Today was a warm-up day for both the media and the competitors. We get a chance to test out our equipment to make sure that both our computers and cameras are working properly. The competitors get a chance to accustom their horses to the small indoor arena setting, the overhead TV lighting, the signage and the audience. In between shooting horses (that is photographer talk for photographing horses) it was a good opportunity to catch up with different people and chat. And so that’s exactly what I did today. I chatted with lots and lots of people.
Gil Merrick, who oversees the dressage for the USEF, talked a few times throughout the day. The first time was during the dressage warm-up when he explained that the purpose of the warm-up was “ to put the horse in a frame of mind of what it will really be like in that arena. “
Later we talked about Jan Ebeling riding Rafalca. This pair had ridden the test ride in Vegas in 2007 and now they were back ready to compete despite the fact that they drew the dreaded first go in the order.
“His horse has moved out of the test ride and into the ride. They did their homework and this is a real opportunity for them to show what they can do,” commented Gil. When I was at the United States Equestrian Federation Convention earlier this year I had a great conversation with Gil that was published on this site. You responded very positively to that article not only to us but apparently to Gil as well.
One of the comments Gil had made to me at the time was that he is willing to talk to people and so feel free to write him an email or pick up the phone and call him.
“And they did contact me,” Gil said. “I got quite a response and I was pleased.”
Our last encounter for the day was when Gil and I were joined by Leslie Morse, who was the dressage Wild Card rider in this competition aboard Kingston. Their warm-up was superb and exuded a huge applause from the audience, which by-the-way was a bigger crowd than the audience that watched the show jumpers.
There was one comment turned into a question that I wanted to ask Leslie and so I just posed the question very directly. I’ve seen Leslie compete so many times in the past and she always looks so stern even angry at times and yet in the warm-up she was almost giddy. She had a huge smile on her face. It was something I’d never seen before.
“The inside of me does not always reflect on the outside,” explained Leslie. She went on to explain that she becomes very focused on what she is doing and that often gives her a very concentrated look even as if she is frowning. “Today I reminded myself that this is cool and that I have to start showing more of my inside on the outside.”
Gil piped in at this point and added, “You take this so seriously because you watch every detail of your horse’s management. Today what I saw come through was that this is very exciting and I am so glad to be here.” Leslie continued, “The USEF has enabled me to have all the years of learning and training and now we are educated and it is time to shine and I think I felt that today.”
“It’s almost like a three-way partnership,” continued Gil. “The spectators plan ahead to come and when you come they are here to see you, so that partnership becomes the horse, the rider and the public.” After explaining that Leslie’s beginnings were in Pony Club, Gil added that he felt that was an important detail. “That will help the sport grow if people see the journey.”
Video on Demand is headed by Vid Laurusaitis. They’ve been around forever and in Vegas they are photographing the action mostly for the exhibitors. I asked Vid if the economy was affecting his business and he was quick to agree with lots of other people that business is down, not just for him but at every show he’s been at this year.
Sadly, the economic downturn has also had an impact on when the World Cup Finals will return to Vegas. At the end of the day on Wednesday at the Draw for the Horses there was discussion about the future of the Vegas World Cup and when it would happen again. Not quite understanding this I asked John Long, CEO of the United States Equestrian Federation, just what that meant.
Apparently there had been plans to have the World Cup return to Vegas, but those plans were drafted at a time when the economy would support what the Las Vegas Events committee had offered but now that is no longer possible. The cost of bringing the horses over just does not make it cost effective and so they have to figure out a way to host the event in a way that will work financially.
“The world has changed and so they can’t deliver what was originally promised,” he explained, noting that they will have to look into it further to see how they can make it work for the future. John feels it is important to continue holding the World Cup in this continent if the event wants to be true to its name.
Before finishing our brief chat John told me that Las Vegas Events is contributing $150,000 towards a program to help developing countries. “They get it,” he concluded. By helping the lesser countries develop their horse programs everyone benefits in the end. As an added bonus, the FEI has agreed to match this over a three year period.
I caught up with USEF’s Jim Wolf while working in the press room and chatted with him for a couple of minutes. These days Jim is doing more with sponsor support at the USEF and so we talked a bit about sponsorship and Vegas.
“Vegas always does a fantastic job,” commented Jim. As far as sponsorship, Jim admitted we “have to be more creative but it’s going surprisingly well.” When I delved a little deeper and asked for clarification on what he meant by being creative one example he gave was how they have the sponsors sign on for a base amount and then “if we help them move their product we get paid more.”
Rolex is a good example of this. When you think of a watch in the horse world, naturally you think of Rolex. So the name recognition has worked for them and helped them make the decision to sign on for another four years. “This is their clientele and they’ve done a great job of brand recognition.” Jim wanted to clarify something about Rolex and many of the others sponsors. “I don’t think of them as sponsors but rather as partners,” he concluded.
Tom Strobl, who lives in Munich, Germany, is working with the TV in Vegas and we chatted when we were both headed out to do our jobs. His comment was brief but very true. “The World Cup is a good thing for the U.S.,” he said. I know I am jumping around here but that’s exactly how my chats went. I spoke with a number of people while at the draw for the horses.
Pat Christenson, President of Las Vegas Events, and I spoke very briefly. Pat was the person who introduced the actual horse drawing ceremony. During his introduction he wanted to recognize some of those people who were present for their part in bringing the past World Cups to Vegas. There have been a total of five (2000, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009).
About General Manager Shawn Davis, Pat commented, “He has the understanding of how to take the event portion and combine it with entertainment. He’s been the glue for everything that has been done in the five World Cups.” Davis is also the General Manager of the National Rodeo Finals which take place in Vegas every December. He first recognized was John Long.
“He brought some stability to the event,” Pat explained. “It was John’s vision to put the two together and create a successful partnership.” Pat then acknowledged Bob Maxey noting, “He was the drive behind bringing it to Las Vegas.” And when the word was out that they wanted a local connection, Bob started the Nevada Cup, an event for local amateur riders.
Pat gave credit to John Quirk for bringing the World Cup to Vegas. “If it weren’t for John, it wouldn’t be in Vegas,” he noted.
Past World Cup Champion Meredith Michaels Beerbaum was the one along with dressage rider Jan Brink to assist in the draw for the horses and she spoke with me briefly after finishing the line-up.
Her 16-year-old horse Shutterfly “is very fresh,” she commented. I asked her to look back to the previous World Cup where she and Shutterfly parted ways when he was focused on turning left when the next jump required a turn to the right. I wondered if she would be thinking about that again.
She noted that there was one competition where for a moment she thought about that and rode a bit more carefully. In the end they were the winners. “He’s an agile horse,” explained Meredith, “but that’s why he’s so talented.”
I continued my conversation with those focused on show jumping. This time it was George Morris who spoke up. “We have excellent riders and horses here,” commented George, “but I had a group meeting today to give them a pep talk.” George went on to explain that the first competition is a speed class, which is a tough competition to start out with. “I told them to treat it like a jump-off.”
It was back to dressage with Olympic veteran Jessica Ransehousen, who I watched many years ago competing in many of the major competitions. Jessica focused on that fact that this is not a team competition but rather all the riders are competing as individuals.
“What’s important is to show that we are a force to be reckoned with. In the past we’ve always been in a fighting position and the judges have been lulled by the European influence. Here in the United States we have wonderful horses and excellent talent and we want to be recognized for that. We want the judges to judge what they see and that’s all we want,” she concluded.
And with that I conclude my second day in Las Vegas. Today was an interesting journey as I was able to delve into the minds of so many people. As always, I welcome your questions and comments. Feel free to email me at email@example.com.