West Coast Dressage Festival Ends 4-Show Run With High Praise from Top Riders

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Helen Langehanenberg delivering her West Coast Dressage Festival master class with Steffen Peters on Suppenkasper.

Feb. 18. 2018

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The newly created Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival has ended its first year lineup of international competitions that saw participation more than double by the time of the fourth CDI and won unanimous thumbs up from California’s top trainers and competitors with suggestions to grow in the future.

Most California-based trainers stayed home to support the circuit created by Canadian impresario Scott Hayes who admitted he borrowed ideas from the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida that since its founding 2012 has revolutionized the high performance sport in the Americas. With riders representing dozens of countries competing in Florida’s seven weeks of CDIs with total prize money of more than $600,000 growing numbers of Californians were feeling the pull eastward.

Before the launch of the West Coast festival with the debut event the first week of January in Temecula, midway between Los Angeles and San Diego before moving to Del Mar for the next three shows, several trainers made a commitment to support the circuit but with a wait-and-see attitude. Similar ventures in recent years had not worked out as hoped.

Olympic and championship competitors Günter Seidel, Sabine Schut-Kery, Kathleen Raine, Elizabeth Ball and Steffen Peters along with their partners and sponsors pitched in to an amazing extent, as their East Coast riders and supporters did to make Wellington among the most successful shows in the world.

All five riders and trainers, most of whom have competed extensively in Wellington, were gushing in their praise of the West Coast circuit and the organization that provided prize money of about $50,000 per show.

Günter, who lives in Cardiff near Del Mar, texted dressage-news.com: “Absolutely yes on a return of WCDF!!!!”

He suggested the circuit start in late January instead of right after New Year’s and add another show at the beginning of April.

“Awesome job by Scott’s team!!” said Kathleen Raine of Murietta, California, who is married to David Wightman, also a trainer and competitor. “So accommodating and definitely looking forward to 2019 AWCDF!! Agree with starting a little later.”

Steffen Peters who lives in San Diego and missed the Florida circuit this year for the first time primarily because his two top horses, Rosamunde and Suppenkasper, were not ready for the trip east.

“It would be awesome to have another four CDIs return in 2019, with a CDI in March instead of the first weekend of January. Either way Scott and his team are incredible!!”

Both Elizabeth Ball and Sabine Schut-Kery joined in preferring changes in the dates of the show, but Elizabeth added: “HUGE THANKS to ALL for such an incredible show series!!”

Sabine, who has said she plans to go to Florida with Sanceo now the new California circuit is over, commented, “Scott and his team did an incredible job! I hope AWCDF will become a regular show series for all of us; it really was a great opportunity for us here on the West Coast! Very grateful!!!!”

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

The Temecula show drew a total of about 80 horses, 17 in CDI classes, for a total of almost 360 rides over three days.

The fourth show in Del Mar saw those numbers skyrocket to more than 170 horses–35 CDI mounts–for about 460 rides.

Each one of the four shows featured a World Cup qualifier, but entries for those were sparse, the most with four combinations.

However, more extensive live streaming than Wellington and commentary by the popular Axel Steiner, a retired FEI 5* judge, were widely praised by viewers around the world.

The California shows did not produce the number of spectators that typically fill the VIP pavilion of about 1,000 seats and stands containing another couple of thousand for Global’s centerpiece Friday Night Lights. Some observers noted that instead of videoing rides from arena level that showed virtually deserted spectator stands in the background a leaf should be taken from other sports that carefully place cameras to avoid such scenes.

Among features that were hits were master classes at each event–U.S. team eventer Boyd Martin and Monty Roberts, the internationally renowned natural horse trainer, the first week; Laura Graves, top ranked American at No. 4 in the world, the second week; German Olympian Helen Landehanenberg who had trained and competed Suppenkasper now ridden by Steffen Peters, the third week, and Great Britain’s multi Olympic gold medal rider Charlotte Dujardin for the finale.

It is not fair to make direct comparisons as Florida is the preferred and closest winter destination for horse-heavy eastern Canada as well as the entire East Coast and most of the Midwest of the United States and the home of many foreign riders.

Wellington’s Global circuit, that was built on a base established for decades alongside the huge Winter Equestrian Festival of hunters and jumpers, went through growing pains with fierce opposition from some neighbors that led to city government-mandated restrictions that still apply today despite a change in administration and what may be an end to legal wrangling.

The latest CDI5* event in Wellington–the only one in the United States of the highest rated international competitions–had about 100 CDI horses for almost 200 CDI rides from a total of about 640 national and international rides over five days.

Another significant difference is that Scott Hayes’s organization has to rent show facilities in high-priced California (compared with Florida).

Whereas, the Florida partnership that owns the Global Dressage and Winter Equestrian Festival also owns the show grounds themselves. The Wellington partnership acquired large tracts of land around the show grounds that have been bought by equestrians for barns and homes as most spend at least 12 weeks in Florida every year. A growing number are based in Wellington and surrounding areas year round.

Scott Hayes, 31 years old, estimated the circuit this year should break-even on the total investment of about $800,000.

Riders lounge at Del Mar.