Las Vegas – A “Microcosm of America”?
“This is the GREATEST place on the planet to have a horse show! Any horse show!” I was, at first, shocked to the soles of my shoes when a German confrere in the journalists’ guild offered this observation concerning Las Vegas. As a U.S. born and bred individual, this city has always traveled under the epithet, “Sin City.”
“How could an erudite, well read, and classy German writer hold this city (whose name truly means “the Meadows” . . . a far cry from the salacious nature of the place today) in such high esteem?” This was the question that rattled about in my tin head overnight.
My answer? Las Vegas presents itself to even the most casual visitor as a microcosm of America. My German friend and compatriot was able to rattle off the names of four Las Vegas establishments that, every time he passed them in a taxi on his way to or from the dressage competition, made him think that Las Vegas is supremely “America”: the Harley Davidson Café, the Planet Hollywood Hotel, the Hard Rock Café, and the “New York, New York” hotel and casino. Okay I can see his point when one takes an even casual glance at the “New York, New York” hotel. What can be more “American than apple pie” than the pint-sized Statue of Liberty and the miniature representations of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building? But Las Vegas as “a microcosm of America”?!? Come on, Father Mack, you’re pulling our leg, aren’t you?
In a final effort to win over the terminally dubious, I plead the proper name of Boyd Polhamus. Folks who have attended any of the three World Cup competitions that have been held in Las Vegas know this gentleman from his extreme cowboy presence alongside the announcers for both the show jumping and dressage portions of the games. He is the fellow in the big (and I mean BIG . . . I don’t think it is a ten gallon hat, more like a fifteen gallon model) who invites us (insists is more like it) to stand and “remove cover” for the display of Old Glory and the singing of the U.S. national anthem. Boyd is the epitome of frontier spirit and could not appear further from the image most of us (probably rightly) have of Las Vegas and its culture (or lack thereof).
Even as I type these words, I realize that I am sending horrifying shivers down the spines of our readers who – if I may characterize them – consider themselves part of “middle America.” Good, honest, hard-working, and God fearing people -- such as my Mom and Pop raised me to be take -- even such a casual glance at Las Vegas and they see it for the place I named it above, “Sin City.”
“Alright, already,” you may be thinking to yourselves, “what has any of this to do with tonight’s freestyle competition?” “America in microcosm” is what I hope (dare I type “pray”?) we will see tonight. I speak of my and so many other people’s hopes that a gentleman who chose to be part and parcel of these United States, Mister Steffen Peters, and his collaborator, Ravel, will continue their winning ways, begun at Friday’s Grand Prix, in tonight’s final contest.
This article is most likely going to run on for several pages, so I will try to reduce your tedium of reading my (oft times rambling) thoughts by pointing you toward a truly excellent interview. A gentleman named Rick Lamb on his radio/Internet program, “The Horse Show”, conducted this interview. If you are wary of clicking on the pointer provided below, please know that to listen to the full interview with Steffen (for free!) you will not have to surrender your privacy and will not be bombarded with unwanted e-mail. Theinterview from the fourth of Aprilwill permit you to listen to Steffen’s own words about the pride he feels in representing our nation.
Steffen, like so many of our own ancestors, is on these shores by choice. He is not here (as am I) by an accident of birth. He did not cross the Atlantic because his lot in life was going to be that much rosier than in his native Germany. This man chose to throw in his lot with the likes of you and me. Steffen Peters came to America in search of an immigrant’s dream. To repeat myself, I both hope and pray he will find the fulfillment (at least a small installment on that complete fulfillment) of his dream in tonight’s final of the World Cup.
The Freestyles Begin
Australian, Heath Ryan and his cohort Regardez Moi (one of Rubinstein’s offspring) were the first contestants upon the field. This team’s music was wholly from the popular Disney movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.” Strong stringed instruments and an underlying bass section that would not go away nicely complimented each of Regardez Moi’s movements. This listener/viewer found the nearly one-to-one agreement of the music’s meter to the mount’s footfalls very attractive. I will have to wait to see if the judges agree with me when they post their scores for artistic merit. Obviously, Heath’s theatrical flourish of his top hat following the halt at X told us that this rider felt his and his partner’s expenditure of energy was on target. A total of 70.300 proves a not too shabby beginning (particularly when one recalls Heath’s neglect of the first halt before the judge at C in the opening Grand Pix of the World Cup).
Colombian Marco Bernal aboard the lady horse, Diamore (13 year old Dutch Warm Blood, Diamond x Fruhling) were next to go. Music (coordinated by Terry Ciotti Gallo) seemed to my less-than-perfectly trained ear an even better match to the paces of this mare than was the score of Ryan’s performance. Strong strings in all the pieces of music chosen underscored the ease with which this horse and rider combo passed from one phase of the test to the next. I thought that Diamore’s elevation (especially of her hindquarters) during each piaffe left something to be desired. Marco’s exuberant waves to the crowd and his production of Colombia’s national flag from a hiding place inside his shadbelly was mirrored by the Bernal family’s equally vigorous brandishing of a much larger bandera in the stands above the in gate. The judges were less impressed by the entire package of athletic competence and artistic presentation as they rewarded Bernal and Diamore with only a 66.750.
