The 2017 FEI World Cup finals in Omaha may have seemed like the pinnacle of dressage achievement for a horse show, but it was just a beginning for promoting the discipline in Nebraska and beyond.
Last night’s final of the $45,000 International Omaha Team Dressage Challenge proved that there’s a way to develop interest in the sport around the Midwest without the presence of top international riders.
Thomas Baur, the show’s dressage director who came up with the idea, is already thinking of ways to improve the product for 2019.
“We succeeded for the first year, but I think there is also a lot of work to do on our side,” he commented.
In the meantime, prominent judge Lilo Fore was all smiles when talking about the concept that mixed Young Riders, juniors and professionals on the squads competing at the Century Link Center.
“It’s wonderful to see different levels on one team,” said the judge.
“Every one of the riders was trying to make their team a success,” she continued, while noting that “some had a hard time with the atmosphere.”
Even so, “most of the riders we saw tried to show very correct training and basics.” She praised the competition, saying that as it develops “it could be one of the nicest… competitions in this country, so go on with it.”
Lisa Roskens, chairman of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, which puts on the show, noted, “One of the key points of our strategic plan for the next five years is to grow the sport of dressage in our region.” She pointed out that there are some talented riders and trainers in what East and West coasters call “flyover country.”
“But they all go away” to the centers of dressage in Florida and California when they get serious about competing, she observed.
The question the foundation pondered in devising the team challenge was, “What can we do to give people something to rally around and come back…something that makes Omaha a place that’s on the dressage map?”
The idea is to “create more opportunities for people who want to get into the sport with horses but maybe don’t want to jump or don’t want to go on trail rides,” she continued.
“They maybe want to do something a little different. Dressage is such a great welcoming sport for people across the age and ability spectrum. That’s a key initiative for us.”
The plan was not without its hurdles. The original concept called for para-equestrians to be part of the teams, but commitments for the upcoming FEI World Equestrian Games test event for dressage and para in Tryon, N.C., scuttled that. Originally, more teams were expected, but it worked well enough having four, three-member contingents, with the best two scores from each to count.
Team B (Baur plans to have the teams use real names instead of letters and a signature piece of music in the future to give them personality) overcame a few obstacles of its own.
Karen Pavicic, the most experienced member of the squad, had a setback when the horse she planned to ride was sold.
Emily Miles, a member of another team, arranged for Pavicic to borrow a horse from her mother. Pavicic had 20 minutes to get to know Willow before Thursday’s opening competition. Catch-riding isn’t a big thing in dressage the way it is in show jumping, but Pavicic’s mileage showed in the way the British Columbia resident handled the diminutive horse, especially when the 15.1-hand mare started to buck around a corner. Pavicic went on to produce a 65.292 percent score in her Intermediate I performance, utilizing her 2007 freestyle built around tunes from Broadway shows, including The Sound of Music. I’m told riders keep all their old freestyles—you never know when you might need one.
“It is an immense privilege to be able to ride in such an atmosphere, knowing it’s also such a special arena, because last year we had the World Cup,” said Pavicic’s teammate, Camille Carier Bergeron, whose Sound of Silence is in his first year of competition and was not the horse on which the Quebec rider originally qualified. But she wanted to give her 10-year-old Westfalen experience, so she chose to bring him.
The third team member, Jamie Kment, who rode Chivalry, was the local favorite because she lives an hour from Omaha in Lincoln, Neb. Her horse did his first Grand Prix in Florida, but dropped back to the Intermediate I at the International to boost his confidence.
“It has been a fun experience showing at this facility. It’s a show I will look forward to coming back to,” said Jamie. “I just see it growing and growing.”
- The only Grand Prix rider participating was Emily Miles, debuting her freestyle with Quantum Jazz who looked talented but spicy. She did an admirable job of bringing out his best, claiming a score of 69.375 percent. To find out what Miles had to say, click HERE and watch the video.
- Team B finished on 70.703 percent, just ahead of Team A (69.073) consisting of Tillie Jones, Heidi Basler and Missy Fladland, whose freestyle on Sundance 8 was the high score of the competition, marked at 71.583 percent.
- While Bergeron was the lone rider who broke 70 percent in Thursday’s first class, four riders had scores of 71 percent-plus in the freestyle, which was encouraging.
- The Challenge, presented by Mission Control and Rowan O’Reilly, was worth $12,000 to the first-place team.
- Although not as many spectators attended the dressage as viewed the show jumping at the International, there were a good number of people in the seats, some of whom no doubt bought tickets as a residual effect of the 2017 Finals.
- Qualifiers for the Team Challenge only took place from Jan. 1 through April 8 this year, but the fall CDI shows will have qualifiers for the 2019 finals.
- Baur noted part of the appeal of the Team Challenge is that team competitions in dressage are rare, aside from championships like the WEG; the CDIO Nations’ Cup in Wellington and the Adequan/FEI North American Youth Championships.