Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Three-time Olympic Gold Medalist and Dressage Superstar, Anky van Grunsven (NED)

Seven-time Olympic medalist, two-time World Champion, four-time European Champion, and winner of nine World Cups, Anky van Grunsven is one of the most decorated Dressage riders in the world. Follow her her journey to the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in the official Athlete Blog of the 2010 Games.

Welcome to my first blog entry for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Right now it’s February and in about seven months the World Championships--the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games--begin.

Twenty years ago I competed in my first World Championship. I competed on Prisco at that time, my first horse. I got him when I was twelve years old and I even rode him in the 1988 Olympics. I know how to prepare for the World Championships but every time again it’s a big event and a lot to prepare for, especially this year, when the WEG takes place in the States.

By riding in shows regularly I keep myself focused and the horses fit and in the routine of the shows. This rhythm is very important for the horses. At this stage I am not quite sure which horse I will compete on, Salinero or I.P.S Painted Black, so I will compete on both during the outdoor season. But before the outdoor season starts, we first have several indoor shows, ending with the World Cup Finals in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. There are many good Dutch riders at the moment so it’s not sure I can ride the final.

Next weekend I have the last qualifier in Göteborg, Sweden. I will keep you updated!

For more information about Anky van Grunsven, visit her website, www.anky.com

Friday, February 19, 2010

2008 Paralympic Silver Medalist, Angelika Trabert (GER)

Welcome to my first Kentucky blog entry. This is very exciting for me. I am one of the original Para-Equestrian (PE) newcomers to FEI. Kentucky will be another first because it is where people with a disability will, for the first time, compete in the same place and at the same time with colleagues from all our FEI disciplines.

My career with horses started long ago (if you are interested you can read more on my website www.angelika-trabert.de). But my first major Paralympic International event was in 1996, when Atlanta hosted the Paralympics. Since then I have been the athletes’ representative and fighting for Para-Equestrian to become an equal partner in the international equine world.

Why you might ask. Well horses are the best compensating aids we have. They make it possible for us to ride in both para and regular horse competitions up to top level. After all the Danish dressage rider Liz Hartnell won silver at the first Olympics in 1952, the first time women could compete.

Let me explain a little bit about FEI’s 8th discipline Para Equestrian. We ride in 5 different Grades, based not on our riding ability but on our level of disability. This is to make the competition as fair as possible. People in one Grade ride against each other. We are allocated a Grade after examination by a specially educated doctor or physiotherapist depending upon on how able/ disabled you are. The more disabled you are, the lower the Grade. The test you ride relates to the Grade, so the more disabled riders are in the lower Grades and they ride less difficult movements. For example, a Grade Ia rider will do a walk only test, while Grade IV riders (the least disabled – perhaps missing an arm, having a stiff ankle or missing a lower leg) must perform tests which can be compared to a medium standard test in able bodied competitions. The tests have been specially created for Para-Equestrian, so when you come to see us ride, I am sure it will be a new and unique experience. I can assure you that you will see some very fine riding by some extraordinary people, who incidentally, are more than happy to discuss their disability and how it impacts on their life and riding. So if you are curious to learn more about Para- Equestrian or us don’t hesitate to ask.

Something else that is different from many other Equestrians is that most of us are total amateurs. We mostly have a job in order to earn the money for our horses. So we are not that free to train as we would like. Indeed we have often to be close to a genius in logistics and organisation to do what we love doing.

Now I would like to introduce myself and my horses to you!

Most important are my horses. So the one who most likely is going to book a

flight to Kentucky is LONDRIA. A 10 year old Hanoverian mare by Londonderry, dam sir Weltmeyer. I bought her when she was seven. She is somewhere between genius and crazy. Very sensitive and therefore great with my light aids, but if she gets distracted she might very well ignore me on top. So I have to be quick and I have to keep her busy to stay with me in her mind. She is definitely a challenge every time I get on her. In Hongkong she won the warm up well but then got distracted in the Championship test (would have been nice if we’d got it the other way round). However, last year at the Europeans in Norway she proved that she is capable of listening and she showed me what great potential she has. It was a gold! So I guess everything is possible and I’m certainly hopeful for this year!

