United States, Canada and Latin America's WEG Dressage Prospects - Dressage Today

United States, Canada and Latin America's WEG Dressage Prospects

Dressage Today hears from the United States, Canada and Latin America about how they're preparing for dressage at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
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The United States
By Nancy Jaffer

The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) are a compilation of world championships in eight equestrian disciplines--virtually an Olympics for horse sports. As riders and horses in countries around the world get ready, Americans have a rare opportunity to showcase a U.S. dressage team in top international competition before a home crowd in Lexington, Ky.

With three outstanding European dressage squads in the forefront, the U.S. team will have its work cut out for it to obtain a medal, and the pressure of being the home squad in the first-ever WEG outside of Europe is tangible. This spring the U.S. WEG team prospects seemed thin as mishaps occurred: Courtney King-Dye had a terrible fall in early March that fractured her skull and left her with a long road to rehabilitation ahead. In June, Olympic medalist Guenter Seidel fractured his pelvis in a fall, putting him out of the running on Dick and Jane Brown's U II. Although the U.S. team appears to have an uphill battle, "You should never take anything for granted," says Eva Salomon, the U.S. Equestrian Federation's (USEF) managing director of dressage, adding, "Never be pessimistic because things can change."

By July, some exciting new combinations had appeared, and USEF Dressage Technical Advisor Anne Gribbons noted, "I am a lot more confident now."

The top U.S. horse, of course, is Akiko Yamazaki's Ravel, the 12-year-old Dutch-bred gelding who won the 2009 World Cup and dominated Aachen last year with Californian Steffen Peters in the saddle. Ravel won't have met the top Dutch horse, Moorlands Totilas, in competition until the WEG, which makes it an even more exciting event for spectators. Peters also has a shot at an individual medal, which barely eluded him at the 2008 Olympics. In June, Peters was fifth on the FEI World Individual Dressage Ranking List. He thinks the WEG has the potential of being one of the best dressage shows ever. "In the whole history of dressage, you've never seen a top five like we currently have," he says. But he won't be chasing scores at the WEG. He just wants to show Ravel to his potential on the days he competes. As for his match up with the world's number-one horse and rider, Peters states, "I'm not afraid of Edward [Gal] or Totilas. I'm sure it will be a wonderful competition."

Gribbons, who went to California in June to see Ravel, noted he looked fabulous. And of Peters, she says, "If he's not the best rider in the world, he's one of the best. And he knows how to make a horse peak at the right time."

Tina Konyot would have made an international team on several occasions except for a variety of misfortunes. This may be her time. On her 12-year-old black Danish-bred stallion Calecto V, she won the Freestyle at Dressage at Devon last year, then went on to sweep the WEG test event this spring before a trip to Europe, where Calecto V was fourth in the Austrian Grand Prix in Fritzens. Konyot, a Connecticut resident, is once again reaching for her dream.

Gribbons notes that Konyot is "a natural rider with a wonderful feel for a horse--a beautiful woman on a beautiful horse." She adds that the European judges also seem to like the combination and that Konyot, who comes from a famous circus family, doesn't lack for showmanship.

Here are the rest of the top contenders who were heading for the WEG selection trials in August: Leslie Morse's Tip Top 962 was the 2009 U.S. national Grand Prix champion and was on the bronze medal squad at the last WEG in 2006. The 16-year-old Swedish stallion survived a life-threatening bout of colic in March. But the pair was back to work shortly afterward, and he seemed primed for a good effort in the trials with his California-based rider. Morse, who is Tip Top 962's co-owner with Laura Petroff, has been working with Olympic and WEG medalist Debbie McDonald.

Californian Sue Blinks, the 1998 and 2002 WEG veteran who also rode on the 2000 Olympic bronze medal team, is aboard Robin Hood this time. He is not as seasoned as his rider and demonstrated that by losing his composure in the covered arena at Del Mar while finishing seventh in May's Grand Prix. The 12-year-old Dutch gelding, owned by Blinks with Louise and Doug Leatherdale, regained his focus and came back to win the Grand Prix Special.

"Robin Hood has wonderful collected work," says Gribbons. "His piaffe, passage, transitions and pirouettes are spot-on."

