Postcard: 2012 Dressage Festival of Champions

June 17, 2012 — They’ve announced the Olympic show jumping short list, Otto is off the Olympic nominated entries for dressage, there’s a new Brentina Cup winner and the national Intermediaire I champ has been crowned. Oh yeah, and Remington XXV has been added to the eventing Olympic short list, giving Boyd Martin three horses on tap. Who does he think he is, Phillip Dutton?

Obviously, it’s been quite a day for horse sports.

Let’s start with the jumpers. If you haven’t seen the list, the top five were pretty obvious. I picked them exactly, despite the rejection of my request to be on the selection committee.? Rich Fellers and Flexible are ranked number one; no surprise considering he was the first American to take the World Cup finals in 25 years and won four Olympic “observation events.”? Beezie Madden is ranked number two with Coral Reef Via Volo, while selection trials winner Reed Kessler, living the dream for so many teenagers, is number three at age 17 with Cylana, and number seven with Mika.

Rich Fellers and Flexible are number one for the Olympic show jumping team | ? 2012 by Nancy Jaffer

McLain Ward is fourth with Antares F after making a great recovery from a shattered kneecap. In the fifth (reserve) spot is Charlie Jayne with Chill RZ, who came up from a tie for 35th on the post-trials ranking list (he missed the trials because of a laceration).

Beezie made the list twice more, sixth with Simon and as second alternate with Cortes C. Laura Kraut is eighth with Cedric, who? looked as if he was struggling over those gaping oxers in the second observation event at Devon. After that, it’s Margie Engle and Indigo, followed by Kent Farrington and Uceko. There are a few others lower down in the mix, but I’ve got a lot to get to in this bulletin, and those were the key players.

Todd Flettrich dropped out of the Olympic race with Otto, who is retiring | ? 2012 by Nancy Jaffer

Back to dressage. Just a day after we thought we knew who was going to London from the dressage contingent, it all changed when Todd Flettrich decided to withdraw and retire the 16-year-old Otto, who was part of the fourth-place World Equestrian Games team two years ago. Todd was ranked fifth,? the alternate’s position. That meant he could spend a lot of time in England and not get to compete, since our team is three people, with an additional rider participating as an individual.

“I’ve been on the road a long time. We put our best foot forward. It must not have been meant to be,” said Todd, noting the odds were against him actually getting a chance to compete in the Games because (unlike three-day eventing) it was probable the horses ahead of him would stay in place.

He thought two weekends in a row? of trials for an older horse like Otto is difficult, but added, “I thought he looked great. It’s a disappointment, but not the end of the world.” Todd is hoping Otto can have a retirement ceremony, though no arrangements have been made yet.

Paragon and Heather Blitz are floating on air after getting the call-up for the Olympic nominated entries list | ? 2012 by Nancy Jaffer

Ironically, his place will be taken by Heather Blitz, Otto’s former rider. She placed sixth in the trials with the 18-hand Paragon, the team gold and individual silver medal winner at last year’s Pan American Games, where he competed at small tour level.? Moving up to Grand Prix this year, he has come a long way since the World Dressage Masters in January. The leggy chestnut is more confirmed in piaffe, and he seemed increasingly comfortable with his task as the trials went on.

Some on the sidelines wonder if it’s too soon for Paragon to make such a big step, but Heather is excited and said, “I’m thrilled to take the spot. It’s an opportunity for him to go, but have less pressure” than if he were on the team.

It’s a difficult position in some ways, she said, “because I sort of have one foot in the door and one not. I’m trying to prepare for that and be ready for anything; either if they say, `Goodbye, go home, we’re going to the Olympics without you’ or if they? say, `We need you now, get ready’ and you have to be on. I have to make a plan to be ready for both. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

And we thought we wouldn’t have any Grand Prix drama today at the Dressage Festival of Champions, since the final competition in that division was yesterday…

Caroline Roffman, Intermediaire I National Champion leads the victory pass on Pie, followed by reserve champion David Blake on Royal Prinz and Heather Mason aboard Warsteiner | ? 2012 by Nancy Jaffer

As I’ve told you before, there wasn’t a musical freestyle in the Grand Prix because it was felt that two Grands Prix and two Grand Prix Specials over two weekends was enough for the horses. So those who wanted to watch dressage to music at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation headquarters today had to be content with the Intermediaire I freestyle. Caroline Roffman was on track to win the division’s national championship in the division on Pie even before her Britney Spears/Katy Perry combo music began playing, since the Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I, both of which she won earlier in the week, counted 45 percent and 40 percent respectively, while the freestyle was worth only 15 percent.

