Painting the WEG Picture

By Whitney Campbell and Jackie McFarland

After years of hoping, bidding, planning and building, the Kentucky Horse Park gates officially closed for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, yet the economical and reputable impact the city and state experienced during the 16 days of competition still lingers. Hosted in the United States for the first time, the city and state lived up to its reputation as the acclaimed ‘Horse Capital of the World’ when hosting this international equine event. The 16 days of grueling competition included eight different disciplines of equestrian sport, challenging 632 athletes and 752 horses from 58 countries for their chance of a WEG 2010 Medal. Competition aside, from the extensive Alltech experience, fabulously painted horses, shopping galore to the demonstrations throughout the facility, the amount of attractions available for visitors was abundant.

And for Openers…
The theme of the Opening Ceremonies was based around the athleticism, versatility, spirit, and the partnership between man and horse. Spectators enjoyed demonstrations and performances by racehorses, a Friesian Dressage Drill Team, Saddlebreds and many other equestrian entertainers. The traditional parade of athletes included all 58 competing countries. Midway through the ceremonies, FEI President HRH Princess Haya declared the official Opening of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games by commenting, “For the first time, the World Equestrian Games have crossed an ocean to bring the best of our sport to another continent. We are witnessing a new beginning that will help spread the magic of horse sport and inspire young equestrian athletes to aim for the top.”

Reining in its Second WEG
Before the evening’s Opening Ceremonies, Reining, the only competing discipline that originated in the United States, was underway. Since Reining was added as a discipline at the 2006 World Equestrian Games, it has opened the doors for a broader and more diverse horse culture to participate at the Games. Judged on the athletic ability of a western type horse in a show arena, the format of competition at the games involves two days of Team Competition, a Qualifying Competition, and finally an Individual Final Competition. The team made up of Tim McQuay, Craig Schmersal, Tom McCutcheon and Shawn Flarida along with their talented quarter horses won the Team Gold. There was an unfortunate turn of events in the Individuals for Gold Medal favorite Shawn Flarida when his stirrup broke during one of his movements, resulting his hand touching the saddle and an immediate five point deduction from each judge. However his teammates Tom McCutcheon and Craig Schmersal were still able to clinch the Gold and Silver Medals in Individual Reining.

Enduring Sport
The second day of the Games held the longest continuous competition of all eight disciplines, Endurance. The 100 miles race against the clock through open terrain, trails, roads, and bridges involved five required compulsory stops for veterinarians to check the horses’ fitness and they had to pass in order to continue. The horse and rider duo that not only passes each check but then finish the fastest after the five segments wins the Gold. Out of 100 competitors, only 55 completed the entire race. Those who did finish returned the next day for the Best Conditioned Judging. This discipline separates itself from the rest not only for the longest time spent in the saddle in one ‘sitting’, but because it involves competitors from all realms of horse society. From small town trail riding housewives turned pro, to Sheiks born into the sport, once on horseback they share the same goal and the same passion for their equine partner. Having just given birth to a baby girl seven weeks earlier, French Endurance rider Maria Mercedes Alvarez Ponton on her fabulous horse Nobby defended their title for the Gold.

All the Moves
The fundamental training to many equestrian disciplines, the Dressage competition spanned over four days. According to the FEI Rules, Dressage is “the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education. As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider”. Beginning with the Team Grand Prix, horse and rider from each team perform the same test, a combination of movements and gaits, designed to demonstrate the level of achievement of those qualities described above. Each team member is scored individually, and then added together for a final score in which the best scores determine medal placing. The Grand Prix Special follows team competition and is the Individual Competition complement to the previous day’s tests. Following the same format, horse and rider are judged and the pair with the highest score wins. The most anticipated and attended event in Dressage is the Grand Prix Freestyle Competition. Each rider designs and choreographs an original test incorporating music using the same movements required in the regular Grand Prix test. Often labeled dancing with hooves, this event shows off individual talents and creativity. In the Individual competition, the successful team of Steffen Peters and Ravel were the first United States Team members to earn a medal, Bronze, in a World Championship in both the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle.

