Steffen Peters & Suppenkasper Ready for American Rider’s 5th World Championships Feeling Tokyo Silver Medal “Extremely Liberating”
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
When Steffen Peters starts in his fifth world championship on Saturday, he will be more relaxed than he has at an Olympics or a major championship in years after battling depression caused by the pressure he put on himself by fearing failure.
On Suppenkasper, the 14-year-old KWPN gelding on which he earned silver medals back-to-back at the 2018 world championships in Tryon and the Tokyo Olympics–as did his team mate Adrienne Lyle on Salvino–his fifth world championship is behind only Isabell Werth of Germany in her seventh and six for Australia’s Mary Hanna in the lineup of almost 95 riders from 34 countries this year.
“I’m at a stage in my life where I can see something positive in anything,” said Steffen, at 57, four years older than Isabell but younger than team mate, Ashley Holzer at 58 and Mary Hanna at 67, the oldest competitor in the quadriennial championships.
“It’s already so much better than three years ago,” he said of his disclosure to dressage-news.com at Aachen, Germany in 2019 of his struggles with depression.
“To be honest at that time I was talking a lot about how bad it was before Aachen… it was still really, really bad at Aachen. The bottom line is I never allowed anxiety to stop my life. I did what I needed to do. At home, I did hide from society quite a bit, rode early and isolated myself quite a bit. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do. I know that now. I learned so much and I’ve been very open about it.
“Suppenkasper’s going even better than last year. I’m feeling even better than last year. Things are looking good.
“I have to say that Tokyo was extremely liberating. It was one of those things that was clearly better than expected. It was such an honor to be on a team with Adrienne and Sabine (Schut-Kery). It was delightful. The whole thing was just so perfect. You had Covid, you can discuss that all day long. For us it was just absolutely perfect. It made a huge difference. Anything that comes from here is going to be OK, whatever it is. Victories or disappointments it’s going to be OK.”
Expectations needs to be part of competing, said Steffen who is based in San Diego, California, but if at some point did he become “deathly afraid of failing–I would say ‘yes’.
“The question is does that make you better. And I think it did. But you have to watch out that when things don’t go well you have a good grip on that, too, you learn to deal with that. I couldn’t; I didn’t do that well. It would occupy me for days, nights. I certainly know now that was a very, very destructive way of living and thinking.
“I had absolutely no clue how one destructive thought could lead into such a terrible dark place. I thought this had always worked out, you get a little nervous then you get over it.
“We don’t spend enough time educating kids or athletes about mental health. I had a chance to talk to a few younger people where self-doubt comes in and they say, ‘it’s not good enough, I’m not good enough.’ I know exactly what that dark place can be. It’s a really, really hopeless place.
“If I could help, without any financial compensation, knowing what people go through I would get a kick out of that. Some psychologists I’ve worked with have asked me if I can write a blog with them. I’ve talked to so many professionals who haven’t been in that dark place. I find that just as fascinating as teaching dressage. I don’t know where this might lead but I think that could be a very exciting part of my life, too.”
Steffen said in re-assessing his work, “it’s not just to win a medal or compete for the team. My job is to ride.”
And Debbie McDonald whom he trains with though she is no longer the U.S. team coach “focuses just on that every single day. Every thing else will fall in place. The biggest thing with her is she gave me so much confidence last year, not just with myself but the way she coached the rest of the team. We were ready. We were absolutely ready for the biggest challenge. I always give her huge credit for that. I’d love to have her on my side for every show here on in.”
“The daily work and the confident work I get from Mopsie (Suppenkasper) and Debbie and the tremendous positive support from Akiko (Yamazaki, owner) without any pressure—I mean zero, absolutely zero—and Akiko keeps telling me enjoy it. That’s exactly what I’m doing now.
“It’s always been that way. There was never any pressure. It was always the pressure from myself.”
Steffen also jokes about his age–the oldest American medalist.
“Some people might laugh about it,” he laughs. “I think it’s great. At the end of the day, you’re only as old as you feel. There certainly was a time in the last two years where I felt pretty old both physically and mentally. That has changed drastically. I still consider it a huge honor to represent the team, put in some scores for the team… When things don’t go well any more it’s not the end of the world.”
Steffen believes that Suppenkasper, or Mopsie as he’s nicknamed, owned by Four Winds Farm/Akiko Yamazaki, also owner of Ravel and Legolas, hasn’t quite reached his top yet–“I still feel that 79-80% is in there.”
He’s not ruling out a high finish for the U.S.
“Right now it’s a bit more open,” he said. “I think it’s great, great for the sport. If we could have had Sabine this year it could have been interesting.” He supports as a “smart decision” Sabine placing the welfare of the horse first.
The World Cup Final in Omaha in April next year is the next cheampionship to aim for.
“To ride in front of an American crowd in a venue like that is phenomenal,” he said. “That’s a big goal.”
Mopsie will be 16 for the Paris Olympics that Steffen thinks “is pretty realistic.”
“He’s now at a point where I work him four days a week–Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday we walk, Thursday, Friday we work. He’s now at a point where it’s such a perfect balance between fitness and soundness. It doesn’t have to get a whole lot better.”
The World Cup Final in Fort Worth, Texas in 2025 when Suppenkasper would be 17 could also be doable, he said, that would delay his inclination to cut back on international competitions.
He doesn’t plan to let go of the reins yet.
“Everybody’s born with a purpose,” he said. “My purpose is a life with horses, a life with wonderful students. At the moment, I’m so blessed with wonderful horses and riders.” One of them is Miki Yang, Akiko’s daughter, with Donavan. She’s not 18 years old and, he said “she rides very, very good.”
And though he says it is irrelevant to consider a national coaching job while he’s still competing, “if I can be any assistance with team riders, especially the younger generation, I’d do that in a second and if I don’t get paid a penny I’m fine with that.”
On the state of dressage today, he gave this description of Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour of Denmark, ranked No. 2 in the world on her Tokyo Olympic mount Bohemian and No. 3 on her world championship partner Vamos Amigos: