Jan Ebeling & Rafalca Ride Into World Cup Contention at Burbank
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
BURBANK, California, Feb. 25–Jan Ebeling rode Rafalca into contention for the pair’s third World Cup Final in winning the Mid-Winter Dressage Grand Prix Freestyle that was their first qualifying competition of the season and though contested by only two combinations both turned in strong performances.
Jan and the 15-year-old Oldenburg mare (Argentinius x Ratine x Rubenstein) scored 73.600 per cent with Yvonne Losos de Muñiz and Liebling II scoring 70.500 per cent that ended the Dominican Republic rider’s quest seeking an individual place in the Olympics (see accompnying story).
For Jan of Moorpark, California, who competed Rafalca at the 2009 World Cup Final in Las Vegas and at Leipzig, Germany, last year, this freestyle appeared the most consistent, accurate and powerful to date, to music from the movie, The Mission, selected by U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney whose wife, Anne, is an owner of the horse.
The performance led French judge Jean-Michele Roudier to comment: “There were very difficult components but done exceptionally well. We especially liked the piaffe fan at the end, and the test flowed so nicely to well-chosen music which suits the horse.”
The result was the first of two required to fill one of the two places reserved for combinations from the North American League to compete in the World Cup Final at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, April 18-22. The others top contenders with two results are Adrienne Lyle of Ketchum, Idaho, with an average of 74.600 per cent, James Kofford of Wellington, Florida, with 73.375 per cent and Shawna Harding of Aiken, South Carolina, with 71.825 per cent. Jan is scheduled to compete in his second World Cup event in Del Mar, California, on March 8.
“Things are really working,” said Jan, now aged 53 who has spent more of his life in the United States than he did in his native Germany. “She has become very focused, she has become a very solid Grand Prix horse. That’s a good feeling for the rider to go into the arena and know what you have.”
He has focused on the World Cup with the requirement of the Freestyle rather than the Olympic Grand Prix Special that, in addition to the Grand Prix, has become the only path to the U.S. selection trials for the London Games. His belief is that if he and Rafalca make it to the Final he will have plenty of opportunities to accumulate the Special scores required for the trials.
Jan has been getting more help locally–both in the training ring with Christine Traurig and in the mind, from a sports psychologist who specializes in high performance sports from Major League Baseball players to Olympic gymnasts.
As he has for years, he trains with Germany’s Wolfram Wittig but has added the expertise of Southern California-based Christine on a regular basis.
Jan said the sports psychologist has “really, really made a big difference on how I mentally prepare myself.”
He said that his previous habit was to sit down five minutes before a competition ride and quickly read through the test so he knew it.
Now, several weeks before, once or twice a day I go through the test,” he said, “not just visualizing the movements but really riding the test with the half halts, everything.”
The psychologist suggested that Jan could sit in a chair wearing his riding coat and really ride through the test–similar to the way he has prepared Olympic gymnasts and other top athletes with breathing exercises and other methods of improving performances. But, Jan laughed, “having grown up in Germany where breathing exercises and the like are just not done…”
He admitted, though, it has “helped a lot on my mental game,” in finding his rhythm and tuning out everything that is not important so he can concentrate on doing the best he can every day in training so that when they go into the competition arena there is no additional pressure.
“I take it one day at a time,” he said. “I ride my horses the best I can. I have fantastic backing, a really, really great support team. If it happens that I go to another World Cup Final that is wonderful.”