A Combination of Grace and Guts
A true test that challenges a horse’s grace, endurance, precision, and overall athleticism is the Three Day Event, or Eventing, competition. Horse and rider compete in three different phases over three days involving Dressage, Cross Country, and finally Stadium Jumping. Those who score well in the Dressage test and refrain from adding time or faults to their score from cross country or stadium will likely find themselves in medal contention. The Cross Country phase of Eventing is always a crowd pleaser due to the large spectator viewing areas and the intensity of the solid obstacles on the course. This particular day at the Games brought in the most spectators, topping off at 50,818 attendees. After the Stadium phase, the German rider who started off with the lowest Dressage score, Michael Jung managed to add no time or jumping faults to that first day score claiming the Gold Medal, while 2010 Rolex Three Day Event defending champion British rider William Fox-Pitt settled for Silver.

The World’s Highest Jumping Athletes
Show Jumping challenges the horse and rider’s stamina, speed, agility, scope and precision. Over the course of several competitions Monday through Saturday (with Thursday as a day off), the rider finishing with the least number of penalties earned the Gold. Beginning with the Speed Competition, more than 120 horses and riders representing 27 countries competed on courses designed with a variety of Kentucky themes from horse racing and breeding farms to products and culture. The Americans looked promising taking the top two spots after the first day of competition but it was the German’s who took home the overall Team Gold Medal after Wednesday evening’s top 10 Team Final competition. The 30 riders with the lowest scores returned for the Individual Round on Friday.

The exciting week of show jumping culminated with the top four riders, those with the lowest scores from the week, competing on Saturday evening for the Rolex Final Four. Making it to the Final Four from a talented pool of 121 riders is quite an accomplishment and an exhibition of a great partnership with a horse. This was the first year the Games had four riders from four different continents, Philippe Le Jeune of Belgium, Eric Lamaze of Canada, Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil and Abdullah Al Sharbatly of Saudi Arabia. Each rider began their first round on course aboard their own mounts. Given the option to change only one piece of tack, and a maximum of three minutes to acclimate to the new partner, it was time for riders to display true horsemanship as they attempted the same course on each of the other rider’s mounts. Each horse and rider combination went clean in two of the four rounds. However the end result, and the only rider to jump clean all four rounds, was Belgium’s Philippe Le Jeune taking home the Gold Medal. And after five days of competition, the only horse to jump all four rounds of the Final Four clean was Lamaze’s mount Hickstead. The 14-year-old stallion was awarded Best Horse Honors for his amazing efforts.

For the first time
Amongst the multiple sessions of Show Jumping in the outdoor stadium, the Para Dressage, Vaulting and Driving disciplines also competed in outdoor and indoor facilities at the Kentucky Horse Park. The 2010 World Equestrian Games marked the first time riders with physical disabilities had the opportunity to contest their equestrian abilities while competing amongst the world’s best competitors. Participating riders were asked to complete tests involving specific movements typically seen in Dressage and also competed for individual and freestyle medals. Several countries were represented in the final results, but Great Britain and Germany were tops. British rider Sophie Wells on Pinnochio won Gold in the grade IV Individuals and the British Team were also Gold Medal winners. German rider Hannelore Brenner riding Women of the World took the Gold medal in the grade III.

Mounts and Dismounts Required
Performing gymnastics and elements of dance to music while balancing on horse cantering in a circle is certainly high-level gymnastics. In Compulsory, Freestyle and Team Competitions, vaulters are judged and scored on technique, form, difficulty, balance, security as well as consideration of the horse and the performance of designated exercises or movements. In addition, it is the only discipline holding separate competitions for males and females both in Compulsory and Freestyle Vaulting. The US Team of Devon Maitozo, Blake Dahlgren, Mary Garrett, Emily Hogye, Mari Inouye, Rosalind Ross, and Annalise VanVranken along with their horse Palantino lunged by Carolyn Bland won Gold in this event.

Horse and man partnership comes into play in the Combined Driving Event where each driver drives a team of four horses through three separate competitions. Driven Dressage requires the same test for all competitors and like ridden Dressage, is judged on the agility and movement of the horses. The 18-kilometer marathon challenges competitors across country, similar to Eventing’s Cross Country, tests the fitness, judgment, and horsemanship of the driver. The Obstacle-Cone competition is the final phase of competition where the Driver is required to drive his team through twist and bends without incurring faults. Lowest total score again determined the medals and the US Team of Chester Weber, Tucker Johnson, James Fairclough, and their fabulous teams of horse earned a Silver Medal, whereas American Tucker Johnson brought home an Individual Bronze. After driving competitively for a quarter of a century, Johnson is retiring from competition on a great note.

