Dawn White-O’Connor and Legolas 92

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Sunday, March 12, 2017

Dawn White-O'Connor and Legolas 92

At this year’s Adequan® Global Dressage Festival, Dawn White-O’Connor, Steffen Peter’s longtime training assistant treasured the opportunity to ride in a Grand Prix ring on Legolas, a horse that has competed for five years in as many as 60 Grand Prix tests. “Legolas is an amazing horse,” Dawn exclaimed. “He has a fun personality and he’s sensitive. He’s really fun to ride.”

Dawn’s main goal in riding Legolas in the big arena has been learning how to best manage the horse effectively. "I wanted to get it just right. I’ve learned with him that there’s a delicate balance between over-riding and under-riding him. It’s finding that balance that’s key.” Continuing, she said, “There’s an exact place where you can’t do too much or too little with your aids.” She added, “You have to be so clear with him, especially in the changes and remember that the aids are very little with him because he really is so sensitive. And, he knows it. It’s such a good feeling to do it right, but the second it starts to fall apart it’s like all the wheels start falling off.”

Already with three CDI competitions under their belts in 2017, Dawn and Legolas are doing very well. At the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, they scored 72.560% in the FEI Grand Prix CDIW and 76.295% in the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDIW. Working together for less than a year, the pair will be competing in California and honing in on where they can get more points in the arena. “I think it’s that way with any horse,” she said. “Every test you ride you figure out another piece on how to improve and where you made a mistake and how you can fix that in the next test. Each show, we’ll find those pieces and improve on them.”

Trained and competed by Steffen. the 15-year-old Westphalian gelding (Laomedon x Furstin x Florestan II) owned by Akiko Yamazaki represented the World Equestrian Games in 2014 in Normandy, the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto and the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. Enthusiastic for Dawn and Legolas, Steffen said, “My heart rate was at 180 watching Dawn in the warmup and competition arena. It was exciting and incredible.”

Steffen thanked owner Akiko for both Dawn and Legolas, “Every time when I talk about Akiko I don’t even know where to start. It’s been such an amazing friendship for so many years, starting with Ravel and Lombardi before that. Together Akiko and I made this decision with Legolas because we believe in supporting the next generation. And Dawn, at 26 years old, is a fabulous example. We want to be a part of that.”

Dawn White-O'Connor

For the past ten years, 26-year-old Dawn White-O’Connor has been part of a team at Steffen and Shannon Peters’ training and boarding facility, Arroyo Del Mar in San Diego, California. From tacking up horses to riding to organizing and scheduling travel arrangements for Steffen or the team, including getting back to people and various clinics, symposiums, trips to Europe or grooming Ravel at the London Olympics, Dawn has certainly done it all.Dawn White-O'Connor and Legolas 92

She was born in a tiny mountain town near Boulder, Colorado called Jamestown with a population of 250 people, “It’s kind of a quirky town and a really good place to grow up. It was great. We had the biggest class in history; I think there were 7 or 8 of us,” she recalled, “The big rule was that we were not allowed to go outside after dusk because there were bears and mountain lions roaming around. Everyone knew everybody and it was really fun. And, it was safe.” Moving to Boulder at age nine, she went on to graduate early from high school and then to work for Steffen and Shannon.

Arriving at Arroyo Del Mar at age 17, Shannon Peters helped Dawn build a foundation for riding where she worked at the stables in exchange for riding lessons. When Courtney King-Dye traveled to the facility to prepare for the 2007 World Cup in Las Vegas, Dawn stepped up to groom for her through the competition itself, a one month tour. Still only 17, Dawn then traveled to Europe to groom Lombardi for Steffen through the short European tour where she had to wait until she reached the age of 18 to travel with horses due to flying stipulations.

Now Dawn is able to have her own business intertwined in the day-to-day work she does for Steffen and Shannon. They encourage her to build her own clientele while still relying on her to help with the workload, “It’s not just me. They’ve done this for many others. They help you and push you to build your own business. I am grateful to them.”

Also on the two and a half week Florida tour, Dawn competed Aristo a 12 year-old KWPN (Olivi x Krack C) owned by Carla Hayes in the Grand Prix earning top scores. For the last three years the pair have been climbing the levels to FEI Grand Prix international ring. They competed at the Festival of Champions at Gladstone in 2014 at the USEF Intermediaire I Championships and continue their quest on gaining high scores. Dawn shared, “I am also grateful to have such supportive owners as Carla and Akiko, who allowed making a trip to Florida possible. It has been so worthwhile for all of us.” 

On Riding with Steffen at Home or in Competition

“Steffen teaches in the same way he rides. You can see when he’s riding his horses that he’s not always supporting them. He doesn’t give too many aids. Instead, he wants the horse to have a clear understanding in what he’s asking.” She elaborated, “In the same way, he doesn’t talk to the person he's teaching during the whole lesson. He lets you ride and then he’ll give a comment here or there. It’s those one sentences or a perfect word of wisdom that makes all the difference because in the competition arena you’re on your own.”“Eddie” Jose Eduardo Garcia Luna, Steffen Peters on Bailarino and Dawn White-O'Connor

“If you see Steffen warming up his horses, you can see him being very smart about that time he has with his horse and he never over-rides them. He’s very good at utilizing the time he has with the horse and you’ll see which transitions he rides and where he places them. He’s very precise in what he does and the horses do understand what he’s asking.”

“I really do think it’s the consistency that’s so important for the horse to understand. There has to be consistency when you’re training a horse. And that’s what Steffen is so good at. He’s not constantly making changes when riding.”

Steffen about Dawn and Legolas

Steffen explained, “Dawn has made it easy on me because she has watched Legolas for so many years. She knows exactly the type of routine he needs in the warm-up for the show ring. Except in the Freestyle, I am pretty tough on Dawn because I want her to be right on with the music. There was one time when she did the piaffe for one second too long and I said so, and everyone on the side said ‘Really Steffen? It’s only one second!’ I stayed firm, but not tough.” 

He continued, “To me, 75% of dressage is the mental training of the horse. The other 25% is the physical training. That explains how clearly we believe in communicating with the horse. At the end of the day, we need to speak their language.”

FEI Results for Dawn White-O’Connor and Legolas 92
01/06/2017 Las Vegas NV CDI-W GP - Grand Prix 68.100%
01/07/2017 Las Vegas NV CDI-W GP FS - Grand Prix Freestyle to Music 75.275%
02/09/2017 Wellington FL CDI3* FEI Grand Prix CDI3* 70.560%
02/10/2017 Wellington FL CDI3* FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDI3* 72.850%
02/23/2017 Wellington FL CDI-W FEI Grand Prix CDIW 72.560%
02/24/2017 Wellington FL CDI-W FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDIW 76.295%