2012/2013 West Coast Qualifying Season For All New Thermal Million

by Danette Kadlic

Rich Fellers and Flexible on their way to a win at the LA National in 2011. This year, the LA National will be one of the West Coast shows hosting qualifiers for the Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix. © Flying Horse Photography

HITS, Inc., together with the show organizers of Blenheim EquiSports, Jump Del Mar, Sacramento International and Langer Equestrian Group, is pleased to celebrate the start of the 2012-2013 qualifying period for the newly formed Thermal Million Grand Prix League. The qualifying season began August 14 and runs through the 2013 HITS Desert Circuit, beginning January 22, where seven weeks of horse shows will culminate in the largest prize money purse ever offered west of the Mississippi. The Thermal Million Grand Prix will be a star-studded conclusion to the seven-week circuit, complete with a musical concert being organized in collaboration with a top entertainment company out of Los Angeles.

The season officially kicked off at the famed Blenheim Summer Classic Series in beautiful San Juan Capistrano, California followed by the Showpark Summer Classic Series in Del Mar, California where high-performance riders got their first opportunities to bank crucial Grand Prix prize money in the hopes of securing a spot on what’s sure to be a coveted Top 40 Rider Rankings for the all-new Thermal Million. The Blenheim Summer Classic II ran August 15-19 at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano and featured the $40,000 Blenheim Summer Classic II Grand Prix, presented by CardFlex, as the very first qualifying class Saturday, August 18. The action continues for two more weeks at the Del Mar Horse Park with the Showpark Summer Classic August 22-26, featuring the $40,000 Showpark Summer Grand Prix, presented by California Horsetrader, Saturday, August 25. The Showpark All Seasons Classic August 29-September 2, offers the first of 10 World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix included in the Thermal Million League, and will host the $50,000 Grand Prix of Showpark, presented by EQU Lifestyle Magazine, Saturday, September 1. After a short break, the qualifying quest returns to San Juan Capistrano for the Blenheim Fall Tournament, September 12-16 where, on Friday night, September 14 high-performance riders will enjoy a $50,000 World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix, presented by Summit General Insurance Agency.

Rusty Stewart of Grey Fox Farm in Camarillo, California is one rider looking forward to the start of the qualifying season. “This is a huge opportunity for us on the West Coast to compete in a really big class, and everyone that I’ve spoken to is very excited. I think the collaboration of these shows along with the Desert Circuit is great for the sport. I’m looking forward to getting to work on qualifying and hopefully getting my chance at that big check! This collection of shows is typically our schedule for this portion of the season, we typically hit all the World Cup Qualifiers and this year to have those shows be in coordination with the Thermal Million is just a wonderful thing.”

Stewart has his sights set on qualifying with Bristol, a 10-year-old homebred from Grey Fox Farm. “We’ve brought him along since he was a baby with great success,” added Stewart. “He’s a great horse with a terrific personality, he was fifth in the FEI World Cup Standings for the West Coast, and I’m looking forward to continued success with him this season, right up to the Thermal Million!”

A view of the Grand Prix ring at HITS Thermal, which will host the 2012 Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix, as well as
the World Cup Qualifiers taking place during the HITS Desert Circuit. © Flying Horse Photography

From the Blenheim shows, the qualifying tour continues September 19-23 with the LA International Jumping Festival, where the team from Langer Equestrian Group will celebrate the first of their three Thermal Million qualifying shows with the $50,000 LA International Grand Prix, presented by LEGISequine.com, Saturday, September 22 at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.

October kicks off with the popular Sacramento International Horse Show World Cup Week, held October 2-7 at the Murieta Equestrian Center in Rancho Murieta, where the highlight of the week’s schedule will be the $55,000 Land Rover Grand Prix of Sacramento, a World Cup Qualifier, Saturday evening, October 6. Three weeks later, Jump Del Mar will offer the next opportunity for riders to capture some cash en route to the Thermal Million when it hosts the Fall Festival II October 24-28, which features the $55,000 Villas at Rancho Valencia World Cup Grand Prix of Del Mar, presented by California Horsetrader, Saturday, October 27.

“We are thrilled to be offering two Thermal Million Grand Prix League qualifying events this October,” said Dale Harvey, Show Manager for Sacramento International and Jump Del Mar. “The Sacramento International Horse Show and the Del Mar Fall Festival are sure to attract the highest caliber of horse and rider combinations looking to secure their spot in the Thermal Million.”

Tom Struzzieri, HITS President and CEO, at the helm of the HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, California, which will be home to the all-new Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix. Photo by Paula Parisi

The Langer Equestrian Group, will host the next two qualifiers leading with the $50,000 LEG 40th Anniversary Grand Prix on Saturday night of the National Preview, October 31 – November 4, followed by the Los Angeles National, November 7-11, the highlight of which will be the $50,000 LEGISequine.com Grand Prix of Los Angeles, a World Cup Qualifying event.

“Langer Equestrian Group has enjoyed a very good relationship with HITS, and when the possibility of the Thermal Million Grand Prix League came about I was honored to include LEG’s three premier Grand Prix events in the League,” said Larry Langer, President and CEO of Langer Equestrian Group. “For quite some time I knew the West Coast needed some kind of league to help promote the highest level of our jumper sport, and Tom’s creation of the Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix League exceeded my expectations.”

With just over two months to go before the start of the 2013 HITS Desert Circuit, riders will have one last chance to test their luck and back some more qualifying prize money towards the ranking list when Blenheim EquiSports hosts the final pre-season qualifier at the Las Vegas National, November 13-18. The event will take place at the South Point Hotel and Casino Equestrian Arena, where the $50,000 Las Vegas World Cup Grand Prix will take the stage on Saturday night, November 17.

“This collection of shows represents some of the best show jumping offered in the United States and each of them attracts a diverse mix of talented riders and horses,” said Tom Struzzieri, HITS President and CEO. “This schedule should pave the way for a dynamic late summer/fall season on the West Coast and help to generate great momentum as we await the start of new season in Thermal. I’m thankful to this group for their collaboration and support of something new and exciting for the sport. Hopefully this is the beginning of more great innovations that will serve to benefit exhibitors from coast to coast.”