And there’s more…
Those who visited the Kentucky Horse Park on a general admission pass could easily fill the day with exhibits and events covering the park grounds. The trade shows offered high quality equestrian goods from apparel to tack and everything else horse, from artists to vacations.

The Equine Village provided guests the opportunity to meet breed and discipline registries as well as clinicians and other horsemanship organizations. There were daily demonstrations and clinics where several top competitors exhibited their talents and skills to spectators. The Kentucky Experience gave visitors from across the globe and even local guests the chance to see what Kentucky offers, from music, food, art, and recreation to of course the horse. The title sponsor, Alltech, created the Alltech Experience, a sprawling set-up with innovative rooms illustrating all the ways the company approached nutrition, health and performance. And that was just in the front, out back was a beer garden, areas devoted to kids, with animals of all kinds visiting from the Newport Aquarium, painted horses galore, music and more. Plus the permanent structures and exhibits at the park include several museums, a stable of breeds and several association headquarters.

Every aspect of the Kentucky Horse Park, especially hosting the magnanimous WEG is geared toward one purpose: to bring the world the majesty of the horse. Attracting the equestrian world to Lexington was a feat, and not without challenges, but certainly memorable for many. The World Equestrian Games showcased the athletes, both human and horse. The largest sporting event to come to the United States since the 2002 Winter Olympics, the 2010 WEG tallied a total of 507,022 in attendance by the final day. Hats off to the state of Kentucky who hosted an all-encompassing event that truly put the horse on a pedestal.


Conversations With Equestrians: Guy Thomas

By Jackie McFarland

West Coast Rider Guy Thomas
An unforgettable equestrian event has come to Kentucky. Although many riders will be otherwise engaged as the show world continues with Capital Challenge and numerous other competitions, we will all have some way to watch the action at the Alltech World Equestrian Games. Whether following through friends, TV coverage, web channels, e-news or with your own eyes in Lexington, multitudes of horse aficionados will be tuning in.

Northern California rider Guy Thomas is here. He has earned the honor of competing on a team, representing New Zealand. He will also be riding a homebred horse, Peterbilt, who he has developed from inception, along with his parents Butch and Lu Thomas. We had a chance to sit down with the man from Northern California with New Zealand roots and I have to say, he’s quite a guy.

EqSol: Your parents are both in the business so you rode from an early age. Tell us a bit about the early years.
 I started when I was put front of the saddle with mom and dad at age two or even younger. I rode for a couple of years without a saddle – I wore chaps and paddock boots and a jockey’s helmet with a pretty disgusting hat cover that was green with orange polka dots and a bareback pad. I didn’t like any of the ‘gear’, so rode bareback everywhere I went. I always was very fortunate that mom and dad had me on great ponies and horses.

I competed a couple of times that way. I rode in this welsh pony class, there were three of us – one kid stopped and one kid fell off and I was good but didn’t have a saddle and I didn’t get a ribbon. Dad said I picked up my grooming box and claimed that I didn’t want to ride anymore.

Sometime later someone convinced me to try a saddle and I don’t think I could ride bareback these days! [laugh]

EqSol: Your junior years once you were in the saddle?
 I rode in the Pony Hunters and Junior Hunters. I also competed in the Onondarka Medal nine times and was 2nd all nine times. Second didn’t qualify you back then, so that was it from my equitation career.

I remember riding in the Pony Jumpers at Spruce. I went in the Pony Grand Prix at Spruce on the International Field when I was 11 or 12, I don’t think they have that class anymore. That year they used the built-in liverpool as the open water for the ponies. I thought it looked like the Pacific Ocean and I was terrified. Luckily I had a great pony from New Zealand that I did everything up to the Juniors on – Caruba Gold – and we won.

EqSol: And years later deciding to turn pro…
I showed in the amateurs for a year or two and then started running my parents barn in Woodside – training, riding, whatever it entailed. For me it was either turn pro in this sport or in rodeo. I’ve always been a rodeo freak. But after considering it, riding a bucking horse or bull didn’t look that appealing. I would end up with far more broken bones than paychecks. I rode steers one year in New Zealand for a few weeks and I figured out that the only way to get off was to fall off; not fun.

