Steffen Peters: Ravel “Polished” to be Better than Aachen 2009
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Steffen Peters has Ravel at the peak they achieved in their victories at the World Cup and the Aachen CDIO in 2009 but with more polish that could produce better performances when they lead an untried American team at the World Equestrian Games next month.
Steffen has followed strictly a plan that he and Akiko Yamazaki, Ravel’s owner, laid out after the historic American sweep of the three CDIO classes at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen in 2009 following their World Cup victory in Las Vegas. That was to keep the horse in cotton wool aside from the Exquis World Dressage Masters in Palm Beach in January in preparing for the world championships beginning in Kentucky in just eight weeks.
“I think his fitness is exactly where he was last year in Aachen,” Steffen told dressage-news.com. “Anne Gribbons (U.S. Technical Advisor) and Shannon (his wife) have been very helpful in polishing some things. The left pirouette that was not one of our best features is now coming along nicely, and so is the extended trot which has not been one of my strong points.
“Those are the only two areas where we still had to apply some polish and that part is now accomplished.”
When the decision was made to provide a break of three weeks between the U.S. team selection trials starting in Gladstone, New Jersey, this week and a period of mandatory training from Sept. 4 up to leaving for Kentucky, Steffen said he applied for and received permission not to compete in the trials. The American dressage selection procedures allow for a so-called bye. They are applied frequently for top American jumpers for major championships as was the case with Sapphire, the winner of two successive Olympic team gold medals, and has shown herself to be as fit and competitive as any horse in the world. She did not have to compete in a series of trials earlier this year.
News of the bye for the 12-year-old Dutch gelding by Contango coupled with a show schedule of only the WDM CDI5* in Palm Beach and two CDI3* events in California this year, and a subsequent sharp drop in world ranking, sparked speculation on both sides of the Atlantic about the status of Ravel. That led Steffen to joke: “If I believed all the rumors that I hear about Ravel, I would go into another line of work.”
Ilse Schwarz, a Florida-based Australian dressage rider who organizes Steffen’s clinics in Palm Beach, said that during a recent visit to the stable in San Diego, California, Ravel looked as fit as she had ever seen him including WDM Palm Beach, the World Cup and Aachen in 2009 and WDM Palm Beach in 2010.
This correspondent has heard increasingly in Europe in recent weeks that opinions dismissing the United States as a medal contender at WEG may have been premature.
If Ravel is in peak form capable of a Grand Prix score near their best (excluding California results–77.83 per cent at Aachen) and a second combination scoring around 70 per cent (that has been achieved by Tina Konyot and Calecto V in their first full year year at Grand Prix) and a third combination with about 68 per cent the bronze could be in reach, according to some observers. The most likely challengers for that position on the podium would be Great Britain with Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris, Carl Hester and Liebling II but possibly not a competitive third team member. The Netherlands is virtually unassailable for gold, while a resurgent Germany is expected to take silver.
While Steffen was in Lexington, Kentucky for the WEG test event and then at Aachen supporting prospective team members Tina Konyot on Calecto and Todd Flettrich on Otto, both of whom had participated in his clinics at Palm Beach, Shannon rode Ravel.
“There’s only one problem with that,” he said, “I’m having a really hard time getting her off Ravel.”
He said that he’s aware of the skepticism over scores awarded at California CDIs, but the marks for Ravel have been consistent.
“We video him here every week,” he said. “He’s right where he needs to be.”
Would he like to have competed at Aachen against Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas and Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival, the top two combinations in the world?
“It was pretty tough to stand on the sidelines without Ravel, itching to compete there, especially since the competition was such high quality. Yes, it was very tempting. In hindsight, though, I think it was the right decision.
“I would have kicked myself pretty hard if something had happened in transporting him.
“It was not necessary to be there. Our focus has been on the World Games, probably the biggest competition of Ravel’s career, and here in the United States.
“We said we would do everything we could to protect Ravel–wrapping him in cotton wool–and made it clear beforehand we would not do the World Cup in Holland or Aachen.”
He is very picky, he said, about his horses looking competition fit and “I compare Ravel’s weight and muscle shape to the picture I have of him last year. He looks fantastic.”
In addition to help from Shannon and Anne Gribbons, he said that Danish trainer Morten Thomsen during a clinic at Steffen’s barn watched Ravel for a few days before Aachen.
“It is always nice to work with people who respect what the horse has accomplished,” he said. “Like Anne said, there were a few things that we were polishing off. I appreciate a clinician that comes up and does not want to change the world.”
Steffen will fly to Gladstone for the final day of the selection trials, the Grand Prix Freestyle on Aug. 15, and stay through the next day for the announcement of the final short list for Kentucky.