The 2013 HITS Desert Circuit will begin Tuesday, January 22 and offer a jam-packed schedule of classes, including 16 Grand Prix, three of which will be FEI World Cup Qualifiers, leading up to the Thermal Million Sunday, March 17. The 2013 Desert Circuit prize list is currently in production and is expected to mail in mid-October. Please visit HitsShows.com for more information or to request a prize list.

Big money goes bicoastal: HITS announces all-new high-performance show jumping league and Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix

by Lindsay Yandon

Canadian Olympian Jill Henselwood takes one of two mounts to the top in the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix at HITS Thermal this winter. © Flying Horse Photography

After its announcement in 2009, the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS-on-the-Hudson in Saugerties, New York soon became a stop on the road to equestrian stardom. For HITS, the buck didn’t stop there. Based on the success of the Pfizer Million on the East Coast, HITS Horse Shows looked west and joined forces with West Coast show organizers Dale Harvey, Larry Langer and Robert Ridland to form the Thermal Million Grand Prix League, which will culminate with a $1 million Grand Prix at the conclusion of the 2013 HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, California.

Fifteen West Coast competitions will comprise the all-new high-performance show jumping league and welcome the best of the best on the West Coast to vie for a piece of $1 million. The League will include the entire 2013 HITS Desert Circuit, as well as select weeks of the Blenheim Summer and Fall shows, Sacramento International Horse Show, Del Mar Fall Festival, Los Angeles International Jumping Festival and Los Angeles National Horse Show.

“This is something we’ve been looking to do for a while and the timing is perfect for the West Coast to have a signature show jumping event to call its own,” said Tom Struzzieri, HITS President & CEO. “This past season in Thermal was a true tipping point. The atmosphere was phenomenal and the contribution from the West Coast in our sport is as strong as it’s ever been.”

Crowds gather to watch the $200,000 Lamborghini Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach – the richest grand prix of the 2012 HITS Desert Circuit. © Flying Horse Photography

Specific qualifying, including nine World Cup weeks will be available at the following participating West Coast horse shows from August to March:
Blenheim Summer Classic II: August 14-19
Showpark Summer Classic: August 22-26
Showpark Summer Tournament: August 29 – September 2
Blenheim Fall Tournament: September 12-16
LA International Jumping Fest: September 19-23
Sacramento International World Cup Week: October 2-7
Del Mar Fall Festival II: October 24-28
National Preview: October 31 – November 4
LA National: November 6-11
The Las Vegas National: November 13-18
2013 HITS Desert Circuit: January – March

Rich Fellers rides to victory in the $30,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Pfizer Animal Health, at HITS Thermal this winter. © Flying Horse Photography

With Rich Fellers recent World Cup victory as evidence, West Coast competition is preparing horses and riders alike to excel in global arenas. “Thermal has really become a great platform to push from,” said Canadian Olympian and HITS Thermal regular Jill Henselwood. “Many riders like Rich Fellers are using those shows to propel them to the World Cup and more.”

Modeled after the qualifying procedures of the Pfizer Million, money won in League grand prix will be calculated by individual rider/horse combination with the rider’s top money winning horse determining the rider’s final ranking. Each rider must also compete in at least one grand prix at four HITS Desert Circuit shows prior to the week of the Thermal Million. The top 40 riders in the Thermal Million Grand Prix Rider Rankings will qualify. In addition, five additional riders may be chosen as Manager Picks. Two Wild Card slots will be awarded – one to the winner of a Wild Card Grand Prix during the 2013 Desert Circuit and one to the top performing grand prix rider at the six-week HITS Arizona Winter Circuit.

“There is an electricity of excitement happening west of the Mississippi,” added Struzzieri. “This League and second $1 million Grand Prix will present yet another product that should ignite a spark in American show jumping.”

Ridland’s recent appointment to U.S. Show Jumping Chef d’Equipe gave equestrians in West Coast circles yet another reason to celebrate. Seeing the potential for growth in the sport both on the West Coast and beyond, Ridland sees nothing but positives in this new collaboration.

“No question, this should be a big boost for the sport on the West Coast and nationwide as well,” said Ridland.

As Spring and Summer show jumping gets underway, the Thermal Million Grand Prix League should soon climb to the top of “to-do” lists for high-performance riders across North America. A breath of fresh air for show jumping, the League hopes to add another claim to fame for the sport’s top athletes.

Complete specifications and qualifying criteria for the Thermal Million Grand Prix League have been released and are available at HitsShows.com.

Conversations With Equestrians: The Fellers

After catching up with the Feller family at the HITS Desert Circuit (Thermal, CA) this past season, EquestriSol checked in on how they keep their personal lives and professional careers balanced and thriving.

The Fellers family

A Bold Balance
Going on 25 years of marriage, Rich and Shelley both spoke of the other as being an inspiration and supporter. “Rich is a super good dad,” said Shelley. “He’s a great husband, great partner – he hates being away from his kids and the family.”

“Shelley’s been an inspiration to me ever since I met her,” said Rich. “She keeps my life and our whole family’s life very balanced.”

Juggling Olympic Trials and a family vacation isn’t the ordinary family calendar, but for Rich, Shelley, Christopher (21) and Savannah (18) its par for the course. By sharing parental duties, realizing each other’s strengths, and keeping family time a priority this couple has created a recipe for success. “We split the duties; he’s the better rider, so he goes all the time and I go back and forth, or skip a show.” said Shelley, “It’s difficult organizing taking care of kids, staying home and feeling guilty about leaving/staying, but we’ll never look back and say, ‘I wish that I would’ve not spent more time with my kids’ – you’ve got to think about their lives, and so we do and make it work.”

