Dressage riders prepare for big weekend

April 23, 2006

Arlene Page and Wild One.
Photo: Ken Braddick-HorseSport USA
The 18 horses and riders participating in the FEI Dressage World Cup Final in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (April 20-23), had a day off on Friday, following Thursday's Grand Prix and prior to Saturday's FEI Dressage World Cup Final Grand Prix Freestyle to music, which will decide the winner. Riders were allowed to use the Europahal of the Amsterdam RAI this morning for 90 minutes, with each rider scheduled for a solo five-minute sound-check in the arena and the opportunity to accustom their horses to the ring.

Competition resumes at the weekend with the FEI World Cup Dressage B-Final for the six riders who did not make the cut for the FEI World Cup Dressage A-Final. The A-Final will take place in the afternoon with the 12 top riders from the first leg of the competition vying for the World Cup Dressage title.

USA rider Arlene Page, 49, of Wellington, Florida, delivered a consistent test in the FEI World Cup Grand Prix yesterday riding Wild One. Every movement received a percentage score of 70+ or 71+. The sixth rider on the roster, Page score 71%, which put her in the lead until the eventual winner, Anky van Grunsven aboard Keltic Salinero, edged her out seven rides later. In the final standings, Page's score kept her in the top seven against the world's best horse's riders - and this is her first outing representing the USA with a "green" Grand Prix horse! It was also the highest score she and Wild One had earned in a CDI. We take this opportunity to share with you Page's comments about her performance in the FEI World Cup Dressage Final Grand Prix presented by Kampmann.

Page stated immediately that her aim in this competition was to make the cut into the final convincingly. Wild One, it has often been noted, can live up to his name, but in the FEI World Cup Grand Prix he looked polished and practiced, and quite noticeably further developed and improved from just months ago when he was competing on the Florida circuit. "To be honest, I think it's absolutely normal development of an international horse," stated Page. "He has all the fire and he has the sensitivity, and because of that, of course he's not so easy at moments. It's pretty natural that that would happen." She acknowledged that she was making the observation from a very positive point of view on this day. "It's nice to say it now and be able to say he can handle this environment and he can handle the pressure."

As a rider, Page has a long history in three-day eventing and has spent the past 16 years devoted exclusively to dressage, but a competition such as the World Cup Final can be a bit unnerving for a first-timer - however, not so for Page. She described her first day at the venue when riders were allowed to bring their horses into the Europahal. "You know, it was funny - working in the main arena I had ‘fish legs' until I cantered. I was too fishy. I [said] I've just got to canter until this horse relaxes and my body relaxes a little bit. But there's no room for you to be nervous and do this right. When I say nervous, I don't mean do you have butterflies - yes of course, but does it come out in your riding? It better not."

Page presented a picture of calmness and confidence during her ride in the Grand Prix, and she pinpointed some of the elements that helped her achieve that comfort zone. "The USET Foundation and the USEF and Klaus [Balkenhol, U.S. team coach] and Lars [Petersen, who helps her in Florida] and my family and my friends all had an expectation of this horse and me that was right on par with reality," she said. "Everybody's been generous that way. Everybody said, ‘Look, this will be the horse's first international competition beyond regular CDIs. He's green and maybe he's tight, and maybe he makes a few mistakes, but that's not the point. The point is - we need to show the international community that we have a really top Grand Prix horse that's coming into the forefront, so don't feel pressure that you are supposed to be in the top four'. So I felt the expectation was right where it should have been - that I would go and do a credible performance. I felt that that was something that I could deliver, so obviously it's nicer to jump over the bar than just meet it."

Going into the competition Page said she was completely confident that Wild One had the capability of comfortably going over 70% because of the way he's been working in the last month. She pointed out that it is very important for the U.S. to show that an American horse can score over 70% consistently.

Page noted that one of the keys to building up to this level of confidence for her and Wild One was participating in the USEF National Grand Prix Freestyle Championship / U.S. League Final in Florida in March because that performance gave the gelding confidence. She explained that there was actually more pressure at the championship/league final than at the World Cup because she knew that if she didn't score well there in the qualifier, she'd be shut out of the opportunity to represent the U.S. in Amsterdam. "Here I felt like, okay, I'm here, now I just need to be focused and credible."

But the total picture of a true combination develops as a "multi-dimensional thing," according to Page. "There are so many funny little things that matter," she said. Those elements included winning the championship/league final because the judges' feedback gave her confidence and the event confirmed that an extremely animated venue was no problem for her horse. She noted that working with Balkenhol for two weeks prior to the league final and incorporating his gentle "tweaks" into her normal work was also key, as was working with a system that she had confidence in. The "absolute backing" from the USEF and the Balkenhols [including Klaus's wife Judith] were also important dimensions. Additionally, Page singled out her team mate Leslie Morse. "Leslie has been a great team mate - just fun and supportive and informative too, which is really nice because she has been here twice," Page said. "That's been a real help to me actually. So it's a number of small things along the way."

