Highlights From The 2011 Las Vegas National Horse Show

Truly terrific this year – the turn out at The Las Vegas National was super, competition fierce and in Vegas there is certainly no lack of extracurricular activities. At the South Point alone you can go to the movies, bowl, visit the spa, dine in one of nine restaurants and of course gamble. And your horse is on the premises!

Featuring several savory equestrian evenings, the event served up some great show jumping, exciting until the last rider.

Francie Steinwedell-Carvin
and Taunus

Steinwedell-Carvin Gives Up Control 
When twenty-nine horse and rider combinations competed in a one round competition against the clock in the $31,000 Las Vegas National Welcome Jumper Classic, presented by Summit General Insurance Agency, Francie Steinwedell-Carvin and Taunus were top notch. Eleventh to go, Steinwedell-Carvin and Prentiss Partner’s Taunus set a solid time, clean in 60.25, and held their lead through the next eighteen attempts.

Steinwedell-Carvin shared how her relationship with Taunus has blossomed of late, as she had an experience that taught her to “‘give up control to get control.’ He likes to go around on the flat with his head up and I would work so hard to get him to get round.” After working with a horse in a western saddle in a round pen with a cowboy, Francie learned about giving up control.

“A light came on without me realizing it, I had a transition of trust that I could let go. I relaxed so he relaxed and it worked.”

A difficult aspect to give up while negotiating a course of big jumps and tight turns – control – finding that synchronicity is a constant challenge. How an experienced rider learns new ways to communicate is an interesting question. Ask someone you admire about an unexpected experience that led to success in the show ring.

Good to the Last Draw
On a chilly evening in the Vegas desert the South Point Equestrian arena was on fire as twenty-nine horse and rider combinations hailing from all over the world raced for the win in the $20,000 1.35m Speed Classic, presented by CardFlex. Previous to this fast and furious event, the kids had a ton of fun at the JustWorld International Horseless Horse Show and the precious leadliners stole the crowd’s heart.

The track created by course designer Anthony D’Ambrosio offered several options for speed, and riders picked a variety of tracks for success. First to go American Karl Cook set the pace aboard Signe Ostby’s Notories Utopia. The ride was smooth and slick in a time of 61.44. D’Ambrosio commented, “Karl is going to be tough to beat. There are two places where you could do one less stride than he did, that may be the only way to win.”

Per his prediction, try as they might, rider after rider nipped at Karl’s heels but none could catch him. The ultimate thrill of the evening came with the final ride, Argentinean Eduardo Braun on H.J. El Magnifico. Just when the crowd figured Cook had it in the bag, Braun sped his way through the track with style and stopped the clock in 61.10, just over three tenths of a second faster than Cook for the win. The crowd went crazy as Braun raised his fist in victory.

Saturday Night Lights & Heights
Saturday was super at the Las Vegas National. The evening began by crowning a champion in the PCHA Victor Hugo-Vidal Adult Medal Finals. In its first year at this indoor location, three riders finished the first two rounds within three percentage points of each other and returned for a work-off. Called in second, Lorri Quiett on Abigail performed well and ultimately earned the top spot.

Next Karl Cook illustrated that speed pays off in the exciting $10,000 Winning Round Classic, presented by Royal Champion. Twenty-seven couples gave it a go and nine completed the course fault free. Unique to the Winning Round Format, riders return according to their score and time in the first round.

Since all were clean, time determined the order of go in the second round. It was no surprise that Karl Cook and Jonkheer Z (Signe Ostby, owner) were the last to come back in the second round. Shaving almost two seconds off Kirsten Coe and Vernon G’s leading time, Cook took the win at the last second.

Commencing with a rockin’ light show, followed by a Parade of Nations with an introduction of each grand prix rider, the crowd was ready for some superb show jumping. Before the four-hooved types galloped in, kids large and small leaped up to 1.20m in the JustWorld International High Jump competition.

The twenty-four entries in the $50,000 Last Vegas National Grand Prix, presented by Summit General Insurance Agency, were a balance of eleven male and ten female competitors representing six nations. Course designer Anthony D’Ambrosio set an ‘up to standard’ 1.60m track with spreads up to 1.65m, a triple bar at 1.90m, a triple combination with two oxers and a delicate 1.60m skinny vertical. Over half the class rose to the occasion, with eight moving on to the jump-off round and five scored just four faults.