Rich and Shelley have managed to achieve a unique parental balance in Oregon while competing on the road. Meanwhile both continue to progress in their own riding careers. As is often true for equestrian professionals, the path to making a living and career in the show jumping world is typically paved with sale horses, which often means selling one you would love to keep and take to the top. Shelley’s experience is primarily with bringing up young horses through the 1.4m division and along the way they sell. At the 2012 HITS Desert Circuit she achieved a personal goal when competing at the grand prix level. Her mount Revenge (“Reggie”) stepped up to compete in five top level classes including the $53,000 HITS Grand Prix CSIW-2*/World Cup Qualifier (Week III) and the $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix (Week VI). “I’ve brought him along from the 1.2m division to the Grand Prix ring,” she explained. “He’s definitely the nicest horse that I’ve ever had, he’s really a dream.”

Rich Fellers and Flexible at the 2012 HITS Desert Circuit.

When it comes to personal goals and living the dream, Rich continues to make strides with the amazing little Irish stallion known as Flexible (Harry and Mollie Chapman, owners). Post the HITS Desert Circuit, Rich and his longtime partner put in a strong performance at the Olympic Trials held in Wellington, FL. “He’s quite experienced,” said Rich, “His performances have improved every year. He’s a veteran and has walked into a number of different venues. He has good Irish instincts and I think we’ve got a shot.” Being 16 years young, ‘Flexi’ proved that age was simply an advantage. They successfully ended the trials placing 7th on the USEF long list and it didn’t stop there.

In s’Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, Flexible and Rich went on to bring a 2012 FEI World Cup Final victory back to the US after 25 years. On a roll, just two weeks after arriving back on American soil, Flexible and Rich won not one but both of the Olympic Observation classes at the 2012 Del Mar National. As the dynamic duo exited the ring post these two California victories, the crowd chanted: “Put him on! Put him on!” (the Olympic Team). They are undoubtedly a formidable force and will be competing at the last Olympic Observation event at Spruce Meadows in June.

Training Together
Raising a family while bringing up horses to compete in the international rings doesn’t seem to faze this incredible couple. After 25+ years of training together, “We know each other fairly well at this stage,” said Rich, “so, we work well with each other. We do get little signals, and we know when to back off. But overall, we really do well – and very rarely do we get in arguments. Sure we disagree with each other about stuff, but we respect each other enough to not let it cause a problem.”

As per Shelley, “We do work really well together. We’re basically on the same page, but we may do it differently. Some of my strengths are his weaknesses, and vice versa. Rich gets pretty amped up at horse shows, and especially intense about a big class. We laugh about it. But he’s my biggest supporter and I’m his.”

With London as a possibility later this summer, Shelley competing in the Grand Prix classes, their kids also have crazy schedules to juggle. Chris is completing his sophomore year at Linfield College and will be competing this summer on his two mounts Zidane L and Cascade. Savannah finished her senior year and will be heading to Linfield as a freshman with hopes to play collegiate tennis. Shelley and Rich both enjoy playing tennis with their daughter, although Rich reluctantly admits defeat – it’s still one of his favorite things to do when not in the saddle.

Balance, respect, humor and understanding keep the Fellers successful both in and out of the arena. Not only did I enjoy spending time with both Rich and Shelley, I respect their approach. We wish them all the best in continuing to pursue their dreams. We will be rooting for you.

Shelley Fellers and Revenge at the 2012 HITS Desert Circuit.

Fun Facts About Rich and Shelley:
If you could ride any horse, who would it be and why?
Rich: “I’ve always been intrigued with Cristallo (Richard Spooner, rider) because he’s such a tough horse and he’s a fighter – he’s a horse that will fight to leave the jumps up and when the pressure’s on he’ll come through. And Richard’s that way as well and the horse reflects Richard’s personality.
Shelley: “My horse (Revenge), because part of it for me, especially over the big jumps, is having a rapport with my horse. That’s huge, when you build up a rapport and you trust them, it makes it that much more fun and easy. I might also say Milton. He’s a big favorite of mine from way back when. He looked like a lot of fun, and a horse that I could ride.

Favorite part about the desert:
Rich: “I’d have to say the weather is quite nice!”
Shelley: “Sun! It’s a nice place to get started again after the holidays. Definitely my favorite part is the sun.”

Rich: “It’s a great place to let the horses have a fresh go; it’s maturing a bunch with the trees and the berms. It’s very open and spacious.”
Shelley: “I love the vegetation that they’ve planted. The facility is growing up and it’s become more visually appealing. I like the layout with the stabling, the rings and routes.”

Favorite Restaurant?
Rich: “Don Diego (Mexican Restaurant in Indian Wells) and we always like the Cliff House.”
Shelley: “Cliff House”

Favorite thing to do aside from riding?
Rich: “I love playing tennis with Savannah. She beats me and it’s tough because I hate to lose, but I hope someday I’ll beat her.”
Shelley: “I like to ski. Savannah plays tennis and I like playing with her. I’m not very good, but it’s fun. I also like to read especially when travelling on the airplane. I like to be outside: camping, fishing, outdoors.”

EquestriSol News: July 11, 2011

News from Canada and Europe…
As comfortable as it is to compete in California, illustrated by the solid numbers at the Blenheim June Series, there are groups of west coasters who head for some northern exposure, overseas excitement and even some ‘hot’ competition on the east coast.

Summer in Spruce
Spruce Meadows is a popular summer spot with a five week circuit chock-full of challenging classes for show jumpers. Even when the weather poses challenges, the amazing, immaculate facility, friendly, professional staff and fabulous prize money, always draws riders from around the world.

