April 15, 2015--It was nothing but a training session, yet thousands of people watched enraptured as the 18 dressage horses entered in the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage finals prepared for tomorrow's opener, the Grand Prix.
They applauded enthusiastically while the riders -- some in pairs, working for 15 minutes; some working alone for 7 1/2 minutes -- practiced pirouettes, piaffe and passage as their horses got accustomed to the arena with an audience present. Also present, sitting sedately on the sidelines, was the World Cup trophy, awaiting its presentation on Saturday.
There was a lot to look at. I loved the black Trakehner, Mister X from Russia, with his emotive pirouettes and well-practiced piaffe.
Edward Gal, a former Cup winner, got some great extensions from another black horse, Glock's Undercover. Edward wore a helmet with an orange stripe (orange is the Dutch color) and blue jean breeches, a departure from the formal look we're used to in competition. It was nice to see everyone in helmets; I wish they'd leave them on for tomorrow's class, but no doubt we'll be seeing top hats from some die-hards.
Legolas, Steffen Peters' sensitive mount, seemed fine with the noise and atmosphere, reflective of work Steffen had done at home to accustom his horse to the electricity of Thomas & Mack.
The other American, Laura Graves, worked Verdades artfully to get him into the swing of things, and waved energetically to the crowd when they clapped for her and the horse that many think could come in second to dressage supremo Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin, defending champion and holder of every world record in the sport.
For her part, however, Charlotte isn't taking anything for granted.
She said the weather -- which was hovering around 90 degrees until today -- had an effect on Valegro.
The stables are hot, she explained, and there's a real change because he's coming from a wintery location in Great Britain.
That's not the only problem.
"It's not just the temperature, it's the travel," she said, noting she took it easy with him the first few days.
"His jet lag already kicked in, as well as mine," she commented with a smile.
"Hopefully tomorrow, we'll be able to go out there and just do our best. I just look at it as another competition, and as long as we go in there and do our best, whether we win or lose, it doesn't matter. It's part of competing."
She added, "It's always a real pleasure to be riding Valegro and it's really great to be here. This is one of the shows I've really been looking forward to coming to."
Charlotte is enjoying her first visit to Las Vegas, and is properly incredulous.
"We've walked around and seen things and thought, `It just can't be real. It's crazy to be in the middle of the desert with all this going on. It's been really fascinating.' "
Isabell Werth and El Santo NRW were Charlotte's companions in the ring after Valegro went through his paces alone for awhile. A Cup winner herself (she took the title in Vegas in 2007) Isabell had her hands full when El Santo entered the arena. But she would have had more of a challenge if she had brought Don Johnson instead.
The ring, she said, "is nice but difficult. The people are very close and enthusiastic."
While she loves their enthusiasm, Isabell noted, "with some horses, it's difficult. It's exciting to see how they deal with this special atmosphere. You have the feeling the public is on top of the horse. It would be much more difficult to compete Don Johnson here. I think this was the right choice."
Still, she noted, her horse "was really impressed inside. The first two rounds (around the arena) he didn't breathe."
I wondered where she thought she'd end up, especially given the fact that Charlotte would appear to have the trophy cornered.
"I hope we come as close as possible to the first three, so around fifth place. I think this is realistic if you take the (on) paper performances (into consideration). But in this special atmosphere, everybody has to ride, and maybe we'll see some surprises here. I'll try to be awake and fit for this."
Let's see how it goes. The Grand Prix doesn't count for the title, but it could be an indicator of who is in the hunt. I'll be sending another postcard tomorrow night, so be sure to look for it.