Olympic Dressage To Begin, Top Riders & Horses Get Final Tuneup

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Steffen Peters and Ravel getting used to the Greenwich Park Olympic competition arena in London. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LONDON, Aug. 1–Final tuneups were performed Wednesday by a British team that looks ready to collect its first ever Olympic medal, Gemany determined to keep its gold medal run intact for eight straight Games, a born-again Salinero to match emerging star Undercover for Holland and the United States of America refusing to be intimidated were performed Wednesday, a day ahead of the start of dressage competition at London’s Greenwich Park.

Never before in modern dressage history has the team competition been like this.

Aside from the bookmakers who rate the hometown side clear favorites everyone who is competing over the two phases of the Nations Cup is not ready to cede victory to Great Britain without a fight. And if, as most pundits predict, the battle for gold and silver is a fight between Britain and Germany, the bronze is a tossup between at least four other nations–the Netherllands, Denmark, Sweden and the United States.

Kristina Sprehe on Desperados. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

For individual medals to be decided solely by the musical freestyle a week away and the finale of equestrian events at this royal park that dated back 600 years they could be handed out to any of at least a half-dozen combinations who have survived the three-stage competition and are “on” that day while another horse or rider are “off.”

Look at the lineup of spectacular gaits against conistency and correctness, proven and unproven–Charlotte Dujardin and Calegro, Carl Hester and Uthopia, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris, Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival, Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW, Kristina Sprehe and Desperados, Steffen Peters and Ravel.

First, though, is the Grand Prix competition of 10 teams over the next two daysa break of four days before the top seven teams contest the Olympic Grand Prix Special–each class will be worth 50 per cent of the total–and the Nations Cup. This is the first time this format has been established, with the goal of making the competition more edge-of-the-seat tense for spectators. Who knows what will happen over two competitions spread over five days?

Anky van Grunsven on Salinero and Adelinde Cornelissen on Parzival familiarizing themselves with the Olympic competition arena. © 2012Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

All 50 of the dressage entries–30 for teams and 20 individual combinations–were given thumbs up to start. But not until after some uncertainty over Painted Black, the former World Cup mount of Anky van Grunsven, now being ridden by Morgan Barbançon for Spain. The horse failed the first veterinary inspectio. While in the holding box, a connection to the horse began waving white paper to create tension and action and thus lessen any uneveness that led to an official steward filing a complaint. The ground jury re-inspected Painted Black and accepted it for competition.

Denmark’s Anne van Olst and Clearwater will be first into the arena Thursday morning in the Grand Prix.

Britain’s Carl Hester, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin make up the only team–three combination with no drop score is the rule this time as it was at the 2008 Games–that have all earned results in the high 70 per cent to above 80 per cent this year alone. Charlotte and Valegro even have a world record Grand Prix Special score earned just three months ago.

Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro and Carl Hester on Uthopia. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

However, Germany’s Olympic dressage record tells the tale of a formidable force–12 team and seven individual titles.

Kristina Sprehe, who a year ago was competing in the Under-25 division with Desperados and the Helen Langehanenberg, whose seemingly always cheerful personality has made her a favorite at all levels of the sport, fill the top spots with the capability for each of them of attaining scores near 80 per cent that would have been stratospheric at the last Olympics but now are common enough to not raise eyebrows.

The Netherlands, ruled out as a medal prospect after the loss of Totilas to Germany though the superstar stallion is not here becuse Matthias Alexander Rath the German rider reports he is too sick with mononucleosis, has emerged as a bronze medal prospect.

Salinero, the 18-year-old Hanoverian gelding that Anky van Grunsven brought out of retirement, is displaying performances reminiscent of those that won the pair individual gold medals at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics. Added to six montha of training by Edward Gal of Undercover and Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival who have won the World Cup title the past two years and Holland appears a serious contender for the bronze medal at least.

Klaus Balkenhol, Olympic gold medalist for Germany, coach of USA dressage until the last Olympics, wearing British dressage shirt as the coach of Laura Bechtolsheimer with Dr. Wilfried Bechtolsheimer. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressge-nes.ocm

Denmark has been drawn first to go, followed by Canada, Australia, Spain, Great Britain, USA, Sweden, Poland, Netherlands and Germany.

The Danish team with veterans Anne van Olst on Clearwater and Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein on Digby and newcomer Anna Kasprzak who has developed a partnership with the European Championship team medal winner Donnperignon puts them into the medal mix. Denmark won bronze in 2008.

However, the United States has not been intimidated by the display of prime horse flesh at these show grounds that have become the pinnacle  lionized as perhaps the most successful and popular and that have been splashed over double page photo spreads in Britain’s mainstream popular newspapers that are read daily by millions of Britons. Like all nations with teams in London, Britain is hungry for medals to fly the flag and justify the billions of dollars invested in the overall effort.

“There is a ton of pressure and excpectations that can easily interfere with the path we’re on” Steffen Peters of San Diego, California, told a news conference Wednesday. “The American team is known for its true kindness to horses and always performs with respect for the horse.

“Being competitive is one thing. Hearing those ompliments means the world to us.”

How do the U.S. horses compare?

“The quality of the horses we see here is no doubt fantastic,” he said. “Some have fantastic movements. Some are newer and exciting. But you have to be able to put it all together.”

Tina Konyot of Palm City, Florida, the rider of Calecto V that partnered Steffen and Ravel at the 2010 WEG in Kentucky, added:

“We are at the Olympics. These are the best horses in the world. Some have fantastic movements, some are slightly weaker.

“It all balances out in the show arena.”

Jan Ebeling of Moorpark, California, who with Rafalce that is part-owned by Ann Romney, the wife of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was asked how becomeing a media celebrity has impacted preparations for the Olympics.

“We welcome it,” he said. “It does put a lot of prssure on me, but I welcome the attention not for myself but for the sport. It is fantastic.”