Moonlighting at the Festival of Champions: Part 3 - The Grand Prix Special at the USEF Dressage National Championships

Steffen Peters, Akiko Yamazaki (with daughter Miki) and Legolas celebrate the USEF Dressage National Championship (Photo: Tigger Montague)
Steffen Peters, Akiko Yamazaki (with daughter Miki) and Legolas celebrate the USEF Dressage National Championship (Photo: Tigger Montague)

Today the stands are literally overflowing with spectators. It’s a big day at Gladstone: the Grand Prix Special, the Brentina Cup test, and the Intermediare test. I jostle myself into position, having figured out that being short does have its advantages when you are shooting pictures ringside.  There is a whirr of camera shutters as the first horse enters the arena for the grand prix special. I notice some new faces among the photo journalists; I will come to learn later they are SPORTS reporters, who have never seen dressage before. Am wondering if they saw the Colbert Report…

There is a cacophony of shutter clicks; from phone cameras, to Nikons and Canons. They all have distinctly different sounds but when they all are clicked simultaneously they sound very much like the sound effects from the movie Wall-E.

Shawna Harding and Come On III in the Grand Prix Special (Photo: Tigger Montague)
Shawna Harding and Come On III in the Grand Prix Special (Photo: Tigger Montague)

The first group of riders (Pierre, Kathleen, Shawna, Sue, Jim, and Guenter) put in steady tests. In this competition the slightest mistake is costly, a lack of brilliance is costly. When you consider the back to back weekends of competition these horses and riders have undergone, the spotlight, the pressure, it is heartwarming to see the audience appreciation, warm applause for each ride. There is genuine affection and appreciation in our sport, even when we don’t personally know the rider in the ring, and nowhere is this more obvious than Gladstone.

The next group of riders had everyone on the edge of their seats (or in the case of the photo journalists, glued to their camera viewfinders). Tina came first, and she and Calecto V delivered a solid test, if not as brilliant as the day before, they showed that no matter the pressure, they do deliver a really good ride. Heather and Paragon are amazing to watch. The effortlessness of Paragon across the ground belies words. Jan Ebling and Ralfaca just get better and better. Todd and Otto have an a very special partnership.[

Adrienne Lyle and Wizard putting in a test to remember (Photo: Tigger Montague)
Adrienne Lyle and Wizard putting in a test to remember (Photo: Tigger Montague)

Legolas with Steffen had some mistakes in both the one and two tempis, but the piaffe and passage are world class. Leglas is an amazing horse. Adrienne and Wizard gave everyone at Gladstone a ride that will long be remembered. She and Wizard put in an unbelievable performance, that in my opinion was a little underscored. That for me was the Wow ride of the class.

Gladstone is a great place to people-watch, and standing at M allows for a good view of who’s-who, particularly the comings and goings from the main barn behind the ring as well as those riders and friends who come to the rail to watch. I know I probably missed some great shots in the ring, because I couldn’t resist snapping some candids.

The awards ceremony included the winner of the Para Trials, Rebecca Hart, and Lord Ludger (owned by Jessica Ransehousen). The National Grand Prix championship cup was presented to Legolas’ owner Akiko Yamazaki, whose daughter had a touching moment with Legolas, as the big bay stretched his nose towards the cup, asking, is there something in there for me?

The Crowd at Gladstone respond to the Colbert Report (Photo: Tigger Montague)
The Crowd at Gladstone respond to the Colbert Report (Photo: Tigger Montague)

This year’s awards for the Grand Prix included a response to the Colbert Report on Dresage...Jim Wolf of the USEF cleverly ordered red foam fan fingers and beer which were passed around to all the spectators and sponsors, immediately catapulting dressage out of its quiet environment and into a kind of NASCAR enthusiasm. Our sport needs this, and kudos to Jim Wolf for responding so quickly to this opportunity. Brian O’Conner also contributed a new dressage song that hopefully will be sung at dressage shows all summer.

I head back to the media tent, where there is barely a seat left. Ken Braddock is giving the “new to dressage” sports reporters, and one Olympic Games reporter the low down on dressage; several photo journalists are comparing photos, and there is an intensity in the media tent, as everyone is bent down over their laptops, writing, downloading, scrutinizing their words and pictures. The pressure as publishing deadlines loom is palpable. And yet, there is an air of calm, of focus; much like the grand prix riders: excellence in the ring, excellence from cameras and word smiths. I am hoping some of this will rub off on me; that just being at Gladstone, just being a wannabe in the press corps for a weekend that this excellence in deeds and actions will somehow be transfused into me. And maybe I’ll get the nerve to ask for some basic photography tips.




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