Desert Dressage II, presented by Adequan® – the first week of international dressage competition for the current season at the Desert International Horse Park (DIHP) in Thermal, CA – wrapped Sunday with elite West-Coast dressage athletes taking home top honors.

Steffen Peters Returns to Winning Ways at Desert Dressage II

Steffen Peters and Suppenkasper. Photo by Terri Miller

Steffen Peters (USA) made a victorious return to the Grand Prix Arena aboard the legendary Suppenkasper, owned by Four Winds Farm and Akiko Yamazaki. Peters and the 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Spielberg x IPS Krack C) did as they know best, and performed exceptionally, winning both the FEI World Cup Grand Prix, sponsored by Elizabeth Keadle, and the FEI World Cup Grand Prix Freestyle, sponsored by the Brad & Kathy Coors Foundation.

On Friday, Peters and “Mopsie” rode to a score of 74.804% in the FEI World Cup Grand Prix, sponsored by Elizabeth Keadle. Following that momentum, they returned to the ring Saturday to ultimately earn a score of 79.795% in the FEI World Cup Grand Prix Freestyle, sponsored by the Brad & Kathy Coors Foundation, topping the field of international entries.

Peters and Mopsie are no strangers to international competition, having represented the United States at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where they took home a team silver medal. But competing on the international stage close to home, in San Diego, CA, is an extra special feeling for Peters.

Steffen Peters and Suppenkasper. Photo by Terri Miller

Just last April, the duo represented the USA on home turf, competing at the FEI World Cup Finals in Omaha, NE, and walking away as the top-placing American pair. During his Freestyle in Omaha, Peters took an already outstanding freestyle and incorporated musical elements from his home state of California.

“It was very good, and very exciting,” Peters remarked of his top finish in front of a home crowd in Omaha. “We tried to top it a little bit from Tokyo. “We made it a little bit better, and that’s very hard because it was already such a good freestyle to start with. The crowd loved it, ‘Mopsie’ loved it, and I loved it.”

Peters has always had a love for competing in front of a home crowd, which was why the 2023 FEI World Cup Finals were such a big goal of his.

“It’s just so special,” he continued regarding competing on U.S. soil. “The second I got done, I saw some people standing up for us, and I had both of my arms up in the air. It’s just such a wonderful feeling and it’s really hard to describe. After 50 years of doing this sport, it still gets me really excited.”

In 2024, the FEI World Cup Finals head to Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, and Peters is already on his way to earning a spot there, though the competition will be steep to secure a qualifying position.

Erin Nichols Has Victorious Debut at Desert Dressage II

Erin Nichols (USA) and Elian Royale. Photo by Terri Miller

Twenty-year-old Erin Nichols returned to DIHP to compete in her first-ever international event, and it was a winning weekend for her as well, topping both the CDI3* FEI Grand Prix, sponsored by It’s A Good Life Podcast, and the CDI3* Grand Prix Special with Elian Royale, owned by Premiere Sport Horses.

On Friday, in the CDI3* FEI Grand Prix, sponsored by It’s A Good Life Podcast, Nichols and Elian Royale scored a personal best of 66.478%, and things just kept getting better as the week went on, scoring a personal best of 69.404% in the CDI3* Grand Prix Special just one day later.

“This was a great milestone for my horse and me and a great introduction to the international level,” Nichols reflected on her wins. “To be able to step into the big tour at 20 years old is really special, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to learn all about this level at such a young age. And I’m really excited for what’s coming next now.”

Having competed in both jumpers and dressage, Nichols is well versed in the horse show world, but stepping into international competition presents something new no matter the discipline, and she welcomed the changes.

“At the CDI we had five international judges; they had such a super panel this weekend. They are the same judges you would get anywhere else in the world. It’s judges I know from Europe, and it just gives you that experience without having to travel to Europe to have them judge you. It’s such a unique opportunity to be able to compete in a CDI for these judges in California,” Nichols explained.

Erin Nichols (USA) and Elian Royale. Photo by Terri Miller

Desert International Horse Park has always aimed to raise the level of the sport on the West Coast, and Nichols sees the efforts paying off.

“It’s really special,” she said of having CDI competition in her home state. “I’ve been coming to Desert Horse Park for around 10 years, back when I started as a jumper, so I’ve seen all the improvements they’ve made and it’s turned into one of my favorite facilities. It’s incredible to see each time I come there’s something new that’s a fantastic improvement. They’re always trying to do better. It’s a really cool atmosphere when you ride, the footing is always fantastic, and the arenas are just gorgeous.”

Elian Royale is still a growing partnership with Nichols in the irons, having brought the horse to the states from Europe to be her newest partner. With their training under David Wightman, they’re learning the ropes of the higher levels of dressage. Nichols and the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Johnson TN x Amidou) are more than hitting their stride, they’re proving to be ready for the big leagues.

“I think we’ve both grown tremendously as a partnership,” she said. “We’re starting to trust each other more and I’m trying I’m starting to learn how to manage his fire. He’s so hot. He just loves what he does, so it’s about managing his excitement and his love for what he does. I’ve never met a horse that loves what he does more than him. The more I go into this level, the more I see how easy it is for him. I feel I can take a step back and just let him shine and let him do his thing and just help him be his best, and in turn, do my best as well.”

Elizabeth Ball and Vivalia. Photo by Terri Miller

Elizabeth Ball also took a win in National competition during Desert Dressage II, presented by Adequan®. Ball and Vivalia, a 9-year-old DSP mare owned by Cadence LLC, topped the Intermediate 1, sponsored by Horse Hair Analysis, on Saturday. Their score of 72.500% put them atop the field in the class, helping to add valuable experience to the young horse’s resume.

The remaining 2023-2024 Desert Dressage dates are as follows:

Desert Dressage III: December 14-17, 2023
USEF Level 5

Desert Dressage IV: January 4-7, 2024
USEF Level 5