Team USA won its first Olympic dressage medal in 12 years on Friday, August 12th, earning a triumphant Team Bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
In their first Olympic appearance, Laura Graves and Verdades anchored the U.S. team with a fantastic Grand Prix Special test that was well over the score needed for the USA to medal, at 80.64%. That mark was a personal best for Graves, who came through brilliantly under pressure for her team.
Laura, Steffen Peters and Legolas 92, Allison Brock with Rosevelt and Kasey Perry-Glass and Dublet captured bronze over The Netherlands, which placed 4th in team standings. Great Britain won Team Silver and Germany, Team Gold.
“The elusive 80 percent! We captured it, it exists!” Laura exclaimed just after her test. “To see my teammates so happy and to have a personal best with a score I’m been reaching for, it was the icing on our cake today. I knew it was going well, and then you just always hope that your reflections match up with the judges.”
For team chef d’equipe Robert Dover, earning Olympic Team Bronze was the result of a long road of hard work, and to have it come together with a close-knit team was a dream come true.
“This team is like a family,” he described. “They live together, eat together, care about each other so much, and they care about the success of each other. It has been a real honor for me to be able to be their chef d’equipe.”
Steffen and Legolas 92 rode a test that had a few weak points, but delivered for their team with a score that was enough to help keep USA in podium position.
“We had a couple different fumbles; he lost his balance in the left half pass. Unfortunately it was uncharacteristic. We had a delayed reaction into the piaffe, but he did it beautifully. The rest of the test was very clean. He did his changes very nicely,” Steffen said. “I knew after that fumble in the half pass that with one more mistake in the changes we would be below our average to be ahead of the Dutch.”
Germany dominated the Special, with Isabell Werth leading the way to Team Gold; German riders Werth, Dorothee Schneider and Kristina Broring-Sprehe all scored over 80% in their tests, with Sonke Rothenberger serving as the drop score.
“This was much more than we expected. At the end, we are happy about the whole team. It was great teamwork between the riders, the trainers, the horses, the grooms and all the rest,” said Werth. The medal she earned today makes her career Gold Medal tally a record six.
The German team started this week at the top of the standings and it was no surprise they stayed there, with tests that showed a commanding consistency across the entire team. Dorothee’s mount Showtime FRH scored two perfect sets of 10s on his second set of passage, and Kristina with Desperados FRH scored so well as third-last to go, that the German’s had already secured Team Gold before Isabell even went down centerline.
Great Britain hoped to medal and did so on the power of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, who despite a Special with several flaws, scored 83.02% to place 2nd on the day. Valegro’s best is far and away above any other, and on the day he wasn’t quite his best, but Charlotte characteristically put the responsibility for their missteps, on her own shoulders.
“He thought he was doing the ones,” she said of a few one tempis he did at the beginning of a line. “He was just being helpful, he wasn’t being naughty. I can honestly say that our last two rides have been fantastic, and it’s a huge privilege to be amongst these guys on my team.”
Charlotte’s teammates Carl Hester, Fiona Bigwood and Spencer Wilton stepped to the podium with relish as the sun broke through a few high-flying clouds at the end of the afternoon. The weather at this Olympic venue 30 minutes north of the city of Rio has been perfect for riding all week. A light rain fell briefly in the morning but was quickly blown away toward the nearby mountains.
There was a bit of drama in the arena before the medal ceremony, when, with the center of the ring crowded with the top three team horses, Sonke’s horse Cosmo became overexcited and struck out with his front hooves, hitting groom Robbie Sanderson in the head. Despite a bit of blood, Robbie was reported to be OK but getting checked out at a local hospital.
A standout moment of the day was the ride by Ireland’s Judy Reynolds, with Vancouver K. Her score of 74.52% qualified her for Monday’s Individual Freestyle. It is the first time in history an Irish rider has qualified for the dressage freestyle at the Olympics.
And Team Silver medalist Fiona Bigwood, who wears a patch over one eye, celebrated what was for her, a comeback to the sport. Less than two years ago, she suffered a riding accident that left her with a severe concussion. She wears the patch to combat double vision, a side effect of her fall. She considered quitting riding, but stuck with it, and with her Olympic medal hanging around her neck, it was clear that sticking with it was the correct path.
The top 18 riders will return for the Individual Olympic Freestyle on Monday, August 15th after a two-day competition break. All riders return on a clean score of zero for the Freestyle, leaving the door open for stronger rides to break through as Individual Olympic Medals are decided.