Moonlighting at the Festival of Champions - The USEF National Dressage Championships Part 1

Confessions of a Photo Journalist Wannabe

Axel Steiner scrutinizes Sundance 8 with Steffen Peters in the jog for the 2012 Intermediaire Championships at the USEF Festival of Champions
Photo: Tigger Montague
Axel Steiner scrutinizes Sundance 8 with Steffen Peters in the jog for the 2012 Intermediaire Championships at the USEF Festival of Champions
Photo: Tigger Montague

Gladstone, New Jersey - Thursday, June 13, 2012 - At big sporting events it’s common to see a phalanx of Media; they have their media badges, and carry camera lenses the size of cannons. Though many dressage shows have no media coverage, competitions like the World Cup, Aachen, and the Masters draw media photo journalists. The Festival of Champions - The USEF National Dressage Championships 2012 is no different. In my secret Walter Mitty life, I have daydreamed about being a photo journalist: either creeping through jungles to film an elusive animal, or to report, interview, and take photos at an equine sporting event. At the 2012 Festival of Champions, I got my chance. DressageDaily's Mary Phelps gave me the opportunity this weekend to be a part of the media at Gladstone, representing Dressage Daily. For a photo hobbyist like myself, who is without a doubt an amateur, this was a chance to experience what it is like to be part of the press; to wear my media badge, carry my camera, and stand with the professionals shooting the action ringside, and later to see my photos and articles published on a website.

Veterinary Panel at the 2012 Dressage National Championships
Axel Steiner, Dr. Duncan Peters, Dr. Kirste Timm, and Dr. Steve Sproule.
Photo: Tigger Montague
Veterinary Panel at the 2012 Dressage National Championships
Axel Steiner, Dr. Duncan Peters, Dr. Kirste Timm, and Dr. Steve Sproule.
Photo: Tigger Montague

On Thursday, the first day of competition for the Intermediare horses, and the day of the veterinary jog for the grand prix horses, I dutifully checked in at the media tent, got my badge, and headed out to the main arena. The first thing I realized was that my 200mm lens was too wimpy. Beside me were lenses as long as my arm, and as wide as the Terminator’s.   These bad boy lenses, attached to camera bodies the size of my head, were mounted on monopods that looked like expedition poles for an Everest climb. I was definitely out of my league.

The first thing I came to realize, standing ringside with my camera amongst the other photographers during the Prix St.Georges class, was that standing there is hell on one’s knees. Normally I shoot some pictures of clients or friends, and then sit down, or wander off and talk to people I know. The point is, I am better off moving around than standing in one spot. After the PSG class was concluded, I had a whole new respect for equine photographers.

The second thing I quickly realized is that those big bodied cameras, lenses, and expedition monopods serve an important service: ballast to lean one’s body on when knee fatigue sets in.

I like to clap for competitors even for less than stellar rides. After the first horse went in the PSG on Thursday, I vigorously clapped; then noticed that none of the other photographers did. If they didn’t know I was a green horn before then, they sure knew it now. I imagine that it is some kind of press code not to exhibit any noticeable reactions as to maintain a lack of bias. But I figured, well, I’m clapping for everyone, so that’s a form of neutrality as well.

David Blake and Royal Prinz at the 2012 Intermediaire Championships at the USEF Festival of Champions
Photo: Tigger Montague
David Blake and Royal Prinz at the 2012 Intermediaire Championships at the USEF Festival of Champions
Photo: Tigger Montague

The Prix St. Georges class was of a very high standard, as one might expect from the Festival of Champions. Carolyn Roffman and Pie in this very competitive class were clear stand-outs. It was one of those tests that is best summed up by Wow. Pie is sired by Worldly, who was owned by my friend Elizabeth Lewis from Keswick, Virginia. I remember when she bought Worldly as a yearling in Germany. She wisely kept him in Germany, where he became a popular breeding stallion, and has sired several successful horses including show hunters as well as dressage horses.

My personal favorite horse of the class was Royal Prinz, a stallion ridden by David Blake.   Royal Prinz is eye candy, and you can see the inner grand prix horse within.

If only I had a mare….

Chris Hickey hydrates following his ride at the 2012 Intermediaire Championships at the USEF Festival of Champions
Photo: Tigger Montague
Chris Hickey hydrates following his ride at the 2012 Intermediaire Championships at the USEF Festival of Champions
Photo: Tigger Montague

My favorite moment, was catching Chris Hickey after his beautiful ride on Witness Hilltop (finishing third with a 71.158%) when my camera caught his celebratory smile, but didn’t capture the glass he was holding. Was it water, or wine?

After the Prix St. Georges concluded I noticed the photographers heading back to the media tent. I followed them and then noticed that they were setting up their laptops and starting to download their photographs on long tables, draped in white linen.  

Had I brought my lap top to the show grounds? Of course not.

What I learned that first day is that after shooting over 500 pictures, it took me hours back at the hotel that night to sort through them, and it wasn’t until ten o’clock that night that I finally finished.

Lesson learned:  bring lap top and download photos during the day in the media tent.

I have new respect for what photo journalists do. I was exhausted and it was only day one.

Chestnuts Dominate The Intermediaire Championships
The top US Intermediare horses faced off at the Festival of Champions on day one of this week's championships. Thursday's Prix St. George competition is the first of three tests ridden this weekend by the top 15 Intermediare horses in the country.Saturday they will compete in the Intermediare class,and Sunday in the Freestyle.

The Prix St.George was dominated by chestnut horses; three quarters of the class were all chestnuts, including 5 of the top 6 finishers.

The Prix St.George was won by Carolyn Roffman on Pie (73.974%) in a test that demonstrated energy, focus, harmony, and suppleness. Steffen Peters on Sundance 8 placed second with a 72.27%. Chris Hickey on Witness Hilltop came in a close third at 71.158%. The chestnut domination was broken by fourth placed David Blake and the stallion Royal Prinz, a stunning bay, who finished with a 70.868%. Fifth placed, Heather Mason on Warsteiner (70.342%) and sixth placed Mette Rosencranz on Mosegaards Rico (69.684%) continued the chestnut color domination of this class.

Making her debut at Gladstone was Laura Graves from Oviedo, Florida on her ten year old Dutch horse Verdades. This year is Laura and Verdades first season  competing at CDI's, and she finished in seventh place with a 69.342%. She trains with Ann Gribbons.




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