EqSol: Speaking of paychecks, how about your Triple Crown win?
*A series of shows in Northern California offered a $70,000 bonus to any horse and rider combination who could win all three Grand Prix events consecutively
GT: It was awesome. To have that kind of money available for the winning at all is quite impressive. Rudy Leone and Adrian Ward have done an am amazing thing for grand prix riders everywhere, but especially for Northern California.

Last year I won the second two legs. So this year I definitely had a plan. When we got to the first class I did everything in my power to win because then I had a chance. And Peterbilt was so consistent. Three grand prix classes in the same field, same jumps, he was just amazing. Each class was 1.45-1.50m; they were really good courses, not soft.

Six or seven were clean in the first prix, I was the only clear ride in the second one and in the final class there were seven clean. I had four rides in that class and Peterbilt was the last of my rides. I had rails on the other three, and when I was on Peterbilt I could feel my hands gripping on to the reins a bit tighter halfway around the course. I had to tell myself, ‘Hey, it’s just another bunch of sticks – you can’t over think it.’

Luckily I was last to go in the jump off. There were some really good combos like [Peter] Breakwell on Lucas, Duncan [McFarlane] on Mr. Whoopy, Helen [McNaught] on Caballo – plenty of loaded guns in the field. Note that Breakwell is a fantastic rider, he’s sneaky fast. I could tell he was quick, but his time was even faster than it looked. Watching him I knew I could nip at his heels, and Peterbilt was ready. I didn’t know I could actually beat him by two seconds…

I donated $20,000 back to the horse show organizing committee to support what they’ve done for the riders. I was the first one to ever win it and I want others to have that chance, or even for me to have that chance again! If I could help make that happen, I was happy to do it.

EqSol: Some of the names you mention above are from New Zealand. Tell us more about your parents and the business they’ve built here in the US.
 Over the years, several kiwis came over to work for my parents and went out on their own – Duncan McFarlane, Peter Breakwell and Rachel Yorke (now Fields).

My parents, Butch & Lu Thomas, head the whole organization. When not at shows, they spend most of their time at our private barn in Burson, CA. We now own over ninety acres – it started nineteen years ago with twenty acres and slowly we’ve purchased more property. We keep a mix of my show horses, dad’s racehorses, our young horses and our bucking bulls there. That’s where my show horses go to relax.

That’s also where we breed and raise the babies. We’ve been dabbling in breeding for quite some time but here in the last couple of years with Karl Cook’s stallions and Mom’s stallion we’ve developed some nice young stock. Dad handles all the breeding, he enjoys it and has a great eye.

All the client horses are at our barn at the Woodside Horse Park. We’ve been there three years now – it’s a great facility with tons of open space and plenty of rings. When we aren’t on the road, Butch and Lu come over on Saturday and teach a big group lesson.

EqSol: Bucking bulls?
 Bulls are my hobby. Dad has the racehorses and breeding, so I decided since I love rodeo that I was going have bucking bulls. This is the third year I’ve been involved with the ABBI (American Bucking Bull, Inc – It’s not lucrative yet – we now have twelve bulls between ages of 2-4. I don’t like bucking the two year olds, they can get hurt. I have two right now, one could be an absolute superstar – he’s electric. The other one is good but he can go too hard, too fast and then falls down, but he’s only two. To train them you use a dummy box with a remote. The box sits on their back. When you practice if they buck like you want, you hit the button and the gear falls off. It’s a reward system.

I just had four of the older ones go to a futurity. I would like to see them win and go to the PBR (Professional Bull Riders, Inc. – The prize money is pretty good if you win the Futurity Finals – the last two years the owners of the winning bull have taken home a check for $250,000. Dad has a fabulous four-year-old bull, Ghostrider. In 10 times out he’s only been ridden once, the other nine times he bucked the cowboy off in under two seconds.

EqSol: Let’s talk WEG…
 The WEG was part of the plan to this year. I earned my certificate of capability on Carino and Peterbilt last year at Spruce. Once it was more of a realistic option we tried to pick and choose the classes what would best suit to get us ready for something like the level of the WEG.

The biggest class we did was the Queen Elizabeth Cup this year at Spruce. Peterbilt felt great. I caused the rail in the first round; I was too long at one oxer and had the back rail. We could’ve been in the jump-off with Hickstead and Lamaze but ended up 7th. The nice thing with Peterbilt right now is that as the jumps get bigger and spookier, he rises to the occasion.

