The World Cup horses had a break from competition today, as the ring belonged to costumed riders showing that yes, indeed, dressage can be a blast.
A program of pas de deux and one quadrille demonstrated that the sport has a lighter side.
Shannon Peters, Steffen’s wife, portrayed Poison Ivy (complete with flowing red hair) aboard Pan American Games gold medal mount Weltino’s Magic, while David Blake rode Ikaros.
The judges included Olympic judge Linda Zang, whose biggest criticism was that Poison Ivy didn’t flirt sufficiently with Batman.
The Wild Wild West pas de deux featured Mette Rosencrantz on Marron as a cowboy, and Anna Dahlberg on Rico, complete with war bonnet. Mette took joy in firing her gun, they had a nice finale to the theme from the Long Ranger and the two wound up with a fist bump for a job well done.
The music of the broadway show and movie Grease was the backdrop for a bewigged Jan Ebeling as Danny aboard Darling, and Charlotte Bredahl Baker as Sandy, riding Chanel. I just couldn’t take my eyes off Jan and his leather jacket.
The finale was Gunter Seidel as a white-caped Elvis riding Zamorin, accompanied by three mounted “showgirls,” Elizabeth Ball on Orion (with whom he teamed here in 2009 with a Phantom of the Opera pas de deux); Sarah Christy (Xirope) and Michelle Reilly (Umeeko). He left the building in style, followed by his entourage in flouncy red outfits and feather headdresses.
I asked Elisabeth Williams, head of the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s high performance dressage committee, what she thought about this type of entertainment. She’s in favor of it.
“The more we can show the crowds that dressage can be fun, while you’re showing them the beautiful horses and beautiful movements, I like it a lot. I think the crowd just loved it. There were a lot of people in there maybe who didn’t know so much about dressage and think this is a boring thing to watch.
“Well, this was not boring.”
Don’t expect to see cowboys and Elvis in the arena when riders are vying for a trophy any time soon, however.
“I don’t know if we’re quite ready for the competition freestyles to go quite this wild,” she said slyly.
Amidst all the smiles, there were also a few tearful moments. Homage was paid in a moving tribute to Parry Thomas, the banker who helped make Las Vegas what it is today. To the crowd at Thomas & Mack (named after him and his late partner), however, he’s best known as the owner of Brentina, ridden by Debbie McDonald, and Wizard, ridden by her assistant, Adrienne Lyle.
Brentina had her retirement here in 2009, and today it was Wizard’s turn. Adrienne rode him into the arena and as soon as she dismounted for the ceremonial untacking, he got fresh.
“He was full of it, being typical Wizard,” she said of the 16-year-old horse who carried her to the Olympics and World Equestrian Games.
“He has to keep everything exciting and always has to get the last word. I would expect nothing less from him,” she chuckled.
“It’s nice to retire him sound, happy and healthy, looking and feeling good, knowing he can enjoy his retirement.” (For a further perspective from Adrienne, go to www.dressagetoday.com and read her blog).
Debbie was on hand to watch, telling me, “it was of course very emotional to see all those years we’ve had such an amazing life with the Thomas family, and the Thomas & Mack arena was the perfect place to do it.
“Wizard never lets us down with his little attitude, so he went out in his normal style and I thought that was quite appropriate. Adrienne tactfully got it together and was able to show off that he’s still got something special.”
It meant a lot to me to be here for Wizard’s retirement, because I knew him from the time Debbie was riding him, before Adrienne took over. I saw what the partnership of those two special women could do, turning a difficult horse into a polished performer competing at the highest level of the sport.
It’s been a long journey by the calendar, but it seems just a short time ago that Adrienne was a working student and Wizard a project with potential. Debbie has gone on to be the U.S. team’s developing coach, Wizard is deciding whether he’d like to live in a stall or in the pasture, and Adrienne is waiting for the next horse that can take her to the top again.
Now it’s time to turn our attention to tomorrow’s freestyle, which will determine who wins the Cup.
Debbie coaches Laura Graves, who was fifth in the Grand Prix that qualified her for the freestyle.
Some were disappointed that Laura’s horse, Verdades, showed tension and a few glitches, preventing him from placing higher. But don’t put Debbie in that category.
“We were so excited for her,” said Debbie.
“You’ve got to understand that was the first time she or that horse have ever ridden in an indoor environment. Period. You can’t practice that. There’s not preparation for something like the Thomas & Mack arena. I honestly believe that now he’s going to be so much more comfortable in there and she can ride and do an amazing job.
Want to know what happens? Look for my next postcard tomorrow night.