Double clears included American John McConnell aboard Rancho Corazon’s Katie Riddle, who sailed smoothly around the shortened course clean in 40.57, taking the lead. A short-lived lead however, as the young and quick Karl Cook on ASB Conquistador (Signe Ostby, owner) followed with another double clean effort in 38.56. The petite Danish rider Emilie Martinsen rode the powerful Toscane well (J.a.j Van Rijiswijk, owner), finishing double clean in 45.16 earning a respectable fourth place. Last but certainly not least, Brazilian Eduardo Menezes entered on Francisco Pasquel’s Calavda. He had this envious position in 2010 as well and won. On a horse he’d only been riding a few months, Menezes was double clean, stopping the clock in 38.15, four tenths of a second faster than Cook for another sweet Vegas victory. The crowd went crazy as Menezes crossed the finish line. Once again the final ride clinched the top prize.

Eduardo Menezes and Calavda

The Brazilian professional who resides in Mexico and California was especially pleased with his win, since this was his first grand prix on Calavda. When asked about the Vegas vibe, Menezes smiled and said, “I love this show, this venue. Vegas is like Disneyland for adults.”

Highlights From The Sept 2,3 2010 Blenheim EquiSports Show

September 2, 2010: First Indoor Class of the California Season

On Thursday evening of the Showpark All Seasons Summer Classic Blenheim EquiSports hosted the $30,000 Showpark Jumper Classic, presented by Royal Champion. With 42 entries, the event served as a warm-up for Saturday’s World Cup Qualifier as well as an opportunity to ride in the first indoor class of the California season. Scored as a speed class, eight pairs went clean, but fastest of the night were the new match of Jill Humphrey and Tao Tao 3 (Alicia Jonsson Foster, owner). Second place went to Richard Spooner and his partner Ace (S&B LLC, owner) with Keri Potter and Rockford I rounding out the top three.

September 4, 2010: First World Cup Qualifier of the California Season
Twenty-nine horse and rider combinations were all business as they competed under the lights in the Del Mar Horse Park covered arena on Saturday night. With riders representing eight different countries vying for the top prize as well as points on the World Cup leader board in the $50,000 Grand Prix of Showpark CSI-W, presented by EquiFit, inc., course designer Anthony D’Ambrosio had the task of building a course that tested both the scope of the horse and eye of the rider. Four jumped clean in the first round to earn a spot in the jump-off, but it was the talented couple of Percynality Mercedes Benz and Eduardo Menezes who clinched the win by delivering the only double clear performance of the evening.

D’Ambrosio presented the competitors with sixteen efforts. With some ‘delicate’ fences, D’Ambrosio wanted to test the accuracy of the entrants without too many demanding fences in a row. “I had one wide oxer in the triple combination and one in the double, but I didn’t have another difficult fence immediately follow either,” the American designer explained. Some riders lowered the height of the triple bar on course while others found trouble at various areas in the triple and double combinations, as well as fence 11, a daunting vertical jumped on a slight angle towards the grand stands.

As the ninth pair to make their entrance in the first round, Brazilian Menezes and his own Percynality Mercedes Benz jumped clean and forced a jump-off with second in the order and first to go clean, East Coast rider Michelle Spadone and her mount Melisimo (Morgan Hill Partners, owner). Later in the order, Susan Hutchison and the bay stallion Cantano (El Dorado 29, owner) delivered a fault-free performance to earn a spot in the second round as did 18-year-old Karl Cook aboard his second mount, Uno de Laubry (Signe Ostby, owner).

As the second rider to step up to the jump off challenge, Menezes knew he had to give it his all. “I had to be fast because Susie [Hutchison] and Karl [Cook] were behind me and they are quick,” the winner said. Jumping around clean in 36.87, Menezes clearly delivered as neither Hutchison nor Cook were fault-free. After having finished second in his share of grand prix events this season, Menezes was particularly happy. “When I felt him in the warm-up ring, I knew he was feeling great,” Menezes said of his 13-year-old partner.

Finishing second was the California hotshot Cook and Uno de Laubry. The young rider completed the jump-off track with four faults, lowering the height of an early fence on the track, in a final time of 37.65. First to return to the shortened track, Spadone and Melisimo also had four faults in 38.77 for a third place finish. Picking up fourth place, Hutchison and Cantano had a great time of 36.78 but dislodged two rails for eight faults.

Conversations With Course Designers: Anthony D’Ambrosio

By Jackie McFarland

I had the privilege and the honor to spend time with course designer Anthony D’Ambrosio. The art and science of course design is not only well-illustrated through his work but equally as well explained by him. Beginning with the warm-ups on Wednesday, each day of competition from the course perspective is covered below.

