Mack's Moments - “First Things” Wednesday’s World Cup Dressage Warm-up

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The hours and days of anticipation have all melted away when the first of these beautiful horses placed hoof upon footing. This afternoon (Wednesday) found the fifteen teams of horses and their luggage (a.k.a.: riders) getting the feel of the Thomas & Mack arena. Each twosome had fifteen minutes in the ring which they were to share with another team of horse and rider. Several riders chose to split the time so that only one rider at a time put his/her partner through the routine. Observations based upon my happy hours spent alongside the arena could fill a small journal. I will spare you such torture. Instead I will offer my typically rambling thoughts in the order that the pairs passed beneath my gaze. Here goes.

At the risk of facing the wrath of multiple professional (and some not-so-professional) riders, I simply must offer a compliment to Ashley Holzer who came in on Pop Art’s broad back wearing a helmet. (Feel free to gasp, if you wish.) I suspect that some (most?) of you are thinking to yourself, “I suppose that this lady wears a life preserver when she goes into the swimming pool?” This is not the place for a one-sided debate on the topic, but most of you know that I am not immune to hearing the other side of nearly every topic (with the possible exception of the goodness of my Mom’s cooking and the beauty of my wife), so feel free to write and tell me what you think. Until I am dissuaded, I will praise Ashley to the skies.

Next into the gladiatorial space was Marco Bernal from Colombia. He is widely known here in the US, especially by folks on the Florida scene. He and his lovely mare, Diamore (one of only two mares amongst the 15 teams, the other being Jan Ebeling’s partner, Rafalca) were admirable. Anne Gribbons commented that Doctor Cesar Parra’s recent naturalization as a US citizen deprived us of the happy opportunity to see not one but two Colombians in the competition.

Isabell Werth on Satchmo 78 was providing the crowd with a tutorial showing how she adapts her riding style to suit the personality and temperament of her teammate when Monica Theodorescu and Whisper 128 arrived in the ring. The two of them closed out their fifteen minutes of allotted time with a spontaneous pas-de-deux. Germany thus served notice that they are a force to be reckoned with, as they were when they were half of the team that won the gold medal at the 2002 Olympic games held in Atlanta.

The Dutch contingent (Parzival ridden by Adelaide Cornelisson and Painted Black with his partner Anky Van Grunsven) elected to let the fiery Painted Black have the first several minutes of their allotted time to themselves. When Adelaide did enter it seemed obvious to me that something was not right. Parzival did nothing more strenuous than a walk. After the full complement of fifteen horses and their riders had completed the warm-up it was announced that Parzival has been officially withdrawn from the World Cup. The reason for his withdrawal is a tendon injury in his left front leg. All of us in the dressage community (if I may be so bold as to speak on your behalf) sympathize with Adelinde and the team from the Netherlands.

The other half of the Dutch team, Jeanette Haazen on Nartan and Hans Peter Mindenhoud on Exquis Nadine) showed both sartorial and athletic prowess. All horses and riders were suitably impressive on the athletic side while Jeanette in her pink blouse and breeches and Nartan with his pink saddle pad and wraps made this man in black feel badly underdressed for the occasion.

This year’s Swedish representatives (Jan Brink and his longtime partner, Briar [at “18 years young,” as announcer Brian O’Connor commented] and Minna Telde on Don Charly) showed us not only their readiness for the World Cup but also their national pride as the equestrian halves of their team are Swedish Warmbloods. This breed is outnumbered at this year’s show only by Dutch Warmbloods.

The final four riders in the ring during the dressage warm-up portion of the day were all wearing the red, white, and blue. Kingston was his usual well-mannered, gentlemanly self under Leslie Morse’s command. Ravel did not fail to impress as Steffen Peters put him through his paces. It seems to my somewhat trained eye that Mrs. Peters (Shannon) is putting Steffen through his paces (and not letting him overindulge in any treats) as his musculature was amply displayed beneath his white, short-sleeved shirt.

Speaking of paces, Ravel’s one-tempis had even the novice dressage fans sitting near me ooh-in and aah-ing. Now, if the duo can stay as rock solid (as they have been throughout the past season) in the days ahead!

Jan Ebeling on Rafalca (as noted above, one of only two mares in this year’s [now] fourteen competitors) was accompanied in the ring by Karen Bell and her mount, Luciano. Ms. Bell will ride a test prior to Thursday’s start both to demonstrate for newcomers the intricacies of our sport and to permit the judges to calibrate their measuring devices. Two years ago it was Jan who rode the test ride at the 2007 World Cup. I cannot help but wonder if Karen has such high hopes?

Following the warm-up session for the competitors there was another glorious hour of horse power as the horse and rider combinations invited to participate in demonstration pas-de-deux and other demonstration rides schooled their mounts. Most notable amongst these (not to slight anyone, but my emotion runs deep on this topic) is Debbie McDonald. Debbie will ride in one of the demo pas-de-deux on Felix, he who would have been her next ride after Brentina (a.k.a.: Momma) had Debbie not retired from competition.

Which gives me another opportunity to repeat my advice that everyone waterproof his/her computer prior to my reporting on Brentina’s retirement ceremony. As I wrote before, I guarantee there won’t be a dry eye in the house.

Farewell until tomorrow, good friends. Lots of superior riding to be seen; about which I will do my best to report.