If only every dressage show included gold bikini-clad fire dancers, mermaids lounging about in an infinity pool, and chandelier ice sculptures. The organizers of the World Dressage Masters Palm Beach sure know how to attract a crowd, and the place was packed with all of the above, as well as a who’s who roster of dressage stars and their hangers-on last night at the…..exhibitor’s party.
What, did you think I was talking about the competition?
In all seriousness, Wellington Classic Dressage pulled out the stops again this year to transform Jim Brandon Equestrian Center into a classy, World Dressage-worthy venue. The party mentioned above was held on Thursday evening at the posh International Polo Club, which never falls short in hosting “only in Wellington” style affairs.
True to form, die hard dedicated dressage fans showed up in droves for today’s CDI4* Grand Prix. Yes, you read that right, at the last minute the designation was downgraded from a 5* in order to allow Carl Hester and the two top riders in the CDI3* compete (FEI rules state that the horse/rider combination must have two scores above 70% to qualify for a 5*, and Carl’s mount is new to him, so he hasn’t had time to collect the scores. The other riders were subject to a similar roadblock.) Following? I didn’t really either, but Horse Junkies United summed up this wrinkle quite well if you want to learn more.
However, I might add that as I type this I’m in the press tent at the Masters, fortuitously seated next to dressage rider and trainer Lauren Sprieser, who tells me that the 4 vs 5 star designation is little more than a technicality. The leap from 4 star to 5 star is actually not that large in dressage, and although the competition was downgraded, the level of competition is still the same: very, very high, and without a doubt the best that American soil will see this year.
I trust her expert opinion, so in that case, moving on. On the Line feels like a kindergartner in a college class sitting among the aforementioned company, but I did my best to follow along.
Ashley Holzer and her Olympic veteran Pop Art took the top spot in Thursday’s CDI3* Grand Prix, followed by Heather Blitz and Paragon in 2nd, and Swedish rider Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfve in 3rd. If you clicked through to the HJU link above, you know that Jim Koford and Heather were accepted and competed in the main event today.
I probably spend more time poking fun at dressage than appreciating it, but even a slightly sarcastic hunter/jumper snob can’t help but be a wee bit awed by the power of Paragon’s trot,
the impulsion in Wizard’s piaffe,
and Breaking Dawn. Not only is his story especially cool for this Twilight fan (yes, I openly admit that,) in my eyes he lived up to the attention he’s been getting as Ashley Holzer’s new star horse. He was so very cool:
And then there was that guy from California, what’s his name? Steffen Peters rode in on his high horse and made the Grand Prix test look like a virtual walk in the park. Really, Ravel was so relaxed and at ease, he could have been on a trail ride. If it weren’t for the foot perfect movements (27 of them), the smooth as glass transitions, and the sharp, accurate ride from start to finish that earned this top pair the winning score of 81.468%. Which, by the way, is a new WDM Palm Beach record, and a new personal best for Steffen and Ravel. It’s all in a day’s work?
Other items of note:
Helmets. Go helmets! Helmet-wearers were representing at about an even 50/50% versus top hat-wearers. At this level of dressage competition, that’s impressive. I was a strong supporter of helmets before I attended the Riders4Helmets Safety Symposium a few weeks ago in Palm Beach, but after hearing Courtney King-Dye’s speech in person at that event, I am an even stronger advocate of helmets than before. Wear your helmets at all levels, people.
Either there were some high-dollar VIPs in the stands, or show management decided not to take any chances should the crowd of DQs get a little rowdy: the usher standing at the base of the bleachers was packing a gun under his suit coat. Yes – a real live handgun. I was majorly distracted by this fact after I spotted it, and spent the rest of the afternoon pondering why armed security would be necessary at a dressage show.
Totilas. Sigh. As a dressage “fan” rather than a stodgy and “serious” dressage participant, I’ve got to give him a mention. Oh how I wish he had been able to hop the pond and make his highly anticipated appearance. I understand that he wasn’t 110% ready to take on Ravel due to a minor tendon injury, and he would have been piloted by that new rider, whom I love far less than the stunning Edward Gal, but still. Myself and many of you out there would have loved to feel the electricity in this place when he entered at A.
And it continues. Tomorrow’s Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Freestyle will be streamed live around the interwebs at www.usefnetwork.com. Will Steffen and Ravel take the top prize in the Freestyle?! Is that a foregone conclusion? We will all just have to wait and see.
Full scores from today can be found at the World Dressage Masters site.
I leave you with an instant classic, the Peters-Yamazaki fist bump. Hooray!