Warm-Up Wednesday
While fifty-five horses jumped around the warm-up course on Wednesday, including FEI World Cup and Las Vegas Grand Prix competitors and their mounts, I spoke with Anthony about the warm-up choices and the upcoming World Cup courses.

“The warm-up is about getting the horses comfortable with the ring. Allowing them into the corners,” he explained, which coincides with what most of our West Coast riders said they were planning to do [see their interviews here]. “We kept it simple, no more than nine efforts at 1.30-1.35m (4’3”- 4’5”) in height with 1.40-1.45m (4’7” – 4’9”) spread. We put in a tight corner jump and one double.”

Naturally I asked him about what’s to come. He shared that all the courses were not only ready to go but he was pleased to have had the opportunity to lay out each one using 2×4’s the Friday before the event commenced. “Due to the unique shape of this arena, the chance to see how the course fits is a luxury.” Upon seeing the courses in the arena, Anthony said he did make one change, and from this point forward it will only be fine-tuning as the competition begins.

Track & Field Thursday
Walking the Table C course with Anthony D’Ambrosio on Thursday it was clear he set a course of many colors. The jumps were vibrant and the options he offered riders created a field with numerous tracks.

Jump one was a sizeable Rolex triple bar with an option six or seven bending line to fence two. Tight turn to fence three to a bending line in six to a ‘heavy’ pole jump made up of red and white poles to look like the Swiss flag in honor of Beat Mandli, the 2007 World Cup winner. Only two riders, class winner Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Steve Guerdat, took the inside turn to fence five. This turn required adding a step in the long three strides from fence five to six, riding it in four. Worked well for Meredith. “My horse is a good adder,” she noted. Another tight rollback to the double also had an option to go inside or around an island of trees. This is where Rich Fellers and Flexible, who had to go first, almost parted company. Seemed one turned faster than the other, however they quickly worked it out, made the turn, hopped the in to the double and made it out in two strides without touching a pole. Still setting a solid time to beat at 58.50, the pair ended up fourth in a class of 44 entries.

Next efforts included a natural skinny vertical with a turn to a long four-stride line to an oxer, vertical, vertical combination. The second element was the four seconds added for many riders as that came up fast resulting in a downed rail. Finishing with a line in seven or eight to the final pin-striped liverpool oxer, the widest jump on the course.

Ultimately the class winner, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum riding her partner Shutterfly, stopped the clock in 56.48. She chose the best track for her horse, which included tight turns and adding strides. “I thought it was a brilliant course,” said. “It presented a lot of options. I was surprised only one other rider (Steve Guerdat) did it the way I did.”

On the other hand, second place winner Christina Liebherr aboard LB No Mercy took all wide turns, no inside tracks and left strides out in a time of 57.47. Next fastest time also stuck to his plan, McLain Ward riding Sapphire took his own unique track around the field, coming in third at 57.73. A very interesting class indeed.

Follow Friday

When walking with Anthony on Friday evening, he said, “It’s a demanding yet fair course.” He built it with a hope of getting eight to ten clear rounds and having a great jump off.

With 14 obstacles set, interesting questions asked included fence three the triple bar, 1.90m (6’3”) wide, 1.55m (5’1”) high at the back rail. The triple combination was the eighth obstacle, vertical-vertical-oxer, with a quick turn to 1.60m (5’3”) Las Vegas vertical in a steady five or potentially a forward four strides. Fence eleven was an airy wide oxer that caught a few horses, however the two jumps providing the most difficulty were the Las Vegas vertical at nine and the plank on flat cups at 12. As the plank was the first jump in a tough four or five stride line to a double right towards the in-gate. “Number nine came up quickly after the triple combination, and rode in a short distance toward the in-gate,” explained second place finisher McLain Ward at a press conference after the award presentation. “Planks are always tough, seemed some of the riders were riding the distance in the line after the jump before clearing it.”

Mission accomplished – seventeen riders had just one rail, mostly at the jumps mentioned above. However thirteen of forty-two riders rode fault free. In an exciting jump-off, that demanded tidy turns and a long gallop to the final oxer, six went double clear.

Friday followed Thursday for Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER). She mastered Anthony D’Ambrosio’s first round course as well as the jump-off. McLain Ward (USA) came in a very close second, losing by only a second. And capturing third was Albert Zoer (NED) on Oki Doki, who was just under a second slower than McLain. Beezie Madden (USA) and Danny Boy were just tenths of a second behind Zoer for fourth and Richard Spooner (USA) aboard Cristallo was only hundredths of a second slower than Beezie for fifth. The only other double clear was Helena Lundback (SWE) on Madick picking up the sixth award.

