For USA 2020 Was “Building” Year for Future, But Olympic Delay Gives New & Seasoned Partnerships Time to be Ready for Tokyo in 2021
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April 15, 2020
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
With the Olympic Games looming, USA dressage viewed 2020 as a “building year” with the most successful rider and horse combination not available and the status uncertain of a top team mate on medal-winning; squads. Coach Debbie McDonald saw lots of talent for the future, maybe not this year. The delay of the Tokyo Games by a year may dramatically alter the outlook as riders hunker down to focus on training and thankful for the jobs they have in an uncertain world.
Several of America’s Olympic prospects left their homes and businesses for months at enormous cost to go to Florida over the winter for the first stage of an arduous journey seeking to be one of the three rider and horse combination to start on the team at the Tokyo Olympics. Eight of 22 combinations on the qualifying list were from the West Coast. The goal was to be one of up to eight to be selected to go to Europe to compete at one or two top shows, return to U.S. for a few weeks before flying to Tokyo for dressage the last week of July.
The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic brought an abrupt halt to the Florida circuit in mid-March with just one of the seven CDIs remaining. The Olympics deferred for a exactly a year scuttled the other plans and means hopefuls likely will get to do it all over again in 2021, though that’s still to be worked out when the all clear for coronavirus is sounded.
The Festival of Champions as the roster of U.S. championships is named, is scheduled for August, a few days after the North American Youth Championships that the organizers have announced is still on but… So, too, is whether Grand Prix riders with an eye on Tokyo and possibly facing a rigorous winter competition schedule will want to go halfway across the country for the festival in Chicago, about 2,000 miles/3,200km from Los Angeles, 1,330 miles/2,140km from Wellington.
The only assurance is that assuming the Games are held, the 15 nations that have already qualified teams will hold on to their spots for 2021.
Experienced American team partnerships Adrienne Lyle on Salvino and Steffen Peters on Suppenkasper produced their best ever scores at the winter Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington. Sanceo ridden by Sabine Schut-Kery and Lonoir with Olivia LaGoy Weltz returned in top form after lengthy absences for both pairs from competition.
Pan American Games gold medal partnership of Sarah Lockman and First Apple, adult amateur Alice Tarjan with Candescent and possibly Donnatella and four-time Olympian Ashley Holzer on Mango Eastwood and Valentine were among those showing glimpses of what may come in a year’s time.
The U.S. has earned medals at eight Olympics since the dressage team competition was first staged in 1928, a long way behind Germany’s 20 including 13 gold, but more than any other nation with Sweden earning seven and the Netherlands and Switzerland six each.
Between now and the end of July 2021 when dressage is staged at the Tokyo Games exactly a year later than originally scheduled, all of these and several more are pursuing the dream of becoming one of three rider and horse combinations that will be on the U.S. team to continue the level of performances that earned team bronze at the 2016 Olympics and team silver at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon.
It will be without Laura Graves who opted to retire Verdades after the duo were on the Olympic squad and added individual silver at Tryon in 2018 as well as three-time World Cup reserve champion and the first American pair ever to rank No. 1 in the world. Kasey Perry-Glass with Dublet as team mate on the 2016 and 2018 medal squads did not compete at Global before the circuit ended early.
Adrienne Lyle and Salvino, 13-year-old Hanoverian stallion, is the top ranked U.S. combination at No. 18 in the world. The pair posted a career high Grand Prix Special score of 80.170%–exceeded only by two Freestyle results in Europe last year–a result that would be important next year as the Special will decide team medals.
Adrienne, 35 years old and who rode Wizard at the 2012 London Olympics, stayed in Wellington “sweating it out” instead of going to Colorado for the summer.
“There is just too much uncertainty on the competition schedules (or lack of) for the rest of the year,” said Adrienne, “so we chose to just sit tight and keep training and be ready for when things resume again, whenever that may be.”
Katherine Bateson-Chandler, also based in Wellington, did not take Alcazar for the usual summer trip to Britain to train with Carl Hester. She maintains training as the horses are based where she lives.
Katherine, who competed for the U.S. at the 2010 Kentucky World Games, initially was teaching from her car with headphones but with stay-at-home orders in Florida has had to turn to on-line teaching.
“I feel like we are super blessed to be able to keep working,” she said. “I know many people losing their businesses, and friends who have family members who are sick so I have no complaints.
“It’s a strange world we are living in and I fear the financial implications for so many. I guess we will just have to repeat this last season next season. I’m sure some will benefit and some will miss out but at the moment it is what it is.”
Ashley Holzer who now rides for the United States after competing in four Olympics for Canada, has been able to keep training her lineup of Canadian team riders online even though they have gone north. Ashley began competing Mango Eastwood, 11-year-old KWPN gelding, in February and within four weeks was so successful the pair was ranked fourth on the U.S. qualifying list.
