Team USA Wins WEG Dressage Bronze

Day two of grand prix didn't give any of the remaining 43 riders much of an advantage when it came to weather, but it did not seem to affect the Americans, the Dutch, the Germans or the Danes. The crowd of 32,000 definitely got their money's worth today witnessing the best piaffes, passages, pirouettes and transitions in the world. Because of the caliber of today's riders, the photographers did not get much of a break with shutters clicking almost nonstop. The silence was so intense at times that when small errors were made or the crowd didn't agree with a score that flashed across the screen, there were loud sighs.

The German team retained their Team Gold with a total score of 223.625, while The Netherlands took Team Silver with a total score of 217.917. It was another page in the book of the age-old dressage rivalry between The Netherlands and Germany. Ironically, two of their most popular riders, Anky Van Grunsven of the The Netherlands and Isabell Werth of Germany, ended the day with identical scores of 75.000%.

When asked how it felt, Werth responded, "It could be worse. I am very happy with my horse. He was concentrated and relaxed. We had mistakes, but what can I say when half the equestrian nation is here and watching."

Van Grunsven had a trying moment when her horse bolted at the end of the victory gallop out of the arena and beyond. "My horse got very scared in the prize giving ceremony, and I did, as well," she said. "I thank God for the police horses that stopped me. I think I did have the fastest trip today."

It was a tough battle for the Bronze medal, but Team USA came out on top, edging out Denmark despite the fact that the grand prix test high score came from a Dane. The U.S. team score was 213.917 thanks to three solid rides from Guenter Seidel, Steffen Peters and Debbie McDonald.

It was another exceptional ride from the perfectly matched pair of USA's Peters and Floriano, the 16-year-old Westphalian gelding, owned by Laurelyn Browning. The sun came out briefly during their test to make the California team feel right at home, earning them a 72.708%.

"He went exactly the way I wanted him to here," said Peters. "The last transition felt exactly the same as it did in Gladstone at the selection trials, so I knew it was good...When I turned around and looked at the score board, I was hoping her was right around a 71, at least, and then I saw a 72. I was just so excited."

This pair had three exceptional rides in June at the selection trials in Gladstone, which not only earned the pair a perfect hat-trick but also brought Peters to tears. Today, Peters hadn't even left the arena after his test, and he was giving the thumbs-up sign to the crowd and pointing to his mount repeatedly.

"Coming in he was very nervous," said Peters. "We had about a minute around the arena and that settled him down. He was a bit touchy in the collected walk so I just left him alone. I was saying my prayers. We were very close to any fumble where he might anticipate a transition."

McDonald rode toward the end of the day with the crowd busy calculating what score she would need to give the Americans another Team Bronze. McDonald's score of 71.417% was enough to give Team USA the honor.

"I think any time you represent your country it's an honor," McDonald said. "And, this sport is mostly an individual sport, and I have been so fortunate to have team members in the past that have made it so much more meaningful--to have somebody to share it with and have someone say, 'We know you can do it.' They are just so kind to you, and it's a feeling you just can't describe, and I'm just proud to be a part of it."

McDonald and Brentina, the 15-year-old Hanoverian mare, owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas, had one flying change that was not in rhythm and made a mistake in their two-tempis, but other than that had a solid performance with great transitions and nice piaffes.

"Not that she probably has the most extravagant piaffe-passage, but I think her harmony and rhythm through the whole core is something she brings that some horses are not as good at," she said.

Eighty-three competitors from 32 nations finished the Grand Prix test at these 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games over the past two days. In the end, 17 teams competed for the top honor.

There is no arguing the ride of the day came from former show jumper and Dane, Andreas Helgstrand and the young gray mare, Blue Hors Matine. This mare loved every one of her six minutes in the limelight and drew the competition's only set of nines in her final passage. Although lots of "tail action" is not always rewarded by dressage judges, this mare did not care. Her tail rhythmically swung to every move she performed. The crowd erupted when the highest score flashed across the board--a 76.333%, an obvious and pleasant surprise to Helgstrand. In second place overall was Germany's Heike Kemmer, riding Bonaparte and receiving a score of 75.792%.

Although not a day focused on individual tests, today saw many celebrities in the world of dressage. However, as dressage aficionados know, there is no such thing as a perfect ride. Mistakes were made, and they were obviously surprising, considering the deafening sighs of the crowd. Dressage dynasty Anky Van Grunsven of The Netherlands, and her Keltec Salinero, made three crucial mistakes, but still gave them a 75.000%, which tied them for third place. She had an error in her flying changes, took the wrong canter lead on the right side and did not properly halt. However, Keltec Salinero was spot on when it came to piaffes and passages. It was inevitably a tough act to follow, but Swiss legend, Silvia Ikle and her Salieri CH gave it their all. The horse's piaffe and transitions in and out of piaffe were ideal, but she also made a few crucial mistakes in her left and right half passes at the canter, costing the Swiss a team medal.

It was a very unfortunate day for the Ukraine team when one rider had to retire after his young horse would not submit and appeared unable to perform any FEI-level moves. After the judges rang the bell, he spoke with them briefly and then attempted to continue his test, but to no avail. It was also an arduous day for Miguel Duarte of Portugal. His partner, Oxalis Da Meia Lua, a Lusitano mare, would barely stand still for him to salute. The horse kept her tension throughout the test, and every time Duarte asked her to piaffe, she would buck and capriole.

Today's special treat for the crowd occurred when Spanish rider Ignacio Rambla and Distinguido 2, the gray Lusitano stallion, performed a Spanish walk as they were leaving the stadium.

The top 30 riders will be back on Friday with a clean slate to ride their grand prix special, a test with essentially the same movements but arranged in a more difficult pattern and sequence. Individual medals will be awarded at the end of the grand prix special. The next challenge will be for the top 15 riders who will be invited back one last time for the creative grand prix freestyle on Saturday where the top three individuals again will medal.

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