Oh I forgot all about it, my disability: I was born without legs and on my right hand I have only three fingers and I miss the middle joints. Therefore it is a challenge if my horse gets scared and jumps to the side. My centre of gravity is just too high. So Londria and I do have our days, but we are getting there.

Then there is my second horse, WALMOREL, she is a 15 year old Hanovarian mare by Wolkenstein II, dam sir Pik Bube. I have had her since she was 9 and she has been quiet a challenge too. She is not the greatest dressage horse, but she has an amazing attitude to work and a willingness to really focus on whatever work you want to undertake with her. So she made it possible for me to ride my first S-dressage last year, which was an amazing feeling. Since then I believe that everything is possible with the right horse. But for two reasons she will not fly to Kentucky this year! First of all she will have her first foal in March (by Fürst Romancier) and secondly, our priority will be to compete together in able bodied competitions.

For more information about Para-Dressage, go to http://www.fei.org/disciplines/dressage/about-para-equestrian-dressage.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

2006 WEG Vaulting Silver Medalist, Rosalind "Rosey" Ross (USA)

Rosalind Ross has been traveling to Europe as a team vaulter since she was 9 years old, though she started vaulting at a much younger age. Rosalind, "Rosey," is a very expressive vaulter and puts her great choreography, skill, grace, and elegance into an emotional performance. Rosey is a gold vaulter (the highest vaulting category). She has been on many teams throughout the years, and has been on many vaulting clubs, starting at Coastline and Mt. Eden Vaulting Clubs.

Rosey is currently in college at Emerson, Boston. She is majoring in literature, writing, and publishing.

As I write this, I am sitting on a plane leaving Boston and heading to San Francisco for yet another weekend of vaulting practice with my team, F.A.C.E. Vaulters, based in Woodside, California. Being a bi-coastal team member is new to me, since I grew up in California and have had the convenience of vaulting on teams based in California for my entire vaulting career. Following the World Vaulting Championships in August of 2008, I set off to attend Emerson College in Boston to attain a degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing, and thus, unknowingly, significantly complicated my future vaulting career. Upon moving to Boston, my plan was to wean myself off of vaulting and pursue other avenues of interest to me, as well as attempt to have a “normal” college experience to make up for my very abnormal high school experience that was dominated by my rigorous training schedule. Vaulting at the internationally competitive level is incredibly time consuming, as well as mentally and physically exhausting. It leaves very little time for a social life or outside hobbies. Then, despite all of my liberating ideas of hanging up my vaulting shoes and entering college as a normal 18-year old, I was enticed back to the sport by my dear friend and coach, Devon Maitozo.

Devon and I came up with a plan to perform a pas de deux (two person) routine for the 2009 competition season, since there were no World Championships and therefore no real incentive to create a team. We arranged practices on both the east coast and west coast, using every spare opportunity we had to train. Unfortunately, our season was cut short in November when I sustained a shoulder injury during a training session that required me to have surgery. Today marks one year exactly since my surgery. Though the rehabilitation process was lengthy, frustrating, and put me out of training for close to six months, I can look back now and reflect on the idea that perhaps the injury was a blessing in disguise. While my shoulder was inadequate for vaulting purposes, it did not prevent me from doing other forms of physical activity. I was able to begin studying dance seriously, which has been a longtime interest and passion of mine that, until recently, I had never had the time to pursue with intensity.

Dance, particularly ballet and contemporary, is my inspiration for vaulting. The beauty of the sport is that the performers are allowed such artistic freedom with their styles of vaulting. Some vaulters tend toward more gymnastic or acrobatic styles, others more theatrical, and others more dance-like. I would say that in the past four years, my “style” as a vaulter has matured significantly by using dance as my foundation and inspiration for exploring movement. There is nothing more moving to me than seeing an exquisitely choreographed routine performed in perfect harmony with the horse. When this perfect harmony is achieved, the performance looks effortless and the horse canters as though the performer is weightless.

