Anything can happen in horse sports, but it’s less likely in Olympic dressage, where competitors perform well-rehearsed movements on which they have been judged at many other venues.
The consistency of results dictates who the favorites will be for the Olympics: The British, who made the record books by taking their first championships gold in the discipline during last summer’s European Championships; the Germans, hoping for a move up with the addition of former Dutch star Totilas; and the Dutch, with world number one Adelinde Cornelissen on Parzival.
If all the horses stay healthy (and that’s quite an assumption) that triumvirate likely will account for the medals in London (where the British have even more incentive to win on their home turf). The most likely scenario is that the U.S. will battle for fourth with several other countries-Sweden, Spain and Denmark.
The American charge will be led by Steffen Peters and Ravel, looking for an individual medal after being edged out-some say unfairly- at the last Olympics in Hong Kong, where they finished fourth. He also has an excellent back-up in the new National Grand Prix Champion, Legolas.
Steffen is the highest-ranked U.S. rider on the world lists. Those joining him on the team are 2010 World Equestrian Games veterans Tina Konyot and the powerful stallion Calecto V, second in the Grand Prix Special at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby and Olympic trials.
Despite the pressure of publicity during the Presidential campaign surrounding Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, one of Rafalca’s owners, the mare outdid herself and made the team with longtime rider/trainer Jan Ebeling aboard.
Adrienne Lyle, winner of the 2011 Dressage at Devon freestyle with Wizard and Adrienne, and the protege of longtime team standard bearer Debbie McDonald,will be riding as an individual. Teams have only three riders, which means no drop scores and more pressure, but Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain and the U.S. all are getting extra riders who can compete for the individual medals. Adrienne, only 27, acquitted herself well in her first Olympic trials to get the nod as an individual rider. She logged more experience in Florida last winter, where she won the Grand Prix Special at the World Dressage Masters, but her trip to London should add even more polish to a partnership that has great things ahead of them.
Pan American Games team gold and individual silver medalist Heather Blitz who moved her dynamic Paragon up to Grand Prix after the Pan Ams, is an alternate.
A big problem is lack of depth at the highest level, which has long plagued the U.S. dressage effort, even as it has achieved great success over the years when the right riders and horses were in form.
“When we are looking around to fill a team, we have exactly the minimum amount of riders and maybe we can scrape up one or two more. Then if we lose one of those, it’s usually all over,” technical advisor Anne Gribbons has observed.
One more factor in the team medal fray that could affect the outcome is the addition of the Grand Prix Special to the equation for team medals. Previously, only the Grand Prix counted in that regard. The new formula requires nations to stay on track for two competitions, not just one, leaving the door open for slip-ups that could affect the favorites.
Award-winning photojournalist and author Nancy Jaffer is covering her ninth Olympic Games. One of the most respected writers on the Olympic disciplines of dressage, show jumping and eventing, she has attended all the World Equestrian Games ever held, as well as numerous major competitions around the world. A lifelong rider, she keeps busy with her own horses when she’s not working.