The Road To Tryon

Aachen gives U.S. dres­sage fans an idea of what they might see head­ing into the World Equestrian Games.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Nancy Jaf­fer

Aachen re­sults give U.S. dres­sage fans an idea of what they might see head­ing into the World Equestrian Games

For nearly two years, the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) has been beck­on­ing on the hori­zon, slowly shin­ing brighter as the mo­ment draws near for the com­pi­la­tion of eight world cham­pi­onships at the Tryon In­ter­na­tional Equestrian Cen­ter (TIEC) in North Carolina. By this time, how­ever, WEG has be­come all-con­sum­ing for those in­volved. On Sept. 3, the U.S. dres­sage team mem­bers will head for their train­ing camp, a half-hour from TIEC, where “ev­ery minute of ev­ery day be­tween now and the time when they go down cen­ter­line is planned,” ac­cord­ing to USEF Tech­ni­cal Ad­vi­sor Robert Dover. “We’re pre­par­ing for ev­ery even­tu­al­ity,” he said. “No stone will be left un­turned.”

In ad­di­tion to work­ing with their horses at the camp, team mem­bers will visit the WEG fa­cil­ity on foot to get fa­mil­iar with it. Even those who com­peted in the test event there ear­lier this year likely will find them­selves on a learn­ing curve. As USEF Di­rec­tor of Sport Will Con­nell puts it, “This is not the Tryon you know. There’s go­ing to be a com­pletely dif­fer­ent over­lay.”

Although par­tic­i­pants will be dealt with at a sep­a­rate level from the gen­eral public, se­cu­rity is a con­cern dur­ing what the FEI projects will be the coun­try’s largest sport­ing event of 2018. The ca­sual at­mos­phere that usu­ally pre­vails at the care­fully or­ga­nized site, nes­tled close to the Blue Ridge Moun­tains, is go­ing to have a unique vibe with 1,000 ath­letes, 1,500 horses and 500,000 spec­ta­tors ex­pected.

Michael Stone, the for­mer FEI sec­re­tary-gen­eral who is the Tryon WEG’s pres­i­dent and sports di­rec­tor, has seen and been in­volved in a good num­ber of WEGs over the years. The con­cept kicked off in Stock­holm, Swe­den, in 1990, and has been held once ev­ery four years since. Tryon is the sec­ond WEG venue in the U.S. The first was the Ken­tucky Horse Park in 2010.

At this WEG, Stone says, “The big­gest dif­fer­ence is the scale of it. The num­bers are enor­mous. The sport is more pop­u­lar than it was [in 2010]. The num­bers for all the dis­ci­plines are in­creas­ing— a lot more lo­gis­tics are in­volved.” WEG will be the last cham­pi­onship for Dover, who guided the team to Olympic bronze in Rio two years ago and is work­ing non­stop be­fore head­ing to re­tire­ment later this au­tumn. The six-time Olympian was burst­ing with pride af­ter the sum­mer Euro­pean tour of the USA’s short-listed dres­sage

rid­ers. It pro­vided not only prepa­ra­tion for the ath­letes—hu­man and equine—but also brought the pic­ture into sharper fo­cus with a chance to eval­u­ate which coun­tries and rid­ers may be medal con­tenders for the Sept. 11–23 WEG dres­sage com­pe­ti­tion.

The seven Amer­i­cans who went abroad all dis­tin­guished them­selves—not just the likely team mem­bers but also oth­ers who could pro­vide back-up and gain ex­pe­ri­ence in the process as they look to­ward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The top six na­tions in the WEG will qual­ify for Tokyo, which is a goal for the U.S., but the strength of the Amer­i­can pro­gram means medals should be in the cards as well. This looks like the all-time high point for Amer­i­can dres­sage, at a mo­ment when the com­pet­i­tive stan­dard for sev­eral other na­tions is also at its peak. Af­ter shows in Rot­ter­dam, The Nether­lands, and Leude­lange, in Lux­em­bourg, the Aachen, Ger­many, fix­ture in July pro­vided the truest test for the type of met­tle it will take to do well at WEG. Aachen is re­garded by many as the world’s great­est show, and while some other dis­ci­plines may cite a dif­fer­ent fa­vorite, it cer­tainly fills that bill for dres­sage. Many of the top rid­ers and horses were there, with the U.S. com­ing close to a gold medal.

It was likely that the Aachen squad of Laura Graves (Ver­dades), Kasey Per­ryGlass (Go­erklint­gaard’s Dublet), Adri­enne Lyle (Salvino) and St­ef­fen Pe­ters (Rosamunde) would be the WEG team, which had not been named at press time.