This year, with the WEG in our own country, we finally have the good fortune to compete on the same horse that we will have been practicing on all year. In past years, we have always borrowed a European horse for the Championships that we had only a few weeks of preparation working with. Our horse for this year is Palatine (affectionately called Pally), a 12-year old Westphalian Warmblood owned by Devon Maitozo. We performed the compulsory exercises on him during the Selection Trials in 2008, when he was still brand new to the sport. This year, we are challenging both him and ourselves by relying on him to carry both our compulsories and our freestyle routine. Training a horse to carry a team freestyle while simultaneously training ourselves to know the routine is quite difficult, but we are all extremely pleased with Palatine’s progress so far.

Jumping back to the summer of 2009, thoughts started forming about putting together a team for 2010. I decided that I missed vaulting enough to sign on to the team that Devon was creating for 2010 in pursuit of the World Equestrian Games one last time. Recalling memories from the 2006 WEG in Aachen, standing on the podium with my team and having a silver medal draped around my neck, stirred within me a sense of national and artistic pride that I could not ignore. I had a feeling, which has so far proven me correct, that this season would be one of the most difficult ones logistically in terms of training and preparation.

I had applied and been accepted to a study-abroad program in Europe for the fall semester of 2009, which I promised myself I would not back out on. Training and competing in Europe for so many years with vaulting instilled in me a sense of adventure and an affinity for new cultures that I was eager to experience under different circumstances (ie academically). I spent three months in Europe while my team began training back home in California. I did what I could to keep in shape physically, but I knew that going home and resuming training with the team would be a major reality check for me. One day after arriving back in the States, I started practicing with the team again. It didn’t take long for me to affirm why it is that I love this sport so intensely. I couldn’t ask for a more inspiring and motivated group of athletes and performers to be connected with. I love my teammates dearly, (including our wonderful horse, Palatine) and consider them all like family.
Our team this year is comprised primarily of members from the San Francisco Bay area, aside from Annalise VanVranken from New Jersey, Nicole Czyzewski from Colorado, and myself now a resident of Massachusetts. Our training as a group is limited to one or two weekends per month, which in comparison to most other teams, is very little time. Though this technically puts our team at a pretty significant disadvantage, we do have the advantage of experience. In both 2006 and 2008, Devon compiled teams of vaulters from around the country, and both teams were highly successful. Our biggest initial challenge will be preparing for the Selection Trial competitions that begin in May and end in July (a total of four). The competition within the U.S. will be tough this year, as there are six teams vying for the qualifying position. We also plan to attend the CHIO in Aachen, where we will have to borrow a horse from Europe to compete on, and the U.S. National Championships. Our ultimate goal this year is of course to take home the illustrious gold medal for our country that has eluded us just barely at the past two World Championships.

Now that my mind has wandered to visions of performing to an enraptured audience in Kentucky, I must burst my own bubble and slip back into my role as college student to write an essay for my literature class that is due as soon as I step off the plane on Monday morning!

Until March…

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

2006 WEG Vaulting Gold Medalist, Kai Vorberg (GER)

So from now on there are only 8 months left until all of the athletes will know what they have been working for since the 2006 Games in Aachen Germany. Participating in the Alltech FEI Games in Lexington this year will be a dream come true for me!

I won the Gold Medal in the individual male vaulting competition in 2006 and so I was
asked to attend in the closing ceremony. I even handed over the FEI flag of the World Equestrian Games to the President of the ALRV, the vaulting organizing club, and he gave it as a token gesture to the next host of the 2010 Games.

Then there was a celebration with a presentation of the plans of the Kentucky Horse Park and I knew I must plan go on with my career and be there. I was so inspired and it was clear for me that this would be my next strategic goal!

So far I am on track and after two years of reprocessing, winning two silver medals on the World- and the European Championships for me, I think I can say I will be in the shape of my life for the next battle ahead. My concept is ready and I am trying hard to get everything sorted the way I plan. My horses are in good shape as well and I will make sure that all the experiences to come we will share together.

In March there are still some clinics, in April we will be starting the summer competition season and then it counts, because of course I still have to qualify for the Games and even also important is that we need to get even more experiences with the new programme and the new technical elements.

