It was not quite a foregone conclusion, but our man Steffen upheld his title as World Dressage Masters Palm Beach champion tonight in Florida, to the delight of a full house and online viewers around the world.
Freestyle night of the 2012 World Dressage Masters series season opener was sure to be packed –with people and with excitement, but even though the top two results were the same as yesterday’s Grand Prix, the night wasn’t without a few twists and turns.
It’s difficult to pick just a few adjectives to describe Steffen and Ravel, because all that come to mind apply. They simply mastered their freestyle, which Steffen said was the best he’d ever felt with Ravel.
“I’ve never done a better freestyle,” he said. “He just felt simply amazing. I wish I could keep this feeling for the next seven months. To hear the crowd’s appreciation is just amazing. I’m very excited.”
Two canter half passes, canter pirouettes, incredible reach in the trot half pass and riding the piaffe into the walk made all the dressage media people seated near me suck in their breath with appreciation. A horse and rider in any discipline would be hard pressed to match the partnership that these two have going on, and they were rewarded with an 83.700% to win the night.
Steffen went 5th out of 8 riders, and last night’s 2nd place finisher, 26 year old Charlotte Dujardin, went last in the order. She displayed an outstanding Grand Prix on Saturday, and when she entered the ring for the Freestyle, it felt like maybe, just maybe, anything was possible. This young British superstar won the GP Freestyle in December at the prestigious Olympia Horse Show in London, and is the proud owner of a European gold medal that she picked up over the summer. Those facts are jaw dropping when you take into account that she’s only been riding Grand Prix for one year, and her horse is 10 years old. Wow.
She scored 83.650% – a tiny but oh so significant half percent behind Steffen. It was a surprise for anyone to score even near Steffen, and the announcement of her score incited even more breath sucking from all around. Her horse Valegro is powerful and a great talent for Great Britain; and show organizers were over the moon that she brought him over to show in Palm Beach.
In the press conference she looked a bit on the serious side as she mulled over that fraction of a percentage, but my bet is that she’s going to be smiling all the way to London this summer, where the stage is being set for an epic showdown. Last night marked for the first time that the anticipation for this summer’s Olympics was palpable, and a mention of “you can’t forget Germany” caused murmurs of assent from the gathered crowd.
With her Lady Gaga music, snazzy helmet and flashy navy shadbelly, to her scary cool gallop to halt at C, I was a fan of Anja Plönzke’s ride and her style. Her horse La Mont d’Or pulled off a freestyle that was packed with a high level of difficulty.
Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén of Sweden pulled off an extravagant passage half pass in her freestyle, scoring 78.250% and landing in 3rd place. The other European celebrity Carl Hester was solid for 4th. Anja was 5th, and American Tina Conyot was 6th with Calecto.
It has to be noted that Calecto had some blood in his mouth during his freestyle, and was not rung out of the ring by stewards. When asked directly about this at the press conference, the response from the president of the ground jury was that no one had noticed the blood. Um, look at the photos guys, it’s there, and other than in the press conference there’s been no mention of it. Does a small amount of blood mean not warrant a mention? After the recently upheld FEI rule, I wouldn’t think so.
Audience numbers were close to 2,000 and with new, elevated bleachers Jim Brandon really packed them in. This spectator was intrigued by the announcement of a halftime show, but the air went out of that one fairly quickly . . . the random War Horse preview, smoke machine and laser show had rainbow unicorn jokes flying before the smoke had cleared from the ring.
All would have been forgiven if show management hadn’t forgotten to turn the middle two rows of lights back on after “halftime.” A fairly important ride followed the break, and as Steffen Peters rode into a ring that was not fully lit, the two-dozen photographers scattered about the perimeter silently raged. Sigh.
But, all’s well that ends well.Other than those hiccups (ok, perhaps in part because of them), the night was highly entertaining and Jim Brandon was a beautiful venue for top level dressage.
Steffen and Ravel are simply amazing (even in the dark), and even On the Line can’t help but drink the dressage Kool-Aid after watching them in person. With Steffen’s recent USEF Horseman of the Year honor, Steffen’s double gold at the Pan Ams, his and Ravel’s now two-time championship at the WDM, they are undoubtedly the Masters of dressage. They just keep getting better, and better. It’s hard to imagine how they could top themselves once again, but with Charlotte hot on their heels and a few big guns waiting for them over in Europe, it’s safe to say that Steffen will, incredibly, be stepping it up even more this year.
Bring on London!
World Dressage Masters Palm Beach Exquis Grand Prix Freestyle
1. Steffen Peters (USA) Ravel – 83.700%
2. Charlotte Dujardin (GBR) Valegro – 83.650%
3. Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén (SWE) Favourit – 78.250%
4. Carl Hester (GBR) Wie Atlantico – 74.850%
5. Anja Plönzke (GER) Le Mont d’Or – 74.800%
6. Tina Konyot (USA) Calecto V – 73.025%
7. Ashley Holzer (CAN) Breaking Dawn – 71.325%
8. Minna Telde (SWE) Deinhardt – 71.000%