Live from Omaha!

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

Friday, March 31, 2017

First, the Fun Stuff

As the inept dressage rider "Brett Kidding," Aussie horsemanship expert Tristan Tucker brought laughs to the entertainment portion of the Dressage Showcase at the 2017 FEI World Cup Finals in Omaha. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Friday afternoon’s Dressage Showcase, held on the “dark day” of no dressage competition at the 2017 FEI World Cup Dressage Final in Omaha, was a split-personality event.

The first half consisted of lighthearted dressage exhibitions and freestyle performances (with a dollop of educational value). Audiences enjoyed them, but what I suspect got many of them in the door was the second half of the showcase: a “through the levels” mini-clinic with the world’s #1 ranked dressage rider (and winner of yesterday’s Grand Prix), Isabell Werth of Germany.

In a statistic that should prove heartening for the USDF, which has dressage education as its core mission, more people came to watch the Dressage Showcase than yesterday’s Grand Prix: 4,755 vs. 3,806, to be exact. Put another way, last night’s round 1 of the World Cup Jumping Final drew 5,126 spectators—fewer than 400 more than attended the showcase. That’s a lot of people who paid for dressage education in Omaha!

I want to do justice to Werth’s presentation, and it dovetails nicely with another aspect of this event, which is the fact that the warm-up is smack-dab in the middle of the facility—the trade-fair vendor booths actually surround it—and so there’s a veritable feast of education for the taking for anyone savvy enough to park themselves beside the warm-up. So I’m going to tell you about the educational angles in my next blog post.
The Frontier Strings from the Omaha Conservatory of Music performed. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
A Devocoux Saddlery demonstration-cum-exhibition served as a preamble of sorts to the showcase, with a fancy liver chestnut horse passaging extravagantly to show off his freedom of movement. Then the Dressage Showcase opened with a performance by the Frontier Strings, a youth ensemble of Omaha Conservatory of Music students.
World Cup Dressage Final competitors Steffen Peters, Inessa Merkulova, Laura Graves, and Isabell Werth were honored for achieving scores of 80 percent or better in World Cup Final series competition. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Audiences thrilled to see four of the world’s top dressage riders—Steffen Peters and Laura Graves of the USA, Isabell Werth, and Inessa Merkulova of Russia—together in the arena to receive the “80 Percent Award”: jeweled browbands to commemorate their having earned a score of 80 percent or better at a World Cup Dressage Final or qualifier. The award was created by’s Ken Braddick, and Braddick was on hand to bestow the browbands as well as a blingy belt for Werth, whom Braddick said is the only rider to have achieved scores of 80 percent or better on three different horses.
Katie Jackson, who lost part of her right leg to cancer, gave an impressive para-equestrian dressage demonstration. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Impressive freestyles by two high-performance para-equestrian dressage riders followed. First up was Katie Jackson of Texas, who lost part of her right leg to cancer. Riding the mare Royal Dancer, who is a veteran of the 2014 World Equestrian Games and the 2016 Paralympics with rider Roxanne Trunnell, Jackson performed a Grade 5 freestyle. Announcer Nicho Meredith explained that para-dressage riders are classified into grades according to severity of physical disability. Grade 5 is the least severe (Grade 1 is the highest degree of disability), and its tests approximate US Equestrian Third Level dressage, with walk, trot, and canter and lateral movements but no flying changes.
Para-dressage freestyle by 2016 Paralympics competitors Annie Peavy and Lancelot Warrior. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
The Grade 4 athlete Angela “Annie” Peavy, a 2016 Paralympic Games veteran, rode her Rio freestyle with her longtime partner Lancelot Warrior. Both riders did a good job of showcasing the talents and determination of those talented equestrians who are determined not to let disabilities stand in the way of their dreams.

It is its own discipline separate from dressage, but there’s no denying that Western dressage has grown in popularity in recent years. Some riders of stock breeds—particularly if they’d rather wear chaps than breeches—have embraced the opportunity to compete against similar horses, in their preferred tack and attire. And when it comes to excellence in both dressage and Western dressage, surely one of the country’s best and most well-known is the Florida-based Lynn Palm, who performed two Western dressage musical freestyles—to Western music, of course, including “Riders in the Sky” and the themes from Bonanza and other classic TV westerns.
Western dressage demo by Lynn Palm on Hot Royal. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Palm’s first mount was the appendix Quarter Horse Hot Royal. Later in the program she was back aboard the colorful 20-year-old American Paint Horse Rugged Painted Lark. Quarter Horse and equestrian sport enthusiasts alike know his sire, the legendary Rugged Lark, who with Palm gave a memorable bridleless exhibition at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Son Rugged Painted Lark must be doing OK for himself, too, as he’s been immortalized as a Breyer model.

The top Young Rider Barbara “Bebe” Davis performed her championship dressage freestyle to a medley of pop vocals including “Hundred Miles” by Yall, “Here for You” by Kygo, and an updated version of the 1980s hit “Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better).” But for some different musical innovation, one needed only to look up in the stands during the freestyle performance of FEI-level rider Amanda Johnson of Wisconsin, where a DJ appeared to be live-mixing her music. Aboard the Hanoverian gelding Foley, Johnson rode to a dance-worthy mix of Bruno Mars tunes including “Treasure” and “Chunky.”
Amanda Johnson on Foley. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Johnson's musical accompaniment? Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

(Are you starting to see why I’m saving the education for later? There was a lot of entertainment!)

A type of performance I hadn’t seen before was the pas de deux with living props. That sounds peculiar, and it looked a bit unusual, with five or six spotlighted groups of people standing in the purple-light-bathed arena while dressage riders Missy Fladland and Grace Schoenfeld trotted and cantered around them. The groups represented the “behind the scenes” supporters all riders need—veterinarians, farriers, show organizers, and others—and a country-music singer performed an original song honoring these unsung heroes’ efforts.
Honoring those who work behind the scenes in the horse industry: a unique pas de deux to an original song. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
The entertainment segment of the Dressage Showcase ended on the day’s lightest note. The Australian “horsemanship guru” and equine desensitizer donned an ill-fitting shadbelly, a stovepipe top hat, and a wig as his equestrian alter ego, Brett Kidding. Aboard “Legless” (that’s a parody of Steffen Peters’ Legolas, friends), “Brett” was an inept dressage rider attempting to perform a Grand Prix test while voicing the imagined thoughts of his long-suffering mount. “Brett” may have dreadful equitation, but I’d like to see you execute one-tempi changes while “talking on the phone”! It’s safe to say that it takes a really good rider to get a horse to perform well while looking like a really bad rider.

1 comment:

  1. Very glad to see taht the Omaha event seems to be going off real well. Kudos to the people who made this happen and happen right the first time. Congratulations so far to the Judges for disqualifying riders that don't seem to understand the rules. if they blow it in the ring just what are they doing to their horses in private?