And for 2010 I have a very special concept for my routine which I hope will touch the audience, as it meant so much to me while creating it. My new concept for 2010 will be made of history and I hope it will make history! My relationships with American people and the spirit of freedom in the United States have been a very important inspiration for my free style program of 2010. I hope everybody will enjoy it as much as I do and of course I hope it has the power to make my dreams come true with another Gold Medal. But for now, I must keep it Top-Secret!

See you on the way to Kentucky!
Until next time, take care,

Kai Vorberg

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Canadian Reiner, Lisa Coulter

Its only February and I already have WEG fever! Actually that fever began and has been ever present since I competed at the test event for WEG last July in Kentucky. I was excited and proud to represent Canada at the test event and really was naïve about the path I was about to embark on. I had 2 great runs on Hollywood Aces and ended up silver in the team and individual events. Standing on the podium after the individual final was a thrill I won’t soon forget. It also accelerated my ambition to make the Canadian Team and be at WEG in 2010.
(Pictured: Lisa Coulter and her 9 year old daughter, Clancy)

The path to an event like WEG is a long one filled with triumphs and hurtles. I have been collecting the best group of aged horses I can find to qualify at CRIs and compete at events such as the Masters. That is a tough chore as our reining horses start their careers as 3 year olds and usually have most of their best runs by the time they reach 6. So finding 6 year old horses that are sound and still fresh to show is challenging. I have a group of about 6 horses that I can compete at the CRIs on. I rotate them to keep them sound, happy and ready for big runs when I need them.

Hollywood Aces has become a standout that crept up on us. He was purchased for me to compete on as a 5 year old and only had a few runs before me and that was due to an injury as a 3 year old. Without the FEI events this horse would have been left standing in a field or had a very limited show career. Instead he has proved he loves to show and has the charisma to wow a crowd. What he lacks in big maneuver skills he makes up for in likeability. He is a pudgy buckskin gelding with a big kind eye and a prettiness that is hard to beat. The confidence I have on Ace will put him in my top two horses to compete on in the finals we face in July to determine our team for WEG.

My very best horse is still new to me. Bob Thompson, who owns all the horses I ride,
purchased him from Sammy Ely via Shawn Flarida right after the test event in July. Shawn had done tremendously well with the horse and so had Sammy in the Non Pro events. Shawn knew the horse would fit me and also knew the horse was still up for some big runs. I won back to back CRIs in Mexico aboard him and have started to gain confidence with him. We are going to keep to schooling for the next few months to get to know each other better. We aptly named him Weg, he lacked a barn name and Western Whiz was a mouthful, he is proving to be my best contender to make the team and live up to his name.

The two horses are very different. I have a bond and confidence with Ace that you strive for with a horse you’re competing on. Weg can out maneuver him but he and I have not fallen in to step as well as Ace and I have. That takes time but I can feel it coming. The goal right now is to keep both horses sound and competitive. I will attend many schooling shows over the next few months to keep them quiet and responsive in the show pen. I will have one or two more hard runs on Weg, including the CRI at the NRBC, to keep gaining trust. However I am saving Ace for the final team selection. I just ran Ace hard at the Masters in December and he was solid. I know the skills we need to work on and know how he must be prepared. Weg will be another story.
(Pictured: World Games 2010 Foundation Staff with Lisa Coulter at the Kentucky Cup Reining Test Event. Photo Courtesy of Equisport Photos).

Reining is generally new to the FEI curriculum and with that comes a lot of changes and new concepts we must embrace. I have totally refocused my career to join the FEI events and am excited to be a part of it all. I have been gearing up for WEG since 09, but have been competing at the FEI events since 2005, including 3 Masters Finals. I have given up futurity horses and only hit a few derbies. I am actually saving my good young horses in hopes they will make strong FEI horses. As it is increasingly harder to find 6 year old horses I have turned our efforts to saving the young ones and gearing them for events such as WEG and the Masters.

