Steffen Peters had an unusually busy night Saturday, April 28, during the Del Mar National Horse Show in California. He and his relatively new mount, Suppenkasper, laid down a 77.800 percent score to win the $5,000 G-2 Software FEI CDI-W* Grand Prix Freestyle. After finishing the victory lap on a clear new star in his San Diego, California, stable, the four-time Olympian returned to the Del Mar Arena on his celebrated partner, Legolas 92.
Six years after making his international debut at the same venue with wins in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle, the 16-year-old Westphalian gelding said goodbye to fans. But he still started his farewell with the “Hi, I’m Legolas!” intro to their familiar and fun musical medley of David Bowie, The Who and U2. And he was goofy to the last with a few antics between entering the arena and riding through A.
Owner Akiko Yamazaki explained that while she and Peters were searching for his next Team USA partner, they mapped out each of the then-9-year-old’s Grand Prix movements to see if a 75 score looked possible. The answer was “yes” and he surpassed that score many, many times in the course of a career that included nearly 50 CDI Grand Prix victories, team and individual gold at the 2015 Pan American Games and team bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Three USEF National Grand Prix titles are part of that resume, too, along with strong showings at the Aachen CDI5* and the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final.
It was their last outing together, at the 2016 Olympics, that Peters described as the highlight of their competitive time together. He recalled doing a Freestyle at Del Mar in the beginning of 2016 that was “an absolute disaster” and wondering whether Rio would even be an option, and if they got there, how would they do. Chef d’équipe Robert Dover provided unceasing encouragement as they continued on the road to Rio through the summer’s European portion of the selection and preparation process.
“This little boy shined at the right moment,” Peters said. Earning 79.393 in the Freestyle, 77.614 in the Grand Prix and 74.622 in the Special were huge contributions to the U.S. Team bronze and a fitting way to finish their partnership. After Rio, there was not much left to accomplish, yet Legolas was healthy, fit and sound. Yamazaki and Peters talked about what should come next and determined that he would be a perfect partner to take Steffen and Shannon Peters’ long-time assistant Dawn White-O’Connor into the next level of her career. So last year at Del Mar, it was White-O’Connor and Legolas taking several top ribbons. In their second-to-last show together, the new pair won the Grand Prix and Freestyle at the West Coast Dressage Festival at the CDI-W in Temecula in January.
“I was lucky to be a part of his career after the Olympics. This is bittersweet, but he has earned his retirement,” White-O’Connor said. “I think he’s been in an airplane more in six years than most people ever will be and he never missed a competition that he was entered in.”
Announcer Michael Moncrieff noted that retirement ceremonies should be joyful, not sad, and the Legolas team was very much on board with that. With her husband Jerry Yang and two daughters standing with Legolas’ posse, Four Winds Farm owner Yamazaki asked the crowd’s indulgence in reading a poem for her horse.
Lines including “Legolas, you took our breath away with your piaffe and passage and we held our breath for your changes,” and “You have the magnificent body of an ox and the heart of a delicate bird,” charmed the crowd. She concluded, “For the country you brought two medals—one team gold, one team bronze—and for yourself and Steffen, one individual gold. For us, you brought seven years of travel around the world and priceless memories. Thank you, Legolas!”
Legolas seemed to revel in the spotlight, pawing the air with his leg and alertly scanning the fans as his many accomplishments were detailed, Peters beaming all the while. Legolas’ biggest thrill, however, was the sight of Shannon driving into the arena with his “personal four-wheel vehicle,” a golf cart bearing a bucket of his favorite treats. On cue, he led Peters to the cart, lifted up the bucket’s lid with his nose and nipped into it.
Immediately following the ceremony, Peters led Legolas through the fairground’s festive public concourse to an elegantly draped and flower-adorned portable stall. A long line of admirers queued as an autograph table was set up beside the stall, where Legolas and FEI Groom of the Year Eddie Garcia supervised Peters signing autographs and spending special moments with fans.
A highlight among those arose when Hailey Sullivan, a fan and employee of nearby Mary’s Tack & Feed, presented Yamazaki and Peters with a beautiful drawing of Legolas, a surprise for both. It did not seem that Sullivan had plans for the 10 prints she made of the black and white drawing, but a spontaneous offer to buy them from Yamazaki was accepted, and they were then given to Legolas’ team members.
The autograph-signing was lengthy, fun and emotional for many, as befits the equine celebrity.
A New Chapter
Legolas’ retirement marked a new chapter in the powerhouse partnership of Peters and Yamazaki, whose Four Winds Farm has backed Peters’ career, the U.S. Dressage Team and the sport as a whole in a huge way.
Legolas burst onto the scene in 2012, one year before Peters’ two-time Olympic partner and 2009 World Cup Final champion Ravel took his own retirement bows in 2013, also at the Del Mar National. Legolas passes the baton to two capable candidates. Peters’ Freestyle star earlier that evening, Suppenkasper, is pacing Rosamunde, the winner of last year’s Del Mar Freestyle and this year’s Grand Prix. Peters was short-listed with both horses for the World Equestrian Games.
Suppenkasper is a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood brought along by Germany’s Helen Langehanenberg. Rosamunde is an 11-year-old Rheinlander. All are owned by Four Winds Farm.