Vegas Beyond The World Cup

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Friday was a different sort of World Cup day because there were so many facets.  There was no World Cup dressage, just show jumping and that wasn’t until the evening session.  Instead there were all sorts of opportunities to learn, reminisce and discuss ways to improve our world of horses.

Brentina Says Goodbye

It seems appropriate that rather than start at the beginning of the day to instead talk about the one event that left no dry eyes in the audience.    It was a sad yet heartfelt moment when Debbie McDonald brought Brentina into the arena for her last time.  It was time for Brentina to retire.  She’s given Debbie and her owners Parry and Peggy Thomas a lot to remember from winning the World Cup in 2005 to her memorable performances at past World Equestrian and Olympic Games.

Brentina was one horse that truly helped U.S. dressage gain recognition in a world that is often dominated by the Germans.  Through Debbie’s passion and devotion to the sport and her pairing with Brentina they gained the love of our country.  It was because of those reasons that tears and even sobs could be heard throughout the crowd as Debbie herself wiped away her own tears.  No doubt she along with the rest of us were reflecting on what a magnificent pair these two have been.

This was certainly a magical combination but now at 18 she’s paid her dues and it’s time to retire.

Starting From The Morning

Now that I’ve put in my bid for what I considered to be the best part of the day, I’ll start at the beginning.  The morning began with a breed forum put on by Flyinge, the Swedish National Stud.  While I won’t get into too many specifics the concept was to have a “unique breeders’” meeting designed to discuss how to maximize the potential for breeders.  Karen Offield, owner of the well known KWPN stallion Lingh, was the instigator behind the organization of this meeting. 

The theme of the meeting was the Best of Three Worlds and that connection was Holland, Sweden and the U.S.  It was a chance to get breeders and non breeders alike to discuss ways to help each other.

Many years ago Karen purchased Lingh with visions and dreams of Olympic fame.  When her horse got hurt her vision changed and so she looked for a place to stand him and found Flyinge.  Karen recognized that there was a need to get a connection between the users and producers and so the morning meeting brought people together with that same interest.

There’s no question that the U.S. is years behind these other countries when it comes to breeding but we are quick learners. 

Among the speakers was Karl-Henrik Heimdahl, Flyinge breeding manager.  As a vet who saw horses from that perspective Karl got fed up with all the problems he saw in the horses he was vetting and wanted to see that improve.  It was because of this that he got caught up in the breeding world. 

Flyinge is a perfect example of how breed organizations need to constantly change and evolve.  Over the years Flyinge has changed from a stud farm whose purpose was to provide stallions to Kings to one that provides horses for all levels of horse enthusiasts.  Part of that was education, something that Karl feels is critical to help improve breeding.

While education was one suggestion, another was for the breeders to find young riders to show their horses in order to help gain recognition for the breed.

Emmy de Jeu, a well known breeder from Holland, supported that theory and added, “it cost money but it helps you get known and ultimately get more money for your young horses.”

While good stallions are critical to any breed program, Emmy also puts a lot of emphasis in the mares. “I look for knowledge and character in my mares.  Nowadays most of the horses go to amateur riders and it is important that they can get along with the horse and have a lot of fun with it.  In addition to good gaits and good conformation I look for electric movements.”

Tish Quirk, who is a U.S. breeder, is working diligently to support programs that help to promote breeding.  In addition to the Young Jumper Championship and recently a Dressage Futurity the latest initiative is a Hunter Development Incentive Fund started by the USHJA.

Tish had another suggestion noting that there should be some effort put into mentor programs where retired breeders could teach young enthusiastic people to also teach.

Dirk Wilhelm Rosie, a Dutch breeding expert who had been with the KWPN for 12 years, made a very interesting comment.  “Stud books should be open.  I don’t think of them like brands of cars.  They are the developers and mechanics of cars not the salesman. They should be there to help the breeders.”

A focal point of the meeting was Jan Brink whose stallion Briar was being retired from competition after this World Cup.  As a pure Swedish Warmblood his success over the years in the dressage arena bodes well for the breeding program in Sweden. 

The Day Continues

There were some quick meetings throughout the day where bits and pieces of information were picked up.  At the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists meeting a lot of discussion focused on the FEI and how the two organizations can work together.   