Although both Adrienne Lyle and Wizard, owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas of Brentina fame, are newcomers to the international scene, they acquitted themselves well on their first competitive trip to Europe in the spring. It was important exposure, according to Gribbons. While in Germany, Lyle trained with former U.S. coach Klaus Balkenhol. Wizard, an 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding who won the Freestyle at last year's national championships, is ever improving. Lyle, the youngest team candidate at age 25, benefits from being the prot?g? of Debbie McDonald with whom she works in Idaho and California.

Cherry Knoll Farm's Otto, a 13-year-old Danish-bred gelding, has been getting a lot of attention as his partnership with Florida-based Todd Flettrich matures. During July he made an important stop at Aachen, Germany, completing his sternest test to date. Otto is an accomplished horse with the attention-getting ability to do all the movements well. "Otto is sure of his lessons. He knows them all and he's ambitious," says Gribbons.

European-based American Catherine Haddad has two horses ready, including her veteran Danish-bred Cadillac. Cadillac's record has been a bit erratic, but as Gribbons points out, "When he goes well, he is impressive." Winyamaro, a flashy 10-year-old Hanoverian, has been coming along amazingly well for a horse just starting his career at the highest levels and is completely different from Cadillac. Winyamaro is a "point-and-click horse," says Gribbons, comparing his ease of movement to a point-and-shoot camera. She characterizes Cadillac as more of a "shrinking violet." Winyamaro began stepping up to the plate this year when Cadillac rested from a minor injury. He continued his meteoric rise after his stablemate returned to work.

Katherine Bateson-Chandler rides Nartan, owned by U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation President Jane Forbes Clark. Nartan was formerly the mount of the Netherlands' Jeanette Haazen, who decided that since the Dutch are such a powerhouse she didn't have a shot at the team. Thus, she was willing to part company with Nartan. Bateson-Chandler has had limited show experience with the 15-year-old, but she is working with Haazen and qualified for the WEG selection trials.

"This is the best of all worlds," notes Gribbons, who is also an FEI "O" judge. "I know the horse very well. I've judged him on many occasions and I really like him. We have to be grateful to Jane Forbes Clark for once again giving [another U.S. rider] a top horse."

Jan Ebeling bears watching on his longtime partner Rafalca, a 13-year-old Oldenburg mare owned by Ann Romney, Beth Meyer, Pat Crow and Ebeling's wife, Amy. This mare has come into her own this year. Jan has also come through the ranks with the 11-year-old Oldenburg mare Sandrina, owned by Romney.

Both horses have shown consistency during 2010. "Sandrina is exciting, beautiful and so willing," says Gribbons, but she has concerns about "asking too much too soon."

Lauren Sammis won the individual silver medal at the 2007 Pan American Games with the 11-year-old Dutch horse Sagacious HF, owned by Hyperion Farm. Sammis moved him up to Grand Prix successfully with a slew of victories in 2009. He was out of commission for four months in 2010 after colic and back problems but made a successful, low-key comeback at Blainville in Canada as they geared up for the selection trials.

Gribbons' choice as dark horse for a team spot is the combination of Elisabeth Austin and her homebred stallion Olivier, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood who has come up through the ranks with his rider, winning the first Brentina Cup in 2006 on their way to becoming established at Grand Prix. At 26, Austin is young but her experience includes the World Dressage Masters competition in Florida last winter.

Gribbons notes, "Those two have been together forever and have become more consistent." If Austin can shine, it could really surprise everyone. "We need new riders coming up, the younger the better. If she and Adrienne can handle the pressure, it will be great for the future."

The field of U.S. WEG team hopefuls was winnowed down at the selection trials--the 2010 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival of Champions. The two-weekend event is in Gladstone, N.J., on Aug. 6-8 and 13-15.

Team members had the option of remaining at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation headquarters in Gladstone after the trials. The entire team is scheduled to train there starting Sept. 4 before moving on to Lexington for the WEG. Gribbons pointed out how nice it is that, for once, U.S. horses don't have to make the long trek to Europe.

WEG officials have honored the U.S. team by allowing the U.S. alternate horse-and-rider pair (the next top pair after four are chosen for the team) to perform the official test ride at the WEG. This is the first rider to perform on the first day, which enables the judges to get their bearings before the official competition begins.

Gribbons heartily encourages everyone who loves dressage to come to Kentucky and support the U.S. WEG dressage team horses and riders.

