For most people, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, but for dressage riders on the West Coast, it also means the annual Dressage at Flintridge show, a favorite date on the calendar of both competitors and spectators. Despite widespread concern about the EHV-1 outbreak, which was linked to a cutting horse show in Utah, a dedicated group of riders is taking part in the show, which serves as the second of three 2011 Markel/USEF Young Horse Dressage Selection Trials for the FEI Young Dressage Horse World Championships in Verden, and is a qualifying competition for the 2011 Pan American Games Selection Trials and the Region 7 Young Rider Championships.
Feeling the Impact of the EHV-1 Outbreak
Show manager Glenda McElroy, of Cornerstone Event Management, has weathered a lot of storms in her years putting on major competitions—from freak windstorms that carried away judges’ tents to spring rainstorms that quickly turned arenas into mudpits—but the EHV-1 crisis has been something else. More than 50 horses were scratched from the Flintridge show due to fears about the recent outbreak of Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy (EHM) caused by the Equine Herpes Virus 1 (EHV-1), which in California has affected 18 horses to date and led to one being euthanized. Although the California Department of Food and Agriculture has concluded that the outbreak was centered around horses that either competed or came into contact with participants at the National Cutting Horse Association’s Western National Championships in Ogden, Utah, April 30–May 8, many equestrians from every discipline took no chances and opted to cancel all travel plans.
“We lost a lot of entries,” McElroy admitted. “We were disappointed, but people have to do what they feel is right for them. Every single person who made the decision to come to this event had a conversation with their facility owner, with their veterinarian, with their trainer. They explored the situation, they looked at the Web sites and they made a conscientious decision. No one did it lightly. I give them credit for being responsible horse owners.”
Among those who decided to attend the show were Jan Ebeling, just back from a successful trip to the Reem Acra/FEI World Cup in Lepzig, Germany; veteran trainers and judges Charlotte Bredahl-Baker and Hilda Gurney; and trainers Willy Arts, Kristina Harrison, Jaye Cherry and Sabine Schut-Kery.
Arts, of DG Bar Ranch in Hanford, CA, said, “There’s always a risk in anything you do. You need to take the necessary steps to make the decision, of course—we followed the news, we talked to the vet and decided the risk [of exposure] was very low. If this happened in Holland, they couldn’t really shut down Germany and Belgium.”
Cherry, who brought two horses from her training barn at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, balked at the notion that coming to the show meant she cared less about her horses than those who stayed home. “Nobody here wants to put their horses in danger,” she said. “It doesn’t matter the cost of the animals we have—we wouldn’t endanger them. It’s unfortunate that people felt they couldn’t participate. I love this show.”
Despite the show’s smaller size, McElroy said, “We didn’t cut anything back. We’re going to have a beautiful show on Saturday, and there are 200 people coming to the dinner.” The Red, White & Blue Musical Evening takes place Saturday, where spectators enjoy a catered meal ringside at linen-covered tables beneath canopies to watch musical Freestyle performances and special demonstrations.
McElroy said she’d spoken to FEI veterinarian Dr. Terry Swanson, a former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, about the need for an official master Web site where people can go to get timely information on health issues throughout the country that could potentially affect their horses. “If there’s something happening in Florida or Montana or California, people need to know,” she said. “There are a lot of Web sites out there, but there needs to be a recognized authority about what’s happening that is updated daily.”
A One-of-a-Kind Show in a One-of-a-Kind Setting
Located just 14 miles north of downtown Los Angeles in the community of La Cañada Flintridge, the Flintridge Riding Club (FRC), encompasses 30 acres dotted with old oak trees and featuring green lawns, a cross-country course, three jumping rings, two dressage arenas and airy wooden barns against the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains. McElroy has managed Dressage at Flintridge for 9 years, and she prizes what she calls the show’s “boutique” atmosphere. “We only have three rings, but we’ve always wanted to make it as special as we could. Flintridge is a great show, and we shouldn’t lose it. It needs support, and people have come quite faithfully.”
Members, some going back generations, have always known the club was special. Wanting to create a private setting where they could pursue their equestrian interests, four local families founded the club in 1922. Two years later, acclaimed architect and club president Reginald D. Johnson built a Spanish Colonial-style clubhouse that is still very much in use. Juniors have their own room to lounge in before or after lessons; the addition was built in 1969 after club member Larry Lansburgh recruited some 30 children and their horses from the club to be extras in his 1968 film The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, starring Dean Jones and Kurt Russell.
The club’s first dressage show took place in 1979 and served as the Selection Trials for the Pan American Games. A decade later, the show became the first West Coast dressage competition to be recognized by the FEI, and FRC dressage trainer Gerhard Politz was among those who sought to bring European-type dressage competition to California, with international judges and high-level competition. Then called Dressage Under the Oaks, the show attracted the likes of Steffen Peters (who swept the Grand Prix events at Flintridge in 1992 with his horse Udon), Hilda Gurney and Willie the Great and Debbie McDonald and Beaurivage.
Famed horseman Jimmy A. Williams was the club’s “Riding Master” from 1956 until his death in 1993, and the hunter-jumper program he established spawned notable talents, like Susie Hutchison, Hap Hansen and Anne Kursinski. The annual Children’s Horse Show in April is the oldest all-junior competition in the U.S.
Visiting riders often wonder about the large complex just across the road. It’s the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which has been part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) since 1958. Despite the close proximity of horses and rockets, the relationship between the adjacent properties has always been a good one, says FRC board member Jeannie Bone. “JPL is a very good neighbor.”
“Flintridge is a wonderful club, like a home away from home,” adds Bone, who’s been a FRC member since 1981. “Even on the hottest day, you can sit out under the oaks. We want people who come here to feel like we do. It’s very much like a community here.”
Text and photos by Kelly Sanchez