With new qualification criteria, new leadership and a group of aggressive competitors, Canada is gunning for some podium time at the 2014 Alltech World Equestrian Games (WEG). Dressage Canada’s first step in reaching future goals was setting a higher standard for qualification to the WEG, scheduled for this August in Normandy, France.
The new criteria for the WEG requires four Grand Prix scores of at least 68 percent and averaging more than 70 percent. (The current criteria can be found at equinecanada.ca.)
The second step was to put together a support team that brings extensive international experience to the competitors: Desi Dillingham as special adviser, Victoria Winter as chef d’équipe and Dr. Volker Moritz as technical adviser.
An amazing force in helping Great Britain become a leading nation for dressage, Dillingham served as president of the British Horse Society from 2007 through 2011. In 2009, she was named Member of the British Empire by HRM Queen Elizabeth II for her contribution to British dressage. She chairs the British Equestrian Awards Committee of the Olympia Horse Show in London and the British Breeders Dinner and is a director of Horse and Country TV. She sponsored four-time dressage Olympian Jennie Loriston-Clark for 18 years and took on the fundraising for the British Olympic Equestrian Team as well.
Dillingham, originally from Canada, is looking forward to developing her home country into a dressage powerhouse: “I’m proud of my home country,” she says. “I’m here to build a team, not here to lead a team. My job is to bring everyone together and make a system that works. I’m trying to build a great international team that will thrive.”
Moritz trained horses to the Grand Prix level and judged for four decades. One of the world’s highest-rated dressage judges, he held FEI “O”-level credentials for 20 years before retiring in 2010 due to the FEI maximum age limit of 71. His judging resume includes three World Cup Finals, the 1998 and 2002 WEG and the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Additionally, he was a member of the ground jury of the prestigious CDIO Aachen competition for more than 30 years. Since retiring from judging, Moritz has stepped up in a coaching capacity, serving as the Belgian dressage team coach for the 2012 Olympic Games.
His role on Dillingham’s team of experts will include providing Canadian dressage team riders with technical support, advice and a judge’s interpretation of their scores during CDI-level competitions.
Winter groomed for Cindy Ishoy and Dynasty from 1986 to 1988, their finest hours at the international level that culminated with a team bronze at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. As a rider, Winter won individual and team bronze at the 1995 Pan American Games in Argentina and represented Canada as a member of the Canadian dressage team at the WEG in Rome (1998) and Kentucky (2010). In addition, she served as chef d’équipe of Canada’s dressage team for the 2003 Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic, where Canada won individual gold and team silver.
Winter is a partner with the Toronto-based law firm Beard Winter LLB and sits on the board of directors of the 2015 Pan American Games, to be held in Toronto. She has a 7-year-old daughter with husband Curt Harnett, a four-time silver- and bronze-medal-winning Olympian in track cycling for Canada.
The 2014 winter dressage season in Florida, which this year included the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, helped Canada build a strong foundation for international competitive success in Europe. Following strong performances throughout the Florida season, Canada has a number of rider/horse combinations in close contention for WEG selection. Three combinations in particular—Belinda Trussell with Anton, Megan Lane with Caravella and David Marcus with Chrevi’s Capital—have scores (at press time) that together average 69.776 percent, only 0.224 percentage points off the required WEG team average of 70 percent outlined in the criteria.
During a huge rain downpour at the London Olympic Games, Marcus and Chrevi’s Capital were eliminated when “Capi” spooked at a very close television camera. Marcus said that since then he has worked on developing a real partnership with the 14-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding and building his confidence in the international arena: “As the world knows, the London Olympics were not a good experience for him [Capi]. It’s taken a whole year to get his confidence back, and this winter season I’m most happy about his ability to go in the ring at night with thousands of spectators with total confidence and total relaxation. He’s a proven Grand Prix horse. He knows his job. He’s been consistently around 70 percent.”
