Anyone who knows me, knows how passionate I am about the sport of dressage. My love for dressage though is not a blind one. I know that the sport has problems and even abuses like many other competitive equestrian disciplines. Some dressage horses are treated like royalty and trained with steady, consistent conditioning along with kind training techniques. Others are trained with harsh even bordering on abusive techniques and are used like vehicles only useful and wanted when they win.
Anyone who knows me also knows that I am equally zealous about how all horses are treated, Whether they are a high level competition horse, a kid's pony, a weekend warrior's trail horse or a pasture ornament; all horses should receive the same quality of nutrition and health care and should be given every the opportunity for a long, happy and healthy live.
Well a week ago, I was witness to an event that demonstrated that I am not alone in my perspective and that even at the highest level of my sport, a long and happy retirement can be chosen for a horse over a continued competitive career.
At the Del Mar National Horse Show the end of last month, a lovely retirement for Ravel was held after the musical freestyle completion. Ravel was ridden by Steffen Peters for his entire U.S. competitive career and they were an overwhelmingly dominant pair in the U.S. and one of the top horse and rider teams in the world. Steffen and Ravel represented the United States in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, won the 2009 World Cup, won the Individual Bronze Medal at WEG in 2010, have earned Horse of the Year titles from the USEF and the USDF, and last year were inducted into the USDF Hall of Fame. Pretty amazing if you ask me and not to mention that he has been immortalized as a Breyer Horse.
When I bought Uiver (my dressage horse) now nearly two years ago, as many of you might remember that I bought him through David Blake one of the trainers at Arroyo Del Mar, operated by Steffen and Shannon Peters. As surreal as it seems at times, seeing Steffen and Ravel became commonplace as I went to Arroyo on a weekly basis to train with David. Watching Ravel and Steffen never failed to take my breath away. Ravel always seemed happy and eager to please when working and as relaxed as a kid's horse on a trail ride when cooling out around the arena. It was always clear that he and Steffen had a special bond and everyone at the barn adored him.
After the 2012 Olympics, Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang (Ravel's owners) and Steffen made the decision to retire Ravel when he could leave the competitive arena at the pinnacle rather than the decline of his career. As sad as I will be to not see Ravel when at Arroyo or at shows any more, I feel that retiring Ravel demonstrates what true horsemen and horse lovers Steffen and Akiko are.
The retirement ceremony could not have been more tastefully done. It started with Steffen riding a freestyle one last time and they performed as flawlessly as ever. I have included the video link below.
The crowd was on their feet erupting with applause and Ravel seemed to just soak it up. Steffen was holding back tears, I am sure at the thought that this incredible ride was his last on this incredible horse and out of gratitude for the audience's appreciation. After the applause died down, which took at least 5 minutes, they proceeded with the ceremony which included Steffen removing Ravel's saddle and leading Ravel out of the arena with Akiko and hand in hand with Shannon. There were few dry eyes in the house and I still get choked up now just thinking about it.
The Wednesday after Del Mar National, I was at Arroyo as usual for my lesson with David. After my lesson I was walking around the arena cooling Uiver out and Steffen was standing by the gate. He smiled at me and said hello as he always does and I said "Steffen you made everyone cry on Saturday". He looked at me with a coy grin and said "Why, did I ride that badly?" I laughed and said "Actually I thought you and Ravel looked as fabulous as ever." Steffen told me that he felt great but that it is important for them that Ravel go out on top. "I owe him too much for it to be any different, he has earned a long and happy retirement." "Well that is the way it is supposed to be." I said and walked away thinking that I have always admired Steffen as a rider, competitor and horseman. Now I also admire him as simply a good human being.
Below is the link for the entire ceremony including the video they played at the beginning of the ceremony that stories Ravel's life and career. Much of it was shot at Arroyo so you can see what an incredibly beautiful facility it is and why I feel so fortunate to be able to go there and train. Everyone on Ravel's team Akiko, Steffen, Shannon, Eddie (Steffen's groom), Dawn (Steffen's working student), and Dr. Vasquez are a class act and I feel honored to know them.