Festival Of The Horse CDI-W Win Furthers Ebeling’s Journey To World Cup Redemption

chonofhorses1104-1In April of 2009, Jan Ebeling went to the FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Las Vegas with high hopes for a strong performance from his partner Rafalca. But, the intense indoor atmosphere and packed house of the Thomas & Mack Arena proved too much for the sensitive mare.

“She was very tense,” said Ebeling. “We came into the arena, and she said ‘No.’ She had a mare moment and did not even want to go around the arena.”

Ebeling, 52, had to nurse Rafalca through the Grand Prix test (mustering just a 53.82 percent) and didn’t qualify for the final freestyle, but he refused to let the disappointing experience keep him down for long. “I’m not really one that hangs my head and feels sorry for myself,” he said. “Maybe I did for a moment, but then I thought, ‘What do I have to do to change it?’ I looked at it as a challenge.”

Two years later, Ebeling and Rafalca, a 14-year-old Oldenburg mare (Argen-tinius—Ratine, Rubinstein I) owned by Amy Ebeling, Ann Romney and Beth Meyer, have proved their readiness for a return to the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final, which will be held in Leipzig, Germany, April 27-May 1.

“Is this redemption? Yeah, it is,” said Ebeling, who competed in the Festival of the Horse CDI-W in Burbank, Calif., March 31-April 3, as a final preparation for the Final.

“She’s gotten so much stronger and better; she’s at a whole new level,” he said. “Everything is better—her piaffe and passage are improved. She felt awesome and still felt like there could be more. She’s finally come into her own now. It’s taken time, but as with any horse, you have to spend the time in the training of the Grand Prix. And then when you get to that level, you’re not finished—it’s a continuous effort to get better and better. I’m really pleased with her.”

After the Grand Prix test, in which Ebeling and Rafalca claimed the blue ribbon with a score of 69.29 percent, the ground jury agreed with Ebeling’s confidence. “I haven’t seen Rafalca for a long time, and she’s much more confirmed in all of her movements,” said Canadian judge Cara Whitham. “In previous years, she was strong in some movements and not in others, but now she’s consistent and very at ease with the entire test.”

On A Mission

Ebeling scored a solid 73.02 percent in Sunday’s Grand Prix freestyle riding to music from the movie The Mission. “This is very good choreography which takes a huge degree of strength and stamina throughout the test,” noted Whitham.

“I was holding my breath thinking, ‘How long can they hold on?’ The routine is very difficult right from the start.”
“There are still a couple of things I’d like to tweak, but I feel very confident,” said Ebeling, Moorpark, Calif.

He acknowledged that the freestyle incorporates a high degree of difficulty, including a multitude of flying changes on curved lines, one-tempis directly into pirouettes at the beginning of the test, and a passage/piaffe fan immediately preceding the final halt, which judge Eddy de Wolff of the Netherlands said “makes a lovely impression.”

“I’ve had this freestyle for a couple of years now, but we’ve put in a little more ‘bling,’ ” Ebeling said. “We are using some movements that she couldn’t do in the first years of Grand Prix, but she can now do, so we’ve upgraded. It’s pretty difficult, but when she’s ‘on,’ it’s great.

If you make a mistake, you get killed, but that’s the chance you have to take. If you’re playing the game at that level, then you have to take a risk. You also have to be prepared that it can backfire. But that’s life.”

Returning To The World Stage

Returning to the World Cup Final has been part of Ebeling’s plans since last year, when he and Rafalca attended their first World Cup qualifier in Saugerties, N.Y., after a sixth-placed finish at the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Grand Prix National Championship (N.J.) in August.

Ebeling has taken special care to prepare his mount for what he hopes will be a much-improved showing.

“We go to a lot of different arenas to get her used to different environments, and we change things all the time at home in the area surrounding the arena,” he explained.
“She has matured mentally, and perhaps I have matured also. I do things differently now. I use more mental preparation. Athletes in different sports do routinely, but riders seem slower to embrace these ideas. There are things that we can do to improve our game, and it really does help me.”

