Friday, Apr. 12, 2024

US Dressage Athletes Are Ready For Riyadh

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The Florida circuit may be winding down, but Ben Ebeling, Anna Marek and Kevin Kohmann are just getting started. With less than a month to go before the FEI Dressage World Cup Final, to be held April 16-20 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the three athletes—all World Cup first-timers—have clinched the three FEI North American League spots and are recuperating from a busy qualification season while squeezing in their last preparations for the Final. 

Ebeling was the first U.S. rider to secure his spot, after flying his partner Indeed from Florida to California to contest the Thermal CDI-W in early January, where he scored a 72.24% and collected the maximum 60 points as the winner, and sole entry, in the class. That win gave him the lead in the NAL point standings, followed by Kohmann with 57 and Marek with 55.

“What I really wanted to do was be able to get my World Cup qualifications done, be safe and in the running, and get the points that I needed early,” Ebeling said. “So we went out to California in order to do that at Thermal, my old stomping grounds. I wanted to be able to give my horse a good rest afterward.” 

Ben Ebeling and Indeed kicked off their FEI World Cup Finals march by winning the year’s first qualifier during Dressage at Devon (Pa.) in October 2023. Olivia Airhart/Mane Source Media for Phelps Media Group Photo

Ebeling and Indeed, a 16-year-old Danish Warmblood mare (Hofrat—Gorklintgards Indeera, De Niro) owned by Vantage Equestrian Group II LLC, have been together for over three years. He credits the closeness of their partnership to the hours he spends with the mare every day. 

“I like to say we’ve got a really nice marriage,” he said. 

Though this will be his first time competing in a World Cup Final, Ebeling has been on a team with Kohmann before. The two athletes represented the United States at the FEI Dressage Nations Cup the Netherlands CDIO4* at CHIO Rotterdam last June. 

“Kevin and I are very close friends,” Ebeling said. “We both train with Christoph Koschel often, and we spent the summer together in Europe, so he’s kind of like a big brother to me.” 

Shipping his horse to the Middle East will be a first for Ebeling, but the well-traveled California native has a trick up his sleeve to make sure Indeed makes the long journey in good health. 

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“I learned this from my dad [dressage Olympian Jan Ebeling], actually: We feed the horses watermelon on the flights in order to keep them hydrated,” Ebeling said. 

Marek was the second U.S. athlete to qualify for the Final, clinching her ticket aboard Cynthia Davila’s Fayvel when they won the CDI-W Grand Prix freestyle (78.47%) during Week 5 of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (Florida), held Feb. 7-11. For Marek, the qualification season was a whirlwind. 

Anna Marek and Cynthia Davila’s Fayvel during AGDF Week 10. Hannah Sherk Photo

“At the very beginning, when I first started competing him, we really weren’t expecting much,” Marek said. “But then his scores kept going up, and the crowd didn’t bother him. Every single time we went into the ring, he got better and better and better. So it was just three shows it took us to qualify, and before we knew it, we were qualified for Riyadh.

Fayvel (Zizi Top—Ofra, Houston) was never supposed to be a professional’s horse. Originally Davila rode and competed the gelding, now 14, in amateur small tour and Grand Prix international competitions. When a neck injury unrelated to horses relegated her to the sidelines in 2023, she decided she wanted to see what the Dutch Warmblood could accomplish with a professional rider aboard. 

“At the time, I had shown him off and on in national Grand Prix classes, just to help school him for [Davila],” Marek said. “So when she got hurt, she was like why don’t you just take over showing him? And then he and I did so well nationally that she was like, ‘Well why don’t we just try a CDI?’ So of course I said ‘yeah, gladly.’ ” 

Though she is not his sole rider anymore, Davila is no less invested in the gelding’s journey going forward. She enjoys seeing her short-ish, round-ish, happy-go-lucky dance partner, whom she lovingly admits gives off dad energy more than high-strung FEI athlete vibes, exceeding all expectations with Marek.

“He’s such a wonderful horse with the sunniest disposition and the derpiest face, so watching him compete at this level and do so well with Anna at the helm brings me indescribable joy,” Davila wrote on Facebook after their last performance at AGDF Week 10, where Fayvel and Marek finished second to Germany’s Frederic Wandres and Bluetooth OLD—a pair that have been unbeatable at AGDF the past few years—in the CSI5* Grand Prix special. “Dad Bod Fayvel has abs where it really matters… in his heart.”

Kohmann, the most recent to qualify, wrapped up his breakout season with Duenensee on a high note. He punched his ticket to the World Cup Final by scoring a winning 75.07% in the Piaffe Lounge FEI World Cup Grand Prix freestyle on March 1 in Wellington, Florida.

Kevin Kohmann and Diamante Farm’s Duenensee clinched their FEI World Cup Final qualification during AGDF Week 8. SusanJ.Stickle.com Photo

Kohmann, 35, and the 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Dancier—Doublette, Davignon I) owned by his mother-in-law Terri Kane’s Diamante Farm, scored 75.07% with their Avicii-themed freestyle during Week 8 of AGDF to notch their fifth win of a season that started with their first CDI Grand Prix victory back in December.

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With his qualification for the World Cup Final set, Kohmann said he plans to tweak the floorplan to increase the degree of difficulty in his freestyle preparation for Riyadh.

“I can’t believe it,” he said after his March 1 win. “If you had told me this would happen a year ago, I would have said that you’re crazy. It’s a shock to me. I am thrilled, and I love this horse.”

As the athletes finalize packing lists and travel plans, they are more focused on gaining experience, rather than titles, in Riyadh. 

“I don’t want to set any expectations for me or my horse, but I’d really like to have a clean test,” Ebeling said. “At the end of the day, I’m really proud of my horse for getting to this major championship. Whatever ride it’s going to be, I’m going to be happy with it.”

Marek echoed that sentiment.

“I think that my main goal is to go there and have a good clean ride, and showcase Fayvel,” she said. “His freestyle is so fun, and I’m most excited to go show it off.”

Definite entries for the FEI Dressage World Cup Final are due from all countries on March 28. Definite entries for the jumping competition, in which the U.S. has been allocated 10 spots—the seven highest-placed riders from East USA (USEF Zones 1 through 7) and three highest riders from West USA (Zone 8 through 12)—are due April 1, and the U.S. entrants will be confirmed then. 

To see a list of all the horses and riders headed to Saudi Arabia for the finals, click here.

For more information and schedules for the 2024 FEI World Cup Finals, click here.

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