Steiner who judged the second weekend of the trials. “Ravel has been coming along very steadily, and Steffen is a careful rider who’s brought the horse along nicely. Brentina showed that she’s still the old girl who wants to do it one more time. Courtney was good in the Grand Prix with Mythilus. I wrote on her Grand Prix test that this is what Grand Prix is supposed to look like. In the freestyle she was also good, but that freestyle needs to develop a little bit more.”

The plan for travel was that the horses were to ship to Aachen, Germany, on July 10 and go into quarantine on July 17.

The top three horses were going in addition to Idocus and Lombardi 11, Peters’ second horse, who finished fifth in the trials.

Leslie Morse was the fourth-placed rider in the trial with Kingston, so she’ll go as the traveling reserve to Hong Kong. Michael Barisone was unable to complete the second weekend of the trials with Neruda because the 13-year-old, Dutch Warmblood gelding bit the inside of his cheek. However, the final rankings were calculated using Barisone’s qualifying Grand Prix average and his qualifying Grand Prix freestyle score, and his scores placed him behind Morse, so Neruda also shipped to Aachen and entered quarantine.

“We need enough arrows in our quiver when we get over to Germany,” said James Wolf, USEF Director of Executive Sport Programs. “Once we start quarantine on the 17th, those are the only ones we can use.” 

Adrienne Lyle Takes Brentina Cup Home To Brentina

It was a fairytale ending for Adrienne Lyle to win the Brentina Cup this year. The 23-year-old from Ketchum, Idaho, started working for Debbie McDonald in 2005. McDonald initially rode Peggy Thomas’ Wizard but ended up giving the 9-year-old, Oldenburg (Weltmeyer—Pica) gelding to Lyle to compete two years ago.

“She’s a great girl who’s going to be a rising star,” said McDonald. “My hope is to keep her in good horses. I know she has the talent, but you’re only as good as what you can get under you. I hope I can keep her well
mounted. She’s definitely a rider for the future.”

Lyle, for her part, said that McDonald has been like a mother to her. “She never puts any pressure on me,” she said. “We can discuss anything. We have a really open dialog. I aspire to be like her some day. This feels like a stepping stone.”

This is the third year of the Brentina Cup Championship, a class aimed at helping young adults, age 20-25, make the transition from young riders to senior competition. The competitors ride two tests, a Brentina Cup test and a young rider Grand Prix test. Both tests feature all the same movements as the regular Grand Prix test but are slightly easier.

Lyle easily won both tests with Wizard for an overall average score of 68.26 percent.

“Next year I have my sets sight on getting Wizard to Germany and getting a little bit of exposure to that whole scene,” said Lyle. “I think just getting the exposure here is really helpful to those of us who are trying to make it as trainers. The experience of riding in a venue like this with the whole set-up is amazing. This is the first time I’ve done a real press conference. So everything from the press to the stabling to the competition arena with all the spectators and international atmosphere is really exciting.”

Sara Lieser




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