Richard Johnson, Director of Communications for the FEI, came to speak.  He’s only been with the FEI for five or six months but has already made great strides.  “The FEI has been going through quite a few changes over the past few months,” he began.  “My focus is to forge a much closer relationship with the Alliance because we need to work together.  The International Alliance is a vital organization for the FEI as are the National Federations.”

Richard had a very welcoming attitude and it resonated well with the journalists.  It was clear that as a former photojournalist he understood many of our concerns.  As the weeks and months pass he plans to review and refresh the present communications and to reintroduce equestrian sport into the more mainstream media. One thing he wants to see improve is the FEI web site.  They recently appointed an agency to review the web site to make it “leaner and cleaner” and the plan is to have the new web site live in a few months.

Richard also spoke about the issue of doping and how important it is to work on a “clean sport” from the FEI’s perspective.  Amazingly the FEI is also starting to understand the need for thinking about ways that Social Media can benefit them.  Even now Richard has organizations monitoring what is being talked about so that he can keep on top of this.  “Hopefully we are all going to be twitterers in the long run,” he added.

Richard’s final comments focused on the image of the FEI as a group of people that avoid speaking to the media.  “The FEI is a governing body and sometimes we speak very carefully because we have to,” he explained.  “It’s not because we don’t want to say things it is because we can’t.”  With all sorts of rules and regulations to follow, they have to be careful with what they say.

WEG 2010

The day of learning continued with more details about the World Equestrian Games.  There to respresent WEG was Kate Jackson, VP of Competition, and Rob Hinkle, Director of Operations.

They both spoke about issues of concern not only to the media but to the officials, staff and spectators.  Transportation will be a key problem to solve but they have a company in place that is overseeing the entire transportation and how everyone is going to arrive to the venue.

“There is not going to be a lot of parking available onsite.  So they have to decide what the appropriate use of that parking is,” he explained.

There is also some effort being placed into finding a cluster of housing for the media which would offer different price ranges as well as media-only transportation.  And finally they announced that Marty Bauman’s Classic Communication will head up the Media Operations at WEG 2010.


Every time Vegas puts on a World Cup they try to do something different.  This year it was a day focused on dressage beginning with a Pas de Deux.  This was a fun competition where three pairs of riders dressed for the occasion and mimicked each other’s ride.  The winners were the one’s who achieved the highest score from the judges combined with the loudest audience reaction.  Ultimately Olympic veteran Guenter Seidel and Elizabeth Ball won with their routine based around  Phantom of the Opera.  They were riding Fandango and Orion. 

Yet the real significance of this even twasn’t about the winners and losers it was about the presentation and the audience reaction.  The judges let their hair down and put a lot of humor in their judging.  For instance Dr. Wojtek Markowski, a judge from Poland, had something funny to say after each combination and at one point noted that he truly felt like he was in Vegas where the show always does go on even with the horses.

These types of fun competitions are exactly what our horse world needs.  It gets the audience involved.  It adds humor to a generally focused and very competitive sport and it becomes fun for both the audience and the riders

We Continue To Learn From Vegas

There is so much to be learned from Vegas.  After the Pas de Deux the arena needed to be dragged and everyone knows that generally that is just dead space but not in Vegas.  Down from the ceiling came a man on a wire – none other than the man in charge of footing here at the World Cup.  Oliver Hoberg was greeted by three sexy women and the crowd stomping song – “She Thinks My Tractor’s is Sexy.”  And for sure that was the sexiest looking tractor I’d ever seen and instead of sitting there falling asleep the crowd was suddenly alive and vibrant. 

That was followed by a crowd toss of t-shirts signed by the riders to a crowd that was asked to dance for the t-shirts while the jumbotron caught the wiggling bodies throughout the arena.  Talk about getting the crowd involved.  It was truly unbelievable. 

Last but not least was the Kiss-Cam where the camera goes around finding couples who when they see themselves on the jumbotron know it’s time to pucker up.  For sure by this time if you were asleep you weren’t anymore.

Every time I come to Vegas as much as I say they know how to put the show back into the Horse Show until you are sitting in the audience and feeling the electricity you don’t quite understand what that means.

What a day it’s been;  Yet another chance to learn from Vegas.  The day is not over.  There is still the second leg of show jumping to go but for now I’m going to sign off.  Viva Las Vegas.  Feel free to email me with your questions or comments at