Saturday night at EQUITANA was set to be one of the highlight features of the event and the crowd began to roll into the amazing Nutririce Pavilion well ahead of the scheduled start time. The evening program was an interesting balance of equestrian entertainment and competition of the highest level that was part of the newly introduced Australian Open Series. The CDI-W was to be the final Australian qualifier before the Pacific League World Cup Final which will be held as part of the Saddleworld Dressage Festival in Melbourne from the 9-12 December.
EQUITANA gave the Dressage competition a truly “international” feel with a huge audience and the atmosphere under the Nutririce big top matching that found in the top stadiums around the world where thousands gather to enjoy the horses dancing.
he evening opened with a mesmerizing demonstration of the Spanish art of Garrocha performed by the most capable of Spaniards, Jose Mendez who rode his coal black imported Spanish stallion. The Garrocha is a wooden pole with a metal point at one end and approximately twelve foot long (3 meters), the diameter of the specially crafted pole widens to the size of a hand grasp at the top end. In the Spanish tradition, the Garrocha was used in two ways – as a tool for working the bulls and more in modern times this demanding craft forms part of artistic displays which are only attempted by the most capable of horsemen. Jose was wonderful and the rousing applause confirmed our respect for his skill and showmanship.
Jose wowed the 4,500 equestrian fans and the lighting and mood got the evening started in fine style. Gitte Donvig rode movements from the Grand Prix test and MC Roger Fitzhardinge talked the crowd through the complexities and explained what the judges would be looking for. Gitte’s horse Port Said was in wonderful form and seemed to put the ‘spookiness’ of the first day behind him so Gitte was all smiles and enjoyed her ride.
The competition got started and the 7 riders gave us a wonderful evening. The eventual winner was Mary Hanna’s imported gelding Umbro. Mary always rides to music which is well suited to her horse and she was delighted with the way the young GP rookie, Umbro handled the atmosphere.
Mary also took out second place on the exciting Sancette who was in Steffen Peter’s barn in the USA for most of this year and arrived in Australia to have his first GP start at Boneo Park in October. Sancette is light and ground covering and shows great potential as an Australian team prospect for 2012.
Maree Tomkinson and her much beloved Rodrigo lll worked very well to finish in 3rd place. I love Maree’s music which is a beautifully mixed selection of “Sting” favorites. The style suits Ringo and is very easy listening.
Chantal Wiggen and her imported gelding Ferero have quite recently returned to Australia following an extended training sabbatical in Germany where she has really got to know her horse well. Chantal appreciated the ride in this atmosphere and Ferero is a real “piaffe machine”. His freestyle ride was a little disappointing as he won the Grand Prix event on Thursday. Chantal is sure to have London in her sights and they are certainly right up there on the selector’s lists.
Caroline Wagner and WS Nevada put in a great performance. Nev, is a very reliable horse and took the atmosphere and aloneness of the big top in his stride. Caro beamed at the completion of her test and agreed that is was a great event and fun to be part of EQUITANA.
New Zealand combination Gosh and Shiwan Greene have been in Australia attending a number of the top competitions hoping to gain experience and make the improvements necessary to represent the “Kiwis” at the London Olympics. Gosh is Shiwan’s first GP horse and she acknowledges that they are learning together. She is enjoying the journey and Gosh is a very elastic and scopey horse. She received a great acknowledgement from the crowd – many of whom know just what it is like to train a horse right through all of the grades.
Finally was Nadia Coghlan who did her early riding from her parents property in the Macedon Ranges but I now based in Sydney. Northern Campion and Nadia spent 4 years in Germany training with Kristy Oatley and Karen Rehbein. Nadia put together a great test but the atmosphere gave Campion a few worrying moment which he showed with tenseness and this brings the marks down.
Most Australian competitors agree that we need more competitions which can attract a large audience as this is the part of training that is difficult to practice. Every horse and rider would have benefited from being part of the EQUITANA Australian Open CDI-W Dressage competition.
At the halfway mark of the competition there was an arena maintenance break but before the John Deere worked its magic we saw a very polished and enjoyable demonstration from 4 members of the Victorian Young Rider Squad – Ben Terry, Emmalee Western, Nicole Touzel and Faye Hinchcliffe who are to be commended for their fantastic performance. This quadrille has only been working together for the past 4 weeks and their polish and poise confirm a very good level of basic training of their horses together with correct riding and presentation of the FEI movements. They were fantastic and will be in strong demand in the future.
Then the lights were dimmed and Jose Mendez again took centre stage – this time he and his beautiful black stallion were joined by three ballerinas and the contrast of there white against the black of night and Jose’s stallion was imposing and dramatic. The music, lighting and character of Jose’s Equestrian Ballet was equal to the best and a very popular part of the EQUIITANA Dressage Spectacular.
At the completion of the Grand Prix Freestyle competition we were expecting to see Steffen Peters to ride Shiraz Black. However, the kind and considerate Steffen felt that the 7 YO had done all that could be expected of him in Thursday night’s All Star Spectacular and again earlier on Saturday at his Dressage Clinic.
Steffen took the reins of his old friend Sancette and gave us a glimpse of what this stunning young Grand Prix horse will do when he settles to into a really easy relationship with his new owner, Mary Hanna. Steffen said that it takes a little time for horses to get to trust the rider and he was delighted to be in the saddle “I still love him”, he commented at the completion of his demonstration.
The Grand Prix competitors came into the arena for the prize giving ceremony with Mary riding the winner Umbro and Steffen remaining aboard Sancette who finished in second place.
The EQUITANA Dressage Spectacular was just that and we enjoyed the many facets that came together to provide a truly memorable evening which showcased the special talents of our top riders and the unique skill and showmanship of Steffen Peters who won an individual Bronze medal with the stallion Ravel at the 2010 Kentucky World Equestrian Games.
Stop Press – EQUITANA have just announced that there will be a Sydney event in November 2011 – so watch this space for more.
See Slide show of the EQUITANA Dressage Spectacular