The Netherlands’, Jeanette Haazen on Nartan (Dutch Warm Blood, Jazz x Le Faquin) demonstrated the human half’s creativity even before the judges’ bell rang when I was told that Ms. Haazen supervised the music for her freestyle from start to finish. If one recalls the sartorial splendor of this lady (upon which I have commented in earlier articles) we should not be at all surprised by this artistic touch. The dynamic duo’s halt at O rather than the more common C was a last grand gesture. Tonight’s judging panel showed its appreciation of the entire package when they bestowed a final score of 75.600 to place Jeanette and Nartan at the top amongst the early goers.
Poland’s Michal Rapcewicz on Randon (Polish Warm Blood, Czuwa x Famino) entered to face an audience that was still in awe of the entrants whose performance they had just enjoyed. In the face of so daunting a task these winners of the Central European League played Randon’s excellent passage for all it was worth. The nearly impeccable passage at the end of their ride (leading into the halt before the judge at C with nary a sign of being tired) were used to the hilt. Will it be enough? I wait with anticipation to hear the professionals’ opinion. That opinion is in. Michal and Randon fell just behind Jeanette Haazen with a cumulative tally of 72.750.
Swede Jan Brink and his 18-year-old partner, Briar (Swedish Warm Blood, Magini x Krocket) made the latter’s eighth World Cup appearance (and Briar’s last such) appearing from the get-go to be in fine fettle. An out of the box piaffe would have made me think the equine half of this pair was half his age as did the extended trot that followed. A failed piaffe-passage transition immediately in the face of the judge at C made all of us who want to see this pair succeed gasp. Professionals that they are, Jan and Briar came back with smiles upon their faces (well, Jan’s at least) to finish the mission ahead. As if to show that the passage mis-step near the opening of their freestyle was a quirk, the pair finished their routine with a lively passage to earn a total of 71.650 (third at the mid-point of tonight’s contest).
A previously unannounced treat unfolded before our eyes when Jan and Briar had left the ring. Guenter Seidel and Elizabeth Ball entered on Fandango and Orion to treat us to a reprise of their pas-de-deux from Friday. Since I first delighted in this spectacle, I have learned that Elizabeth practiced the routine while wearing a bed sheet (to simulate the voluptuous white gown she wore yesterday and today). This sheet draped down over Orion’s back and shoulders. I wonder if the other horses peeking out from their stalls did not giggle at poor Orion in such a get up?
Whatever Orion’s barnmates may have thought of his bed sheet garment, tonight’s much larger crowd was on the edge of its collective seat throughout. Guenter and Elizabeth’s reward for their unscheduled second day of labor was a highly appreciative standing ovation with Judge Linda Zang (O level judge from the USA, working tonight at C) leading the way. She fairly sprang to her feet and applauded wildly.
As the ring was dragged, many from the audience stood or wandered up and down the steps of the arena to dissipate the emotional energy they had built up during a thrilling first half. When Brian O’Connor pled (as only he can do), the assembly (reluctantly) returned to its seats. [I haven’t said it publicly in quite some time, but you are a true treasure, Brian! No one can both inform and manage a horse show audience so well as you. Kudos!]
Germany’s Monica Theodorescu and her mount, Whisper (Baden-Württemberg, Welt Hit I O x Weltstar) brought the throng out of its “Phantom of the Opera” daydream and back to the terra firma of international dressage. Monica’s and Whisper’s electrifying ride to the stirring strings we have heard so many times before resulted in a chart-topping total of 76.850. I do not wish to slight this extremely gifted rider nor her mount by the brevity of my comments, but (at the risk of being coy) you had to be there to feel the voltage that flowed through the crowd.
The Netherlands’ Hans Peter Minderhoud and his mount, Exquis Nadine (Dutch Warm Blood, Partout x Roemer), brought a smile to the faces of the over-fifties in the crowd as they rode to a mixture of “soft rock” melodies from the sixties and seventies (The Carpenters’ “Close to You,” The Turtles “Happy Together,” and The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn” amongst these). Hans Peter told me that he is NOT a fan of this style of music, but that (when his musical advisor brought them to his attention) he realized how well they complemented Nadine’s bearing. The judges obviously agreed with Hans Peter (and his advisor) handing the team a score of 81.050. Monica’s time on the mountain top was decidedly limited.
Germany’s Isabell Werth and Satchmo (Hanoverian, Sao Paulo x Legat) quickly sought to bump Mijnheer Minderhoud from his ranking riding to a soul stirring arrangement recorded by the Potsdamer Symphony Orchestra. A welcome grand gesture I first associate with Robert Dover – riding the last movement down the midline holding the reins in a single hand – showed how fully compliant Satchmo is to his mistress. The German twosome did not put a single foot wrong so far as my untrained eye could tell. Perhaps I am not so untrained as I think, for the cumulative score given was an awe inspiring 84.500. Two of the five judges granted Isabell and Satchmo an artistic score of 92. It seems they found the music as soul stirring as did I.
