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Steffen Peters Takes Top Honors in Grand Prix Freestyle

Competition kicked into high gear today, with the opening ceremonies and Grand Prix Dressage competition. Fourteen horses entered the court to vie for their share of $100,000 in prize money.

Those who were lucky enough to be in the audience today were treated to an opening ceremony to rival any sporting event, including fireworks, laser lights, rockin’ music and first-class rope tricks—and, of course, the National Anthem.

Once the show got under way, it had a shaky beginning, especially for the Americans. First Jan Eberling had a rocky ride on Rafalca, who seemed concerned about something in the corner between C and H. Eberling persevered and finished the ride, earning a 53.995 despite the foibles. However, he did not qualify to participate in the Freestyle on Saturday.

Next, Leslie Morse and Kingston began their test, but something was obviously wrong when their extended trot was severely lacking. The judge at C rang the bell when Morse reached H and excused her from the arena. Morse dismounted and led Kingston out of the arena to tumultuous applause. "I could tell in the first corner, he felt unbalanced and I knew he wasn't right," Morse was reported to say in a press release from the event. "We respect the Ground Jury's decision to ring the bell and we all agreed it was absolutely in the best interest of the horse, which is always the most important consideration."

The competition began to heat up after that, with Ashley Holzer and Pop Art in the lead at the end of the first section. She held on to that lead for several more rides, but finally ended in fifth place, with Hans Peter Minderhoud in fourth with Exquis Nadine—one of only three mares in the competition.

Isabell Werth, who was the winner here two years ago, put in a beautiful ride for third place and $10,750 with Satchmo, earning several 9s through the test and a 10 on the half pass. However, he lost impulsion on his left pirouette and earned a 4 on that movement, with a final score of 73.745. Werth reported later that he was a little disturbed by the photographers near K, so she was very careful in the pirouette. “A little too careful,” she said, but was confident they will do better on Saturday.

Nine-time World Cup Champion Anky Van Grunsven and IPS Painted Black followed Werth, putting on a strong performance with several 9s throughout and a 10 on the extended trot. However, they made a mistake in the two-tempis, which Van Grunsven attributed to the horse’s nervousness, but still ended with a respectable 74.170. This was IPS Painted Black’s first World Cup and Van Grunsven suffered from back problems over the winter, so she faced quite a challenge coming into the competition. “I’m really happy,” she said. “It was his best Grand Prix of the season.” She then added, “I’m very satisfied and very happy with my second place.” She earned $14,250 for her effort.

Werth and Van Grunsven are tough acts to follow, but when Steffen Peters and Ravel entered the arena, it was clear they were ready. After numerous 8s and 9s, including the piaffe, Peters’ score continued to rise above his predecessors’. During his last piaffe, the crowd began to murmur, and the excitement in the air was palpable. Collectively, the audience was on the edge of their seats, watching as the collective scores, culminating in all 9s for Rider, flashed up on the screen. Peters’ score of 77.915, unanimous first with all judges, sealed the deal and Peters was the clear winner. The crowd was on their feet as Peters waved to the crowd, grinning from ear to ear.

At the press conference after the awards presentation (during which all three of the top horses spooked at the American Flag), Peters’ emotion was obvious. “I was beside myself. I couldn’t believe it. I had to keep looking at the score to make sure.” Peters said he would follow the advice Van Grunsven gave him in Florida, which is to keep the same routine when preparing for the Freestyle and not to change anything even though he is in the lead.

The last time the FEI World Cup Dressage was won by a rider from the USA was in 2003, when Debbie McDonald took it with Brentina. Tomorrow, fans will be saying goodbye to Brentina as she will be officially retired.


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