Observing the World Cup
Article by Ingrid Edisen - Photos by Robin Whittenbaugh

Robert Dover on FBW Kennedy, a 16-year-old Baden Werttemberger gelding.

As Ed Sullivan always promised, it was going to be a really big show. That’s exactly what I and photographer, Robin Whittenbaugh, found when we trekked to Las Vegas in April to attend the World Cup Finals in Dressage and Jumping. The attached sidebar describes who took top honors. Riders from all over the world competed. Of the 100,000 event tickets sold, approximately 96 percent of them went to non-Nevada residents. According to the show program, “this is only the sixth time the show jumping final has been held here [on U.S. soil] since the World Cup’s inauguration in 1979 and only the second time the dressage final has been here since its inauguration in 1986.”

A British woman in the stands who had coached an exhibiting equestrian vaulting team informed me that the primary organizers of the event were actually rodeo promoters. That explained the fireworks, laser lights and often Western-themed intermission breaks. And there was a lot of pure Las Vegas-style glitz thrown in for good measure such as a really good Elvis impersonator and a male singing group that totally looked at home in front of the massive crowd probably because they’d been hired right off a snazzy Vegas stage. Even Siegfried and Roy made an appearance. Still, it made for an odd juxtaposition to see a spectacular rope-swinging Mexican-style rider during one intermission and then segue into an international elite jumping contest the next.

To walk among the throng of audience members on the mezzanine and realize that all of them were as passionate as riding was humbling. The event was held at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ Thompson and Mack Center. Out in the parking lot, attached to the gigantic building was a network of tents, which housed the expensive horses and provided warm up areas plus a special meet and greet exhibitors’ tent for relaxing and eating.

The vendors who’d set up camp were fun to visit. You could find some “cutting edge” saddle pads if you liked with designer themes not yet seen in catalogues. And if you were really flush, you could pick up a nice titanium helmet or two for over $350 each. A Hermes dressage saddle complete with a savvy New Yorker to describe its attributes ran a mere $4,600. Down in the press room with its barrage of refreshments and electric hookups for reporters’ laptops, a couple of Swiss women would looked like they normally spent hours in the saddle answered questions in perfect English.

Occasionally you’d see a South American trounce through the room and then there were the older, distinguished looking

1st Place Winner, Anky van Grunsven (Netherlands) on Keltic Salinero with a score
of 86.725.

judges themselves who had non-stop meetings in the FEI room next door when they weren’t out on the floor scoring. Belgium, Germany, Japan, Russia, Great Britain, Brazil, France, New Zealand, Australia, the U.S....you name the country and it was probably represented either by a rider or spectator.

Between events, one could discover the city and its outskirts as well. On average Las Vegas receives over 100,000 visitors a day. The town keeps itself clean and as trouble-free as possible. Since we were there over a weekend, the place had a Mardi Gras feel to it as you tromped around–lots of traffic and partying pedestrians. Unlike Austin, there was a marked absence of street panhandlers. Cigarette smoking is tolerated everywhere. In fact, there was a cigarette machine in the lobby of our hotel. I hadn’t seen one of those in Austin since the late 70’s. We were amazed to find slot machines in the convenience stores. On two different days, we drove out to the spectacular Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This stands at the foothills of the mountains and was about five minutes by car from the edge of town. It had served as a preserve for wild horses and burros but we were told by a park attendant that all the wild horses had been packed up and shipped out two years ago and only a few burros were left.

At the show, I was struck by the respectful nature of the audience. Whenever a dressage test was ridden, the crowd was dead silent. As the jumpers vied for scores, a soft groan might follow a knocked rail or soft clapping once competitors cleared a difficult jump. Everyone seemed acutely aware of how sensitive horses are to strange noises and withheld their enthusiasm until the pair had totally finished their round. In fact, it’d be so quiet in the huge auditorium that even if you sat in the nosebleed section, you could hear Anne Kursinski grunt as she prompted her jumper to clear his obstacles. As the jumpers strode into the ring and confidently surveyed the challenging courses one was struck by the freedom in their hips.

Debbie MacDonald (USA) on Brentina with a score of 83.450

The dressage mounts appeared as sleek, toned and balanced as any professional dancer. I was struck by the hands of Great Britain’s jumper rider Michael Whitaker and Rodriguez Pessoa of Brazil. Both men’s hands literally flowed with their horses which has inspired me to work on that aspect of my own riding ever since. The dressage horses were kept dead straight in their bodies–no crooked canters here! To see one rider and horse combination after the other perform at such a high level made a spectator appreciate how uncommon it is to see that level of consistency at home. Of course, we were watching the some of the best riders in the world.

The last morning of our stay we were impressed to see a large article about the World Cup in the city newspaper, The Las Vegas Review-Journal. Now that is something never seen in Austin–mainstream coverage of equestrian events. Las Vegas knows how to make everyone feel at home, even horse people.

1st Place
Meredith Michaels Beerbaum
2nd Place
Michael Whitaker
Great Britain
3rd Place (Tie)
Lars Nieberg
3rd Place (Tie)
Marcus Ehning
1st Place
Anky van Grunsven (Score 86.725)
Kelkic Salinero
2nd Place
Edward Gal (Score 85.225)
Geldnet Lingh
3rd Place
Debbie MacDonald (Score 83.450)
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