That of course includes some of the West Coast wonders. This year professionals Rich Fellers, Richard Spooner, Hap Hansen, Will & Nicole Simpson, Jennifer Crooks, Kirsten Coe and junior/amateur riders Karl Cook, Cayla Richards, Hannah Selleck, Sage Flynn, Mavis Spencer (now more east coast but with west coast roots) went north, just to name a few…

$31,000 Pepsi Challenge 1.45m – Richard Spooner and Pariska 2
Scott Riegert, Western Canadian Marketing Manager, Pepsico Canada presents the winner’s cheque to Richard Spooner. Photo Credit: Spruce Meadows Media Services

This group collected quite a few top prizes. No matter the division, bringing home ribbons from Spruce is an accomplishment. And if the collection includes red that color actually represent first in those parts. Congratulations to all, especially our clients Hap Hansen StablesSantana StablesJennifer Crooks & Stella Farm. Here are a few winning highlights:

At the National Mavis Spencer won the AON 1.35M aboard her own Valencia. Rich Fellers was dynamite on Dynamo winning the AKITA Drilling 1.35M. Karl Cook took home the red in the Gienow 1.40M Jr/Amateur Class. Richard Spooner scooped up the prize money in the $60,000 TrancCanada Parcours de Chasse 1.50M aboard Billy Bianca and was 4th on Lady Like. The next day he was 3rd and 4th respectively on Apache and Cristallo in the $175,000 Nexen Cup Derby 1.60M.

Will Simpson rode Black Cherry to the win in the Friends of the Meadow Barrage 1.40M. Richard and Cristallo earned 5th in the $125,000 CN Performance Grand Prix 1.60M.

During the Junior/Amateur week, Custis Ferguson coached the “Princess Plus 3” Team to the win in the Paramount Resources Prix des Nations III 1.30M. The winning team: Crown Princess – Alec Lawler, Abrakadabra – Alexa Anthony, Miss Magic – Taylor Marie Harris, Ulano 13 – Vani Khosla

Cayla Richards rode Faustino to the top spot in the Friends of the Meadows Junior/Amateur Grand-Prix 1.40M, Hannah Selleck was 2nd aboard Arturo Van De Helle and Sage Flynn rode Hot Pants to the 7th place. Sage was also 3rd in the Friends of the Meadows 1.40M Final Four. Cayla was second in the Birchcliff Energy Ltd. Jr/Am Barrage 1.40M.

Again Richard Spooner was in the money. He rode Ilan Ferder’s Wandor Van De Mispelaere to the win in the AKITA Drilling 1.35M, Oscany, Inc’s Lets Dance won the TRIMAC Cup 1.40M and Molly Ohstrom’s Caretol took home red in the Ashcor Techonologies 1.35M. He took the fifth spot in the $60,000 Great-West Life Cup on Apache and both the 2nd and 4th place ribbons aboard Quirino 3 and Pariska 2 in the $31,000 Cargill Cup 1.45M. And Cristallo was 4th in the $50,000 RBC Financial Cup. Great week Richard! And speaking of Rich, Fellers and Flexible won the $65,000 ESSO Challenge World Cup Qualifier.

On Saturday afternoon, the young but active riders advocacy group, NARG (North American Riders Group), held an open meeting at Spruce Meadows. With an overview from Murray Kessler, a passionate and honest perspective from Leopoldo Palicios, touching on issues that interest all those who are heavily involved in the sport, and a lively Q&A with participation from the attending Board Members, McLain Ward, Beezie Madden and Will Simpson, the meeting hosted information, education and interaction. The 50 in attendance were the first to hear about the new 2012 NARG Rider’s Grant Program – $15,000 to one recipient for competition in North America. See more about NARG here.

The final week of the Spruce Simmering Summer Circuit was a big one for west coast riders. Cayla Richards and Faustino were in the winner’s circle again in the Gienow Jr/Am Welcome 1.40M. Brazilian Eduardo Menezes, who is now based in California, won the Horse Health Care Cup 1.45M on Audi’s Reflection. Nicole Simpson on Monarch International’s Candle Light Van de Warande was a close second to young Caitlin Ziegler and Valencia in the AON Cup 1.50M. Amateur Gwendolyn Meyer ended on a high note winning the Canadian Utilities Amateur Barrage. Meyer’s Coral Reef Ranch owns the talented mare Via Volo who won the $35,000 D-Line Cup with Beezie Madden on board.

Both Rich Fellers and Richard Spooner had double whammy days – earning the #1 position in two classes each on the same day. For Rich it was Wednesday when he won the $31,000 Suncast Cup 1.45M Speed on McGuiness and the $35,000 ‘Reach for the Sun’ Sun Life Financial 1.60M on Flexible. On a fabulous Friday Richard took the $31,000 Pepsi Challenge 1.45M on Pariska 2 and the $50,000 Lafarge Cup 1.50M on Apache.

$35,000 D-Line Cup – Beezie Madden and Coral Reef Via Volo
Gordon Wilson, President of D-Line, presents the trophy to Beezie Madden. Photo Credit: Spruce Meadows Media Services

US Riders Invade Europe
Five aspiring young riders represented the United States on the Show Jumping European Young Rider Tour. The eager group went to Europe for five weeks. We read and heard that the experience was not only successful but also educational, which is essential for up and coming International riders. Below is a brief summary but listen to Reed’s radio interview and read Catherine’s blog for more heartfelt details and some great photos.

Young Riders
• Reed Kessler, 16, Armonk, NY, and Onisha
• Catherine Pasmore, 19, Crozet, VA, and My Boy
• Jessica Springsteen, 19, Colt’s Neck, NJ, and Vornado van den Hoerdrik
• Richard Neal, 19, Pasadena, CA, and Transmission
• Karen Polle, 18, New York, NY, and What Ever

These horse/rider combinations competed at the following shows:
CSIOY Bonheiden (Belgium): May 19-22
Katie Prudent – Chef d’Equipe

Individually the riders fared well in Belgium. As a team they placed second in the Nations Cup. Not a bad start. In the Young Rider Grand Prix, USA placed in five of the top ten ribbons: Passmore 2nd, Springsteen 5th, Neal 8th and Kessler 9th.

CSIOY Reims (France): May 26-29
Katie Prudent – Chef d’Equipe 

A tough Nations Cup course created rails and time faults for almost all who competed. Kessler had one of the few double clear rounds. In a nail biting finish, Springsteen anchored the team to a 2nd place finish. The YR Grand Prix also proved challenging with Passmore just missing a chance to return and Kessler returning with her 8 fault score (they bring back the top 25% pf the class for the jump off). Kessler rode aggressively and even with her 8 faults from Round One, she moved up from 8th to 4th place.

