The 2005 World Cup Finals in Las Vegas in April sparked much keyed-up conversation. It was an unusual event for many reasons: the hosting town is known for many things besides horses; jumping and dressage were paired in one venue; more than 90,000 tickets were sold for all events combined; a sold-out crowd of 12,000 spectators attended the dressage freestyle; competitors' scores were unprecedented; and the spectators showed a high level of enthusiasm and knowledge.
Here are some impressions from dressage insiders and key participants, those intimately involved in this energized display of sport and show.
On pairing jumping and dressage:
"It has worked in Europe for years. There is no question that it is very viable, and we will miss a wonderful opportunity if we don't consider this for future events. It provides a greater spectator base and makes it more viable for other sponsors. We need to think in the bigger picture."
--Glenda McElroy, dressage show manager for the World Cup
"It's wonderful for dressage because it brings a totally new spectator. In Europe, they always have jumping and dressage together. We want to have more [dressage] shows with jumpers. It is good for both sports."
--Axel Steiner, FEI dressage judge
"I felt instinctively that this would work, that each would pull the other along. The fact that we were doing something that had never been done before was a draw; it had the feeling of a happening."
--John Quirk, member of the organizing committee
"The vendors had a tremendous show. The organizers were ecstatic. This was a winning combination. It will happen again."
--Karin Reid Offield, president, Offield Farms, event presenting sponsor
"It was a fantastic marriage, having show jumping and dressage together. The competition completely exceeded everyone's expectations. It truly is one of the best equestrian events I've ever attended!"
--David O'Connor, president, U.S. Equestrian Federation
On the impact of the event's success on dressage:
"Getting scores which are close to the ideal is a booster for the sport. I have no idea how much more we can improve, but I do hope that one day we will get over 90%."
--Mariette Whitages, FEI judge and member of the FEI Dressage Committee
"The enthusiasm was beyond anything the sport has seen. It was like a rock concert! The event will certainly have an effect on where dressage is going at this level, making it more participatory, drawing spectators into the event. I think it will have the same kind of impact that Klimke had at the 1984 Olympic Games. It will be another burst forward in enthusiasm for the sport, attracting new riders and new spectators."
"I think that we have seen here in Las Vegas a breakthrough for the sport not just in our country but in the world. I think dressage proved itself to be a sport worthy of being viewed by millions of people all over the world on television. And when they see it for what it is, they are going to realize that it is a lot of fun to watch. We will be in living rooms and family rooms all over the world. That is what is going to take our sport to the next level."
--Robert Dover, U.S. Olympic and World Cup competitor
"The public was fantastic! One can only dream of such an enthusiastic crowd. For the riders and the horses, it was quite an experience. I am sure that we made a big step forward and from now on the whole atmosphere during the freestyle to music will be different."
"This was huge for our sport."
--Debbie McDonald, U.S. Olympic and World Cup competitor
On the choice of Las Vegas as the venue:
"The dressage riders had nothing but positive things to say about the experience. Wonderful footing, exceptional stabling. Riders would be very supportive of having it back in Las Vegas."
"Vegas is the Entertainment Capital of the world. People know they are supposed to be excited here. We planned it with only one event each day to make each event stand out in importance, and allow riders, owners and spectators some time to enjoy themselves out on the town."
"Dressage is getting more and more popular in the United States. It was about time that the World Cup Finals returned here. Las Vegas is so unique! Thomas & Mack can hold a big crowd, but at the same time it is built in such a way that the spectator feels close to what is happening in the arena."
"We would welcome this back as soon as the FEI would allow it. We sold out Saturday night. It was a sellout."
--Pat Christenson, president, Las Vegas Events
More Vegas Musings, Reactions
By Karen Robinson
After the World Cup, I (Karen Robinson--FEI rider, equestrian journalist and music designer of the World Cup freestyles of Leslie Reid and Leslie Morse) emailed my friends who had been at the historic competition to get their impressions. Here are some of the responses and reflections I received:
"It was the most amazing [competition] in the history of dressage. It's the first time ever that 70 percent has not qualified a rider for the final."
--Cara Whitham, FEI "O" judge and World Cup commentator
"When my horse, Lingh, heard it, he gave even more. It was really nice."
--Edward Gal, who said he couldn't remember ever having heard a European audience clap during his freestyle
"The unrestrained enthusiasm of the audience at this World Cup made the experience a memorable one not only for the spectators, but also for the riders. The people were just phenomenal; THEY inspired ME! It touched me in a very deep way. I felt like I was riding for them and they were working with me."
"I have been singing 'Viva Las Vegas' for weeks, and the thrill of seeing those rides has not worn off."
--Jo Ann Sette, a rider from Texas, who spotted Edward Gal getting out of a taxi at the Paris Hotel
One World Cup observer told me, "I thought the attitude and knowledge of the spectators was great. It seemed we all knew what was going on." Another said, "My husband came with me and now he thinks that the show jumping is the boring stuff!" "It was fun to run into friends from all over the country. It really amazes me how small our world can be," said others.
Of course there were gambling stories, like the one about the two women who bought riding pants at the trade fair with their slot machine winnings--and many more about those who were less lucky at the casinos.
No one expected any less of Vegas, and even for those who would not go there for any other reason than to see a horse show the town won their approval as a venue. When he took the mike for the first time on day one of competition, announcer Nicho Meredith said, "I don't believe I have ever been to a dressage show that started quite like this." He was referring to ear-splitting fireworks reminiscent of a monster truck competition.
The unprecedented audience participation may spell a new era in dressage show etiquette. Many people noticed that Debbie McDonald and Brentina's passage seemed to get better and better as Brentina proceeded down her final centerline to the clapping and cheering of the crowd, who were already on their feet. But the most powerful image that stayed with the 12,000 people at the World Cup in Las Vegas was that of having witnessed some of the most exciting dressage in history.
Read complete coverage of the World Cup Dressage Final in the July 2005 issue of Dressage Today magazine and in EquiSearch's special World Cup section.