Steffen Peters on Ravel’s WEG and the Future

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On the medals podium after the Grand Prix Freestyle. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
On the medals podium after the Grand Prix Freestyle. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Steffen Peters studied judges’ score sheets and videos of the top five combinations in the world looking for ways to add marks in Ravel’s performances at the World Equestrian Games in preparation similar to top athletes in professional sports such as the National Football League.

The result of a carefully crafted year-long fitness and competition schedule, studies of their own and competitors’ performances and being excused from the U.S. selection trials paid off big time.

Not since U.S. cavalry officer Col. Hiram Tuttle on Olympic won team and individual bronze medals at the 1932 Los Angeles Games had an American won an individual medal at Olympic or world championships.

Steffen and Ravel won two bronze medals, one in the Grand Prix Special and the second in the Freestyle.

“I would trade one of them in a heartbeat for a team medal, for all of us to share in a medal for America,” he told dressage-news.com. “We came so close…”

The two bronze medals won by Steffen Peters
The two bronze medals won by Steffen Peters

Close was right. The USA finished on 218.13, just 2.47 behind the third placed Germany. The U.S. did, however, qualify for the Olympics in London in 2012, which means its fate no longer hinges on the results of the Pan American Games next year as the last chance to qualify for London.

The year 2009 focused on the World Cup Final in Las Vegas and the CDIO in Aachen, Germany, in July as no American had ever swept the three classes, the Grand Prix, Special and Freestyle. They became only the second U.S. combination to win the annual global dressage championship–the other being Debbie McDonald and Brentina–and succeeded in sweeping the CDIO at Aachen, regarded as the pinnacle of horse shows, an annual competition of dressage, jumping, eventing and vaulting that draws as many paying spectators as the Kentucky WEG.

Steffen admits he is “very relieved” that the course he and Ravel’s owners, Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang, embarked on a year ago to prepare for WEG worked out.

“I’m very, very happy…” he said, “very relieved, very proud of Ravel that I’m fortunate to ride for Akiko and Jerry, that’s for sure.”

The scores for the Grand Prix of 78.596 per cent and third place individually, and the Special of 78.542 per cent were personal bests.

“I think the Grand Prix and Special results definitely exceeded my expectations,” he said. “The Special was the highlight of WEG for us.

“A couple of small mistakes in the freestyle, including in the one-tempis, cost us a silver medal.”

Ravel being ridden by Steffen Peters in the Grand Prix Special. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Ravel being ridden by Steffen Peters in the Grand Prix Special. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

As expected, Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas topped all three classes and, also as expected, Steffen and Ravel would battle Great Britain’s Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris for medals. The order of finish, Totilas first, Mistral second and Ravel third, was the same for all three classes.

The preparation of Ravel and himself was worked out a year in advance. The Exquis World Dressage Masters at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Florida where both Anky van Grunsven and Isabell Werth competed early in 2010 and a couple of competitions near his San Diego, California, base before heading to Gladstone, New Jersey for the selection trials in August.

With the benefit of hindsight would he change anything in the preparations?

“No,” he replied emphatically. “I have to say that the whole plan worked out so perfectly. The (U.S,) dressage committee giving me a bye from the selection trials was the icing on the cake as it allowed us to preserve Ravel as we had done all year.”

Those preparations were approached with the same attention to detail as superstar professional athletes.

“Not a detail was ignored,” he said. “We focused on our program the whole way.

“I believe you cannot keep a horse at its peak for more than three months so you need to stick to your schedule.”

One of the factors in the success of the 12-year-old Dutch gelding, Steffen said, “was to study our results and those of the top five horse and rider combinations in the world to see where points were gained and lost and what we needed to focus on to gain points where possible and not to lose points in areas where we were weakest.”

Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang, owners of Ravel, with US jumping Chef d'Equipe George Morris. © 2009 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com
Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang, owners of Ravel, with US jumping Chef d'Equipe George Morris at Aachen in 2009. © Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

Akiko, who graduated from Stanford University with an industrial engineering degree, and he obtained spread sheets from David Stickland, the British-born research physicist for Princeton University conducting accelerator experiments at CERN in Europe who has dedicated himself to a study of dressage scores. His analyses have been influential in the debate over scoring and helped lead to experiments of seven judges instead of five at some competitions and the use of half marks.

“Akiko and I made a few trips to Europe to study the spread sheets and videos… we spent hours and hours going over the tests and videos,” he said. “We studied every movement for the horses from shows for more than a year.”

Main areas to improve were Ravel’s passage and left canter pirouette.

With Anne Gribbons, an “O” judge and U.S. Technical Advisor, and his wife, Shannon, he worked to Improve those movements.

“The results speak for themselves–we received 8s and 9s. It clearly made the difference.

“We did not leave a single detail to chance.

“Never before have we ever conducted such an extremely detailed analysis and study and then used those findings in our preparation.

The analysis of David Stickland’s records was “maybe the main reason for re-designing the freestyle a bit.”

Ravel is getting a rest now and the goals in 2011 will be World Dressage Masters in Palm Beach, a possible attempt to qualify for the World Cup Final in Leipzig, Germany, depending on whether there are any qualifying events in California, and definite plans to compete at the Aachen CDIO. He said the Aachen commitment was made to Aachen honcho Frank Kemperman at WEG.

Steffen said he also plans to take Weltino’s Magic to compete in the small tour at Aachen as part of the campaign to qualify for the U.S. team for the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2011. The Pan Ams are at small tour.

Magic is an eight-year-old Westphalen gelding that was ridden by Shannon to reserve champion for six-year-olds at the 2008 Young Horse Championship.

Steffen has also scheduled two clinics in Australia, where he is very popular, at Equitana in Melbourne in November and one arranged by Mary Hannah near Melbourne in January.

Steffen said the two-week training camp at Gladstone for the team of Todd Flettrich, Katherine Bateson-Chandler and Tina Konyot was “a blast,” but also was a unique training experience.

Todd Flettrich, Katherine Bateson-Chandler, Tina Konyot and Steffen Peters. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Todd Flettrich, Katherine Bateson-Chandler, Tina Konyot and Steffen Peters. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Shortly after arrival at Gladstone–three days late because a hurricane delayed horse flights from West Coast–the team went to New York just an hour away and visited Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and had dinner at the trendy Buddakan restaurant in the city’s meat packing district.

“It was a perfect day,” he said, “and a really, really great start.

“We had true cameraderie. All the feedback shows that it was obvious to everyone right from the start.”

The training camp was unique in that he focused primarily on working with Tina, Katherine and Todd, as he has done before in clinics in Wellington, Florida, while Anne viewed things primarily from a judge’s standpoint.

“A few unfortunate and completely unexpected missteps for all of us cost us a medal,” he said.

“But we had a blast and I hope that we are able to do it again.”