Page arrived in Europe with her horse and five-year-old daughter Charlotte nearly a month prior to the FEI World Cup Dressage Final and has been training with Balkenhol intensely - even to the point of participating in a mock show. "We did a contrived show and it was a brilliant idea," Page explained. "It was the right thing to do. Klaus has done flipflops for us in the last month." Coach Balkenhol shipped the American horses to Warendorf so that Page and Morse could work in different indoor environments. Balkenhol also took them to Hagen U.T.W. - a venue where the stadium seating goes right down to the arena - hired a judge, and had the riders ‘compete'. "That was an extremely important move that he made," Page noted.

The mock show also brings to mind a scenario that reveals Page's generosity and caring as a rider and as a person. "I have one enormous regret," she said. "I just feel terrible about it because I knew Cindy Ishoy was in Germany and I should have called her. I didn't think about it. I really, really regret that because she's devastated by what happened with her horse today." In the Grand Prix, Ishoy had an unfortunate ride that showed serious errors including stopping in the piaffe and losing balance in the zig zag, which eventually placed her last in the competition. "I asked her when her last show was - her last show was the Royal Winter Fair five months ago," Page said. She noted that the first thing she told Balkenhol when she arrived in Germany was that she wanted keep going to different places - and obviously, for her it paid off. "I really felt bad because [the mock show] could have helped [Ishoy] a lot," Page said.

After Page and Wild One delivered their outstanding performance in the Grand Prix yesterday, she was cheered not only by the 4,000 spectators, but also by the "American section" seated at VIP tables overlooking the ring. The group waved small American flags as Page floated past them on her way out. Her steadfast supporters included her father (her mother is deceased), her husband Dave and daughter Charlotte, her aunt Caroline and Larry Powers, her best friend Alexandra Day, her friend from California Jenny Grayson, and fellow Wellingtonians Lars Petersen, Melissa Taylor Yee, Tim and Susie Dutta, and Lisette and Mike Milner.

The enthusiasm of the knowledgeable crowd was even greater at the end of the Grand Prix competition when the top eight were called back for the awards ceremony. One of the most hair-raising experiences at any dressage show can be the victory lap for the powerful and electric Grand Prix horses. Wild One had produced a dramatic spook at the end of his wonderful test when the crowd burst into cheers and clapping [which did not affect his score as the test was over], so Page was prepared for the awards ceremony. "He handled it well. You better just assume it's going to be mayhem," she said. "I do think it's a little crazy but I've been to enough European shows that I know that there's going to be all this rah-rah, sis-boom-bah," she said. Wild One and a few of the other horses did get overly pumped up ("crazy" Page said of Wild One), but the riders managed to did get their horses around unhurt for the victory lap. "We did get him stopped. Thankfully Louise [Nathhorst] and Edward [Gal] were in the same boat that I'm in," Page said.

Looking ahead to the competition on Saturday, Page noted that the freestyle she debuted at the championship/league finals in Florida would be delivered again with only a few minor tweaks. "Klaus had input after the league finals - just very subtle things he wanted to see differently. I took some of the judges' comments - for the most part the judges were very positive about the music," Page said. Her freestyle musical track is comprised of classic American rock 'n' roll oldies. She said she feels strongly that Americans need to utilize American music. "I'm very happy with the music," she said and then joked, "I need to get an 80 in the Grand Prix before I hire the orchestra!"

Defending title-holder Anky van Grunsven, who won the Grand Prix with Keltic Salinero on Friday, took the opportunity to use a good deal of her time to practice halting - on entry, in each corner, on the long side, and on the center line, to confirm immobility with her mount. Van Grunsven has won the World Cup Final Qualifier in Amsterdam six times. She has claimed victory in the FEI Dressage World Cup seven times - in different European venues and last year in Las Vegas. She is attempting to claim her eighth World Cup victory tomorrow (April 22).

Participating in the B-Final will be six horses and riders: Royal Black Label and Elena Kalinina (RUS); Tip Top 962 and Leslie Morse (USA); Douglas Dorsey and Laura Bechtolsheimer (GBR); Wilson and Kristian van Krusenstierna (SWE); Zorro and Inessa Poturaeva (RUS); and Proton and Cindy Ishoy (CAN).

The top 12 horses and riders have qualified for the FEI World Cup Dressage A-Final Grand Prix Freestyle to music are: Keltic Salinero and Anky van Grunsven (NED); Bjorsells Briar 899 and Jan Brink (SWE); Warumm Nicht FRH and Isabell Werth (GER); Sunrise and Imke Schellekens-Bartels (NED); Hexagon's Ollright and Laurens Van Lieren (NED); Group 4 Lingh Securicor and Edward Gal (NED); Wild One and Arlene Page (USA); Guinness 888 and Louise Nathhorst (SWE); Donatha S and Ellen Schulten-Baumer (GER); Wahajama-Unicef and Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff (GER); Hardhof's Ludewig G and Lone Jorgensen (DEN); and Paganini and Jeroen Devroe (BEL).

The Europahal of the Amsterdam RAI Center is also busy preparing for Royal visitors who will attend the competition on Saturday - Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands (Queen Beatrix) will arrive for the afternoon competition. Her Royal Highness Princess Benedikte of Denmark will also attend. Princess Benedikte is one of the three candidates for the Presidency of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI).