Syracuse, N.Y., October 30, 2009 -- There's always good competition at the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament, but beyond that, it's imaginative, fun and educational.
Because Syracuse is a small city, the show has something of a homey, local flavor--I watched Beezie Madden and Judgement do a weather report with a local TV personality--while many of the sponsors are companies from the area.
But when it comes to the jumpers, which are the heart of this show, we're talking international big names. The Netherlands' Gerco Schroeder, former World Champion Dermott Lennon of Ireland and Great Britain's Michael Whitaker were imported for the occasion.
Among the competitors based in this hemisphere we have former World Champion/Olympic gold medalist and three-time World Cup champ Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil, "Captain Canada" Ian Millar and the USA's two-time Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward. Conspicuously missing from the line-up is Beezie, traditionally the crowd's favorite since she lives in nearby Cazenovia. She recently had shoulder surgery, so her only appearance on horseback will be Sunday, when she rides Judgement into the Oncenter for a tribute from his hometown fans. He had his official retirement at Spruce Meadows in September, but he couldn't leave the arena for good without saying goodbye here.
The National Horse Show is part of the Tournament, and its presence was felt in the VIP area on Thursday's opening night with a scattering of tuxedoes and formal gowns, a remnant of the show's century-plus in Madison Square Garden. The well-dressed presenters handed off the impressive trophies to foreign riders, who won both classes. In the Pasmore Stables Horseman's Cup, Gerco took advantage of going last in an eight-horse jump-off where none of his predecessors had a perfect trip. He calibrated each fence carefully with Eurocommerce New Orleans, an impressive gray who his rider admitted is not particularly fast. But he made up for that with accuracy and no faults to take the honors.
Rodrigo, who is from Brazil, whipped around in the next class, the Atlas Fence Speed Challenge, on the flexible Palouchin de Ligny, who cornered and turned like a race car. As he flew over the last fence, Rodrigo drew surprised gasps from spectators by dropping the reins and putting his arms out to the side. I thought it was rather risky, and asked him about it.
I couldn't help thinking about the Fair Hill International earlier this month, when Hannah Sue Burnett nearly lost the 2-star by crashing through the last fence (not that she was putting her arms out to the side).
It ain't over until it's over, something that came to mind Wednesday night, when I watched a clinic sponsored by Practical Horseman magazine that fulfilled John's goal of making sure the show is educational and gives back to the community.
Ian, Anne Kursinski and Courtney King-Dye shared some of their knowledge with spectators. Ian took a triple combination in several different variations with a horse named Leroy, but then always cantered through an opening between two parallel poles for a nice finish. It reminded me that you have to keep concentrating until you get across the finish line.
Each of the riders emphasized such basics in their presentations, which will be written up in detail in Practical Horseman early next year.
A few other pointer/reminders I picked up:
- Don't try to get it all done in one session. It was suggested that 20 minutes of work should generally be about it. Break it up, don't do the same work all the time, and two sessions a day often are a good idea.
- Be prepared and make sure the horse is fit. "You bake the cake at home, you ice it in the competition."
The hunter divisions here are small due to time constraints, but they were very competitive. That's why Betty Oare was so thrilled to win the amateur-owner stake in the section for older riders with her mare, Fine Kiss. Betty was recognized last weekend for being part of the Washington International show for half a century (see the Washington photo gallery), and it's refreshing to me that she still loves what she's doing as much as she ever did and was all smiles after her victory.
Betty's enthusiasm is shared by others competing here. Everyone loves the bouncy footing, all 1,160 tons of it. And after the cramped quarters in Washington, having this amount of space to work with is a luxury that everyone enjoys, even though the horses are stabled in a parking garage. (I will never get used to the clip-clop, clip-clop over my head as I go to my car at night.)
While the show is going on in the arena, a lot is happening next door, where the giant exercise ring is located. As a dozen or more riders practice on the flat and over fences, there's plenty of shopping activity going on, with several of the same vendors we see at other shows during the season and some new faces (and merchandise) as well. And a whole educational program is going on, with pointers on everything from nutrition to conformation.
There's also a little dining area with a view of the exercise ring, which is where I found Florida trainer Christina Schlusemeyer (her student, Chase Boggio, was second in the Washington equitation championship last weekend) and Maclay hopeful Amber Henter.
The Maclay starts at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow, but the preparation here has been going on for longer than that. This is the last, and the most famous, of the fall circuit titles in the division, and no one is leaving anything to chance.
I asked Christina how she and her team will be handling things for her six students competing here.
Then I spoke with one of her riders, Amber Henter, a 17-year-old high school senior from St. Petersburg, Fla. Despite having had a little accident here, she seemed to be holding up well. But if she weren't, she could speak to a sports psychologist--Christina's stable has one on call. Sometimes, the trainer pointed out, the kids just want to talk to someone who's not directly involved in their situation.
I chatted with Amber about what it's like to be waiting for what many consider the biggest class of the year.
I'll be watching the Maclay tomorrow and sending you a short report about it on Sunday morning. I'll wrap everything up Sunday night with another postcard filling you in on the rest of what's happening here, whether it's the mini-horse relay (competitors were leading, not riding!) or the cute dog contest. Oh yes, and the Animal Planet Cup for the top seven competitors, another example of the innovation that makes this show unique.