Devon, Pa., September 27, 2009 -- Umbrellas unfurled, poncho-clad fans happily stood ringside in the rain for two hours last night to watch the highlight of Dressage at Devon, the Grand Prix musical freestyle.
They proved yet again that the theatricality of this competition is a definite draw whatever the weather. And appropriately, a rider with a show business pedigree who artfully topped the class was on stage until the curtain came down, enthusiastically blowing kisses to the crowd as she made her victory pass.
Tina Konyot, scion of a Hungarian circus family, knows how to present herself and her horse, the Danish-bred Calecto V, a black stallion for which she has turned down a seven-figure offer. They earned 72.600 percent--the only score over 70 percent in the competition--for a performance to music written in 2004 for another of Konyot's horses, Anna Karenina, since she didn't have time to finish a freestyle for Calecto.
The beat was as sexy for a stallion as it would be for a mare, and the 11-year-old Calecto did it justice with a great passage, using his hocks well while achieving lots of elevation and plenty of expression.
"I thought Tina did a very good job," said judge Linda Zang. In the Grand Prix on Friday, where Tina was second behind Jacqueline Brooks of Canada and Balmoral, "I thought she had maybe a little too much energy behind, so in the passage it was getting too high, almost asking for too much, so the horse wasn't able to carry what she was asking.
"Today, it was a little calmer," the judge continued.
"I think Tina has a very nice horse with a big future if she can just settle down a little bit and allow the horse to be a little more relaxed and forward. I think she could be a top rider for our country.''
That's certainly Tina's ambition. She's been close in two Olympic trials and thought she was on track again with Calecto until she was carrying a basket of laundry down the basement stairs before the 2009 Florida circuit and fell, breaking her ankle in nine places. It was four months before she could walk, but she had a reason to recover as quickly as possible.
"It's nice to have something special I'm trying to develop. There's a lot of little things to make stronger and more consistent, but he has so much talent and is happy doing this job, which is the most important thing," said Tina.
The win was especially impressive, since it was the first Grand Prix freestyle class in which she'd entered Calecto.
"I'm just so thrilled with him. I'm actually overwhelmed," she said.
I asked Tina how she happened to get Calecto at an auction in Denmark, and this is what she told me.
There are all sorts of interesting things about Tina. They include the fact that she takes one of her former competition mounts, the 27-year-old Anouska, around the country wherever she goes because she can't bear to be parted from her. And she's going out with Canadian racehorse trainer Roger Attwood, back together with him 27 years after they originally dated.
Tina plans on going to the track with Jackie Brooks, a Canadian. Tina seems to have a symbiosis with her and Lauren Sammis, who was third on Sagacious HF and years ago worked for Tina.
Jackie, calling her mount "a mudder" who didn't mind the rain or the mush underhoof, said "he's really solid in his balance. I actually scored a 10 on him at second level in a thunderstorm in huge mud. It doesn't seem to bother him,'' she said after receiving a mark of 69.800 percent.
Jackie is "spoiled for choice" as the British say, since it looks as if she will be able to select either the Canadian-bred 10-year-old or her 14-year-old Olympic veteran, Gran Gesto, for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games next year. Her success here however, has been "bittersweet," because the father of her trainer, D at D regular Ashley Holzer, died last week.