Ravel: A Dressage Titan

1998 bay, 16.3-hand Dutch Warmblood gelding (Contango x Hautain); Owner: Akiko Yamazaki, Woodside, California; Rider: Steffen Peters, San Diego, California; Breeder: H. DeMan, The Netherlands Photo by Jennifer Munson (JenniferMunson.com)

In honor of Ravel’s 25th birthday this week, we look back on his and Steffen Peter’s accomplishments – culminating in his 2010 Adequan®/USDF Grand Prix Horse of the Year award.

This tribute is reprinted from the February 2011 issue of USDF Connection‘s Yearbook.

After being the first US horse and rider ever to win all three Grand Prix classes at Germany’s legendary CDI Aachen, what do you do for an encore? How about earning the US its first-ever individual dressage world championship medal?

That’s what Ravel and rider Steffen Peters did (twice!), taking bronze in the Grand Prix Special and in the Freestyle at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY.

For owner Akiko Yamazaki, “to be on home turf and to see all the American flags, and to hear the roar when Ravel and Steffen came in, was just unbelievable.”

Before the WEG, however, neither owner nor rider had taken success for granted. Since February 2010, Yamazaki says, Ravel “really hadn’t been in a big arena. And Steffen doesn’t have the competition opportunities the European riders have, with so many CDIs that they can ride against each other week after week.” For that reason, Peters “made a point of going to Europe” with USEF dressage technical advisor Anne Gribbons to “watch very closely the whole competition in Aachen” and “refresh my memory of what the European standard is all about.”

Meanwhile, Yamazaki had encountered Princeton-based physicist David Stickland, who has developed a system of dressage-score statistical analysis. “Usually,” Yamazaki says, “we know where the weaknesses are, but we don’t know the importance actual marks have for the overall score. But when you start adding the coefficients and the number of times a movement is judged, where you have to improve to stay competitive becomes much clearer.” Applying Stickland’s system, Peters says, helped identify “a few things, such as the left canter pirouettes, the passage here and there, where we lost points—and even though it wasn’t a very big margin, it was very consistent throughout the shows.” The information “was extremely useful,” especially for “redoing the freestyle a little bit.”

Ravel’s WEG freestyle, designed by Terry Ciotti Gallo, was “definitely the most difficult freestyle I’ve ever ridden,” Peters says. “There was simply no room for error. if you were just a little bit behind the music, or a little bit ahead, it would be ridiculous. We wanted to make sure that each and every transition was very obvious: absolutely no doubt when I go into the piaffe, when I come out of the piaffe, when we start the canter pirouettes, when we stop the changes, and so on.” What’s more, Peters had dedicated his freestyle ride to 2008 Olympic teammate Courtney Dye, who’s now recovering from a major head injury—and had committed himself to wearing protective headgear in the honor round. “So we had to win a medal!” he says.

They did, with a score just 0.35 percent below that of silver medalists Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris. And Peters thinks there’s room to go higher. “Looking back, there have been a few Grands Prix and a few Grand Prix Specials where I’m not sure that both Ravel and I could do it a whole lot better. But I never so far have ridden a freestyle where I say, ‘OK, now we’ve really mastered it.’ I think the
choreography is there, the music is there, but I still can ride it a little bit better. So that’s on the agenda” as they aim toward the 2012 London Olympics.

Reflecting on her horse’s extraordinary year, Yamazaki says, “My admiration of Steffen has grown even more. The pressure on him was really big, and he came through.” Peters, in his turn, says, “I consider myself lucky to ride a horse like Ravel, and also to work for and with owners like Akiko and Jerry [husband Jerry Yang]—because without them there wouldn’t be a Ravel.”

—D. J. Carey

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