August 25, 2014 -- Neither rain nor puddles deterred Adrienne Lyle from putting in a confident test on Wizard in the Grand Prix at the WEG this afternoon, as he splashed around the arena at d'Ornano Stadium to earn 72 percent and slot the U.S. into fifth place halfway through the dressage team medal competition.
Without a fumble in the one-tempis, he would have been even higher, but already, it was a special performance at a special venue for Adrienne, who has been riding the Oldenburg gelding for nine years under the guidance of her mentor and U.S. developing coach, Debbie McDonald.
Glowing after her achievement, our Dressage Today blogger talked about the thrill of doing so well with Wizard at the WEG.
She was happy that Debbie, who had planned to spend some time away from transAtlantic crossings if Adrienne didn't make the team, drove to the airport immediately when Adrienne called and said she was needed. Debbie also is working with Laura Graves, who will ride Verdades tomorrow, when Steffen Peters is scheduled to go as well.
Building on Adrienne's score, those two will try to move closer to the podium and pass Spain, which has 72.414 percent, to the USA's 72 percent. So it's close. What isn't close is the grouping of the top three, ranked as everyone thought they would be.
Germany is first with 78.814 percent, as Kristina Sprehe led the way on Desperados with her score of 78.814. Does that number sound familiar? What the scorers did was only count the high score of the two riders that went for each country today. (Germany's other entry was the pathfinder, Fabienne Lutkemire, fifth with Dagostino., 73.414.) That's because only the best three out of four count for the team medals, but I think one shouldn't put too much stock in the numbers, because they will change.
Still, I'm guessing, what won't change is the order of the medals. With the incredibly experienced Isabell Werth scheduled for tomorrow morning on Bella Rose, and former World Cup winner Helen Langehanenberg up last on Damon Hill, I think Germany is a lock for the gold. I know, I know, anything can happen. But it usually happens to someone other than Isabell or Helen.
The Netherlands looked stronger than I thought it might be since Edward Gal's ride, Glock's Undercover, and Danielle Heijkoop's mount, Kingley Siro, had to drop out recently.
Hans Peter Minderhoud, Gal's partner, finished second on Glock's Johnson, though he was more than four points behind Sprehe. Still, his 74.537 is a strong showing, paired with a fifth-place, 73.424 mark, for Diederick van Silfhout on Arlando.
Great Britain is third on 74.186, by virtue of a masterful ride by Carl Hester, who I always call the mastermind of British dressage success.
Here's a thought for those of you who thought you'd never make the Olympics or the WEG. He paid only 1,000 Euros for his mount, Nip Tuck, when the 10-year-old gelding was a yearling. Carl reminisced that when he came to England from the Channel Island of Sark, only a few miles off the coast of France, his partner in Nip Tuck, Jane de la Mare, was a groom. He marveled at how far they'd come.
Carl was understandably worried about going into the ring with a horse who only started grand prix this spring as the cheers for Marc Boblet of France were still resounding. Marc, who is 10th, did an outstanding job, and of course the crowd loved it and showed their appreciation, loudly.
Luckily, Nip Tuck settled down and got right to work. The horse, obviously a favorite of Carl's, is a hard worker and a "teddy bear," in Carl's view. But I can tell you that I think with another rider there might have been some issues. Carl had such a controlled, beautiful ride that it was like a lesson. If you want to go to the WEG on your 1,000 Euro horse, get the video of his performance and watch it over and over again.
The USA's other rider was Tina Konyot, performing what likely will be her last competitive test on Calecto V, 17th on 69.643 percent. Only the top 30 riders go in Wednesday's Grand Prix Special for an individual medal, so it's unlikely she'll make the cut with so many top performers yet to come.
Tina's test was very disciplined, with the exception of a one-tempi mistake, and she was pleased with her longtime pet, who will go on to breeding duties after hanging up his saddle.
With eyes as bright from tears as her diamond earrings, Tina spoke emotionally about wrapping up Caleto's career at the WEG.
When Canada's David Marcus rode Chevri's Capital into the ring as the rain continued to come down, I had a momentary ominous feeling of deja vu.
At the Olympics two years ago, it was raining as Chevri's Capital freaked out at a flapping TV camera cover, and David was eliminated.
But as I saw David handle a bump in the road (a break into canter from the extended trot when the rider pushed for more) and almost instantly get back on track, I could appreciate how much the horse had improved and how much the connection with his rider had been strengthened.
"We’ve taken a long time building his confidence,” explained David.
"For him to come into a stadium this big, with this many people, and when you come in, everyone cheers; he handled it well."
While all eyes were focused on the arena, politics went on as usual. The lastest candidate for the FEI presidency is the organization's first vice-president, John McEwen of Great Britain, head of the FEI veterinary committee. He joins French Olympic gold medalist Pierre Durand, Danish federation president Ulf Helgstrand and Swiss businessman Pierre Genacane. Though all seem very different, they have one thing in common: None of them are royal. If one of them is elected, it will break the tradition of royalty heading the FEI (though I believe a general also was president at one time, way back when.)
Unlike the medals, that contest won't be decided here. It will come to a vote at the FEI's annual meeting in Baku. If you don't know where that is, I want you to look it up. One hint: It once was a candidate (though maybe not a serious one) to hold the Olympics.
I have got to get some sleep. I'm trying to stay coherent, and it isn't easy on just a few hours of shut-eye a night. That's the WEG, and it will get worse for those of us working here before it gets better.
I'll be back with a postcard about the team medals tomorrow.