Steffen Peters, World Cup Champion, On the 2015 Final & Where American Dressage is Heading
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
LAS VEGAS, April 15, 2015–Steffen Peters returned to the Thomas & Mack Center this week for the first time since being crowned World Cup champion in 2009 with memories still fresh of noise and enthusiasm like he had never heard before when the score for he and Ravel gave the American pair the title.
“It truly was fabulous–I really thought the roof was coming down,” Steffen said of the day, April 19, that he re-lived when walking through the arena that is converted again for show horses from its regular role as the home of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels basketball team.
“It was an incredible feeling, one that is extremely hard to replicate… unless you win it again.”
Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro is odds on favorite to do just that–win it again.
Although she’s British and not American the 12,000 fans–overwhelmingly from North America–that will pack the arena for the Grand Prix Freestyle to determine the winner Saturday are renowned for emotional outburst no matter the nationality. Who can forget fans standing, some openly weeping, as Edward Gal rode Lingh down the final centerline to win the Grand Prix at the 2005 World Cup here?
Charlotte won the championship on the KWPN gelding now 13 years old in their first attempt in Lyon, France last year that did not draw the audience certain to show up here.
Although Steffen is the U.S. Grand Prix champion with Legolas he predicts after much weighing the field that barring anything unforeseen the battle will be for the second and third placings behind Charlotte and Valegro–his World Games team mate, the 27-year-old American phenom on Verdades or Dutch master Edward on Glock’s Undercover. Edward won the World Cup in 2010 on Totilas, a horse that needs no description beyond his name.
Even so, Steffen who is based just five hours away in San Diego, California has gone to extraordinary lengths to prepare the noise-sensitive Legolas, a 13-year-old Westfalen gelding, for what could be the most intense atmosphere for the horse.
Epona Farms in the Los Angeles area city of Thousand Oaks invited Steffen to ride Legolas in a Freestyle before 100 guests invited to a wine and cheese reception. The crowd enthusiastically screamed, clapped and cheered, as was the intention. The noise was recorded.
Steffen had the recording edited to five minutes and has kept repeating it in his farm’s indoor arena while hand walking Legolas.
“I feel like I did everything I could to prepare him for this,” Steffen said. “The last days have been ‘good’ with construction noise as the venue is prepared.
“It’s going to be an extremely difficult environment for him… a very challenging atmosphere.
“I hope the crowd will stay nice and calm and focused and give us a chance to get in that first minute in the arena.
“That first minute is like rolling the dice.”
Rosamunde that is described as a future superstar, has “happily surprised” Steffen during her appearances in the Thomas & Mack arena which is the biggest arena the Rhinelander mare has seen–though, so far, it’s been virtually empty.
He’s excited to show “Rosie” to the world in the invitational Grand Prix Freestyle Friday night when there will be a crowd, likely noisy.
“She’s a very energetic horse, always willing to move forward,” he said of Rosamunde that he has been competing and winning at international level for just over a year, first at small tour in both the United States and Europe and at Grand Prix beginning in Florida in February.
“When I give her the rein for extended walk, she settles down and shows her true charatcter,” he said, “which is a very focused horse and a very laid back horse.”
“Somebody asked me on the way out of the arena how old is she. I replied, ‘she’s eight.’
“‘That’s weird,’ was the reply.
“I’m blessed with having her.”
Back to the World Cup, Steffen expresses the same view of Valegro as pretty much every one else, “fantastic!”
“For all the others, it’s exciting to get so many horses close to Valegro–to have so many wonderful horses on American soil is fantastic.”
Although Steffen and Legolas may not be the top contenders, he’s more excited about the prospects for American dressage in the next few years than any individual accolades–whether with Legolas or Rosamunde.
With his two horses, Laura and Verdades and the recent success in Wellington, Florida of Allison Brock and Rosevelt, the United States is “on a wonderful road to Rio”–the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next year.
“Bringing a potential medal-winning team together is something that has been the dream of Akiko and my dream,” he said of Akiko Yamazaki who with her husband Jerry Yang own Ravel, Legolas and Rosamunde.
“Akiko has been so wonderful and so strong about aupporting the team. Individual competition is important, but it’s about the team.”
The United States has not won a team medal since the 2004 Athens Olympics, although Steffen came close to an individual medal at the 2008 Beijing Games and won individual medals at the 2010 World Games as well as the 2009 World Cup.
“It is a really, really wonderful time for American dressage,” he said of the prospect of heading to Rio with all three combinations on track to produce mid to high 70 per cent performances that would place the United States up with the top nations of Germany, Netherlands and Great Britain.
“It is simply fantastic,” he said, giving credit to Robert Dover, the U.S. Technical Advisor/Chef d’Equipe,
“Robert has done an amazing job,” he said, “guidng not just the riders but the entire U.S. sport in a great direction. It’s a pleasure and an honor to work with him.”
Plans after the World Cup are to take both Legolas and Rosamunde to Europe as part of the Pan American Games long listed squads where “hopefully we can produce the same scores we have been producing here.”
The view about scores is shared by most U.S. competitors who want judges at American international events to award points no differently than in Europe.
After the Pan Ams and the gold medal the American team hopes to win that will give them the ticket to start a team in Rio, so as to be able to spend the next year preparing to fulfill hopes of being on the biggest podium of all–the Olympics at Rio.