USA Olympic Medalist Legolas to be Competed by Dawn White-O’Connor, Steffen Peters to Focus on Rosamunde

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Dawn White O-Connor on Legolas with Steffen Peters providing tips from the sideline ahead of the first show for the partnership. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Dawn White O-Connor on Legolas with Steffen Peters providing tips from the sideline ahead of the first show for the partnership. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, Jan. 5, 2016–Legolas, the Westfalen gelding that Steffen Peters rode on the United States’ 2016 Olympic bronze medal team, will be competed by Dawn White O’Connor beginning with the new World Cup event here this week while Steffen focuses on Rosamunde.

Steffen will ride Rosamunde in the World Cup Grand Prix Friday and Dawn will ride Legolas. Both are scheduled to fly to Wellington, Florida for the Global Dressage Festival in February.

Dawn, now 27 years old, has worked for Steffen at his San Diego, California training center for the past decade, and she is well known and respected for her care and exercising of the horses including moving Aristo through Small Tour. The pair made their Big Tour debut here Thursday.

Dawn White-O'Connor on Aristo in the horse's CDI Grand Prix debut at the Las Vegas World Cup Grand Prix. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Dawn White-O’Connor on Aristo in the horse’s CDI Grand Prix debut at the Las Vegas World Cup Grand Prix. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The decision on Legolas’s future by owner Akiko Yamazaki and Steffen came after the Rio Games where the German-born rider fulfilled his goal of earning a team medal 20 years after his first appearance on the Olympic medals podium with bronze on Udon in the rider’s first Games as an American. In the Olympics since then, his horse in 2000 underwent colic surgery, he was sidelined again in 2004, missed out by a fraction of a point for an individual medal in 2008 and the U.S. team placed sixth in 2012.

“We had some thoughts about Legolas after the Olympics,” Steffen told dressage-news.com, “and felt what he did for us in Rio especially with his 77 per cent in the Grand Prix achieved my biggest goal. I wanted a huge team-supporting score and that’s exactly what he did.

“We all know how difficult Legolas can be. Even early in 2016 we were running into a situation that we had to go back to the drawing boards.”

After the Games, he said, we did a lot of thinking that “it would be a crime” to keep anonymous “this real big talent” in Dawn. So, while waiting in the local Department of Motor Vehicles to renew his license, he wrote a long email to Akiko Yamazaki, who had owned Ravel that he competed at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, then Legolas and had bought Rosamunde as a Grand Prix successor.

“She responded in 10 seconds and even without reading it I knew she had exactly the same thought,” he said. “We had never discussed it and I just threw the idea out there. Akiko already does so much to support the next generation in the sport.

“We’re hoping Dawn can be a great addition to that next generation.”

Dawn rode 18 horses a day including Rosamunde when Steffen was at the Olympics–“I trust her 100 per cent with all my horses.”

Steffen has been the most successful American rider in the past decade. He is the only U.S. rider to break the 80 per cent limit for Grand Prix which he did with Ravel as well as two individual medals at the 2010 World Games, only the second American partnership to become World Cup champion and the only one to win the Aachen, Germany CDIO championship.

Steffen Peters on Legolas, the top ranked USA combination in the Olympic Grand Prix. The United States won team bronze. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com.
Steffen Peters on Legolas, the top ranked USA combination in the Olympic Grand Prix. The United States won team bronze. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com.

On Legolas, he started 67 times beginning in February, 2012 posting 34 wins on both sides of the Atlantic including Pan American Games team and individual gold medals as well as Olympic team bronze.

“Every challenge that Legolas has taught me in the past four years we had to teach Dawn in just four months,” said Steffen.

“But Dawn is cool and as calm as one can be. She is so much fun to work with. We were looking for a show but there were no national competitions so we decided to enter here.

“I get a kick out of watching those two as much as I did competing Legolas. When Legolas is a bit tricky, Dawn stops and says I should get on.

“I have to give her really high marks on her homework. I know how tricky Legolas can be in the show arena.

“This will be another huge step in Dawn’s life. I can’t wait to see those two go down the centerline.

“At the end of the day, the show results speak for themselves. We need a percentage mark that tells the true story.”

Steffen, now 52 years old, explained why success on Legolas at Rio de Janeiro was so important in capping the journey with the horse.

“Twenty years since my first Olympics, all boiling down to one show. At my age that’s huge. Obviously I put a lot of pressure on myself. That’s why my emotions were going crazy at the end of the ride. It was an awesome feeling, hard to copy again.”

He began competing Rosamunde in February, 2014 when the Rhinelander mare was eight years old.

She was making progress right before Aachen this summer, including two victories at the Rotterdam CDI3* in June.

After time off following a paddock injury, Steffen competed Rosie at a national show in October and he said she is showing more maturity though still “a bundle of energy that I have to control”–the changes are straighter, the collected walk more relaxed and there is more suppleness and elasticity in the connection.

“My dream would be to have Rosie and Legolas on the same team,” he said. “It’s a big challenge but I believe in dreaming big.”