“I had a super turn from two to three that was very fast,” Michaels-Beerbaum said of her jump-off ride. She added, “Shutterfly is a very fast horse. He’s a racehorse type.”

Ward added, “I went as fast as I could go. There wasn’t one place I could go faster. My hat is off to Meredith.”

Super Saturday
A day of rest for the World Cup horses, the Saturday course was built for the Las Vegas Grand Prix immediately followed by some of our nation’s best riders dropping britches for jeans, chaps and cowboy boots in a reining competition.

Anthony’s course proved to be challenging in both scope and timing. The large liverpool at the end of the bending line from three to four was the first real challenge on course. It was followed by a tough roll-back to the Las Vegas vertical at fence five, in a forward bending six strides to the next test, the triple combination. The wide sunburst oxer in the middle of the vertical-oxer-vertical triple proved to be the biggest challenge, nearly a third of the riders had it down. Exceeding the 84-second time allowed ended up as the only fault for two American riders, young East Coaster Michelle Spadone and West Coaster Jill Humphrey.

Five jumped clean in the first round. Truly an international line-up, young American Laura Teodori went eleventh of 21 and was first clean, followed by HRH Prince Abdullah Al-Saud from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Norwegian Geir Gulliksen, American Rich Fellers riding Kilkenny Rindo and Dutch Gerco Schroder rounded out those returning for the jump-off.

When the course was reset, it included the already difficult roll back from the liverpool to the tall Las Vegas vertical direct to the ‘B’ and ‘C’ of the triple, now a double. Only Rich and Prince Abdullah went double clean. Rich rode the inexperienced but talented Rindo beautifully for the win. The horse just began his Grand Prix career last November.

When asked at a press conference about the course, he said, “I thought it was a great course. It had a lot of variety, which makes it interesting for the crowd and challenging for the riders. Anthony is one of my favorite course designers.” As for Sunday when Fellers will be back aboard Flexible, he said, “I think it’s going to be very, very tough. Big and technical.”

Spectacular Sunday
Sunday is run in a format unique to the World Cup. Theplacings from the first two rounds are converted into World Cup penalty points to determine the overall ranking. With two rounds, the faults accumulated in the first round are added to the penalty points to determine who returns for the second round. A jump-off follows only if there is a tie after the two rounds are complete. The 22 riders with the lowest score, along with any with clean rounds who chose to ride again, moved on to the next round—which is also scored by adding faults incurred to the rider’s penalty points.

Round I
We had the added honor of walking the course with assistant to Anthony, Leopoldo Palacios, a world-renowned course designer in his own right. The jumps were taller and wider than previous days and the questions asked a touch more technical. Both rounds had twelve obstacles, including challenging triple and a double combinations configured differently in each course. The second effort in Round One was a triple bar at a width of 2.0m (6’7”). The last jump in Round One was a 1.62m (5’4”) tall vertical plank on flat cups. Twelve of 29 went clean in this round, eleven had four faults and five dropped two rails. Unfortunately two of those five eight-faulters were Richard Spooner and Rich Fellers.

Round II
It started off immediately with a line from a vertical at one with a flowing six strides to an oxer at two. Around the corner to a skinny vertical at three that was the first jump in a bending line of five strides to a big and wide (1.60m – 5’3”) vertical-oxer double combination. The super wide triple bar from Round One was moved to a new location as fence five in a blind turn bending line to a liverpool vertical standing at 1.60m (5’3”). The seventh element, the Rolex triple combination built with two big oxers and a vertical, took its toll as a multitude rails were dropped while negotiating the challenge, however no rest after this test as the big wall at eight came up quickly in a bending six. The last large oxer seemed to come up long off the corner and even more rails came down there then in the triple. This course caused three riders to withdraw, and challenged American riders Christine McCrea, Hillary Dobbs and Rich Fellers who ended up with 19, 20 and 22 faults respectively. Mandy Porter and Beezie Madden both had twelve and Richard Spooner finished with eight faults, along with the awesome Marcus Ehning. Six of the 23 rides jumped without a fault, including Steve Guerdat (SUI), Ben Maher (GBR), Ludger Beerbaum (GER), Christina Liebherr (SUI), Albert Zoer (NED), McLain Ward (USA) and of course Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER) who kept her perfect score of zero penalty points for the win.

