Steffen Peters’ Renewed Drive to Coach, Compete After Successful Florida Circuit Helped Deal with Depression
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May 25, 2020
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Steffen Peters is convinced that competing Suppenkasper at Florida’s Global Dressage Festival was the best thing to help recover from depression, and success of the partnership reinvigorated his enthusiasm to provide riding clinics and to continue competing at the top of the sport.
Riding the 12-year-old KWPN gelding to 11 victories in 11 starts at Wellington was the longest string of Big Tour victories in Steffen’s career that includes four Olympics, four World Equestrian Games, five World Cup Finals including the title and two Pan American Games on eight different horses.
The 55-year-old rider spoke to dressage-news.com of the effect of his three months in Wellington, leaving the large training and boarding operation of his training center in San Diego, California in the hands of his wife, Shannon.
“It was probably just the best thing I could have done in my life,” Steffen said of the winter-long Global circuit in which he competed Suppenkasper with the barn name “Mopsie,” in five CDIs, including a big money CDI5*, leading the U.S. to victory in the CDIO3* Nations Cup and a World Cup qualifier that clinched a start as the top ranked American for the Final in Las Vegas.
“At home, I was doing less and less. I was training more with Mopsie and training hard with myself. As far as teaching and training that became way less; for a few weeks, actually, almost to zero. I just wasn’t that much into it. I was so self-absorbed trying to get myself better.
“I notice now if you go through hell you’d better keep running, instead of doing less you do more. When you feel you’re at the end of the rope, the only way to go is to climb up.
“That’s what I did here.”
On one day in Wellington, he gave 11 lessons.
“I was feeling completely exhausted afterward because I ride a lot of horses in the clinic,” he recalled, “but the feeling of accomplishment afterwards felt so good.
“I really believe—and I don’t want it to sound conceited—but if you make it to the top you’d better take some people with you, you’d better make a difference.
“If there’s one person out of those 11 that you can say an inspiring word to make a difference in that person’s life on that day then you did your job. I really believe that the universe pays back in dividends.”
The Covid-19 pandemic brought a halt to the Global circuit as it did for most activities around the world.
But despite the pandemic, he’s making plans for a clinic in September/October and then possibly Wellington in November, at Five Rings Farm where he was based for the Global circuit. The farm is owned by the Vinios family that includes Christina, who has been coached by Steffen for several years.
His first disclosure of grappling with depression was made at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany last July where he rode Suppenkasper on the United States team in the CDIO5* Nations Cup.
The revelation took the equestrian world by surprise. The German-born rider has been enormously successful in America, stretching all the way back to 1996 when he rode Udon on the U.S. bronze medal team at the Atlanta Olympics.
He logged his biggest successes on Ravel, also a KWPN gelding, to place third in the Grand Prix Freestyle at the 2008 Olympics but missed out on a medal as the individual awards were for combined Grand Prix Special and the musical performance.
But the following year he became only the second American World Cup champion, on Ravel at home in Las Vegas. The pair went on to Aachen 2 1/2 months later to become the first and still only American to sweep the prestigious CDIO5*. Ravel was retired after the 2012 London Olympics.
Legolas was his mount at both the 2014 World Equestrian Games and the 2016 Olympics where, after years of being the dominant American in international dressage, Laura Graves and Verdades moved into that position. And Rosamunde, in the lineup of horses owned by Four Winds Farm of Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang and competed by Steffen over the years, was sent back to Europe.
Steffen’s main focus became Suppenkasper, the horse that had been bought by Akiko in 2017 from German Olympian Helen Langehanenberg as a prospect for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The ties are deep for Akiko, although an American and a major supporter of U.S. dressage, her mother lives in Japan and is a keen equestrian fan who had gone to the Olympics in Tokyo in 1964.
At the World Games in Tryon in 2018, the U.S. team that included Steffen and Suppenkasper earned silver and a Tokyo berth. As the lowest scoring rider, Steffen admits that Tryon was his lowest point.
“My perception of reality has changed so much over the past year since Tryon,” he said. “I’m not sure if it needed to be so expensive, to pay that price. I don’t wish that on my worst enemy because it got that bad.”
However, he said, his team mates–Laura Graves on Verdades, Kasey Perry-Glass on Dublet and Adrienne Lyle on Salvino–gave him only positive feedback.
“I can only say amazing things about my team mates, he said. “Putting in big score for the team is a wonderful feeling. So many team mates have done that for me.”
In Florida this year, in addition to competing and giving lessons he spent a lot of time with Scott Hassler, a highly respected coach who headed up the US. young horse program for several years and currently coaches Sarah Lockman the rider of First Apple that was the individual star of the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru and moved up to Grand Prix this year.
“Thank God there are so many wonderful people out there, thank God Shanny’s (his wife) is so tolerant, so amazing to keep the barn running at home with 70 horses.”
Among the big changes Shannon dealt with was the departure in mid-February of long time assistant trainer Dawn White O’Connor and 13 horses.
Dawn is supported by Akiko and, Steffen says, the two trainers agreed they owed it to Akiko to work together with no hard feelings.
He’s also come to accept reassurance from Akiko who, he said, told him so many times—”and for so long I couldn’t translate that, ‘Steffen enjoy it more’. There was never ever any pressure from Akiko or from Jerry.
“The only pressure any person put on me was myself. Akiko knows exactly how difficult this sport is because she’s ridden grand prix. So there’s no knowledge gap. That makes a huge difference… enjoying the celebrations, like coming home at 2:30 in the morning. It’s a blast.
“What Mopsie did in Wellington, it’s incredible.”
Steffen said some days still are challenging and might always be so.
“I wake up with so much more gratitude and appreciate the things I have and have accomplished, he said. “What I also had to learn was getting much more comfortable with the things I want to accomplish, like a Totilas syndrome. I have an amazing horse and expected to do really well and, thank God, it went that direction.
“I woke up for many, many days before asking, ‘Am I good enough to ride this horse?’ So much doubt, so much talking yourself into defeat.
“That’s all gone. I have so much gratitude. Let’s face it, so many people are suffering right now with this crazy coronavirus. We’re pretty lucky.”
“Remember with Ravel when he was hitting 75, 76, 77%. I thought he was peaking. Then all of a sudden there are a bunch of 80s, all of a sudden he won the World Cup, the CDIO in Aachen.
“I know just having goals won’t do it. It’s just like a wish. You have to fight for your goals, you have to fight for your dreams. And that’s what I’m doing. So who knows where that will take me.
“All I know is I have a hell of a horse thanks to Akiko and Jerry. I’ll keep writing my story and I’m not willing to drop the pen any time soon.”