2015 Dutta Corp./USEF Festival of Champions Top Riders on Their Wins

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Monday, December 14, 2015

Shelly Francis, Laura Graves and Steffen Peters - Top three at the Dutta Corp/USEF Festival of Champions Photo: Betsy LaBelle

The 2015 Dutta Corp/USEF Festival of Champions took place this past week at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival Showgrounds. Held late this year, though the competition was the National Championships, it provided one last opportunity for riders and their horses to work out any last-minute “kinks” in preparation for the upcoming winter season.

As a stage to also show the intrinsic value of compassionate communication between horse and rider as well as an opportunity to promote camaraderie within the sport, top level champions Laura Graves, Steffen Peters and Shelly Francis performed superbly throughout the 7-minute tests of Wednesday’s Grand Prix test, Thursday’s Grand Prix Special Test, and Saturday evening’s Grand Prix Freestyle.

Receptive to judges’ evaluations and recommendations, these high performance riders continue to work toward being chosen for the four coveted USA Dressage Team slots of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as they prepare for the CDI Olympic Qualifying Schedule starting January 13th and lasting for 12 weeks (7 CDIs) to the CDIO Nations Cup at the beginning of April (the California group will have 6 CDIs on the West Coast to qualify for the team). And there are two North American slots available for April's World Cup in Sweden. 

Laura Graves and Verdades “Diddy”

Laura Graves and 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Verdades (Florett x Goya) were on fire for both the Grand Prix Test and the Grand Prix Special, and Diddy clearly looked fresh and ready to tackle the task at hand in perfect harmony with his rider. Residing three hours north of Wellington, Florida just northwest of Orlando in Plymouth, Laura has been working on an interval training program.Laura Graves and Verdades "Diddy" Photo: Betsy LaBelle

Confident that her horse knows all the movements, along with the bond they share, Laura clearly knows how to make getting fit fun for him. “I wanted to make sure we came into these Championships very fit. We tried to do cavallettis once a week with a nice long, big trot. This summer when it was really hot and because I knew ring work would be a struggle, I set my timer and we went into a big field. For a week-and-a-half, all we did was interval training. We went to an Elite Athlete Clinic and he was ready to show. That really paid off big time.”

Continuing, she explained, “He felt fresh, just the way I like him. All I had to do was keep up because there were some old habits of mine that were coming back. I really want the exact same horse in the show arena that I have in the warm-up. I just have to retrain my body a little bit, but I’m very happy. “

When talking about competing, Laura said, “It takes a lot of forethought. And, every time I think I have it figured out, my horse has changed a little bit. I’ve learned that it’s about making the right changes in the moment. It’s such a learning curve.”

The pair placed first in the Grand Prix Test and scored a 74.460%, a 77.137% in the Grand Prix Special and a second in the Freestyle with a 75.125%, enough to take the lead and win the National Championship for the first time.  Laura shared, “To win my first National Championship reminds me that I’ve never been in this position. It’s a real honor. I’m still on a very sharp learning curve, and it’s our first outing in a while. So, it’s a perfect opportunity to figure everything out going into the World Cup qualifiers.”

Steffen Peters and Rosamunde “Rosie” and Legolas 92

Steffen continues to show that he can take these two young horses and prepare them with the utmost confidence and clarity for the international stage. As one of the best riders in the world, it is simply breathtaking to watch as he develops 8-year-old Rhinelander mare Rosamunde (Rock Forever x Fidermark). For the first time ever, Rosamunde beat his 13-year-old Westfalen gelding Legolas 92 (Laomedon x Florestan II) in the Grand Prix Special.Steffen Peters and Rosemunde "Rosie" Photo: Betsy LaBelle

“For an eight-year-old horse,” said Steffen after the Festival, “the Grand Prix Special was the best test Rosamunde has done so far. She was absolutely fantastic. For me, the highlight is always how awesome our connection is. She’s my baby and that’s how I treat her. It’s hard for me to push her.  I may have the chance to push for more in the spring if we go to Europe by saying, 'Hey Rosie, let’s go.' The fun factor, though, is how willingly she tries moving through all the tests.”

Even though Legolas is considered to be one of the greatest of all U.S. team horses, Rosie is beginning to get an edge on him and will also develop into a world class superstar. “Some days when I was at home, I clearly had the feeling that Rosie was better than Legolas, but you take each and every day and appreciate it. They’re both so outstanding. I’m thrilled that the judges saw it and rewarded Rosie with such a nice score.”

In the Grand Prix Test Wednesday, Steffen and Legolas 92 placed second with a 74.220% and third with Rosamunde 72.620%, in Thursday’s Grand Prix Special, Rosie placed second with a score 74.549% and Legolas 92 placed third with a 72.412%. On Saturday evening, Legolas won the test with a 77.675%, and Rosie placed third with a 74.950%.

Only Rosie’s second freestyle in her life, she took the atmosphere at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival showgrounds like it was absolutely no big deal. Riding to the freestyle music he competed dressage star Ravel, Steffen said, “I asked Akiko if Ravel would be okay with that, and she said if I could ride it like I rode Ravel, then I could use it.” Usually it takes an entire season before a horse is confident in that atmosphere. Steffen stated proudly, “Tonight was Rosie’s second freestyle in her life. That she deals with this atmosphere without any problems was extremely exciting, almost remarkable.”

Asked about his plans, Steffen said, “It’s going to be a long year. Historically speaking, when it was an Olympic year, we did not do the World Cup. But that is a decision Akiko, Robert, Shannon and I will have to make.”

Shelly Francis and Doktor, Danilo and Rubinio

Placing fourth and fifth on her two horses, Shelly has proven her strengths in these Championships with Doktor and Danilo in the Grand Prix and with Rubinio in the small tour. Owned by Patricia Stempel, the three horses are clearly up-and-coming powerhouses for the U.S. Team. “It’s our first show,” said Shelly, “I knew all of them are not completely fit enough for this, but we’re very happy with how we all did.”Shelly Francis and Rubinio Photo: Betsy LaBelle

Shelly’s Small Tour horse Rubinio qualified with only three times out during last Florida’s winter dressage season before she left for a very successful European Tour, “Rubino’s an overachiever and we had a few problems in the three tempi changes. He wanted to do the two tempis, instead. He’s a really good boy and we’re gearing up for the Grand Prix during the upcoming season.” 

During the press conference, two European judges congratulated Shelly on the training of her third and upcoming horse, Rubinio. It was the first time they had seen him and it was clearly a thoughtful gesture at seeing Shelly’s proud, bright smile. 

Asked how she trains in preparing the three horses for the upcoming season, she said, “I work my horses 3 or 4 days a week in the ring, one day a week they all get worked in a neighbors big field, another day a week they all go out for a long hack, and then they all get one day completely off. Every single morning they go out in their paddocks.  And many days, I'll take them out of their stalls a second time for a short walk. They get fit with this program. It’s great.”

“I’m going to do 3 or 4 CDIs with each of the two Grand Prix horses. I won’t take them to all 7. That’s a little overkill. I will see where I am in the standings and hope I make the top eight and maybe I can go to Europe. I will take the younger one along because I need to keep training him.”

About 9-year-old Rubinio, Shelly said, “There are many young Grand Prix classes they have in Europe. Then, next year I will start the CDIs, when he will be turning 11. He needs a little more time. He’s bigger, but, he’s coming along really quickly.”

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