Braddick, a former war correspondent for UPI who now runs Dressage News, is impressed with how well Ebeling is handling the pressure. Braddick says Ebeling texts Ann Romney and the other owner, telling them, "I don't want to hear any stress, any emotion. I don't want anything to break my focus." They did not speak Thursday before the performance.
"Having that visibility is really adding something to the sport, and does it affect me? No," Ebeling said in an NBC News video. "Once I get into my zone, I don't see anything, I don't hear anything. Everything is shut out."
Braddick says this year's Team USA is "without a doubt one of the most close-knit, protective-of-themselves group I've ever seen." "They've had a lock down and nobody gets to go and interfere with their training camp. And it's worked," he added.
Dressage: The How-To Guide
Dressage is a series of intricate, detailed movements performed by the horse. The signature move is the piaffe, where the horse trots in place. A good performance means no forward movement during each move. Any irregularities will be marked down as well as any lack of symmetry or balance. Judges look for regularity, stability, and the placement of the movements. The horse and rider should end each move where he or she started.
Like a gymnast coming off the high beam or vault slightly off balance, a score will be marked down for the same. Scores will be deducted from 10 as irregularities in performance show up.
With a rider dressed in a top hat and tails on its back, the horse, which weighs around 1,200 to 1,500 lbs, lifts up its front legs to trot in place. We are not talking about a slight and svelte gymnast. Viewers watching should keep an eye on the horse's hind quarters to see if the animal stays in place.
"Also look for the horse's top line, the outline, the top between the ears…the plane of the horse's face should be vertical to the ground," Jim Wofford, an American equestrian and former Olympian, told ABC News. "Variations and paces are determined by the length of the horse's step or stride."
It's a discipline that jumper riders, polo players and other equestrians are in awe of because of the intricate movements.
The dressage test, says Braddick, is "about seven minutes of these unbelievable movements… [It's] the perfect harmony of human and horse completely, both mentally and physically."
Ebeling agrees. He told NBC News he knows Rafalca's "weaknesses and her fears. I think she knows my fears and—so we are like a couple, like an old married couple."
On Thursday and Friday, 10 teams plus the individuals will compete in the Grand Prix level. The top seven teams will continue on to the Grand Prix Special, the next phase, on Aug. 7. Team USA is expected to continue on and it will be a huge disappointment if they do not, Braddick notes. The individuals will perform again on Aug. 9. There are going to be 50 combinations of horses and riders in 10 teams and then about 20 individual riders.
"Even on a bad day the U.S. should finish certainly in the top six as a team," Braddick said.
It's a long break for Rafalca, Ebeling, and their teammates and opponents between the two competitions. One of the longer ones in modern Olympic history Braddick says, pointing out there is a good and a bad side to the wait time.