Concerns Expressed Over Intense Schedule for USA Horses Vying for World Games Team

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Jan Ebeling and Rafalca i the US championships. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Jan Ebeling and Rafalca i the US championships. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Concerns were expressed Monday by some veterinarians, trainers and riders over the ability of the aging but proven Olympic team mare Rafalca to stand up to the intense competition and travel schedule to win a place on the American team for the World Equestrian Games in August despite her top three performances at the U.S.championships.

Jan Ebeling, the rider of Rafalca that at the age of 17 is the oldest of the eight horses that qualified for being on the short list and are flying to Europe on Wednesday for two competitions to  determine selection of the team voiced his worries Sunday after the U.S. championships where the pair placed third.

“I’m thrilled but at the same time I’m a little concerned about Rafalca staying in top condition,” he said. “At her age, I was hoping we could avoid” the intense schedule. He would not comment further, except to say that he would do what was best for the team.

At the same time, Tina Konyot said of her Calecto V, the second oldest horse at 16 years of age  on the squad going to Europe that the stallion was a little flat in the championships due to the competition and travel schedule that included competing at the World Cup Final in Lyon, France after the winter-long Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida. She said, however, the two Europan competitions in the first half of July were her favorite shows.

Some veterinarians, trainers and riders who were at the Festival of Champions at Gladstone, New Jersey where the Grand Prix championship doubled as a selection trial were critical of the schedule for the second stage of selections, apparently with little flexibility to take account of the age of the horses.

The selection procedures were drawn up by the U.S. Equestrian Federation High Performance Committee with input from so-called active athletes, some of whom were reported to have objected but they had no vote or were overruled on the final decision.

Jan of Moorpark, California and Rafalca competed in three CDIs in California this year to qualify for the American championships.

The pair flew to the East Coast to ride in the Grand Prix last Thursday, the Grand Prix Special Saturday and Grand Prix Freestyle Sunday, the kind of schedule the combinations will have to endure at the WEG as they do at other international team championships. They placed second behind Steffen and Legolas in the Grand Prix, the competition that will decide the Nations Cup at the WEG.

Along with the rest of the short listed horses, Rafalca leaves on Wednesday on the overnight flight to Europe.

Their overall championship third place means that 12 days after arriving in Europe, the pair make the 12-hour drive to the Austrian Alps to compete in the Fritzens CDI4* over the Fourth of July weekend. The show ends July 6 and they make the 12-hour road trip back to the U.S. base in Belgium then seven days later go to compete in the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany, the world’s premier horse show where the competition will be at least as tough as the WEG itself.

“I can’t imagine Adelinde (Cornelissen) would be compelled to put Parzival who is the same age as Rafalca through the same sort of schedule,” said one European trainer who was at Gladstone.

“I’m worried that we’re doing exactly the opposite of what we should be doing–wearing out the horse in this rigorous process ahead of the Games instead of managing her so we get the kind of performance we got at Gladstonbe,” one veterinarian said.

Both the trainer and the veterinarian as well as others who spoke about the schedule declined to allow their names to be used.

Christine Traurig, an Olympic rider who has been coaching Jan on Rafalca, said after the Gladstone competition, however, that they had worked hard on the conditioning and fitness program for the Oldenburg mare (Argentinius x Rubinstein). The half-kidding remark throughout the championships was that Rafalca was 17 years “young and getting younger.”

As required by the rules she will go through a tougher schedule than the 12-year-old Legolas ridden by Steffen Peters, and the only other combination from California.

The selection procedures allow the top two combinations–the rookie partnership of Laura Graves from Geneva, Florida and Verdades were second–from the championships to skip one of the two European competitions. Adrienne Lyle and Wizard, normally based in Idaho, spent the winter in Florida and remained on the East Coast specially to prepare for the championships.

Because Jan and Rafalca placed third they have to go through the same show schedule as the other five pairs although they are now in their eighth year at Grand Prix.

Their resume includes the celebrated appearance on the American team at the 2012 Olympics in London under global scrutiny as the ownership group includes Ann Romney, wife of Mitt Romney who was the Republican candidate for President of the United States, as well as Beth Meyer and Amy Ebeling, Jan’s wife. The pair also have competed in three World Cup Finals, one in Las Vegas and two in Europe as well as dozens of events on both sides of the Atlantic.

“What more does she have to prove after a brilliant performance in the Grand Prix?” one top rider said. “She has the most consistent record of all the horses, we can depend on her. Jan has the experience, the level headedness and the teaching ability the team needs with the crop of young women now coming to the forefront so we need him to be fully focused and not worried about Rafalca.”