Two Southern California dressage riders are one step closer to the Summer Games in Seoul after last weekend's Olympic screening trials at Coto de Caza.
Marie Meyers of Canoga Park and Bernie Traurig of San Diego County swept the FEI Grand Prix test, finishing first and second respectively. Their strong scores (Meyers' 64.15% and Traurig's 62.52%) virtually assured them an invitation to train with the U.S. Equestrian Team at its Gladstone, N.J., headquarters. The selections for the "short list" (the Olympic team) will be made from that group after a finals competition at Gladstone to be held shortly before the Games.
Although Meyers has become a consistent competitor in the international levels, Saturday's placings were a slight upset for Traurig. The odds-on favorite, he rode the accomplished dressage horse Azurit. The horse was solid in his upper-level movements but at times lacked the brilliance and fluidity of Meyers' mount, Dimitrius.
Nonetheless, both riders met outside the riding arena and congratulated one another. Traurig said only that he was happy with his score.
Meyers, clearly ecstatic, bubbled: "Bernie and I don't compete against each other, anyway. We just compete against the East Coast"--a reference to previous U.S. Olympic equestrian teams that have been heavily dominated by East Coast riders.
Some Olympic dressage veterans from the West Coast, such as Hilda Gurney of Los Angeles, were conspicuous by their absence. However, the enthusiastic spectators at Coto de Caza were treated to some solid Grand Prix tests by Arizona riders Liselotte Fore (third place aboard General with a score of 60%) and Shirley Rector (fourth on Anklang, 58.94%).
Meyers' horse was clearly the star of the day. The 14-year-old Dutch warmblood sailed through the rigorous Grand Prix test, showing a beautifully cadenced passage on the circle that many horses lacked.
"He's a joy," said Meyers, who trains with Christolot Hanson Boylen of Canada and has owned Dimitrius, a bay, for 11 years. "I got him as an unbroken stallion, and we've been through everything together."
Although her horse performs in the show ring as though he patently enjoys his work, Meyers said Dimitrius can be difficult to ride.
"He's a very intelligent horse--he learned his tempi changes down to twos in one day. But sometimes he tries to use his intelligence against you. Just this year he has finally settled down and decided that I'm the boss," she said.
Now in his third season of Grand Prix competition, the horse has come into his own as a confirmed world-class competitor. Several weeks ago he won the Grand Prix Special test at the Olympic screening trial at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, finishing the event as overall high-point winner with a score of 61.7%. Earlier this season he was second to Azurit (Traurig's mount) in the Phoenix Grand Prix.
Last weekend's competition, sponsored by the San Juan Capistrano chapter of the California Dressage Society, was a benefit for the Orange County Riding Center (a nonprofit, therapeutic riding facility for youths) in San Juan Capistrano. It featured 90 international-level rides and a full range of lower-level rides over the two days of competition.
Gary Carmichael, who managed the show, said: "This was one of the largest showcases of dressage talent ever to appear in Orange County. You can learn a lot by watching top-level riders, both in competition and in the warm-up arena."
The only disappointment was the sparse spectator turnout, due in part to the weekend's 90-plus temperatures--and to the fact that in this country, dressage has not developed the wide spectator appeal of more fast-paced equestrian disciplines such as jumping.
In dressage, each rider enters the arena alone and silently rides a prescribed series of movements. The judges score the rider against a standard, giving the rider a mark from zero (not performed) to the rare 10 (perfection) for each movement.
Despite the exacting nature of the sport, dressage has taken a foothold among its enthusiasts.
The California Dressage Society, with about 2,700 members, is the largest regional club in the U.S. Dressage Federation. In recent years there has been a surge of dressage interest in Orange County, particularly in San Juan Capistrano and its environs, with 120 riders now belonging to the San Juan Capistrano chapter of CDS.
Darlene Sordillo, the author of "How to Ride a Winning Dressage Test," covers equestrian events for The Times. Her column appears every Saturday. Readers may send horse-related news to her at: Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626.