Steffen Peters, Heading to Olympics, On American Dressage Since His First Games Quarter Century Ago
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July 7, 2021
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Steffen Peters on his way with Suppenkasper to his fifth Olympics, is “amazed” at the development of dressage in the United States that required scores equal to the gold medal performances at his first Games a quarter century ago to even be considered for the American team this year.
The performances by Adrienne Lyle on Salvino and Sabine Schut-Kery on Sanceo selected as team mates of Steffen and Suppenkasper at the Tokyo Games in less than three weeks were “incredible and, honestly, it inspired me not to be better, but to be as good as them.”
Of his own Grand Prix Special ride on Suppenkasper, “it felt really, really good, from the first halt to the last halt. It looked effortless. It looked easy. There was power, but it looked relaxed. There was nothing forced.
“That’s always the nicest compliment that I get, when people say, ‘That wasn’t just a wonderful test there was so much harmony in it.’ The mouth is soft, the contact is soft, it looked effortless.
“I was super happy with that. And if we can do that once more in Tokyo, that’ll be absolutely fantastic.”
Steffen, at age 56 has been the leading American rider for much of the past 25 years. Olympic team bronze medals at Atlanta in 1996 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016; World Equestrian Games team silver in 2018 and team bronze in 2006 as well as individual and freestyle bronze at Lexington in 2010, World Cup champion and CDIO champion at the prestigious World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany in 2009 and individual and team golds at both the 2011 and 2015 Pan American Games. Laura Graves on Verdades succeeded him at top sport from 2015 to early 2019.
The first Olympics for the German-born Steffen was on Udon at Atlanta in 1996, his first championships as an American.
Isabell Werth, a superstar for Germany with success at the 1992 Olympics, won the Grand Prix for team gold on 76.60% and took individual silver on 75.49% behind the Netherlands’ Anky van Grunsven on 77.72%. Michelle Gibson on Peron was the top placed American with 75.20 in the Grand Prix and 74.28% in the Special.
Steffen on Udon scored 67.80% in the Grand Prix and 67.63% in the Special.
At the U.S. Olympic observation event in Wellington, Florida last month, Adrienne and Salvino scored 82.413%, Sabine and Sanceo 78.978% and Steffen and Suppenkasper 77.696% in the Grand Prix. In the Special, Adrienne and Salvino posted 81.830%, Steffen and Suppenkasper 79.532% and Sabine and Sanceo 78.298%.
“Today,” Steffen said , “there are so many riders like Laura Graves, with Adrienne coming up, there are so many riders that have inspired this nation to do better. Inspiration, I think, is one of the best human gifts. We have clearly seen that, and I think that’s the difference between 1996 and nowadays.”
He can’t speak highly enough, though, of the role that Udon played in his life. Unlike Suppenkasper bought by longtime sponsor Akiko Yamazaki and Four Winds Farm that she owns with her husband, Jerry Yang, a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur. He credits German team rider Helen Langehanenberg with developing the horse nicknamed Mopsie to Grand Prix.
“With Udon, it was different because my sister and I were the first ones who sat on him when he was three years old,” he recalled. “Sometimes we didn’t sit on him for very long because he bucked us off. When he bucked my sister off, I got on. So he was a big part of the family for 15 years.
“That’s, of course different with Mopsie that we’ve had now for four years. The bond is the same, there’s no doubt. And of course, Udon was a horse that was extremely reliable in the show arena and was a very good team horse. Because of that he would score 68/70%, and in those days that was good enough. Unfortunately, not anywhere today. You can call it unfortunately or fortunately. It’s a matter of perception.
“Udon got me to the Olympics. It was a wonderful, far fetched dream but that it actually happened and Udon got me there…
“Basically my father purchasing the horse got me there. And Lila and Bob Kommerstad sponsoring me.”
He rates Udon and the partnership with Ravel, bought by Akiko and Jerry, as a “very balanced toss up” as his best horses so far.
Ravel, a Contango son, was ridden by Steffen to third place in the Grand Prix Freestyle at the 2008 Olympics but the format for individual competition of combined Grand Prix Special and Freestyle saw the pair miss out on an individual medal by a mere fraction.
Just months later, the pair went to the 2009 World Cup in Las Vegas to become only the second American champion–the first was Debbie McDonald on Brentina in 2003. The year was capped by Steffen and Ravel becoming the only American duo ever to win the CDIO5* title at Aachen, Germany, considered the world’s most prestigious horse show. The 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky was another triumph with individual and Freestyle bronze medals. The gold medal sweep by Edward Gal and the legendary Totilas were dominating performances.
Steffen and Ravel returned to Aachen in 2011. When they placed second to Totilas then ridden for Germany in the CDIO, the crowd believing the American should have won, booed and jeered the judges. Ravel was retired after the 2012 Games.
But in a classic “What have you done lately?” moment, Steffen recalls that four years later while walking Legolas at Aachen a German team rider rider asked whether he had competed there before.
“I think in this country,” he said in referring to the U.S., “they look back a little bit more, and they understand where we came from. And I certainly still appreciate the days when Udon came up.”
Back in the present, Steffen said he feels good about the next generation of American riders after watching the 21-year-old Benjamin Ebeling of Moorpark, California warming up in the Olympic observation event.
Standing next to Germany’s Christoph Koschel, who is coaching Ben, and his father, Jan, who rode Rafalca at the 2012 Olympics in the midst of an American presidential election in which Ann Romney, the wife of the Republican candidate was one of the owners, Steffen recounted:
“I was watching Ben in the warm up and I stood there with Christoph and Jan and I looked at them and said, ‘You know what, I didn’t ride like this when I was 21.’ And Jan said, ‘You know what? I didn’t either.’ So it’s kind of neat when our generation can look at that and feel pretty good. And see what’s coming up.”