Canada
By Karen Robinson

Canada's prospects for a strong team result in dressage at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) are considerably rosier than they were four years ago. Selection trials for the 2006 WEG were never held because Canada had only four qualified horses and riders. This year the list of candidates is a record breaker--27 pairs had declared and six had already qualified by mid-May. Pairs have until July 31, 2010, to get the scores they need and more are expected to qualify.

Six-time U.S. dressage Olympian Robert Dover was hired to coach the country's team in 2009, and he is excited to see such strong contenders already emerging. "I'm very, very happy with the progress of the Canadian riders and horses," he says.

A head-to-head selection trial for the 2010 WEG team is not part of the qualifying criteria. Not only is Canada's geography an obstacle, but several of Canada's top riders are based in Europe, which makes it even less practical. Instead, the team will be chosen based on the highest average scores achieved at CDI 3* competitions and higher. To qualify, a horse must achieve a minimum average score of 66 percent in the Grand Prix test in at least four competitions. The pairs that make the team will simply be those with the highest scores.

Canada's impressive show-jumping and para-dressage results at the 2008 Olympics led the Canadian Olympic Committee and Sport Canada to include Equestrian in its list of sports to receive funding from a program called "Own the Podium." The success of the program at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver was evident--Canada led the world in gold medals. The hope is that support of summer Olympic sports will yield more podium finishes for Canada in 2012. To that end, "Own the Podium" arranged for Canada's dressage team to receive government funding, making it possible to hire Dover as the team technical coach/advisor and to send five Canadian pairs to European competitions in May and June. The European tour was not specifically tied to the WEG team selections, and those horses and riders who were not part of that group--they either stayed in North America to compete or were already based in Europe--could still make the team.

However, there is no doubt in Dover's mind that the European tour was very much part of Canada's WEG preparations. "I encouraged riders to qualify and then take part in the European tour. It was a very important stepping-stone toward having a strong team," he says. The European tour included four major competitions for Canadian riders: Wiesbaden, Lingen, Rotterdam and Aachen.

Of the five pairs who traveled to Europe, the highest ranked is Ashley Holzer and Pop Art. With Grand Prix scores consistently well over 70 percent, the pair have occupied a top spot on the FEI World Ranking--17th in May. Holzer and her a 13-year-old Dutch gelding also were easily the most seasoned pair on the European tour. "Obviously, we know we have a star in Ashley and Pop Art," says Dover.

The second-ranked Canadian on the European tour is Belinda Trussell and her 10-year-old Saxon gelding, Anton. In his second season at Grand Prix, Anton began to score consistently above 70 percent in April at the CDI 3* in Lexington, Kentucky. Trussell represented Canada at the 2002 WEG and 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Also breaking the 70 percent barrier in Kentucky was Bonny Bonnello and her Canadian Warmblood gelding, Pikardi.

Wendy Christoff and her 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Pfalstaff, hail from British Columbia and have already achieved the necessary qualifying scores for the WEG team. They won both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special at the CDI 3* Golden State Dressage Festival in April. WEG would be Christoff's first time on the Canadian team.

Shannon Dueck has not called Canada home for a number of years, but the British Columbia native and her 9-year-old Oldenburg mare, Ayscha, are the fifth pair seeking WEG qualifying scores on the European tour. Dueck was the highest-placed Canadian at the 2002 WEG with Korona.

The list of pairs in the running for WEG but not part of the European tour includes six-time Olympian Christilot Boylen, who is permanently based in Germany and has recently been partnered with Famous Boy 2, a 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding. (Read her training article with Trussell on page 46.)

Cheryl Meisner rides Carl Hester's 2009 European Championship mount, Liebling II. Meisner is declared for WEG with three horses, including the 13-year-old KWPN stallion Paganini.

Victoria Winter has already achieved the qualifying minimum with Cindy Ishoy's 2004 Olympic mount, Proton.

Jacqueline Brooks was on the Canadian team at the 2008 Olympics. She has two horses: her Olympic partner Gran Gesto and 11-year-old Balmoral.

Diane Creech, who was on the 2007 Pan American Games silver medal team, also has two horses: Devon and Wiona.

Dover is not shy about his goals for Canada in Kentucky this fall. "We are doing very well right now. With three horses now scoring nicely over 70 percent, my feeling is that we are in the hunt." He has no illusions about beating the current titans from Holland, but he does have his eye on a medal. "When you think of the countries that can field a minimum of three horses over 70, there are not a lot of them. I don't do anything without thinking in terms of medals. I think we stand in good stead right now." If the Canadian team fulfills the goals that Dover has set for them, it will be a historic first WEG dressage medal for Canada.

