By Lauren R. Giannini
Ravel, the dressage star ridden by Steffen Peters, is living out the life all horses deserve: he has gone from life as an Olympic superstar to life as a trail horse and schoolmaster for owner Akiko Yamazaki. Ravel has the reputation for being a generous horse and one of the nicest horses that Steffen has ever ridden. His agreeable temperament certainly comes in handy on Akiko’s Four Winds Farm in California where the superstar passaged gracefully into the good life.
“He came to my farm about two weeks after coming home from London,” recalled Akiko. “He got off the trailer and walked straight into his stall without batting an eye. The next morning, we put him in the small grass paddock. Even though he had not had turnout during his competition years, he put his head down and started eating grass as if he had always done it.”
It’s equally impressive that an equine who knows how to piaffe, passage and pirouette didn’t have any problems adjusting to the trails. Four Winds Farm borders 100 acres, open to members of the trail riding club. “The first time we took him out, I went with a friend just to be safe as there are deer and many outdoor sculptures,” explained Akiko. “Ravel just walked calmly through it all. By the third trail ride, I was so confident he would be fine by himself that this became the norm. He goes through ditches, walks next to a herd of deer, and we watch hawks land on branches together. I really cherish these quiet beautiful moments with him.”
Ravel – aka His Majesty – knows he is a star. When he first arrived at the barn, he received visitors all the time. “We have many visitors who come to say hello and bring him apples and carrots. I think he really enjoys posing for photos,” said Akiko. “Whenever there is an audience, even if it is two people that have come to watch him, he puffs up a bit more in the arena. Ravel never begs for his treats – you must come to him!”
Like any royalty, Ravel has a mind of his own. Akiko recalled that the first time she brought him to the mounting block, he stopped five feet short and refused to move. “I was sad about this, thinking he doesn’t want to work any more,” admitted Akiko, “until Steffen told me Ravel did this to him every single day.”
Akiko grew up with horses in Costa Rica and competed jumpers as a teenager. Her first dressage experience took place when she was in high school. Then she moved to California to attend Stanford University. She had left behind the horses, but never forgot them. Akiko’s passion for horses revived early in her marriage to the unsuspecting Jerry Yang. One horse led to many, but it was Jerry’s suggestion that they look for a horse for Steffen to ride in the Beijing Olympics.
When asked what moments she cherishes most in Ravel’s career, Akiko replied, “Beijing 2008. World Cup 2009. Aachen 2009. Kentucky (WEG) 2010. Being the crowd’s favorite in Aachen 2011. There are just too many special moments, but one of the special moments was to go on a trail ride with Steffen and Ravel.”
Every few weeks Steffen travels from his training facility in San Diego to Four Winds Farm in northern California to work with Akiko, who rides Ravel three to four days in the arena and one day on the trails. “When Steffen comes out to give me lessons, he gets on him, and one time I couldn’t get him off of Ravel,” exclaimed Akiko. “He is an incredible teacher and still seems happy to do his work.”
Ravel may be retired, but not his rider. Steffen plans to compete on Akiko’s Legolas 92 in the World Dressage Masters in Palm Beach, Jan. 23-27. The bay Westphalian gelding, now 11, who had been trained to Grand Prix in Germany by Ulrich Kasselman, arrived with little show experience in June 2011. Legolas won the 2012 US Grand Prix Championship and went to London as reserve horse for Steffen.
Retiring dressage stars to Four Winds began with Lombardi, the first horse Akiko sponsored for Steffen. They met in 1999 when she bought a horse through him. In 2004, awaiting her first daughter’s birth, Akiko sent Lombardi to Steffen. Within a year he turned the 14-year-old Holsteiner into an international grand prix horse. They competed in Hagen and twice at Aachen, earning the National Championship at Gladstone and placing fifth in the selection trials for Beijing.
“Whereas Ravel is happy to be the world’s best schoolmaster for me, Lombardi basically told me, ‘I never want to see a saddle EVER again’ when I retired him, so we honored his wishes,” stated Akiko. “I am not sure if Ravel would like to go back to the life of an international competition horse, because he seems to be enjoying his grass and trail rides, but he is for sure the King!”
Ravel’s Rocking Resume
Ravel, the dark bay Dutch Warmblood gelding, and his rider Steffen Peters are the most successful American Grand Prix dressage combination in many years. Bought in 2006 and imported from the Netherlands by Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang for Steffen, Ravel had been trained by Edward Gal of Moorlands Totilas fame. In early 2008 they stormed the dressage bastille, earning their place on the U.S. team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics where they placed fourth individually.
In Las Vegas in 2009 they won both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Freestyle at the Rolex FEI World Cup Dressage Final, besting the Netherlands’ Salinero and Anky van Grunsven (nine World Cups and three Olympic gold medals), and Germany’s Satchmo and Isabel Werth (five gold Olympic medals). Later that year, Ravel and Steffen scored another first for the U.S. when they swept all three classes at the prestigious CDIO Aachen.
The duo earned two bronze medals at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. It was the first time ever that a U.S. dressage horse had won an individual medal at the World Championships. You had to be there – the crowd went crazy. They also won two U.S. Grand Prix Championships and, along the way, the hearts of people around the world.
In 2012, Steffen and Ravel dominated the World Dressage Masters CDI4* Palm Beach presented by International Polo Club, winning the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Freestyle. (The photo on the cover of this issue is Ravel and Steffen at the 2012 World Dressage Masters.)
Ravel is a five-time Horse Of The Year (HOTY), presented by the United States Equestrian Federation. He earned three consecutive Adequan/USDF Grand Prix Horse of the Year titles (2009-2011), The Chronicle of the Horse’s 2009 Horse of the Year and the 2010 USEF Farnam/Platform Horse of the Year.
At the London Olympics last summer, the U.S. Dressage Team finished sixth overall. Steffen and his longtime sponsor Akiko, who owns Ravel, had made the decision to retire their 14-year-old wunderkind after the Games. Hopes ran high for them: they were the only U.S. combination to qualify for the freestyle, which decided the individual medals, but it wasn’t the great horse’s day. Ravel’s career ended without a trip to the podium and final blaze of glory. Steffen honored his wonderful equine dancing partner with moving words which have been quoted all over the media map: “Ravel owes us nothing. We owe him everything.”
Ravel was inducted into the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame at the USDF annual convention in December.