It was just her second freestyle with Pie, who had a bad night when fireworks on the golf club property that adjoins the team stables frightened him. She got to the tent stalls after receiving a phone call telling her that his front legs were over the door.

“He was leaving the building,” she said. “He got himself down. We can’t medicate; what can you do? Experience with fireworks is not something we train for.”

Pie wound up third on 73.925 percent, not the best effort for Caroline, a professional from Florida. But she handled it.

“He was better than I was today,” she said. “How can I be upset?” That’s especially true since she had such a lead from the other classes that her national championship was not in danger.? “I figured if I finished decently, I had a prayer,” she said. Pie has come a long way since she got him.

“You couldn’t stop him,” she recalled, noting she had to ride in an indoor ring if she didn’t want to wind up in the next county. But she stuck with him because he had a soft, kind eye, and that method of judging horseflesh paid off for her.

The reserve national champion, David Blake, was second in the freestyle on the stallion Royal Prinz, dancing to a rock opera for a score of 75.225 percent. David, who operates out of Steffen Peters’ farm in California, said the fireworks didn’t bother his horse, noting a bomb could go off next to him and he wouldn’t be fazed.

Heather Mason, who lives just a few minutes from the USET, ended Warsteiner’s time in the small tour with a victory in the freestyle, scoring a career best of 75.750. The Dutchbred chestnut now will go on to Grand Prix.

Overall, Roffman earned a commanding 74.535 percent for the three classes, with Blake on 72.353 percent.

Brentina Cup winner Brian Hafner with Mary Cameron Rollins (left), who was third and runner-up Heather Ann Beachem | ? 2012 by Nancy Jaffer

The Brentina Cup, co-featured today, is designed to help riders make the step from the youth ranks to the professional level.

Brian Hafner, a Californian who rode Lombardo LHF to victory in both of the division’s classes, noted the Cup is vital because “right now, there’s really no competition for young Grand Prix riders.”

While the Brentina Cup horses are talented, “it’s just a different level” compared to the entries in the selection trials,? he pointed out. Brian’s overall score was 70.264 percent on the horse he bought as a youngster and brought along himself.? See, Stephen Colbert, you CAN do dressage on a budget.

While he doesn’t think Lombardo ever will make an Olympic team, Brian would like to ride him as a representative of the U.S., perhaps in the World Cup finals. Second went to Heather Ann Beachem of Georgia on Windsong (68.866) while Mary Cameron Rollins was third on Rose Noir 2 (68.374).

Both Heather and Mary had doubts about making it to the Cup; Heather because her horse is for sale and Mary because her mare suffered from allergies earlier in the year. But persistence pays off, and it was nice to see how joyful they were about taking part in the most important competition for their age group.

Mary, another Floridian, was wearing a stunning pinstriped gray shadbelly with a pink collar and vest points, to match her post-ride pink baseball cap with “ShowChic” written on it in rhinestones. ShowChic is where she got the outfit, and Mary isn’t alone in her stylish turnout as dressage goes beyond black and a little bling on spurs. Colors have become a big deal.? Caroline was wearing a blue shadbelly, with collar, points and pocket handkerchief edged in rhinestones, to match the top of her boots.

Shawna Harding turned heads in a blue shadbelly edged with red piping. Young Rider champion Brandi Roenick, who gave a musical freestyle exhibition on Weltino’s Magic, was in a black coat with brown collar and trim that she designed herself. (Magic was Steffen Peters’ double-gold medal horse at the Pan Am Games. Brandi is taking him to the North American Junior and Young Riders Championship next month.)

I asked Caroline where she thought the sport’s fashion forward movement is going.

“Dressage is the most reserved of the equestrian disciplines,” she commented. “I think? in Europe you’re seeing a lot more trends happening. You see Edward (Gal, of the Netherlands) with a gray jacket. I think I was waiting for that my whole life, for someone to finally do that.” She recalled that at one time, “It was brave to have a navy jacket. Why not bright blue or brown? It’s a little fun.”

While we’re on that subject, I always like to tell the story of the way Reiner Klimke reacted when I approached him at the 1996 Olympics and asked how he felt about Robert Dover’s suggestion that dressage riders loosen up a little and wear something besides black.

Reiner, Germany’s multi-gold medalist and a towering figure in the sport, fixed me with a derisive stare and stated firmly: “This Is Not Circus!” Luckily, he isn’t around to see what’s going on today. And guess what? It isn’t circus, but it’s fun.

I don’t think you’ll be hearing from me again until next month, when I’m in London giving you daily reports from the Olympics. After having watched so many selection trials, I’ll be very interested to see how it all comes out. I know you will be too, so check Equisearch every day during the Games.

Until then,

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