In the first com­pe­ti­tion at Aachen, the Grand Prix, Laura Graves—ranked No. 2 in the world—won with 80.606 per­cent, while world No. 1, Is­abell Werth of Ger­many, fin­ished a mind-bog­gling 17th aboard Emilio. While Dover is fond of say­ing that “the sand­box [arena] is the same in Aachen or Lux­em­bourg” (fill in the blanks with Welling­ton, Rot­ter­dam or some other show if you like), the game still can go awry in many ways. Emilio, for in­stance, just wasn’t play­ing for Werth in the Grand Prix, where the U.S. squad wound up in first place, 2.19 points ahead of Ger­many af­ter that com­pe­ti­tion. The Aachen team medals, how­ever, weren’t awarded un­til af­ter the Grand Prix Spe­cial two days later, when it was Graves who had sev­eral “That’s horses!” mo­ments af­ter Ver­dades was spooked by

a video cam­era on the move.

Dis­cussing the Ger­mans, Dover noted, “On that first day, they did not have as much luck as we did.” The sec­ond day, it went the other way for the U.S. Had the for­mat been the same as it will be for the WEG, with teams step­ping up on the podium af­ter the Grand Prix, “We would have had gold medals hang­ing around our rid­ers’ necks,” he pointed out. In­stead, the Dutta Corp. U.S. Dres­sage Team had to set­tle for sil­ver.

But the sil­ver had a sil­ver lin­ing in the break­through per­for­mances of Perry-Glass and her 15-year-old Dan­ish Warm­blood geld­ing. She is a ris­ing star and her score of 78.787 per­cent in the Spe­cial was an ac­knowl­edg­ment by the judges of her horse’s abil­ity. How did he show it off? “It is just a mat­ter of putting it all to­gether and re­ally go­ing for it,” said Perry-Glass, who was third be­hind Werth, back on top again with Emilio, and an­other Ger­man rider, He­len Lange­ha­nen­berg on an Amer­i­can-owned horse, Dam­sey FRH.

In the Freestyle be­fore a packed Deutsche Bank Sta­dium, Perry-Glass was again the high­est fin­isher for the USA, sec­ond to Werth (87.625) with a per­sonal best of 85.205 per­cent, as two judges had her first in the tech­ni­cal marks. She also broke 90 per­cent twice in the artis­tic scores.

Dublet rested fol­low­ing Aachen in 2017 un­til late March this year, and the time off from the arena stress ob­vi­ously had done him good. Af­ter her ride, a thrilled Perry-Glass said, “I just felt like he was very with me and re­ally wanted to show that he’s up there with the top horses.”

Graves was third as Ver­dades got over be­ing “cam­era shy,” and while her score of 85.085 was nearly four points off her sec­ond-place fin­ish to Werth and Wei­he­gold OLD at the April FEI World Cup Fi­nal, it still was a very healthy score, demon­strat­ing her mount was back on track. Lyle, the other U.S. rider in the Freestyle, was 10th on Salvino with 78.920.

So Dover ended Aachen with a smile, say­ing he would be happy for “one more week like it or bet­ter” at the WEG.

Oth­ers who dis­tin­guished them­selves at Aachen in­cluded Shelly Fran­cis, win­ner of the four-star Freestyle on Danilo; Olivia Lagoy-Weltz, third in that Freestyle with Lonoir, and Pe­ters, who rode Sup­penkasper to fourth place in the four-star Grand Prix Spe­cial. An­other short-listed rider, Ash­ley Holzer, made her mark in Europe by com­ing in sec­ond at Lux­em­bourg in the Grand Prix on Ha­vanna.

“The horse­flesh is just su­perb on this team, and the rid­ing is what we can call a true Amer­i­can style of rid­ing that has been a trend now since the mid- to late’80s,” Dover en­thused.

Re­call­ing the big names of the past, he noted, “We’ve seen so many lovely rid­ers, and now this whole group of rid­ers is just won­der­ful. They have an el­e­gant sym­pa­thy and a grace with their horses, and also off their horses.”

Asked for a quick as­sess­ment of each

rider on the Aachen team, Dover said, “Laura is a star with Ver­dades and she has proven she can beat the No. 1 in the world in both the Grand Prix and Spe­cial. Adri­enne is one of the great­est rid­ers and peo­ple I’ve ever had the priv­i­lege of know­ing and work­ing with. She is just mag­nif­i­cent on this beau­ti­ful stal­lion. Kasey is one of our younger ath­letes, but she is more ma­ture now than ever and has a great sense of what she’s do­ing. St­ef­fen, it goes with­out say­ing, is one of the top rid­ers in any arena in the world. When you have St­ef­fen on a team, it’s a plus be­cause he has that ring savvy.”

Of the other short-listed rid­ers, Dover called Fran­cis “one of our most ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers on beau­ti­ful, beau­ti­ful Danilo,” and he was thrilled at her Freestyle vic­tory. “It makes me so happy that Ash­ley [for­merly a Cana­dian team rider] is with the Amer­i­can team. Not only is she a great trainer and rider, but she is also a su­per coach and an as­set to any team. Olivia is one of the most el­e­gant rid­ers. She has an ex­quis­ite leg po­si­tion and is very sen­si­tive.”

