The riders slated to head to Tokyo next month as well as several alternate pairs and one Canadian have converged on Great Meadow in The Plains, Va. this week for one final training session before the Olympics. With instructions to have all fitness work completed before coming to this Mandatory Outing, the pairs will focus on honing the fine details and getting valuable feedback this week.
Today’s dressage was moved up a day in anticipation of heavy weather in the forecast to ensure that competitors would be able to get in a cross country run tomorrow morning. While official scores were not handed out, the dressage tests focused on more of a “Ride-A-Test” format in which riders could repeat a movement if desired and get realtime input from the judging panel of Mark Weissbecker and Debbie Adams.
In Tokyo, riders will use the newest version of the Olympic Games Dressage Test, which consists of 20 scored movements and one collective mark for Harmony of Athlete and Horse. This being a new test that none of these riders will have performed yet, there was much value to be had in querying the judges for what it was they’d be seeking in true competition. Particularly notable in this test is the canter work, which begins with a right lead counter-canter and is nearly immediately followed by two flying changes on the quarter lines of a diagonal. A total of four flying changes, each performed on the quarter line, are included in this test, and in a short window of time.
“Today’s dressage was a lot of learning for all of us,” U.S. Eventing Performance Director Erik Duvander said. “It’s a new test for us all. Today we got the judges’ opinions on how the test should be ridden.”
The riders echoed these sentiments, expressing their appreciation of the judges’ willingness to walk through the expectations for each movement and how each pair can improve between now and Tokyo.
“It was very helpful to go through the test with the two judges as well,” Phillip Dutton commented. “I was pleased, but also there are areas that I can improve before Tokyo. Overall, they liked (Z’s) paces and the way I presented him. Certainly there was too much neck bend in the shoulder-in and the finessing of the canter work. It’s kind of a little bit harder and a little bit different than what we’ve ever done before and certainly with the half pass the change and back, so the way that you execute and position the horse through that, they talked us through what they’re looking for there, so that was helpful as well.”
“I found that extremely helpful,” Liz Halliday-Sharp said after her test with Deniro Z, noting that she didn’t go in the ring aiming to produce the best possible performance but rather to practice the movements and ensure she had the details nailed down. “There’s a lot of odd movements we’ve never done…so that’s more what I wanted to get out of today was what do they want to see for the 8, when do we set up for that, can we do this that and the other, so that was fantastic.”
Watch Doug Payne and Vandiver’s test to get a visual of what the riders will be tackling in the Tokyo sandbox:
Dressage was followed by a horse inspection, through which all 12 pairs passed. Tomorrow will see a cross country test over a 5 minute, 30 second track designed by Ian Stark at four-star specifications (as the Olympic Games track will also be). The track will include 34 jumping efforts and 21 numbered fences.
Things will then wrap up on Friday morning with a second horse inspection and show jumping test. For the jumping phases, live scores will be populated at this link. With this being more of a dress rehearsal than a competition – and with the typical July temperatures and harder ground – expect to see plenty of time taken on cross country as the riders get in one final practice run before getting on the plane.
“I guess we’ll see time wise on cross country,” Doug Payne said. “Things are a bit drier – not going to go crazy fast, but you absolutely want to be competitive and want to put together the best, most polished round you can, again preparing the best we can for going over to Tokyo.”
Kate Samuels will be on the ground at Great Meadow tomorrow to document the action, so stay tuned here on EN for much more from Virginia!