Success of Inaugural West Coast Dressage Festival Event May Lead to California Circuit Expanding to Five Events, Plus Future Nations Cup

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Steffen Peters on Suppenkasper in the West Coast Dressage Festival CDI3* at Temecula, the first Big Tour event for the pair since the horse was bought from German Olympian Helen Langehanenberg. Helen is scheduled to host a master class at the festival in Del Mar. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

TEMECULA, California, Jan. 7, 2018–The successful launch of the West Coast Dressage Festival of four CDIs in California over two months has led the organizer to plan an expansion for a fifth event in 2019 and the possibility of a Nations Cup to match the Wellington, Florida Global Dressage Festival.

The inaugural World Cup and CDI3* won rave reviews from the top American riders who expressed amazement at the conversion from what was politely described as a pig’s ear to a silk purse of the normally dusty equestrian center at the sprawling community sports complex in Temecula, midway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Although this event attracted only 24 entries in the international division but more national horses and riders, Scott Hayes, creator of the series, estimated it was enough to break-even at the first of the four shows that cost a total of about $800,000 to stage this year.

This outcome was, said Scott, a 31-year-old Canadian, despite costs installing world class footing in both the centerpiece competition and warm-up arenas. Akiko Yamazaki who had three of her horses competing–Legolas, Bailarino and Suppenkasper–admired the beautifully decorated VIP tent, the attention to detail, excellent food and friendly service. Others enjoyed the convivial atmosphere of the comfortable and spacious riders’ lounge with its own bar.

A master class with Monty Roberts, the internationally renowned natural horse trainer, and Boyd Martin, the highly popular U.S. Olympic eventing rider helped draw a big crowd more interested in entertainment than what U.S. team rider Sabine Schut-Kery confided half-jokingly she welcomed because her mother would attend as she didn’t understand the arcane intricacies of high performance dressage performed by her daughter.

The next three events under the West Coast festival umbrella are all World Cup qualifiers in the state-of-the-art Del Mar National Horse Show facility near San Diego.

Scott became a prominent figure in the West Coast equestrian community after successfully staging master classes with British Olympic gold medalists Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester in 2017, events that were lauded for attention to detail.

Inspired by what he saw businessman Mark Bellissimo produce in Wellington with creation of the Global Dressage Festival, he discussed ideas with friends and contacts he had made in California to build a new circuit to complement Florida that has become world renowned and revolutionized dressage in the United States.

The West Coast Dressage Festival at night. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“A ton of inspiration was drawn from what’s happening in Florida,” he told dressage-news.com.”It’s so inspirational. I don’t want to compete with it, but complement it.

“I’m trying to create something. There is both a need and a want for it.”

While some of the top riders could get to Florida for the lineup of seven CDIs with total prize money of more than $600,000 over 12 weeks, many could not. Trainers would leave behind some of their customers.

“How were people supposed to qualify for championships and finals if we didn’t have a circuit?” Scott said.

The most likely key to success he saw was to enlist riders in California as well as horse owners and commercial sponsors to join the team he put together to create the West Coast festival.

“We had only one chance to get it right,” he said, “a new venue, horrible footing, the first show.

“Even if we lost money we had to get it right for longevity.

“I want it to be similar to Wellington. I love Friday nights under lights there. We want to build a community like they have.”

He went barn to barn, business to business proposing an “investment” that could produce a return instead of the standard one-time sponsorship. That had led to years of on-again, off-again efforts in a part of the United States with year-round climate suitable for horse sports but facilities that had become run-down–Burbank, San Juan Capistrano and the Del Mar Horse Park.

“I’m not Mark Bellissimo. I’m just a 31-year-old guy who has hopes and dreams.”

It worked.

Günter Seidel, German-born but a resident of Southern California for three decades and a member of three American Olympic teams, speculated that Scott’s age and lack of experience in the area may have worked in his favor as he did not let obstacles stand in his way.

“It’s been excellent,” said Günter. “Everything has been executed so well. He was willing to take the risk. But he was so good at getting so many people engaged.”

Others included those who have been in Southern California their entire lives, such as David Wightman married to Kathleen Raine of Adventure Farm in Murietta, close to Temecula and both experienced international competitors.

“All the details were good, taken care of,” said David who competed a horse owned by Kathleen that he had taken to the World Young Horse Championships, “the food, the footing all good. The whole show was amazing.”

David Wightman on Silberpfeil in the Developing Prix St. Georges at the West Coast Dressage Festival. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Introductions to prospective sponsors, plenty of money and services vital to making it work such as testing footing ahead of time by four-time Olympian Steffen Peters. A marketing company became partners and got vendors to provide furniture for the riders’ lounge. Another paid for the food service. The owner of the sports complex loosened his purse strings to make improvements.

Adequan became the title sponsor, as it was in Florida.

The high cost of real estate in Southern California makes difficult the buying of enough land for show grounds with some left over for sale as equestrian centers to offset the cost.

However, Scott said, he wants to add a fifth CDI in 2019 and a Nations Cup in the future–two international team competitions are possible in the United States–and to encourage Europeans to visit, as Wellington has done successfully.