Although the three Euro­pean shows of­fered head-to-head com­pe­ti­tion with most ma­jor ri­vals for the podium, there was no de­fin­i­tive way to set the medal odds for the WEG due to sev­eral fac­tors. For in­stance, the Nether­lands’ star, Ed­ward Gal—who won at Rot­ter­dam with Glock’s Zonik—was not part of the fourth-place Dutch team at Aachen. Great Bri­tain’s strong­est pairs, Charlotte Du­jardin on her new ride, Mount St. John Freestyle (also known as “Mrs. Vale­gro”) and her men­tor, Carl Hester, with Hawtins Del­i­cato, did not ap­pear at any of the shows U.S. rid­ers con­tested.

While Hester, the ar­chi­tect of Bri­tain’s gold-medal sweep at the 2012 Olympics, is think­ing pos­i­tive for his side, say­ing, “Ev­ery­one’s got their mojo back,” he notes that the WEG may be “early” for young horses like his and Du­jardin’s, since they are both 9-year-olds. Mount St. John Freestyle is un­de­feated at Grand Prix, but as of mid-July had com­peted out­side Bri­tain only once.

At the same time, Hester men­tioned the fact that when Bri­tain did not get a medal at a cham­pi­onship (the 2017 Euro­peans) for the first time in eight years, it “gives you a bit of a kick again.” Mean­while, man­age­ment changes pose a chal­lenge for the Bri­tish ef­fort. But as Hester pointed out, when Con­nell left as Bri­tain’s equestrian per­for­mance di­rec­tor in 2014 to take the U.S. job, “That’s the best thing that ever hap­pened to you [the U.S.]. It’s a no-non­sense, straight­for­ward ap­proach—‘This is how we do it, this is what your ex­pec­ta­tion should be.’ This is how we be­came suc­cess­ful.”

Dover has watched videos of re­cent per­for­mances by Hester’s and Du­jardin’s horses and feels he can make an as­sess­ment from them. “I think they cer­tainly are con­tenders for a medal, that I will say,” mused Dover. “But I look at Ger­many as our big­gest com­peti­tor. Ger­many is a su­per­power.”

Ger­many has enor­mous depth. At Aachen, Werth was with­out Wei­he­gold, the mare on which she is ranked No. 1 in the world among horse–rider pair­ings. That horse al­ready had proven her­self as a team mount; Emilio was au­di­tion­ing for his role. The Ger­mans also man­aged to win the team com­pe­ti­tion with­out the world No. 5 pow­er­house com­bi­na­tion of Sonke Rothen­berger and Cosmo, who had an in­fec­tion and is ex­pected to be back for the WEG.

There is a real pos­si­bil­ity that the U.S. can clinch the sil­ver, as it did at the 2002 WEG in Jerez, Spain. Deb­bie McDon­ald, who trains Graves, Perry-Glass, Lyle and Lagoy-Weltz, was the lead­ing rider on that team with Brentina. McDon­ald takes over as U.S. tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor af­ter Dover departs and is on hand at the com­pe­ti­tions, help­ing pre­pare her rid­ers.

In the WEG con­test for the in­di­vid­ual medals that will be awarded in the Spe­cial and the Freestyle, Den­mark, third in the team stand­ings at Aachen and def­i­nitely a team-medal con­tender at the WEG, has a star in the combo of Cathrine Du­four and At­terup­gaard’s Cas­sidy, ranked fourth in the world. That pair­ing was the over­all dres­sage cham­pion of Aachen for points earned in the five-star Grand Prix, Spe­cial and Freestyle. Du­four was just 0.025 per­cent ahead of Perry-Glass and 1.042 in front of Graves, who was third, 0.507 bet­ter than Werth, who is the fa­vorite for gold at the WEG.

Although any­thing can hap­pen (the cases in point are Emilio in the Grand Prix and Ver­dades in the Spe­cial) Dover is “cau­tiously op­ti­mistic” about the team’s chances, not­ing that go­ing to Aachen, a WEG or an Olympics is sort of like watch­ing the cur­tain rise for a play. “You watch it play out: Some­times things take a turn, some­one for­gets their lines, one prop doesn’t work. I have been on each kind of a team, where things just worked and things are so fab­u­lous. I’ve also been on these teams where we were fourth, when it al­most has been there and just didn’t play out per­fectly.”

The U.S. gets an ex­tra boost from the group sup­port­ing the rid­ers, whether it’s the vet­eri­nar­i­ans, phys­ios, grooms or man­agers. “You can hear other teams talk about Amer­ica with a cer­tain re­spect and maybe a pang of jeal­ousy over what we give and what our ath­letes have. I don’t think there is a team that comes close to what we de­liver to our ath­letes as we travel,” said Dover.

I look at Ger­many as our big­gest com­peti­tor. Ger­many is a su­per­power. —Robert Dover

At Aachen in July, U.S. rider Kasey Perry-Glass had break­through per­for­mances with her Dan­ish Warm­blood geld­ing, Go­erklint­gaard’s Dublet.

The Tryon In­ter­na­tional Equestrian Cen­ter—site of the WEG—is nes­tled close to the Blue Ridge Moun­tains in North Carolina.

U.S. rider Laura Graves had her hands full when Ver­dades spooked at a video cam­era at Aachen. But he was on point the next day.

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