I do feel ready. I’m excited nervous, but not so much worried nervous. You never know what can happen at a competition like this. If the cards fall right maybe I can scare a lot of people.

It’s a big field trip – my girlfriend Kristin and lots of family are all heading to Kentucky.

Thank you Guy – from babies to bulls, it was an interesting interview. We wish the best of luck to the WEG New Zealand Team: Guy Thomas / Peterbilt, Samantha McIntosh / Loxley, Katie McVean / Delphi (half-sister to Peterbilt) and Maurice Beatson / Apollo.

EquestriSol News: September 30, 2010

If I had a million dollars…
With two $1 Million Grand Prix events taking place in September, equestrians from across the country were vying for their piece of the pie. As part of HITS-On-the-Hudson in Saugerties, NY, the coveted top prize in the first ever Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix was awarded to McLain Ward and his stellar mare Sapphire (McLain Ward & Blue Chip Bloodstock, owners). Ward and Sapphire rode double-clear after second place duo, Charlie Jayne and Athena, the other clear team from the first round, pulled a rail in the jump-off. Fresh off his $250,000 FTI Grand Prix win at the Hampton Classic, this event was Ward and Sapphire’s last competition together before making the trip to Kentucky to compete in the WEG.

Representing the West Coast, Duncan McFarlane piloted the eight-year-old Mr. Whoopy to an impressive eighth place finish, dropping just one rail on course, and Helen McNaught rode Caballo to the thirteenth position with an eight fault score.

The Spruce Meadows Masters Tournament also boasted a $1 Million event this past Sunday with Venezuela’s Leopoldo Palacios designing the CN International Grand Prix. Three West Coast riders earned spots among the top ten finishers. Second place was none other than California’s own Richard Spooner and his 12-year-old partner Cristallo (Show Jumping Syndication Int’l, owner). Rich Fellers aboard Flexible (Harry & Mollie Chapman, owners) finished seventh and the young Karl Cook of Woodside aboard Uno De Laubry (Signe Ostby, owner) brought home the eighth place ribbon.

The WEG is here!
The long awaited World Equestrian Games are well underway in Lexington, Kentucky. We are not only pleased to be here but were honored to attend the Opening Ceremonies. There was plenty of exceptional talent, but the Friesian team of ten was simply magnificent. Watching ten jet black steeds all dressed in white polos prance in perfect sync and perform a dressage drill without a hitch while their manes flowed freely was a joy. We also took a few iPhone photos that show some of the fun. We will of course be back with bells on for the week of show jumping and look forward to some shopping time. Can hardly wait for the Final Four on Saturday, October 9th. Should be a sight to see!

We enjoyed interviewing Guy Thomas. He’s a multi-faceted individual and we wish him the best of luck next week. Even though he is representing New Zealand, he also represents California. And of course, it goes without saying – GO USA!

Here’s a video of the Friesians during the opening ceremony from “DreamGait”.

West Coast Congrats
West Coast Win – Nations’ Cup News
Congratulations to the United States team of Rich Fellers/Flexible, Ashlee Bond/Cadett 7, Richard Spooner/Cristallo, and Beezie Madden/Coral Reef Via Volo, for clinching the win in the 2010 Nations’ Cup during the Masters Tournament at Spruce Meadows. Coached by George Morris, the team edged out Ireland and Canada who finished second and third respectfully. Considering Fellers, Bond, Spooner all call the West Coast home and Madden’s mount, Coral Reef Via Volo, is owned by Coral Reef Ranch and Gwendolyn Meyer, the team certainly represented the region well.

West Coast USEF Talent Search
Preparing our high-level equitation riders for the jumper arena, the USEF Talent Search tests flatwork skills, how a rider handles gymnastic exercises and their mastering of a jumper type course on the field, including an open water element. One of the most challenging medal finals, the top four are required to each ride one another’s horse to determine the top placings. Riding under the tutelage of Karen Healey, east coast equestrian Taylor Ann Adams bested the field for the win. With scores well into the 80’s on each of the final four horses she competed on, her consistency and style paid off. Second went to Jocelyn Neff, another Healey student. Rounding out the top four were Jennifer Parker, trained by Benson Carroll and Caroline Ingalls, who rides with Hap Hansen.