Before daybreak on a Saturday morning last September, the wheels of an inbound Emirates flight from Amsterdam touched down at the Los Angeles International Airport with 44 horses, seven grooms, a veterinarian and an in-flight steward on board. Elite equine jumping athletes representing Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, France, Belgium and other nations were then transported to the Los Angeles Convention Center, where the Longines Masters would be held, Oct. 1–4, 2015.
When the trucks arrived downtown, the horses were offloaded onto a red-carpet runway flanked by news reporters and photographers with typical Hollywood fanfare as their grooms proudly walked them to a climate-controlled underground parking structure outfitted with temporary stalls where they were quarantined for 48 hours. In the days to follow, they were joined in adjacent makeshift stables by 194 other jumping competition horses from North America along with one very unlikely stablemate—Steffen Peter’s beloved dressage partner, Legolas, who was trailered two hours north from San Diego to join the show-jumping herd.
In a salute to the common thread that connects the hearts of all equestrians regardless of their chosen riding discipline, EEM (the Brussels-based event organizer) boldly bridged world-class FEI show jumping with world-class dressage at the second annual Longines Masters in Los Angeles. The premier event in the City of Angels was the first leg of three international events (followed by Paris last December and Hong Kong this February) that comprise the new Longines Masters Series. The format was inspired by Grand Slam tennis competitions with the best of the best in the sport vying for the top spot.
At first glance, a review of the weekend schedule at the prestigious indoor event warranted a double take for both dressage and show-jumping aficionados. Along with the expected show-jumping classes were three schedule entries that read “Dressage demonstration with Steffen Peters.” Though it was initially perplexing that his name appeared on the schedule, in reality it was fitting to find the German-born, world-renowned dressage star among his international brethren in the entertainment capital of the world. Against a backdrop of prestige, elegance and sophistication, Peters and Legolas were right at home among the world’s top show-jumping riders and equine athletes who competed in the event—the first stop for the series, which spans 154 days, three continents and 25,000 miles of travel and is a trifecta for the world’s best in the sport. When asked how Peters became aligned with the event, he replied, “I was contacted by the organizers and they visited us at Arroyo del Mar [Peters’ training facility] in San Diego. They said that they would love to get dressage involved in the Longines Masters Series and possibly develop an international dressage competition on the West Coast with the top 10 dressage riders in the world.”
As an optimistic precursor to the long-range planning and collaboration necessary for EEM, the FEI, the CDI and potential sponsors to collectively bring such an event to fruition, Peters and Legolas made their Longines Masters debut in Los Angeles with the first dressage performances ever to take place in the new series. They performed the freestyle routine that won them gold at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto to the song “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen four times throughout the weekend. “This event fit perfectly into our schedule since we have a little down time now until December and the second Olympic Trial,” said Peters.
Their first performance was at the Thursday evening gala with more than 850 VIPs that included a celebrity guest list that one would expect at a premiere event in Los Angeles. The daughters of Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Selleck were on the weekend’s competition roster. “The crowd’s energy was wonderful and very different,” Peters said. “When we did piaffe and passage they really got into it. The arena is large and the music and cheering fans louder than at a dressage event, so Legolas needed a little more time than usual to settle in. But when he relaxed, he stayed relaxed and liked it.”
Peters and Legolas also performed on Friday and Saturday in between jumping classes. The small practice arena where they warmed-up prior to each performance was situated in the center of a lavish merchandise salon with an art gallery, a lavender-lit lounge with white leather furnishings (shown above), a French-champagne bar and elegant shops, including Longines watches, Gucci, European boot and saddle makers among other equestrian goods. In the center of all of the unfamiliar commercial distractions, the pair focused and prepared as they would for a dressage competition. After warm-up, they moved to the main arena, where they again performed their freestyle routine as they did at the gala, but the weekend demonstrations also included Peters interacting with the enthusiastic crowd. He was equipped with a microphone and talked to the audience about all of the Grand Prix level dressage movements and training (such as how long it takes to train a horse for dressage competition) and he fielded some questions from inquiring fans.
When not performing at the event, Legolas was stabled among his new show-jumping friends under the care of his long-time groom, Eddie Garcia, while Peters enjoyed the competition and visited with old friends. “I have a lot of friends in the jumping world. In Aachen you could always find me supporting the United States jumping team. I always get a kick out of good riding in any major class,” he said. For some spectators, watching Peters and Legolas was their first dressage experience. However, with shouts of, “We love you Steffen!” heard in the stands, it was evident that there were numerous dressage enthusiasts in the crowd.
The excitement surrounding the potential addition of a dressage competition to this event and having the very best dressage athletes in the world under the Los Angeles Convention Center roof is cause for anticipatory celebration. As for Peters’ impression of the weekend and what may happen, he said, “I was honored to be a part of it. This was a nice way to finish the season and a great opportunity to practice in this environment. We need to organize dressage shows with this level of entertainment. It could be a groundbreaking moment for dressage on the West Coast if the Longines Masters Series adds a dressage event.”
For more information, visit mastersgrandslam.com