USA Olympic Team Final Dress Rehearsal Washed Out, Squad Creates Own Event

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Ravel making the most of English grass at USA dressage team headquarters in England. Photo: Courtesy Steffen Peters

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LONDON, July 18–The United States dressage squad became a victim of Britain’s wettest summer when the three team and one individual combination were forced to cancel a final full dress rehearsal at the famous Hickstead show as the rain that has soaked Engand for the past two months flooded the stables.

The American team–except for Steffen Peters who was to ride his backup mount, Legolas, but take Ravel to get used to a show in England– was to have performed a final tuneup before five top judges–no scores made public.

The Amercans have organized a private dress rehearsal for the horses and riders with two outside judges joining team coach Anne Gribbons, one of only four 5* judges in the U.S., scheduled for this weekend.

The U.S. dressage team is based at Layham Hall in Suffolk, England, a world class facility owned by Linda Keenan, an American based in Britain, and about 40 minutes from London’s Olympic Park. Kenneth Dyrby, a Dane, trained Linda’s horses in Wellington, Florida. He became a U.S. citizen. He and Linda developed the English facility.

The U.S. squad is made up of Steffen of San Diego, California, and Ravel with Legolas as a backup, Tina Konyot of Palm City, Florida, and Calecto V, and Jan Ebeling of Moorpark, California, and Rafalca. The individual entry is Adrienne Lyle of Ketchum, Idaho, and Wizard.

The Americans were to have competed at Hickstead in the event that was arranged specially for Olympians seeking a final competition before an international five-judge panel.

The private competitions means the U.S. will undergo a full dress rehearsal that will be the first since the squad was selected over two weeks of competition at Gladstone, New Jersey, the first half of June.

The first weekend of the U.S. Championships where the team was chosen was before a panel of predominantly U.S. judges. The norm for international compeitions is three foreign and no more than two judges of the nationality of the host nation.

Some other nations in the hunt for team and indjividual medals–Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, for example–have fielded teams and individuals at top European shows such as Rotterdam and Aachen, Germany in the past month building toward the Olympics.

However, world’s No. 1 Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival of the Netherlands rode in only one national show from the time of capturing her second World Cup title in April while Great Britain’s Carl Hester and Uthopia have not competed at an international event since early June.

“All the horses look great and we are ready to go,” Steffen told dressage-news.com. “We’re really excited. I drove to Greenwich Park to look at the venue this week and it just gave me another push.”

As part of fitness training for the riders, he arranged soccer games and other exercises daily after lunch.

That led to one casualty in an incident that Steffen did not want to talk about.

U.S. Chef d’Equipe Eva Salomon who was tending goal and attempted to stop the ball with her hand. The ball won and Eva suffered a broken arm, according to several reports from the team.

Steffen said everyone in the small town of Hadleigh where Layham Hall is located have been amazingly welcoming.

“It doesn’t matter where we go,” he said, “everybody asks us how it’s going. It’s super to see this warm a welcome.”

And the old jokes about good British cooking being a contradiction of terms has not been their experience.

Hadleigh has four Indian restaurants, all good.

The team heads to London for the opening ceremony on Friday, July 27, moves into the Olympic Village that night then join the horses and grooms at the equestrian venue on Saturday, July 28.

The equestrian program will be one of the highlights of these Games, not only for the sport which most likely will see host Great Britain win its first ever dressage medal of any color in the 100 years as an Olympic sport. At the same time Germany will be trying to hold on to its unbroken string of team gold medals that began at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Organizers are prepared for a deluge of mainstream media to photograph and report on the performance of Princess Zara as a member of Britain’s eventing team and for the appearance of Ann Romney, the wife of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to see Jan Ebeling ride Rafalca, a horse in which she is a one-third owner.

As in the United States, the world media is fascinated by the Rafalca connectons.

The partnership has placed dressage on the front pages of Europe’s top newspapers and magazines, garnered extensive television and Internet reports that have been overwhelmingly positive for dressage and the German-born migrant’s climb to success in America.

The Nations Cup this year will comprise two competitions for the first time, a challenge of both fitness and preparation and psychology.

The first phase of the dressage team competition is the Grand Prix held over two days, Aug. 2-3, which in previous Oympics comprised the Nations Cup.

A second phase, the specially created Olympic Grand Prix Special to be held four days later on Aug. 7, will decide the team medals this year.

Individual medals will be awarded for the Grand Priz Freestyle results, in which Steffen and Ravel are considered one of the top half-dozen and, depending on the day, a shot at the only individual medal for the United States aside from Col. Hiram Tuttle on the aptly named Olympic won bronze at 1932 Los Angeles Games.