Live from Omaha!

Live from Omaha!
On the scene at the 2017 FEI World Cup Dressage Final

Friday, April 17, 2015

On Fun Freestyle Day, Grease Is the Word

Danny (Jan Ebeling on Darling) woos Sandy (Charlotte Bredahl-Baker on Chanel) in their winning Grease-themed exhibition pas de deux. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

The dark day of no competition at the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final proved an opportunity for spectators as well as riders to cut loose and show the lighter side of our buttoned-down sport.

Just as many enthusiasts packed the Thomas & Mack Center for today’s Las Vegas Dressage Showcase as attended yesterday’s Grand Prix competition, which drew more than 7,300 spectators. But today was all about music, fun, and costumed exhibition rides – all by California-based riders and horses – plus a couple of milestone tributes.

The midday program kicked off with two “rising star” freestyles, ridden sans costumes: an Intermediate I Freestyle by Sabine Schut-Kery on Sanceo, and a Grand Prix Freestyle by Steffen Peters (who’s contesting the World Cup Final with Legolas 92) on the up-and-comer Rosamunde.
Sabine Schut-Kery rides Sanceo in an Intermediate I Freestyle. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
The crowd was “looser” than at a traditional dressage competition, clapping and vocalizing freely during the rides. When Sanceo first entered the Thomas & Mack and spooked at a patch of unevenly dragged footing, the audience laughed; then when the stallion neighed, the crowd responded with a chorus of “awww.”

Light moments aside, Sanceo is a stunner, with tremendous scope and presence. His pirouettes and extensions drew cheers, and Schut-Kery was clearly thrilled with his performance.
OK, maybe she's a little too far underneath herself in front. But holy moly, can Rosamunde sit! Steffen Peters and his new wunderkind perform their Grand Prix Freestyle at the Las Vegas Dressage Showcase exhibition. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
The other stunner is Rosamunde. It’s really hard to believe that this mare is only eight years old because her relaxation in the electric environment, coupled with her ease with the demands of the Grand Prix level, belie her age. She was so comfortable in the arena that I only saw her flinch once at some stimulus, and Peters was able to drop the reins and leave the arena on the buckle amidst the thunderous applause after his final halt and salute. Peters is not one to push a horse, and it’s obvious that Rosamunde has not been pushed. She’s extraordinary, and I expect great things from this pair in the future.
Not all dressage judging is this much fun! Linda Zang, Stephen Clarke, and Hans-Christian Matthiesen share a laugh with World Cup Finals announcer Bob Tallman (who's a well-known voice in the rodeo world). Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
With those more serious demonstrations concluded, it was time to turn the volume up – way up – for a three-way Dancing with the Stars-style pas de deux competition, complete with celebrity judges. FEI 5* judges Linda Zang of the US, Stephen Clarke of Great Britain, and Hans-Christian Matthiesen of Denmark made up the celebrity panel, awarding their scores via card after each ride.
Poison Ivy (Shannon Peters on Weltino's Magic) tries to put Batman (David Blake on Ikaros) under her evil spell. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Each pas de deux was themed, elaborately costumed, and expertly choreographed and edited. First up were Batman and Poison Ivy, aka David Blake on Ikaros and Shannon Peters on Weltino’s Magic. The horses – all of the horses today, actually – handled the atmosphere really well, in fact better than during the much quieter schooling session on Wednesday.
The Indian (Anna Dahlberg on Rico) meets the cowboy (Mette Rosencrantz on Marron). Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Then we visited the “Wild Wild West” courtesy of cowboy Mette Rosencrantz on Marron and Indian chief Anna Dahlberg on Rico. The upbeat soundtrack included themes from The Lone Ranger, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and Bonanza. The excitable Marron did give a half-rear during the program, but I think the audience thought it was part of the act! The judges scored the program higher than the Batman performance – but as Clarke (who was obviously relishing his role as the Simon Cowell of the panel) quipped, “Mette has a gun, so I’m going up.”

It was the final pas de deux, however, that brought down the house, winning top marks both from the judges and from the audience applause meter. “Danny” (Jan Ebeling on Darling) pursued “Sandy” (Charlotte Bredahl-Baker on Chanel) to the well-loved songs from Grease. Judge Linda Zang commended the horses’ synchrony and also confessed an affection for the 1950s-style music, saying that “This was my era!”
Elvis (Guenter Seidel on Zamorin) is a hunka-hunka burnin' love accompanied by showgirls (from left) Michelle Reilly on Umeeko, Sarah Christy on Xirope, and Elizabeth Ball on Orion. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
The final musical showcase of the exhibition was a “Viva Las Vegas” quadrille. Elvis (Guenter Seidel on Zamorin) was most definitely in the building, accompanied by the scantily clad showgirls Michelle Reilly on Umeeko, Sarah Christy on Xirope, and Elizabeth Ball on Orion. The quadrille wasn’t part of the celebrity judging, but it was the perfect extravaganza to conclude the exhibitions.

Tributes and Touching Moments

Two short, related ceremonies punctuated the otherwise-exuberant Las Vegas Dressage Showcase with a serious note. The first honored the contributions of E. Parry Thomas – yes, of the Thomas & Mack Center – to both Las Vegas and dressage. Thomas, now 94, was a banker who was instrumental in developing Las Vegas as a city and a resort destination. And thanks to the equestrian interests of his wife, Peggy, and daughter Jane, Thomas became a strong supporter of the sport. He and Peggy developed their River Grove Farm in Hailey, ID, where husband-and-wife team Bob and Debbie McDonald became the trainers. The Thomases went on to sponsor Debbie McDonald through their purchases of many top horses, including the legendary Brentina, McDonald’s 2004 and 2008 Olympic mount.
Rider Adrienne Lyle (right) helps to lead Wizard from the arena after his retirement ceremony. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
A former working student of Debbie McDonald’s also benefited from the Thomases’ patronage. Adrienne Lyle was given the ride on their Wizard, whose career culminated in performances at the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 World Equestrian Games. The 16-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Weltmeyer x Classiker) appeared in public one last time in full show regalia (quite amped up in the T&M Center) before Lyle dismounted and the great horse was unsaddled, draped with a cooler, and led from the arena.

The tributes were a reminder that without supporters like Thomas and horses like Wizard, who give so much of themselves, dressage would be a pale shadow of the robust and thriving sport we have today. It was fitting that the ceremonies were bookended by the lighthearted and uplifting exhibition rides that, like our horses themselves, brought joy to so many.

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