With a week off the Team had two days of dressage lessons from Hungarian Barnabas Mandi, met with a sports psychologist and then went to St. Gallens to watch the top guns battle it out at the Nations Cup.

CSIOY Lamprechtshausen (Austria): June 9-12
Michelle Grubb – Chef d’Equipe 

As the picture illustrates, the Team won the Nations Cup in Austria and placed in four of the top ten spots in the YR Grand Prix. Kessler took the top spot, jumping the only clear round in the jump-off for the win. With the fastest jump-off by more than five seconds but with four faults, Springsteen settled for second.

CSIOY Hagen (Germany): June 16-19
Michelle Grubb – Chef d’Equipe 

Touted as the toughest competition on the tour, Team USA had to battle it out with the best of the best in Europe, among them were the teams that had beaten them in previous weeks. They rode well and ended up tied for third, right behind those top teams from The Netherlands and Great Britain. The weather was wet on the YR Grand Prix day, but Californian Ricky Neal pulled through and WON the 48 entry class with the fastest double clear rounds of the day!

After the tour the riders went their separate ways as tougher competitors, with more education packed into five weeks of their life than they could’ve imagined as well as some great ribbons and memories. Look for these names on future teams and in major competitions in years to come.


Highlights From 2011 HITS Desert Circuit

By Selena Frederick and Jackie McFarland

In what seemed a newfound rhythm for the HITS Desert Circuit, the winter circuit sailed relatively smoothly for six straight weeks. With increased entries and a positive response from many of the competitors we approached, we asked what was the formula for success this year? Challenging course designers, well maintained footing, improvements and additions to the VIP areas, big money classes, and of course the grand prix highlights from fantastic afternoons to fabulous evening events.

Beautiful sunsets and cool breezes welcomed the four World Cup Qualifiers in the intimate indoor arena. Actually for a majority of the six weeks the California desert weather was pretty perfect. To top it off, during the final week the facility sparkled with Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces and even a pristine private jet parked on site.

John French and Chawi de Laubry

The west coast circuit drew a slew of legendary grand prix riders from near and far, including Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Hap Hansen, Eduardo Menezes, John Pearce, Rich Fellers, Jill Henselwood, Charlie Jayne, John French, Susan Hutchison, John Perez, Gabriella Salick, Kate Levy…

And that is just a short list. Stars of the circuit Rich Fellers and Lucy Davis each earned four grand prix wins, simply amazing. These two athletes and their horse mates, mind you they each won on different mounts, were fast, clean and cool as ice.

The hunter rings were bustling as well. West coast greats such as John French, Hope Glynn, Nick Haness, Chance Arakelian, Jenny Karazissis and John Bragg were vying for the various championships and derby wins. The ever-versatile John French, who won his usual lion’s share in this arena, also suited up for several outdoor grand prix events. French was seen ‘speaking’ both hunter and jumper on the same day, literally running from the jump off to the hunter derby, garnering top ribbons if not wins in both places. The calm, cool and collected French commented, “It’s an adrenaline rush with the jumpers and everything is so fast; I’m not used to being so hyper.”

Hansen and Michaels-Beerbaum
discuss the course

Quite a few competitors, sponsors and spectators noted the family-friendly aspect of the area. Lamborghini of Newport Beach’s Director Donny Gath brought his entire family. As is often seen when outside sponsorship comes on board, Gath’s company became a sponsor after his 9-year-old daughter Kendal started competing at HITS two years ago, so it is both business and pleasure. Grand prix princess and high-school senior Lucy Davis mentioned that her family can easily come out from Los Angeles and watch her compete as well as enjoy the desert treasures. “My dad can golf in the morning, and then come and watch me ride in the evenings.” Internationally acclaimed rider Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, also Davis’ trainer, expressed how nice it was for her to spend time in a family friendly environment. She explained, “In Europe the cold indoor circuits typically have late class times making it not very baby or family friendly. It’s also good to be back in California, and see people I haven’t seen in years.” Baby Brianna Beerbaum celebrated her first birthday in California with Mom (Meredith) and mount Lancaster winning the $25,000 HITS Grand Prix. Great day to celebrate.

Of course there were ups and downs. One particular grand prix Sunday took its toll on some top riders. Beginning the circuit with wins, Canadian John Pearce, as well as riding legend Hap Hansen, and the daring John Perez all took a spill at the same fence (#7). Unfortunately Pearce went on the injured list for the remainder of the circuit, whereas Hansen and Perez were able to walk away.

The close to the circuit $200,000 Lamborghini Grand Prix of the Desert was nothing short of poetic. After 53 riders attempted Olaf Peterson’s technical and big and wide course of jumps, five riders remained in the running for the $200,000 in prize money. The 90-degree southern California sun apparently didn’t faze the riders or the Sunday afternoon crowd. Cheers were rampant at the end of Lucy Davis and Nemo 119’s clear

Lucy Davis and Nemo 119

jump off round, on a streak after winning three grand prix events in a row, as she crossed the timers in the lead.

The class was far from over with two riders left. next in the ring was speed demon Rich Fellers, aboard the amazing Flexible. And following that pair was Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum aboard the talented Kismet 50. The crowd gasped in disbelief as Rich and Flexible took the inside turn to the wide oxer heading down the last line and a rail fell. When the final pair of Beerbaum and Kismet 50 heading towards the first tall pink and white vertical – down went the top rail and Davis had clinched the win. It was a day to remember for competitor and spectator alike.

As Davis said in her interview with HITS after her victory, “I could never believe this in a million years. I was so happy to just win one Grand Prix and I kept thinking that there was no way that this could ever happen. Some of the best riders in the world were competing here today and to come out on top is just surreal.” (Read more in the HITS press release)

International riders, sizeable prize money, classy cars, big jumps, fans galore and increased attendance makes for sporty splendor indeed. Congratulations to all and good luck at HITS Saugerties in their fall finales for both hunters and jumpers.