I have qualified as far as I need to for Team Canada and now it is a matter of preparing for the final team selection in July in Chilliwack B.C. I have had some good success the past years but that has been not without defeat. The only other time I tried to make the team was 4 years ago and did not do so well. That was super tough to go through but I learned what I needed to do differently. This time I think not only do I have stronger horses but I have taken myself to another level of competition. Like the thrill of winning comes the absolute agony of losing and without that we would not be the competitors we aspire to be.

I am looking forward to blogging once or twice a month about my horses and our progress on our road to WEG. I will be competing all over North America as well as Europe over the coming months and will be keeping my troop of 6 FEI horses geared up and ready to show. My other 4 horses are nothing to sneeze at and it may be that one sneaks up just like Ace did and becomes the next WEG hopeful. I have learned in my life that anything is possible and starting in small town Princeton, BC big dreams and big determination are what takes a small town girl to Lexington, Kentucky.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Olympic Gold Medalist, Beezie Madden (USA)

Welcome to my first blog entry for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games Web site. I’m so excited the WEG will be in my home country for the first time, and this blog is a way to share my journey in preparation for the selection trials and then hopefully onto the WEG itself. I plan to post a couple times a month and more often during key times.

My husband and partner John and I recently arrived in Wellington, Florida from our home in Central New York. It’s nice and warm here, but for us, Florida means getting down to business and gearing up for a busy winter circuit and the all-important selection trials. These trials will determine a short list of 15 possible horse/rider combinations who will later go on to Europe to earn their spot on the team that will represent the U.S. at the World Equestrian Games. After a week of acclimating and some schooling of the horses, we began competing. I’m coming off the longest layoff of my career; I had shoulder surgery in mid-September to correct a chronic condition and haven’t competed since Spruce Meadows in early September. The shoulder is feeling good, so it is good to be back in the swing of things. The horses have also had a nice long break, which I think has been good for them. Unfortunately, Authentic, who earned medals in the last two Olympics and at the last WEG, suffered an injury in September, and it’s quite unlikely he’ll be ready for this WEG.

Thankfully, I have other less experienced (it’s hard to be more experienced than Authentic) but talented horses to try to make the team with. Both horses are owned Abigail Wexner. The first is Danny Boy who is 10 this year. John and I have had him since he was 5, bringing him along all the while with the idea that he’d be ready for the 2010 WEG. He was Best Young Horse at Aachen in 2008, was 12th at the 2009 World Cup Finals in Las Vegas, won the CN Performance Grand Prix on the Spruce Meadows Summer Circuit and had a solid first-time nations cup Superleague tour last summer (his worst score was 4 faults). He’s a little bit of a heavier type than Authentic, but he’s sensitive to ride and scopey and careful. Rideability can be an issue with him, but he’s getting better and better all the time. He’s started out here in Florida much more mature and grown up, and it’s always a relief to see a horse come off a long rest well. We started showing him early here so that he could get more experience under the lights and were happy to find that he wasn’t affected by them at all because last year showing under the lights seemed to make him a little nervous.

John and I are also excited about Mrs. Wexner’s newest purchase which happened just days ago, a mare named Mademoiselle. With a lot of luck, she might be a real contender in the WEG Trials, but time is against us. With only a few weeks until the trials, I will be working to get to know Mademoiselle as best I can. She was ridden very competently by Katherine Bardis last year on a developing riding tour with the U.S. team and in some World Cup Qualifying classes, but at 13 is still untested at the championship level. She’s a thoroughbred type, which is good for me, and seems very nice to ride. The big question is whether she has the scope to compete at the very top, but we tested her well when we tried her, and feel like she has what it takes. It’s always an unknown purchasing any horse, and whether she will be ready to impress in time for the Trials is something we just don’t know.

It’s a long road to the WEG and for me Florida marks the beginning of the home stretch. Some people who know me understand that I’ve been aiming toward this goal since just about when I stepped off the medal stand at the WEG in Aachen four years ago. In reality it’s been at least that long that things have been in the works with this goal in mind. You have to think long-term when you’re bringing horses along. It would be almost impossible to top what Authentic and I were able to accomplish at the last WEG, so what I am hoping for is to do well in the selection trials and be a strong contributor to a gold medal winning U.S. team in Kentucky this October.