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Barisone Makes Right Choice with Neruda at Exquis World Dressage Masters in Palm Beach

WELLINGTON, Fla., Jan. 31--The Exquis World Dressage Masters finale showcased the world's best dressage riders under the lights in the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Club on Saturday night. The temperature was unseasonably low but the quality of dressage was seriously high.

The reigning Olympic Champion, Anky van Grunsven, lived dangerously in the Grand Prix on Friday, she only qualified for the Freestyle when the USA's Michael Barisone opted for the Grand Prix Special. IPS Painted Black was uncooperative throughout the Grand Prix and van Grunsven made two errors of course, but, in the freestyle, those mistakes were a thing of the past. The Dutch rider showcased all of her experience and all of the quality of IPS Painted Black and he delivered when the stakes were high--their score of 79.6 percent meant the Dutch rider took home a lucrative reward of more than $21,000.

"He was fine," van Grunsven said of her ride under the lights on the Dutch stallion. "Yesterday I was really surprised he was so spooky. Today I was really happy with him. Last weekend he was maybe a bit more flashy, but with the trip and the weather I can only be very, very happy with how he was today. He tried and no mistakes... Our confidence was back again."

America's hopes were high when Steffen Peters, who convincingly won the Grand Prix on Friday, went to task with his incredibly difficult freestyle with Ravel. The 12-year-old Dutch gelding always tries but two mistakes early in the test made it an uphill climb for his San Diego rider.

It wasn't enough, Ravel and Peters ended up third on a score of 76.6 percent. They took home more than $11,000 for their effort in the freestyle.

"He was a little fresh in the warm-up," said Peters. "So in the first piaffe, I maybe went into it a little bit too passively and he took a walk step, when I corrected him he said, 'That's not a good idea'. I was very, very happy with the last two piaffes. There were wonderful moments in the test but the big mistakes were evident."

Ravel, who is owned by Akiko Yamazaki, was unsettled in the first piaffe, throwing his head up briefly and made a mistake in the beginning of the canter work, but he improved throughout the difficult test and by the end was really sparkling.

"We were very sorry for Steffen because it was a wonderful ride except for a couple of small resistances," said Great Britain's Stephen Clarke, who was president of the Ground Jury.

"The bottom line is every single horse gets a little smart in the arena," said Peters. "He's been so consistent and so honest this took me a little bit by surprise. At the end of the day they're just horses and we're humans and these things do happen."

Hans-Peter Minderhoud, who was a teammate of van Grunsven's in Hong Kong--where the Dutch team won silver--slipped ahead of Peters with a crowd-pleasing performance on Exquis Escapado.

"The last six months he's improved a lot," said Minderhoud of the 16-year-old veteran. "Today he did his best freestyle ever."

The second U.S. rider in the Freestyle was Jane Hannigan and Maksymillian who ended up eighth. The top riders got to chose if they wanted to ride in the Freestyle or the special. All the riders in the freestyle finished above 70 percent, a testament to the level of dressage.


Michael Barisone had a tough decision to make after his fifth place finish in the Grand Prix on Friday. The New Jersey-based rider made the cut for the lucrative Freestyle but made a tremendous gesture of sportsmanship allowing van Grunsven into the Freestyle and opting for the Grand Prix Special instead. The gamble paid off.

Big time.

Barisone and Jane Sulwasky's Neruda put in a stunning effort in the Grand Prix Special and won with a score of 69.292 percent over Tosca Visser van Der Meer and Moorland Opportunity from The Netherlands.

"These guys have made such an effort to come from Europe," said Barisone. "Thousands of people are coming tonight to see Anky. I felt it was the right thing to do to ride in the Special and let her into the Freestyle. Anky was ninth, the difference was tiny but if it makes a big difference to let them see Anky it is my responsibility to the organizers and sponsors to let the people who are going to fill this place up come to see the people they are paying to see."

Barisone and Neruda cantered off with $9,500 bringing his two day winnings close to $14,000. The Dutch gelding served as the reserve horse for Barisone at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong last summer. He never got his chance in the ring in China but made in impression on the dressage world today.

"Obviously Steffen and Ashley and Anky, of course, are going to be really strong," said Barisone after his afternoon ride. "I have several reasons why I did the Special. I had a really incredible time being on the team in Honk Kong. I really want to go to Kentucky (for the 2010 Alltech FE I World Equestrian Games) next year... that means that your first test has to be the good one. The consistency of riding the Grand Prix, the way it is written on paper, I thought it was more important to ride a set test."

Barisone was pleased with Neruda's effort, out of all the tests he's performed with the 14-year-old gelding, this one ranked about third.

"We never worry about the piaffe and passage with this horse," said Barisone. "But I'm working really hard on changes to level it out. Credibility is what I need. It worked out great today but even if it hadn't it would be OK, we are trying to build the sport."

Arlene 'Tuny' Page was third with Wild One and was honored for her efforts in helping to pull off the very first World Dressage Masters in Wellington.

The night ended with a reining exhibition by van Grunsven. She considers the second sport to be her hobby but looks very completely at home in a Western saddle.

DIRECTIONS: From the Florida Turnpike south, take Exit #93, Lake Worth Blvd., and travel west, crossing over US 441. Travel five miles to South Shore Blvd., turn right on South Shore and proceed one mile to Pierson Road, then turn left at the light. First left on Equestrian Club Road. The Tavern entrance is past PBIEC spectator entrance on the right side of the road.

From Interstate I-95, take Exit #49. Travel west on Forest Hills Blvd. 11 miles to South Shore Blvd. Turn left on South Shore and follow to Pierson Road. Turn right at the light on Pierson. First left on Equestrian Club Road. The Tavern entrance is past PBIEC spectator entrance on the right side of the road.

Photo: Anky van Grunsven and IPS Painted Black on their way to victory in the Exquis World Dressage Masters Grand Prix Musical Freestyle at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center Saturday night. Photo: 2009 Ilse Schwarz-HorseSport USA


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