Photos by Cheval Photos

A Stable Story: Bernie Traurig’s Equestrian Coach

By Jackie McFarland

Bernie Traurig’s Equestrian Coach
We are deep into a new age where knowledge is literally at our fingertips. From connecting to collecting, the wealth of available resources awaits the typing of a simple address. Not your physical address, but the uniform resource locator or URL. That string of characters – www-dot-equestriancoach-dot-com – represents a wide world of people that are now reaching one another in ways that were virtually impossible just over a decade ago.

Although the equestrian niche certainly utilizes these resources – email, texting, web sites, Facebook, Google, PayPal – a select group have considered the possibilities of this vast network, combined it with their own bank of experience and connections to create an opportunity not previously available. One such individual is Bernie Traurig, the force behind the recently launched EquestrianCoach.com.
Bernie Traurig
First, step back in equestrian time and take note that Traurig has an extensive breadth of knowledge and success. Having achieved the top level of competition in all three of the International Equestrian Olympic disciplines: show jumping, dressage and eventing, Traurig has over half a century of experience to share.

Renowned not only for his riding talents, but for his teaching and coaching gifts as well, Traurig has been a member of the United States Equestrian Team in both the US and abroad. Still actively involved, he is currently George Morris’s Associate Chef d’ Equipe to the United States Equestrian Team on the West Coast.

Previous to the Internet age, the opportunities to learn from the masters meant proximity, perseverance and reaching deep in your pockets to pay for clinics, lessons, even DVDs and books. Several years ago, Traurig recognized that modern technology gave him a medium to ‘train’ anyone who wanted to learn.

By providing educational video clips by a list of top-level trainers, anyone at any level and at any time could watch and learn. What a great way to offer expertise for a reasonable price. Instead of going to the experts, they can now come to you.

After discovering these exciting possibilities, then came the long road of developing the web site. Conceptually the plan was a go and seemingly straight forward, but there were a multitude of steps to take before completion.

Gaining excitement by introducing the concept at the 2009 FEI World Cup in Las Vegas, the EquestrianCoach.com team had their work cut out for them. Filming, editing, generating content, creating a web site flow, pricing model and programming were just a few of the tasks. In the process, Traurig developed clips by show jumping greats such as Olympic Gold Medalist Will Simpson, USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals Winner John French, world class level competitor Rich Fellers and equitation expert Missy Clark as well as dressage and eventing stars Debbie McDonald, Gina Miles and Michael Plumb. The site also offers building blocks and clinics provided by Traurig. And that is just the beginning, more experts are lined up to participate.

Traurig comments with a smile, “I kept thinking we would be ready to go and then we would want to tweak something or realized we could make it better. It was and is an intense time commitment, but it’s so great to see it come together.”
Other sections include endorsements from George Morris and Paul Cronin, grassroots and horsemanship, a Kids Corner, interviews with coaches and the list continues to grow.

On June 1, 2010 all the preparing, planning and processing became a reality when EquestrianCoach.com officially launched.

Before the World Wide Web, the fundamental information that EquestrianCoach.com provides was only available to the sport’s elite. The site serves as a coaching aid to riders and trainers alike and aims to make quality education accessible and affordable to every equestrian, regardless of background, level of riding or geographic location.

Now riders from anywhere in the world can take lessons from top trainers. Even a high level rider can gain a new perspective for a very reasonable price.

For less than what it would cost to take a clinic from one of the masters presented on the site, a subscriber can purchase an annual pass of educational videos for a special introductory offer of $299. Or for significantly less than one training lesson, buy a monthly subscription and learn from several top trainers for just $29.99.

“One of the best parts is the chance to offer education to such a wide audience,” explained Traurig. “All the work is well worthwhile when I know how many riders could benefit.”

Besides a tutorial, there are a handful of clips available for free viewing as well as an FAQ section to answer all your questions. You can look at the options in the video library plus see a list of what’s coming next. What could be better for your virtual library than some of the world’s best riders and trainers just a click away and for less than a dollar a day?

Conversations With Equestrians: Rich Fellers

By Jackie McFarland

The chance to compete in two internationally acclaimed events in the same year doesn’t come often. Not to mention the even slimmer chance that one horse and rider team could potentially earn their way to BOTH the World Cup and the World Equestrian Games (WEG). However Rich Fellers and Flexible are on that powerful path.

Setting the standards high, Rich started off the World Cup qualifying season in the fall of 2009 with three wins. Well on his way to earning an invite to Geneva for the 2010 FEI World Cup Finals, Rich and the mighty Flexible traveled south from their home in Oregon to Thermal and then east to Wellington to solidify their position not only for the World Cup Finals but for the WEG as well. Leading the North American West Coast League in World Cup Points with one qualifier remaining, Rich and Flexible are Geneva bound in April. Since these two also showed they had what it takes in Wellington, the dynamic duo will also be traveling on one of the three European tours this summer as a potential WEG team candidate. We had a chance to sit down with Rich in Wellington.

EqSol: The decision and plan to qualify for both the World Cup and the WEG?

RF: Originally last summer the main objective for big championship events for the future was the World Cup Finals. We wanted to redeem ourselves after Las Vegas* plus Harry and Mollie Chapman (owners of Flexible) really enjoy the travel, so we set our sights on Geneva and started in with qualifying last fall. Things went well, we ended up with some really good scores. Then in early December George Morris came out for his annual clinic at the farm in Oregon – we had dinner and discussed the possibility of the WEG. He was very positive and supportive of us giving it a go. He felt that the dates of the two events were far enough apart – April for World Cup and October for WEG – that it wasn’t too much for the horse.

So then we just started looking at different options for Florida for the winter. Do we do just the trials or the full circuit? Do we take all the horses or just a couple? Luckily it turned out that almost all of our customers wanted to go to Wellington. We started in Thermal to try and earn some good World Cup scores. The qualifying rules changed this year, a rider can keep up to eight scores, which is more than previous years. We went into the winter season with 72 points and although we had one rail in each qualifier we earned some good points. We were ready to make the trip to WEF for a few weeks. 

