USA Trials to Select Dressage Team, Possible Individual for Olympics Start Saturday

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Adrienne Lyle and Wizard. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

GLADSTONE, New Jersey, June 8–Trials to select three horses and riders for the U.S. team and possibly one individual for the Olympic Games in London next month start Saturday at this historic venue an hour from New York City.

Steffen Peters and Ravel, the top ranked American pair, have been excused from the trials but another 14 horses and riders will compete to join him on the team. An individual place may become available, meaning the U.S. can send four combinations into London’s Greenwich Park. Some combinations from other countries that qualified a team dropped out without obaining the required minimum eligibility scores. This means the places that were reserved for them by the deadline will be filled by individuals on the reserve list. Ireland is first reserve followed by the United States then Austria and Denmark.

If this occurs, according to an unofficial reckoning by dressage-news.com, the U.S. will be able to send a team of three and an individual to the Olympics, joining host nation Great Britain, Germany and The Netherlands also with a team and an individual.

A total of 15 horses and riders are entered for the U.S. Grand Prix Championships that is also the selection trials, but one of the pairs is Steffen and Legolas, who qualified second in the U.S. rankings behind Ravel. As Ravel has already been given a bye, success with Legolas will enable Steffen of San Diego, California, to take Legolas to London as a backup.

The U.S. trials are over two successive weekends–a Grand Prix and an Olympic Grand Prix Special each of the two weekends and each test counting for 25 per cent. The Olympic team competition this year comprises both the Grand Prix and the Special and starts on Aug. 2 with two days for the Grand Prix, then a day off, and the deciding Grand Prix Special.

The top combinations not including the two horses ridden by Steffen, according to the qualifying order in the official U.S. Equestrian Federation rankings:

Adrienne Lyle and Wizard–The campaign by Adrienne and the 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Weltmeyer x Pica x Classiker) to qualify for the selection trials was superbly prepared and well-orchestrated by her trainer, Debbie McDonald who with Brentina was among the world’s best. Adrienne and Wizard competed in Europe in 2010 for the experience. Now aged 27, she and Wizard moved from their base in Hailey, Idaho, to Florida for the intensive winter circuit of 11 CDIs over three months. The pair’s success was interrupted by back problems with Wizard but they returned a few weeks later to the top echelon and no signs of a recurrence. Adrienne shares a characteristic with some other successful riders–a lack of nerves. Once she gets in the saddle, “I don’t think of anything except what we’re doing. I don’t get distracted.” If the pair make the team, that could be a real plus on the world’s biggest stage.

Heather Blitz and Paragon © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Heather Blitz and Paragon–The amazing All-American partnership that Hollywood couldn’t dream up–a rider helps to give birth to a colt that eight years later she takes to the top of the medals podium at the Pan American Games and then to the Olympics in London. The last part of the script may be written over the next two weekends when Heather, 43, of Wellington, Florida, rides Paragon with the goal of joining her Pan Am team mate, Steffen Peters, in London. Paragon is just nine years old, a Danish warmblood gelding (Blue Hors Don Schufro x Pari Lord x Loran) and was competing at small tour in the Pan Ams last October. Three months later, Heather, an experienced international rider who trained the 2010 U.S. World Equestrian Games horse Otto to Grand Prix, was riding Paragon in the Big Tour at CDIs. The chestnut at more than 18-hands is by far the biggest horse in the competition but his performances at Grand Prix have been consistent and improving.

Tina Konyot and Calecto V–Tina of Palm City, Florida, and the 14-year-old Danish Warmblood stallion (Come Back II x Bahera x Rastell) were on the WEG team in 2010 that qualified the U.S. for the Olympics. Tina began competing Calecto at Grand Prix almost three years ago and since the world championships all but one of their nine competitions have been on the 2011 and 2012 Florida winter circuits.

Todd Flettrich and Otto–Another combination that was on the 2010 WEG team, Todd of Wellington, Florida, and the 16-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding (Rambo x Jubel x Rampal) produced their best results on last winter’s Florida circuit. Otto was originally owned and trained to Grand Prix by Heather Blitz. Todd took over the ride in 2009 and has twice competed at top European shows as well as the WEG and the East Coast.

Günter Seidel and Fandango–The most experienced international rider in the selection trials with multiple medals from three Olympics and World Equestrian Games, Günter is a lesson in what can be achieved with talent and respect earned around the world. After two decades of a sponsorship arrangement ended last year as he was preparing two horses for a run representing America at another Olympics, Günter, 51, of Cardiff, California, was left without a Grand Prix mount. In a quirk of good fortune, Fandango, the horse he rode in a costume exhibition at the 2009 World Cup Final in Las Vegas, was offered by fellow California trainer Marie Meyers as a prospect. Günter applied his skills with the 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding and has become a real contender to make a fourth American Olympic team. An irony is that the selection trials are being held in the arena named for his former sponsors.

Other combinations are:
Shawna Harding of Aiken, South Carolina and Come On III
Susan Blinks of Encinitas, California and Robin Hood
Jan Ebeling of Moorpark, California and Rafalca
Kathleen Raine of Murieta, California and Breanna
Katherine Bateson-Chandler of Wellington and Nartan
James Koford of Wellington and Rhett
Pierre St. Jacques of Anthony, Florida and Lucky Tiger
Cesar Parra of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey and Van The Man
Lauren Sammis of South Orange, New Jersey and Sagacious HF