Latin America
By Gabriel Armando

For the first time, the World Equestrian Games (WEG) will be in the United States, which makes it easier for many riders on this side of the Atlantic to participate. Puerto Rico, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Colombia and Mexico are some of the countries hoping to send riders to this big competition. According to the FEI (F?d?ration Equestre Internationale), to participate in the WEG, rider/horse pairs must obtain a score of 64 percent in a CDI by an FEI "O" judge. Then, it is the decision of each national federation whether or not to send them to Kentucky.

Puerto Rico's best dressage rider is Luis Denizard based in Palm City, Fla.

I met him as he was training Nalando, his 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood by Caritas, owned by Donna Dunbar, for the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio. Denizard has a team of trainers that help him periodically--Henk Van Bergen, Roel Theunissen and Marco Bernal. Nalando, got very sick coming back from Rio, and it took more than a year to bring him back into shape. Denizard told me, "It' a miracle that we can do this together. He has a strong personality."

Brazil is a country where dressage is "happening." They have eight CDIs scheduled for 2010. The three dressage riders who have qualified for the WEG were on the bronze-medal-winning team at the 2007 Pan American Games.

Luiza Tavares de Almeida rides Samba, a Lusitano imported from Portugal. Now 18, she was the youngest dressage rider at the 2008 Olympic Games and the first South American representative to compete in the FEI World Cup Dressage this year.

Rogelio da Silva Clementino qualified for the 2008 Olympics but, unfortunately, his horse didn't pass the vet exam. For the WEG, he is riding Portugal. Rogelio began in 2000 as a groom, cleaning stalls. When his boss, Victor Oliva--owner of Coudelaria Ihla Verde, a training facility in Sao Paulo--saw Rogelio's potential as a dressage rider, he offered him the possibility of developing his natural abilities. Rogelio accepted and has worked hard, winning Brazil's national championship in 2006. He is now in charge of training the young riders at Coudelaria and is an inspiration to many others.

Renata Costa Rabello trains with Leida Collins Strijk in Holland and competes in Europe with her Ludwig G, a 15-year-old bay Oldenburg. Also in the top pool of riders is Luisa y Rogelio, who works regularly with Brazil's official dressage trainer, Johan Zagers of Belgium.

The Dominican Republic's dressage star is Yvonne Losos de Muniz. Optimus Prime, her 16-year-old Austrian Warmblood gelding (by Lux), is her top Grand Prix horse. She and her husband, Eduardo Muniz, live in Santo Domingo. Yvonne has twice won the individual bronze medal at the 2003 and 2007 Pan American Games. She has worked with top trainers like Jeff Moore, Diederik Wigmans, Jean Bemelmans, Harry Boldt and Juan Matute. Brazilian Samira Uemura has been her assistant and "eyes on the ground" for more than two years.

Marco Bernal, a native of Colombia, won a Pan American team silver medal in 1999, and he placed 11th at the 2009 World Cup Final. Marco is one of the few Latin American graduates of the famous Warendorf school in Germany, where he lived for five years. When he returned to Colombia, he was appointed national team trainer. For the WEG, he is riding his own horse Halbgott, a 16.3-hand, 14-year-old Trakehner stallion, who he says is special and has given him a lot of satisfaction during the past six years. "He gives everything he can in the ring to obtain a good performance," Marco says.

Mexico's Bernardette Pujals (a native of Spain) has had the most FEI success of any Latin American rider in the last decade. For example, at the 2006 WEG, she was 10th individually. That result meant a lot to her, because as a teenager she went to Aachen to watch the CHIO and was so inspired that she decided she must become a rider for the rest of her life. In 2008, she was sixth at the Olympic Games in the Grand Prix Special. "That was the best feeling I have had in my sport life so far," she told me. And now she is going for the WEG in Kentucky where she has qualified with her 17-year-old Hanoverian stallion Vincent (by Weltmeyer). "My ex-husband and I bought him when he was not yet 3, and I'm very proud of what we have achieved. I would love to be competing around the world, but I center my energy in what I can do." Pamela Franco and her family own Vincent and have sponsored Pujals for the last six years. Her trainer is Jonny Hilberath.