*In 2008, Rich was second in the World Cup Finals. In 2009 he went into the final round in the 6th position and ended up with an unfortunate 30 faults, dropping him to 18th.

EqSol: Wellington trials and tribulations. Tell us about the WEG qualifiers from your perspective.

RF: The courses were super. Guilherme did a great job. He tested the horses and the riders equally, both in scope and technical questions asked.

Trial # 1: Thursday, February 25th, 7pm: Clean
Flexible started out great in the first trial on Thursday night by going clear. I thought it was really big, the rest of the riders agreed. It asked quite a few questions – a double oxer combination early in the course as a scope test. You had to be careful at the end of course with a vertical-oxer-vertical triple followed by a steady eight to a Liverpool oxer– big with tight distances, wide oxers and delicate verticals all towards home. That’s Flexible strong point, he’s very careful. We were all surprised that 13 were clear; it’s a testament to the preparation and quality of the horses and riders.

Trial # 2: Saturday, February 27th, 7pm: 16 faults
Saturday night was also a $75,000 Grand Prix. The course was more technical plus the jumps were, again, big and wide. It was an unfortunate night for me. The ONE stride in all five courses that I lost connection with Flexible was three and half strides away from a large triple combination. As we approached it from a left bend I went to make an adjustment to get my distance to A of the triple. He spooked and dodged off to the right. It happened so fast there was no chance for recovery, so I kicked and tried to get through. In the next eight seconds, I accumulated 16 faults. In hindsight I should’ve circled. It was a fluke occurrence, not something I anticipate with him.

Trial # 3: Wednesday, March 3rd, 3pm: Clean
Wednesday on the grass was the most difficult.* To walk into a new venue, jump the 1.60m Grand Prix as your first and only class is both physically and mentally challenging. The strong wind was a distracting factor – the way it makes things move that are usually still, the decorations, palm trees and it adds noise which excites a horse. It’s actually a great test for horse and rider focus. The best horses are very focused on the top rails of the fence and are not easily distracted. I remember walking the course and feeling the pressure of the challenge plus wanting to make a comeback after our 16 fault fluke. It was a very tough course but Flexible was a star. He cantered around like it was easy, very relaxed, and very rideable.

*The trial on Wednesday, March 3rd was held off property on a large grass field called ‘The Stadium’. The wind on that day was quite strong and the air cold. The other four trials were held in the International Arena.

Trial # 4: Friday, March 5th, 2pm: 4 faults
On Friday we were back in the International Arena for the $30,000 1.60m Classic. I actually thought it was the only breather, although not much of one. It required careful rides with a lot of tall verticals – not as hard on the horse as wide oxers but easy to rub. We had a rub on one of those tall verticals.

Trials # 5: Sunday, March 7th, 1pm: 4 faults
I predicted ahead of time and told my wife Shelley that the only scope test left was an oxer-oxer-vertical triple away from home. Sure enough Guilherme built that very test into the tough course for the $150,000 CN Grand Prix. That scope test is always a concern, especially for smaller horses like Flexible. After walking the course a couple of times, I made my plan and told Shelley I had to trust the horse. He was again amazing and skipped through the triple like nothing, not losing an ounce of momentum. I actually thought we were clean, but then didn’t hear a cheer from the crowd. Then I wondered, ‘What came down or was I over the time?’ I thought my pace was good… Turns out he didn’t clear the water, he has always been good about the water, usually stretches out well so it didn’t cross my mind. But that’s the breaks – I was still really happy.

Results after 5 WEG Trials: 24 faults
Overall Position: 12th
Qualified for next step of WEG Team Selection: Yes!

EqSol: Winter Circuits and qualifying complete, now the plan is…
RF: The next phase to the plan is rest, refresh and prepare for World Cup Finals. We’ve been home since mid March and leave a few weeks later for Geneva. The barn isn’t planning to show again until May and then go to Spruce this summer for a few weeks. My son graduates from high school during the National, so we’ll be home for his graduation. As for Flexible, the World Cup Finals is a strenuous championship event plus travel. After that he’ll rest and show a few classes at Spruce Meadows, then head to Europe for the July-August USEF European tour, the CSIO’s in Falsterbo (SWEDEN), Hickstead (ENGLAND) and Dublin (IRELAND). We’ll see how that goes and whether or not we’ll be preparing for the WEG in October.

EqSol: What other horses will go to Europe? 
RF: Hopefully McGuiness. He had an injury that we’ve finally diagnosed and we hope to start him back soon. Or possibly a horse will have to step up like Flexible did when McGuiness and Gyro were both injured. My wonderful wife Shelley told me the other day that she would let me take her fabulous young horse, Revenge, on the tour. He is probably one of the nicest horses we’ve ever owned. Shelley turned pro eighteen months ago when we started the business and shows him in the 1.40m division. She’s really good.

EqSol: Tell us about your barn and the Chapman’s, great supporters of the sport…
RF: We made a transition from being privately sponsored to opening the doors of our business in October of 2008. The Chapman’s, who had both owned the barn and sponsored the horses, decided they wanted to be clients and not barn owners anymore. So they sold the facility in the fall of 2008. Now instead of employing us, the Chapman’s are clients of ours and we run a small show jumping and sales barn.

Everything went very smoothly, although the ownership changed hands we were able to stay at the facility and start our business. It can be a challenging balance – our schedule is different than a lot of the big stables. We pick nice quality shows and rarely do an entire circuit. It was a big decision and expense to come to Wellington. But once the barn decided to come, we didn’t look back.

Harry Chapman was a very good rider, invited by the USET to go east and train with the team. He chose to stay in Oregon for school and a career. The Chapmans, as owners, are like the best horse you’ve ever had. They have stood up to the test of time. Their enthusiasm and support is undying – even when things don’t go well, they always believe.

We are grateful for Rich’s time and tales. We congratulate Flexible, Rich, Shelley, The Chapman’s and wish all the very best of luck on foreign soil – Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, England, Ireland and hopefully back to the US in Lexington.