The United States’ Steffen Peters and Ravel (Dutch Warm Blood, Contango x Democraat) came before us appearing every bit as pumped up as I had expected. The team’s music (Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida,” the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” and Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” – All music chosen by Steffen himself and produced for public performance by the redoubtable Terry Ciotti Gallo) had the people near me bopping to the tunes. Steffen’s and Terry’s selection of the extended bongo riff in “Sympathy for the Devil” as Ravel performed his oh-so-steady passage at M struck me as supremely effective. I can only hold my breath while the judges do their work and the scores are compiled. Okay, I can take a breath now. The men and women who make these deliberations their business came to the conclusion that the number of 85.950 expressed how near perfection was Steffen and Ravel’s effort this evening. These last four riders have successively elbowed their predecessor out of the way. Steffen accomplished this task with the assistance of two judges who awarded artistic scores of 93.
The Netherlands Anky Van Grunsven on Painted Black (Dutch Warm Blood, Gribaldi x Ferro) knew they had their work cut out for them as they passed the in gate. The tango music to which this pair circled the ring did not have the onlookers swinging to and fro as had Herr Peters’ more lively selections, but the melodies suited Painted Black’s temperament and his strides well enough. I cannot tell you whether the mass of humanity had expended the bulk of its energy in the outpouring of love they visited upon Steffen and Ravel or if they were simply absorbed in the ride presently before them, but they were quietly observant of and appreciative of the athletes who were on stage at the moment. I must pay a special compliment to Anky for her halt at C. It was splendid, it was perfectly square, and her final rider’s salute (with a swing of her right hand in perfect synchronization with the downbeat of the tango’s final note) assisted the team as they left the ring bearing a score of 82.250.
Canada’s Ashley Holzer on Pop Art (Dutch Warm Blood, Amsterdam x Cabouchon) came onto the scene while I heard conversations all around me asking the same question, “She’s good, but she can’t beat Steffen’s score. Can she?” The undercurrent of these questions was a clear, “Please, dear God, don’t let her beat Steffen’s numbers.” Ashley went all out, riding to music taken largely from the cinema hit, “National Treasure.” Here, again, the rider and her squad of co-workers have done a fine job of finding music that will both be accessible (or familiar) to the judges and to the audience and will also mesh with Pop Art’s expressive strides. With great energy and, at the same time, clear composure the team attacked the freestyle they had set for themselves. While we U.S. patriots held our communal breath the computers calculated the cumulative score for the bearers of the Maple leaf to spurt out a number of 79.200.
Only when the numerals popped up on the overhead scoreboard could we take in a deep breath and let the realization take hold: STEFFEN HAD WON. The immigrant dream is more of a reality now than at any earlier point in Steffen Peter’s career.
The immigrant nature of the dream we in this arena shared was reinforced when Brian O’Connor invited back into the ring Jan Brink and his still vibrant partner, Briar. For what seemed like the umpteenth time this evening, the audience rose to its feet and applauded madly to say a fitting farewell to this noble animal. For may part, I hope this hardy beast savors every mouthful of grass between now and his last day. We all, I believe, look forward to the offspring he will produce.
Unlike previous evening when, at the conclusion of dressage or show jumping sessions, many in the crowd took their belongings and fled, tonight only a small percentage of the crowd headed for the exits immediately. The bulk of us remained glued to our seats waiting for the return of THEM to the ring.
The thirteenth thorough fourth place finishers of the 2009 World Cup circled the ring as pulses again began to quicken. Immediately after the last horse had cleared the in gate, fireworks showered down from the ceiling of the Thomas and Mack Arena while a platform holding the World Cup trophy descended into sight beneath a blaze of psychedelic lights.
Worthies from Rolex (the primary sponsor of these tests), from the FEI, and from Las Vegas Events (the local organizers) were introduced before Anky Van Grunsven, Isabell Werth, and (FINALLY!) the hero of the moment came down the tunnel and into sight. To our credit, we in the stands opened our throats in appropriate praise and put our hands together in tribute to all three of these happy warriors.
But there was no restraining our pride and our love when this man who has achieved an American dream came into sight. While I have always thought Ravel to be an unusually pliable and cooperative horse, tonight he barely moved a muscle as we stood and “removed cover” for the playing of our National Anthem.
There may not have been as many tear-filled eyes in the house as we saw during Brentina’s retirement ceremony, but it is safe to say that emotions were riding high while our victor and his mount took their lap of honor. I think I hear a rumble of approval coming from the vicinity of Ellis Island. Can it be? I believe the countless souls of generations of immigrants gone by were praising this kindred spirit, Mister Steffen Peters. Lord knows, he deserves such praise.
Photos Courtsey of Cealy Tetley and Ruth McCormick