Results Reflect Design
The tremendously close results of the top three riders, all jumping each round clean with only time separating their scores, speaks highly for the course designer. This competition is about testing the best riders abilities over multiple days asking a variety of difficult questions including timing, scope, rideability, accuracy and precision. Doug Meine, Executive Vice President of Rolex, expressed it from the sponsor perspective, which speaks for the event overall “FEI and Rolex share a passion for precision and excellence.” Anthony D’Ambrosio, our 2009 Rolex FEI World Cup Final course architect, designed for just that – passionate perfection.

Conversations With Course Designers: Anthony D’Ambrosio

By Tammy Chipko

FACT: Show jumping is an Olympic sport where men and women (both horse and rider) compete on an equal basis.

FACT: Grand Prix courses reach heights of 5’3”, with spreads of up to six feet. The course may also include a water jump, which may be 10 to 16 feet in width.

COURSE DESIGN: The height, width, location of fences, and time allowed for the round allows only the best rider/horse teams to move on to the jump off. That’s where Anthony D’Ambrosio and other top course designers come in. Known for building fair, technical courses to test every level of rider, Anthony D’Ambrosio is a well-respected course designer both nationally and internationally.

Tammy Chipko: How did you get started in designing courses?

Anthony D’Ambrosio: I have been designing courses since 1995. Being a Grand Prix rider myself, I found I had an interest in what type of questions were being asked of riders and horses in the ring. I spent a lot of time speaking with course designers from all over. Eventually, as my interest in course designing advanced and my professional riding slowed, I made the full transition to course design.

TC: How much advance preparation is needed to design your courses?
AD: If I know a place well I am able to work a bit in advance because I know the layout of the ring and the materials available to me. If it is a new place for me I usually do not plan too much in advance but work day to day.

TC: Do you use a computer program to design courses?
AD: Not too much. I prefer freehand. It allows me to use my imagination to draw without relying on a computer. I can usually be seen with a clipboard in hand drawing basic ideas depending on the track, types of jumps, combinations, flower/tree fill etc. I will then copy the results to my computer. That works best for me.

TC: Do you use the class sheet to help determine what type of course you will build?
AD: I can certainly get an overall impression of the level and strength of the group from the class sheet. I have worked with most groups more than once so I have fairly good knowledge of rider/horse ability. If it is a group of green riders and/or horses, I might change the combinations to require more agility and less power. I never want to over-face anyone but at the same time I do want the riders to be challenged. Riders appreciate a challenge so that they can feel as though they have accomplished something that not every horse and rider team is able to do. Keep people learning and growing and everyone is happy.

TC: You design courses for the Children’s Jumpers through World Cup Qualifiers. Is one more fulfilling than another?
AD: No, a good class is a good class. It is all rewarding. Every course, no matter which ring I am building for, is a serious effort that requires a meticulous physical layout. Each day of jumping is the same in terms of importance. There have been times when a Children’s Jumper Classic is so exciting, the crowd so involved that I’ve thought, “WOW! I wish my jump off in the Grand Prix would have unfolded like this one!”

TC: I would imagine building a World Cup Qualifier course is more difficult than a Friday Grand Prix?
AD: A World Cup class is pre-determined since it has to be built within International Standards. West Coast riders have insisted that the courses be tough and demanding. They want to prepare for the finals by jumping extremely competitive courses. They have raised the bar for themselves and want the course designer to show them what they need to know ahead of time. They do not want to be coddled. The Friday Grand Prix are not as big or demanding. If there are a lot of competitors, my course might be a bit trickier in order to manage the total number of clean rounds for the jump-off.

TC: Do you have a favorite moment in your history as a course designer?
AD: I can’t choose a favorite because I’ve had so many good moments. The Sunday Grand Prix at HITS II in Thermal was exciting. We were hit by a wind storm during the Grand Prix that blew everything down and we had to stop the class temporarily. When we were able to resume hours later, we had the entire course rebuilt in 15 minutes. The resilience of both the competitors and the spectators was amazing.

TC: What are your future plans and goals?
AD: As far as designing courses, I hope to build in Europe. I have recently also become more involved in management and enjoy that immensely. From my extensive base of experience with infrastructure, I feel I can offer some management input to horse shows. I am also enjoying a new consulting business with my wife Michael, D’Ambrosio & D’Ambrosio. One of the services we offer is advice to clients interested in building a farm, planning a ring or designing a Grand Prix field.

TC: Good luck with all your future endeavors. Thank you for your time and great design!