What A World

While we make our way through one of the most challenging economic times we’ve had as a nation, if not the world, there are shining stars and glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel. Whether the economy is up or down, our own niche of sport horses never ceases to please and amaze us. Take a close look at this week’s stories from Carleton to Compton to World Cup.

Touted as one of the best World Cups ever, we are still talking about the once-in-a-lifetime events that occurred in Sin City at the 2009 Rolex FEI World Cup Finals. First, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum not only won for the third time in her career, but she was the leader in every round. McLain Ward tried to catch her and came quite close; he also had an extremely successful weekend, finishing second to Meredith by two seconds over four rounds and a jump off (Friday).

Next, our American top hats are off to Steffen Peters who dressaged his way to a World Cup win over some of the world’s best riders. His high scores included a 93 in the artistic category on the final night, as his horse Ravel danced to the music of his freestyle ride. Notable that Meredith was American-born, but is now a German citizen whereas Steffen was German-born and now lives and trains in nearby Escondido, CA.

Rich Fellers rode the relatively green Kilkenny Rindo to the blue in the Las Vegas Grand Prix on Saturday of World Cup week. Very pleased with the horse, Rich is currently bringing along a number of jumpers for the Boyds of Kilkenny Crest. Some of our reigning riders, including Olympic Gold Medalists Will Simpson and Anky Van Grunsvan, donned cowboy boots and chaps atop reining horses in an exhibition match – certain also to be a first. Both of course rode well and the crowd loved it.

The room was buzzing at the final press conference on Sunday, not only with the excitement of the fabulous sport all had witnessed, but at the conclusion Robert Ridland made an announcement that put the icing on the Las Vegas FEI World Cup cake. After ten years of participation, Ridland took the time to honor some of the many names that made this phenomenal event possible year after year, including John Quirk, Bob Maxey, Shawn Davis, Tim Keener and Pat Christensen, among others. He then stated that Blenheim EquiSports, with the full support of Las Vegas Events, would be making a bid to bring the FEI World Cup Finals back to Las Vegas in 2014. “This team, this event is too good to give up,” he said. In response to this announcement Sven Holmberg, FEI Vice President, replied with a smile that the 2014 bid would be “very well received.”

World Cup Photos © Tish Quirk.

Celebrating With Robert Ridland

By Jackie McFarland

Having the opportunity to speak with the Rolex FEI World Cup Manager of Show Jumping, Robert Ridland, who also happens to be the President of Blenheim EquiSports, both before and after the event was a profound experience.

First let it be said that when Robert Ridland has a job to do, whether that job involves his family, his horse business or the business of our sport, he is completely focused on the task(s) at hand. Getting his attention pre-event was next to impossible, which is commendable for those he is working for – the horses and riders coming to the World Cup. His unwavering goal is to make this event the best it can possibly be for show jumpers worldwide. When asked what he does to help horses and riders settle in once arriving in Vegas, his answer was simply “Everything!”

We did have a celebratory conversation on a day post the final West Coast World Cup qualifier in late March and pre the World Cup Final in mid-April. “This day is unprecedented,” he exclaimed. “What just happened is the most amazing demonstration of sportsmanship I’ve ever witnessed.” The happening he referred to was when both the fourth and fifth ranked World Cup West Coast League riders stepped aside to allow the sixth-ranked rider to compete in the World Cup Finals this year. Gold Medal Olympian Will Simpson (ranked 4th) and previous World Cup competitor Jill Humphrey (ranked 5th) voluntarily stepped aside to allow Rich Fellers (ranked 6th) to be the fourth rider from the West Coast. Since the FEI World Cup is not a team competition, hats off to Will and Jill for acting as team players in an instance where it is not required or even expected. “It leaves us with a good feeling,” Ridland commented.

Ridland was also excited about the West Coast riders who earned spots to compete in Las Vegas – Mandy Porter, Ashlee Bond, Richard Spooner and as mentioned Rich Fellers. Although not the top finishers this year, “Our riders made us all proud,” said Ridland. “They were well-prepared and confident.”

Regarding the 2009 Rolex FEI World Cup Final, the consensus from rider, attendee, press and management was overwhelmingly positive, although bittersweet, knowing the event would not return in 2011. A bit spoiled after having the World Cup Final come to the states, namely to Las Vegas, five times in the last nine years, everyone was wondering – would the World Cup return to the US? To Las Vegas? If so, when? Ridland had the answer and shared it with the press, who in turn get to spread the good word.

Once the three top riders in the world, Champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER), second by only two seconds and no faults McLain Ward (USA) and third by just over 4 seconds and no faults Albert Zoer (NED), had been questioned and congratulated at the press conference on Sunday, the parting comment regarding having the event return to Vegas was “this production is on par if not above any other show in the world.” At this point Sven Holmberg, FEI Vice President, stood at the podium and expressed disappointment that Las Vegas Events withdrew their bid for the 2011 and 2013 events. He then introduced Robert Ridland. After ten years of participation, Ridland took the time to honor some of the many names that made this phenomenal event possible year after year, including John Quirk, Bob Maxey, Shawn Davis, Tim Keener and Pat Christensen, among others. He then stated that Blenheim EquiSports, with the full support of Las Vegas Events, would be making a bid to bring the FEI World Cup Finals back to Las Vegas in 2014. “This team, this event is too good to give up,” he said. In response to this announcement Holmberg replied with a smile that the 2014 bid would be “very well received.”

After the amazing competition we were lucky enough to see this year – literally history in the making and potentially never to be repeated. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum wins her third World Cup Final, the second one she’s garnered in Vegas, and as she so aptly stated “I think this was a great event – it was very, very close. This was the hardest win I’ve ever had. McLain made it difficult, he left no room for error. It was also my most perfect win – winning all three days on a once in a lifetime horse doing this at age 16.”

Think positive, go ahead and mark the dates in your calendars. In just five short years, the FEI World Cup Finals will once again return to Las Vegas. Now that is reason to celebrate.

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.