At the Final, he will join compatriots Shawna Harding with Come On III as well as Catherine Haddad and Winy-amaro, who qualified via the Western European League.

“I’m thrilled; representing the country is an amazing experience,” said Ebeling. “It’s what we all dream about. I’m really lucky that I have family and friends that come to the shows and support me, including my 11-year-old son Ben. Everyone will go.”

Ebeling and Rafalca will leave for Europe in the middle of April and train with Wolfram Wittig leading up to the Final. Even though they’ve made several European tours, Ebeling doesn’t take the overseas journey lightly. “Rafalca travels well, but it’s always nerve-wracking to make a trip like this,” he said. “The strangest things go wrong.”

Ebeling plans to stay in Europe to compete in the Hagen CDI “Horses and Dreams” competition. “It depends on how it goes; I may stay on for a few more shows in Europe, but with a mare we’re limited by quarantine restrictions,” he said. “We’ll see how the timing works out. We may stay in Europe and then go directly to Gladstone [for the Festival of Champions]. There’s a lot of looking at the calendar and figuring it all out.”

Weltino’s Magic Bewitches The Judges

Steffen Peters left no doubt that he is a leading candidate for a spot on the Pan American Games team as he swept all three small tour CDI classes with Jen Hlavacek’s 9-year-old Westphalian gelding Weltino’s Magic (Weltino—Diva, Diamond Boy).
“The first word that comes to mind is ‘fun’—he’s really a pleasure to ride, so supple and forward now, it’s like that feeling that I get from Ravel,” Peters said. “Especially since he was difficult as a young horse—he had a pretty good buck in him. He was always a bit defensive if he made a mistake—you didn’t even have to correct him. When he did something wrong, he knew he did it wrong, and then there was this big explosion.”

“Magic” displayed his growing maturity by dominating the Prix St. Georges test with a 75.39 percent and an Inter-mediaire I score of 77.23 percent.

The ground jury found little on which to fault the pair.

“When you’re scoring so high and find yourself giving these wonderful marks for the horse, you can’t help but second-guess yourself a little bit,” Whitham said. “But then I stopped and said, ‘Just enjoy this, there’s no point in looking for something wrong which simply isn’t there.’ ”

Judge Jean-Michel Roudier from France was equally impressed. “He’s just what we expect from a horse and rider at this level. Of course, nobody’s perfect, but we saw a horse absolutely relaxed in his work, with a willingness to perform what is asked from the rider, without any weakness,” he said. “For instance, the collected walk is one of the most difficult movements and one we almost never give high marks like 9 or 10. But for one of the first times in my judging career, I gave a 9 to this horse for the collected walk. It was really amazing.”

Whisper To Me

Peters, San Diego, Calif., debuted Magic’s freestyle titled “Whisper To Me” for a score of 79.41 percent. “I’m a big New Age music and iTunes fan, so I found this song that I really liked by a group called 7and5 and wanted to use it for Magic’s freestyle,” said Peters, 46. “I rode a bit conservatively today since it was the first time. At home he was amped up with the music, but today he was right on.

“The choreography is quite difficult with canter work first,” he continued. “But let’s face it, it’s a Pan Am year. While there’s no need to overwhelm the horses, we do have to build up a standard that will hopefully get our team a medal.”

As of March 7, Peters and Magic sat atop the national Intermediaire I rankings, and their Burbank results earned them the minimum number of scores required for an invitation to the Pan American Games selection trials.

“I’d like to do the freestyle at least once more, so we’re headed to the CDI at Del Mar [Calif.]. You can practice the test at home, but it’s always different at the show,” Peters said. “Also, the owners and I are discussing the possibility of taking him to Aachen [Germany] with Ravel. That decision hasn’t been made, but it’s possible. It has to make sense for the Pan Am team and also financially, so that’s what we’re debating.”

The Chronical of the Horse 

By: Jennifer M. Keeler