Mack’s Moments - “Adiós, Momma!” Goodbye is Too Hard a Word

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Graduation from high school. Leaving the city in which you were born and raised to move to another city and take your first “real” job. They were all times when you and I dreaded saying that word which seems so declarative and final, “Goodbye.”

For all of the reasons that coursed through our minds as we stuttered or muttered our goodbyes to friends and family who we knew we might never see again, I propose that while we view or (after the fact read about) the events that transpire in the Thomas and Mack arena on this Friday, the seventeenth of April in the year of the Lord 2009, we say as clearly and as loudly as we are able not “goodbye” but rather, “adiós.”

The schoolmaster within me rears his mortarboard-laden head and insists upon a dissection and a subsequent definition of the word. The prefix “a” meaning “to go towards” and the more readily recognizable “dios” meaning “God.” Thus, adiós equals “to God” (as in “may this journey to which you set your foot take you toward God.”) There we will all meet again.

On this strange, fearful, and wonderful day we say to that beloved mare – who has made the blood quicken in our veins so many times – a loud and hearty “adiós!”

Three Teams Ride a Pas-De-Deux

As it to help Debbie (McDonald) dissipate some of her own adrenaline that must be already coursing through her blood vessels, she and her top student, Adrienne Lyle, rode in what was billed as an “Olympic/Grand Prix Pas De Deux” as the kickoff event on this Friday. Debbie entered the arena first upon her longtime buddy, Felix () although that verb “entered is far too mild an action word. Both Debbie and Adrienne were decked out as if they were the Blues Brothers, topped with black, turn-down brim hats, but with luxurious red jackets in place of Elwood and Jake’s drab black. Adrienne similarly sauntered (a far better verb) onto the footing mounted on the same co-worker as Thursday, Wizard (Wizard 10 year old Oldenburg gelding by Weltmeyer).

When the two of them had completed a pas-de-deux at which one dare not sneeze (I choose my words with caution as Felix managed to outstride Wizard at some points in the program two steps to one while the sound system pounded out tunes as Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man”), the two judges (all located at B) offered their quite humorous observations upon the two ladies’ ride. (the judge from Poland commented that the music, mostly from the sixties and seventies, to which Debbie and Adrienne rode was “too old for a youngster such as myself.)

Our second pair (dubbed by Brian O’Connor “the Turquoise Twins” drawing the name from the pair’s costumes), Charlotte Bredahl-Baker on Liberty Light and Charlotte Nielsen aboard Orion rode to an asssortment of disco music and invited us in the stands to clap along. The outstanding element of the ride for this humble scribe was Charlotte’s and Charlotte’s raising their hands a la John Travolta to point at the ceiling while “Staying Alive” reverberated off the walls. (No mean feat while on horseback and performing intricate maneuvers.) The response of the assembly did not disappoint the “Charlottes Squared.”

Guenter Seidel (you old scene stealer!) woke up the crowd when he came into the ring wearing the half-mask of the Phantom from the musical “Phantom of the Opera” astride Fandango with his partner, Elizabeth Ball (on Orion) fitted out as Christine Daae. Guenter had no need to ruthlessly pursue his heart’s desire as the teams of horses and riders rode an impeccable pas-de-deux.

The FEI technical delegate (so reported Brian O’Connnor, again our announcer for the day) requested -- based upon the pair’s costumes and the music to which they were to ride -- that the ground crew “double check the cable on the chandelier.” You can imagine the applause and the roar of approval the humor evoked from the crowd.

The crowd did not settle back into its seats after Brian’s bit of whimsy too quickly as Guenter and Elizabeth electrified the assembly and brought them to their feet as the “Phantom” handed his lady love a brilliant red rose while they rode a passage on their final trip down the midline. One of the two judges gave this team an eleven with his female counterpart pushing them into the lead as she bestowed a ten.

The final determination of the winner was accomplished with the help of an audiometer that measured the cacophony of the crowd’s applause and cheering. Each pair rode back into the ring as the onlookers raised a ruckus. Debbie did cheat just a little bit (if I dare to type this) swinging her right arm over her head to work the crowd into a lather. Her gesticulation served its purpose as we all responded appreciatively.

As if the judges’ numerical aberration of awarding an eleven were not enough, the rumpus that issued from the crowd’s throats and hands pushed the decibels measured to 102 for the final entrants. Guenter and Elizabeth exited on their victory lap to the song “Music of the Night.” There was nothing dark nor obscure about their triumph.

Dragging the Ring (Believe it or not…)

Okay, I readily admit, the interlude between the pas-de-deux and the retirement shindig on Brentina’s behalf caught my attention. When was the last time (or the first time) that you saw the footing turned by the president of the company that provides the surface on which the last two Olympics and all three of the World Cups contested in Las Vegas drove his tractor ‘round and ‘round while the sound system blasted out “Do You Think My Tractor’s Sexy?” Fortunately, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

International Superstar Young Horse Exhibition

Judged by the same pair of arbiters who passed verdict upon the pas-de-deux, four young horses came before our eyes:

Zidane ridden by Steffen Peters
Wynton under the command of Edward Gal
Valeska DG with Willy Arts aboard
Big Tyme navigated by Marisa Festerling

Following a five-minute warm-up period each horse and rider rode a test appropriate to the age of his or her horse. Steffen, going first, chose not to ride an FEI test given the youth of his team partner (a mere broth of a lad, the Dutch stallion being only four years old). Since this was not a test proper, a representative of the FEI judges narrated the ride. I heard approving comments on these “viewer friendly” observations from people who might otherwise not grasp how judges confer the marks that are given. For me, the highlight of these remarks was when the lady commentator accented that the walk is, perhaps, the most telling of the movements. I first heard this wisdom from the lips of Sally O’Connor (the mother who shaped the person that heads our USEF, president David O’Connor!) as we sat together during the World Equestrian Games held in Jerez (2002).  Steffen and Zidane give us high hopes that when Ravel is put out to pasture (many, many years down the road, God grant it!) Steffen will not be at a loss for a worthy teammate.

