America’s Championship Squad After First Team Trial–A Review

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Laura Graves and Verdades enjoying the round of honor at the Schindlhof CDI4*. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Laura Graves and Verdades enjoying the round of honor at the Schindlhof CDI4*. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

FRITZENS, Austria, July 7, 2014–When Steffen Peters admits the United States won’t be on the medals podium at the world championships starting in Normandy in seven weeks it’s easy to dismiss as hype his claim the Americans train, think and work together like a gold medal team.

Not so easily after the results at the Fritzens-Schindlhof CDI4*.

The Americans placed well against competition that included few top 50 combinations–homeland favorite and three-time Olympian Victoria Max-Theurer being the major exception as she is perenially within the top 20 in the world.

What was seen as more important and encouraging for Robert Dover, the U.S. chef d’equipe and cheerleader-in-chief, were the scores for his squad of seven horses and riders.

In the Grand Prix–there were two, one to qualify for the Special and other the Freestyle–the results were mixed.

Steffen Peters of San Diego, California and Legolas as U.S. champion and the 26-year-old Laura Graves of Geneva, Florida who has never before competed in Europe who rode Verdades that she has brought along from a foal and the Olympic and world championship partnership of Tina Konyot and of Palm City, Florida and Calecto V either improved on or had about the same scores as in Gladstone.

Steffen Peters and Legolas performing theGrand Prix Freestyle at Schindlhof CDI4*. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Steffen Peters and Legolas performing theGrand Prix Freestyle at Schindlhof CDI4*. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The other four were lower–three substantially so.

While neither Robert nor the riders made any excuses, the schedule drawn up for the two European selection trials beginning with Fritzens to be followed by the World Equestrian Festival at Aachen, Germany next week was daunting. The riders could have been forgiven for blaming it for any sub-par results.

The intensity of all three levels of the Grand Prix at the national championships in Gladstone, New Jersey to win selection, then flying across the Atlantic to Europe followed by an exhausting 14-hour road trip from the U.S. base in Belgium to this show at a rarefied 2,300 feet (700m) high in Austria’s Tirol mountain region.

All that was jammed into 23 days from the start of the Gladstone championships to the end of the Fritzens show. Not counting the fact that most of the horses traveled thousands of miles/kilometers from Florida or California for the championships after long winter circuits with a couple competing in final qualifying events just a week before. Laura Graves and Verdades most notably sneaked in with a last-minute show in Kentucky.

As feared, the aging Olympic celebrity mare Rafalca did not handle it and rider Jan Ebeling of Moorpark, California pulled the horse out of Fritzens after the veterinary check and went back to Belgium to try to recover in time for Aachen.

Adrienne Lye and Wizard post persoal best result In their first ever Freestyle in Europe. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Adrienne Lye and Wizard post persoal best result In their first ever Freestyle in Europe. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Any lingering feelings of being overwhelmbed by travel and competition weariness were offset by the hospitality of the Haim-Swarovski family who have created an atmosphere of such friendliness and joy of so many animals–more dogs than ever seen at a horse show, pigs, even a bison as well as the horses. And the family’s traditional Saturday night gala held after the Grand Prix and before the Special and Freestyle featured American singers flown in for the occasion and made the visitors feel extra welcome.

From a competition standpoint, the judging panels were championship quality–the best FEI5* judges from around the world, including those who will be in Normandy awarding marks at the World Equestrian Games where dressage begins Aug. 25.

The Grand Prix Special and the Freestyle were a different story than the Grand Prix at Fritzens.

All seven horses and riders either exceeded or came close enough to matching their Gladstone results, several posting personal best CDI results.

Caroline Roffman and Her Highness O in the Schindlhof CDI4*. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Caroline Roffman and Her Highness O in the Schindlhof CDI4*. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The importance of that cannot be underestimated.

The Gladstone championships are not a CDI where the rules limit to two the number of national home judges on a five-judge panel.

Except for a single foreign judge for some classes, the ground jury in Gladstone was all American, and the event is often seen as designed to send a messagee by awarding high scores that seems outdated in an era of livestreaming and youtube where anyone in the world can see for themselves whether the emperor is wearing clothes. To be fair, several major national championships are determined by local judges.

Going by the results in Fritzens, the Gladstone judges got it right.

Tina Konyot and Calecto V seeking to make their second world championship team performing the Grand Prix Freestyle as Schindlhf CDI4*. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Tina Konyot and Calecto V seeking to make their second world championship team performing the Grand Prix Freestyle as Schindlhf CDI4*. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Robert Dover descrbed the Fritzen results as “fantastic” and “everyone stepped up to the plate

“They not only improved from Gladstone but are improving day to day.

“I couldnt be more proud of them. A magnificent show in every possible way, thanks to Klaus and Evelyn (Haim-Swarovski).”

Adrienne Lyle and Wizard were better than ever before in the Grand Prix Freestyle while Steffen and Legolas and Tina and Calecto received scores that reflected they were at the top of their game.

The same was true of the Special with Caroline Roffman of Wellington, Florida and Her Highness O logging the best CDI score in only their third time in the event, Shelly Francis of Loxahatchee, Florida and Doktor exceeding their Gladstone results and Lisa Wilcox also of Wellington and Denzello producing their best CDI outcome.

Shelly Francis and Doktor in the Schindlhof CDI4* Grand Prix Special. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Shelly Francis and Doktor in the Schindlhof CDI4* Grand Prix Special. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Steffen Peters, a veteran of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta , 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London as well as the 2006 WEG in Aachen and the 2010 Kentucky championships has become an unofffcial mentor–he denies he is after the uncomfortable experience where he was an official rider-coach at the 2012 Olympics–offering tips and advice when he’s asked.

“Everybody,” he said at the end of the Fritzens event, “is rising to the occasion.

“I’m really happy Laura (Graves) and her amazing attitude and team spirit that we didn’t know about before because she has never been on a team. She keeps her nerves in this competitive environment. I love Verdades, his gaits and suppleness and the way she rides him.

“I know it’s going to be good in Aachen.”

Lisa Wilcox and Denzello at Schindlhof CDI4* Grand Prix Special. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Lisa Wilcox and Denzello at Schindlhof CDI4* Grand Prix Special. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Aachen will likely be a foretaste of WEG–world No. 1 Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain and Valegro, Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival and a German team of world No. 2 Helen Langehanenberg on Damon Hill NRW, Matthias Alexander Rath on Totilas, Isabell Werth on Bella Rose and Kristina Sprehe on Desperados FRH, all having achieved 80 per cent at Grand Prix that will decide the Nations Cup.

Steffen is the only American ever to earn membership of the 80 per cent club and that was on Ravel now enjoying retirement in California.

A comparison of the Gladstone/Fritzen results:

NAME            GLADSTONE/FRITZENS
Grand Prix
LAURA GRAVES             72.540/73.380
SHELLY FRANCIS          71.800/70.460
CAROLINE ROFFMAN  72.540/68.940
LISA WILCOX                  72.220/67.660
STEFFEN PETERS          75.160/75.340
TINA KONYOT                72.620/72.600
ADRIENNE LYLE           72.540/68.640

Grand Prix Special
LAURA GRAVES             74.549/73.706
SHELLY FRANCIS          71.333/71.922
CAROLINE ROFFMAN  72.627/72.176
LISA WILCOX                  70.431/70.059

Grand Prix Freestyle
STEFFEN PETERS          79.700/78.925
TINA KONYOT                 76.225/76.400
ADRIENNE LYLE            76.900/77.375