Marcus continues: “This winter has been about helping him to peak in the fall for the WEG. I’m trying not to run him off his feet because I want to keep him a long time to find a way to keep his health and happiness while showing at many CDIs to meet the qualifications Canada requires. Prior to the Olympics, he needed to get into the ring at every single CDI in Florida, but now it’s about saving him for the fall.
“The great thing about coming to Florida is we have the best show venues in the world to prepare, just five minutes from where I train at Tuny Page’s Stillpoint Farm. Unfortunately, in Canada we don’t have that opportunity. We would love to have something similar in the summer, and we are looking toward building that. There are two really nice CDIs within an hour of my farm outside Toronto in June, which we [attended] prior to heading to Europe [this month] in preparation for WEG.”
For Trussell, the Florida season signaled the return of her horse Anton to the international arena after a serious injury that threatened his career. “Preparing for Florida was a complicated process,” she says. “Anton had a serious injury in 2011, and I did not know if he would ever be able to return to work or compete at the Grand Prix level again. It was a very slow and painful process bringing him back. I was hoping he would be able to compete at the London Olympics in 2012, and I felt at the time I would have had a very good chance of making the team because he had excellent results in Europe in 2011. But luck was not on my side, and Anton was not fit to compete in 2012.
“After trying to bring him back for the Olympics, I decided to turn him out in the paddock for six months and pray he might come back to work at some level someday. The process of bringing him back was very painful and slow. There were many days I really did not believe he would ever be able to be my top competition horse again. In the winter of 2012/2013, I stayed home, did not travel to Florida and started on his fitness. It was not until April of 2013 that I felt Anton could go out and compete at the Grand Prix level again.
“My plan was to compete with him nationally in Canada and slowly get him stronger and stronger. I did not want to go out and do CDIs that year since we had been off for so long. I needed to see how we did nationally and where we needed to improve. As the year went on, we did get stronger and stronger, and my plans went further to prepare for Florida and shoot for the WEG team.
“During the Florida season, Anton continued to get stronger each show, showing more expression and brilliance in the ring,” Trussell continues. “He is such an incredible horse. He loves to compete. Even if I have a mistake in my warm-up, I try not to worry about it too much because he always gives me 150 percent in the ring. He tries so hard and has such a huge heart. My goal for Florida was to get scores in the 70s and hopefully higher. Anton achieved everything I had planned and dreamed for in Florida. He was not only back after a 2 1/2-year injury break, he was better than ever, achieving personal-best scores. I am so blessed to have this horse in my life.”
Lane rides Caravella, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare. Together for more than five years, Lane trained the mare from a hunter/jumper into a Grand Prix dressage horse. She says of their partnership, “We have progressed together to the Grand Prix level. To grow, develop and experience this together almost on my own is somewhat of an advantage when it comes to the intensity that is called for at the top level of the sport. At the end of the day, it is great to have a strong partnership and knowingness from all of our experiences thus far. Going forward, I am taking it day by day and learning as much as I can about the process of making it to the WEG. I have high aspirations of making a mark for Canada at the Olympics, World Cups, Pan Ams, etc.”
Lane trains with Oded Shimoni during the Florida winter seasons and gained a huge amount of confidence during each of the CDIs at the Global Dressage Festival. She has trained several horses to Grand Prix on her own and continues to grow into an international superstar for Canada.
“I am very grateful to be where I am now, but it doesn’t come without a lot of support, hard work and focus,” she says. “It is thanks to this, combined with the love of my horses, that I have gotten to where I am today. I am confident that Canada will have at least a few equine assets for the teams in the near future.”
A fourth rider in contention, Karen Pavicic, with Don Daiquiri, headed to Europe following the Florida season to earn additional scores in the hope of making a place on the Canadian team for the 2014 WEG.
Additional combinations vying for a spot on the upcoming Canadian WEG team include Jacqueline Brooks and D Niro, Jill Irving with Pop Art and Degas 12, Diane Creech with Devon L, Tom Dvorak and Viva’s Salieri W, Gary Vander Ploeg with Degas and Evi Strasser with Renaissance Tyme.