Winton, under Edward Gall, a six year-old Dutch stallion, was ridden without commentary. Much of what had just been pressed into our memories was well demonstrated. All of this lovely creature’s gaits kept the audience enrapt. At the risk of preaching to the already converted, his walk was given “only” a 7.5 for his walk as he did not appear to be sufficiently relaxed in this gate. In spite of this tenseness, the average of the several movements was an 8.68. As Grandma McCormick was wont to say, “Not to be sneezed at.”

Next up was Willy Arts aboard the seven-year old Dutch mare, Valeska DG (by Krack C, Anky’s longtime ride). Even before their ride began, the acumen of the human half of the team must be noted: Mister Arts made a noticeable turn of his head as he removed his top hat to properly salute the judges in their relocated position (B, not C). Such a gentleman!

Again, the judges were approving of Valeskas and Willy’s development. The average for the four gaits was an 8.2. This California team is well worth our future observation.

Wrapping up the judging of potentially future equine athletes was Big Time under Marisa Festerling. When Marisa asked for the medium trot it was willingly given and brilliantly executed with more than a few “aaahs” rising from the folks sitting near me. Not unexpectedly, given the nearly metronome-like movements we had seen, Big Time and Marisa received a 9.26 to close out the judging.

Time to Say “Adiós”

All too soon, it seemed to me, the schedule marched on to the climax of the day. I would prefer to name it the climax of the entire four days of this World Cup for those of us who are dyed in the wool Brentina fans.

While I chatted with Bob McDonald on Thursday he told me in hushed tones, “I don’t know where Debbie is finding the strength for this public ceremony. We’re already having a tough time supporting Ruben (Ruben Palomera, Brentina’s oh-so-dedicated and loving groom). He nearly broke into tears when he was packing the braiding kit back home (Sun Valley, Idaho, on the River Grove Farm of Peggy and Parry Thomas). He started to think about the fact that this is the last time he will tack up ‘Momma’ (the name by which Brentina is known to her barn family and those of us privileged to know her) for a public apprearance.”

The ceremony proper was introduced by the presentation of a plaque to the Thomas family, a plaque that recognizes their contribution to Nevada and to the larger world of horse sport. This bestowal was followed by a video history of Brentina that moved forward from the Thomas’ family purchase of the promising (but yet un-tried) mare to her so well known “R*E*S*P*E*C*T” ride at the 2007 World Cup in this same arena. The prolegomena properly whipped the crowd into a frenzy for Debbie’s and Brentina’s entry into the arena.

Even these tired, old eyes could see from a distance the tears that welled up in Debbie’s eyes from the first moment she came into view. At the end of their too brief ride down the length of the arena floor, the entire audience rose as if they were a single person and stood in almost church-like silence to see Debbie step down from Momma’s stirrups one last time. Ruben received the saddle as it was removed from the mare’s back, placed the cooler given by the USDF to this stellar athlete, and the dignitaries were introduced.

High on the list of people who made the hajj to be here for the saying of fare thee wells was Doctor Ludwig Christman representing the Hanoverian breeders association. This man so valued the opportunity to represent the Hanoverians and their owners from around the globe that he traveled from Germany to Las Vegas at his own expense. In almost the same breath as his welcome of Herr Christman, the announcer called the assembly’s attention to the two men whose energies provide a male balance (if I may be so bold . . . no doubt Debbie will correct me when she sees this) to the power of the ladies of honor, Brentina and Debbie): Debbie’s husband, Bob, and Ruben (who, I believe, would have given organs for transplant into his beloved charge when she suffered that frightening colic attack in February of this year),

I was not sufficiently close to the action to tell you, dear reader, for certain, but I thought I saw the glimmer of tears in the corners of both Bob’s and Ruben’s eyes. As Grandpa McCormick used to say, “It’s enough to make a grown man cry.” And with no shame.

How appropriate it was that, when Brian O’Connor had read the words penned by Debbie (on Brentina’s behalf) to say adiós to the assembled fans, the loudspeakers bellowed the opening strains of Aretha Franklin’s “R*E*S*P*E*C*T.”

Debbie and Ruben, walking side by side, took their lady love back down the span of the arena while the throng pumped their fists in the air and sang along with the Queen of Soul. Before I lose all sense of restraint let me take this opportunity to say in print this adiós to Momma: Has there been a horse in recent memory more worthy of our collective R*E*S*P*E*C*T? My answer is as resounding a “NO!” as my lungs may muster. Adiós, Momma! God be with you, ‘til we meet again.

Photo Credit for all photos: Ruth S. McCormick <!-- /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:"Cambria Math"; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:1; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-format:other; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:0 0 0 0 0 0;} @font-face {font-family:Calibri; panose-1:2 15 5 2 2 2 4 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:swiss; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-1610611985 1073750139 0 0 159 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif"; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-size:10.0pt; mso-ansi-font-size:10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.0in 1.0in 1.0in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} -->