At the end of the Global circuit, she competed Valentine, 10-year-old Hanoverian mare that was a gift from her husband–for guess what day?–at national level Intermediate II to qualify for the final of the Lövsta Future Challenge Developing Grand Prix. The coronavirus pandemic led to the final being deferred to the first week of the 2021 Global circuit.
As well as training at her Wellington farm, Ashley spends much of her time online coaching Canada’s top ranked combination of Brittany Fraser-Beaulieu on All In; Naïma Moreira Laliberté on Statesman and I Do Kiss; Lindsay Kellock, her god daughter, on Sebastien; Jill Irving on Arthur and Degas and others. Lindsay, Naïma and Jill were on the gold medal team at the Pan Ams last year that earned Canada a team start in Tokyo.
Steffen Peters went home to San Diego, California after putting together a string of 11 victories on Suppenkasper, the 12-year-old KWPN gelding that he is aiming for his fifth Olympics. The run of straight victories at Global was the most the German-born Steffen has logged at Big Tour on any horse, according to the International Equestrian Federation database.
He starts his day with a workout in his home gym then teaches until about lunch time around which he usually works Suppenkasper, or “Mopsie.” the name inherited from when the horse was owned by German Olympian Helen Langehanenberg.
“The biggest change for us is that the business has slowed down,” he said. “We lost some clients and horses recently. The farm still has the doors open and there’s no doubt that so many thousands of people would love to be in our position, so zero complaints from our side.
“As far as the Olympics, I can’t help the thought that an energetic horse like Mopsie will be even more relaxed next year, even stronger and hopefully because of that even better.”
He admits he’s “fascinated” by the discipline of everyone toward social distancing as witnessed at long lines at Trader Joe’s, a grocery store near his farm.
“There must have been a line 100 meters but everybody keeps a distance of several meters and everybody’s patient, waiting to get their turn,” he expained, with five or six people at a time allowed inside the store.
“It’s fascinating that we’re all adapting and doing our share acting as if we have the virus,” he said. “I think it’s the only way to move forward.”
Sabine Schut-Kery of Thousand Oaks, California, who rode Saneco on the 2015 Pan American Games gold medal team, competed the 14-year-old Hanoverian stallion in Florida after almost a year out of competition.
Since returning to California, her barn has been closed to clients. Sabine, her working student and groom ride and take care of the horses and with more time give extra time and attention to each horse.
“I feel extremely lucky that I actually don’t lose that much, just outside lessons and clinics,” she said. “I can’t imagine how it must be for people to have lost their jobs or not be able to work and pay their bills. I don’t know the answer but I would love to come together as a community and help those that are so badly affected during this time.”
Nick Wagman, who re-located from San Diego to Florida for the winter seeking to be selected to go to Europe, had his schedule cut short when Don John, the 12-year-old KWPN gelding he competed in Europe in 2019, had to pull out of the CDI5*.
Although he cannot teach at the barn where he is based and clinics have been canceled, “I’m truly thankful I’m still allowed to ride and be with the horses, even if it is in a limited capacity. The sacrifices everyone is making by putting their lives on hold in order to conquer this pandemic is truly remarkable.”
“For me personally,” he said, “the postponement might give me a second chance at trying for the U.S. team. Don John and I are quietly getting back to work. Who knows what the future holds for anyone right now?
“But if given the opportunity to try again, Don John and I will be there every ounce of pride and gratitude we have.”
Sarah Lockman and First Apple, the individual gold and team silver medal pair at the 2019 Pan Ams, said of her first Wellington circuit: “We had a very successful season with all of them but especially happy with Apple who scored over a 71% in his 1st CDI competing the GP special.
“Although I am sorry for anyone that this change of Olympic dates does not work for, it’s the perfect thing for Apple and I. We have always stood behind this horse and his talent. He has everything it takes to be a team horse… the only thing we ever said we needed more of was time.
“I am looking forward to continuing to develop him and happy that this forced break in competition allows him time to gain strength and confidence in the Grand Prix work.”
The focus now is staying healthy and praying for everyone this virus is affecting–“there are people out there fighting for their lives so I think in the big scheme of things I am just so happy for my and my family’s health.”
Alice Tarjan produced a “wow” presence at Global, an amateur competing Candescent, a 10-year-old Hanoverian mare that like all of the numerous horses she has developed she bought from a video without first sitting on them.
Alice, a lawyer of Frenchtown, New Jersey who works with her husband in his trucking, rigging and real estate business, also completed her circuit by qualifying Donnatella for the developing Grand Prix that will stage the final next January.
Successful with a number of young horses at U.S. championships over the years, typically developing the horse for sale. Alice is a cancer survivor, undergoing months of chemotherapy following her bar exam.
Candescent is only the second horse she has kept to go to Big Tour after successful performances at amateur Medium Tour–one show each in 2018 and 2019.