|Charlotte Dujardin rides Valegro in the dressage World Cup Final schooling session. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
Yes, you can sell tickets to watch dressage riders schooling.
It wasn't anywhere near a sellout crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center, but a couple thousand dressage enthusiasts (who evidently had already filed their tax returns on this April 15) kicked off their trips to Las Vegas with a chance to watch the world's best riders and horses familiarize themselves with the arena in preparation for the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final competition.
Here's how it worked: Pairs of horse/rider combinations were assigned 15-minute time blocks of time in the main arena. If a pair chose to school in the ring together, both got the full 15 minutes. If they opted to school separately, each was allotted just 7.5 minutes. There were no judges, although the arena decorations were set up.
|Laura Graves schools Verdades. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
Most of the combinations had clearly already warmed up in the designated warm-up ring prior to entering the main arena: They walked in, did a couple of trot circles, then put their horses through their paces. Most rode bits of test movements -- center line and halt, diagonals with extensions (not full bore, though) or tempi changes, pirouettes, short piaffe-passage tours. One whose horse spent more time in warm-up mode was the USA's Steffen Peters, the 2009 World Cup Final champion aboard Ravel, who rode his 2015 mount, Legolas 92, in rising trot for a couple of minutes at the beginning of his session. Peters moved to an easy canter on longish reins before bringing Legolas into full Grand Prix mode and running through a few movements. Legolas appeared to be giving something near H the hairy eyeball a couple of times, and he flubbed a two-tempi change, but otherwise he was obedient and looked relaxed in the indoor environment.
|Laura Graves gets a high-five from Steffen Peters after her session. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
The other US contender, Laura Graves and her Verdades, had an air of quiet confidence. Like many of the riders, Graves wore a headset and wireless transmitter so that she could receive coaching from her instructor (in Graves' case, Olympian Debbie McDonald) during the few precious minutes in the arena.
Edward Gal's mount Glock's Undercover looked notably more relaxed than the black KWPN gelding (by Ferro) did at last year's World Equestrian Games. Undercover is not as extravagant a mover as Gal's most famous mount, his 2010 WEG gold-medal-winning partner Totilas, but he's a lovely horse and he may well wind up placing highly. And Gal is a crowd favorite, for sure, drawing perhaps even more applause than the reigning Olympic, WEG, and World Cup Dressage Final champion, Britain's Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro.
|Edward Gal and Glock's Undercover of the Netherlands. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
It's a rare treat to see any of these superstars in person at a competition. Even rarer is the chance to see them in schooling attire, horses unbraided (most of them), "just riding," even though a schooling session that charges admission isn't really just riding. And how many times do we get to see Dujardin riding in the ring along with the German legend Isabell Werth aboard El Santo?
With such a compressed time frame, the educational value of watching the schooling sessions was diminished; ideally I'm sure the spectators would have loved to watch an entire training session, from warm-up to cool-down. But it gave us a chance to compare the horses in an expedient way, to marvel at how well most of them handled the busy indoor atmosphere, and to get pumped up for tomorrow's Grand Prix, which begins at noon PDT.
(A note about the World Cup competition: The Grand Prix serves merely as a qualifier for the GP Freestyle. It does not count toward the final placings.)
The afternoon of dressage schooling sessions concluded with the pairs that will be participating in Friday's Las Vegas showcase. They constituted a Who's Who of dressage in California: among them, Steffen Peters/Rosamunde, Shannon Peters/Weltino's Magic, Sabine Schut-Kery/Sanceo, and Jan Ebeling/Darling. Poor Marron, Mette Rosencrantz's mount, got unnerved by the atmosphere in the Thomas & Mack and tried hard to avoid going down the ramp to the arena; but Rosencrantz got him through it and worked hard to give him a positive experience. And experience, one suspects, is the reason a number of these exhibition horses are here. The electric indoor Vegas atmosphere is unusual in the US and valuable for our horses to get under their belts if ever their riders aspire to compete in the prestigious European indoor shows.