Thomas Baur, Top European Show Organizer, to Help Polish Florida’s Global Dressage Festival–Part 1 of 2
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Thomas Baur will bring some European show management flair and polish to the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida, a circuit unlike any other in the world with 12 weeks of international and national competitions and total prize money nearing $500,000 (€370,000) in an equestrian lifestyle destination that already lures jumpers from more than 30 countries.
As an organizer of some of Europe’s top events, Thomas is working to raise the profile of what is already one of the world’s premier circuits launching its third winter circuit on Jan. 8 with three World Cup events, a CDI4*, a Nations Cup newly elevated to open the world series of team competitions and a CDI5* as a companion finale with the jumping CSIO5* at the end of March.
A prime goal of getting more top combinations from Europe and North America and top judges to add Continental sparkle to the GDF that has Adequan as the title sponsor and like the jumper/hunter shows is staged at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center may be achieved sooner than thought.
Steffen Peters, Günter Seidel and Adrienne Lyle, U.S. Olympians, have signaled they will make the trek from the West Coast while riders from Germany, Denmark, Spain and other European nations are expected to join Swedish multi Olympian Tinne Vilhelmsson Silfvén who has made Wellington her winter base. The number of riders and horses from countries throughout the Americas which are already firmly established in Florida is expected to grow, especially ahead of the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2015.
Equine Canada is hosting a “Canadian Fortnight” at GDF to take advantage of the large number of top Canadian riders and the amazingly supportive families, friends and fans in Florida each winter.
Thomas, however, does not want to turn Florida into a Europe West.
“I think we want it to have a Florida atmosphere,” he told dressage-news.com after spending several days in Wellington reviewing the GDF show grounds and the schedule.
“If more Europeans come and enjoy the Florida atmosphere it will be super.”
The 43-year-old Thomas has been involved in organizing the German Masters at Stuttgart since 1986 and has extended his management expertise to competitions in Mannheim, Germany and Achleiten, Vienna and Salzburg in Austria.
He sees his role as being part of the team that includes Lloyd Landkamer, who operates the show office and has extensive experience in both international and national championships as well as a jampacked calendar of events across the country.
“We can maybe do things a bit differently than is usually done in the USA,” Thomas said.
“In general, the shows are very well organized. There are some adjustments we can make to be more attractive for both sponsors and spectators.”
Award ceremonies are one case where sponsors get to actively participate. But it may require a revolution to alter the ritual of American audiences heading for the parking lot in droves as soon as the last ride finishes. But there is rarely anything to keep them in their seats and getting the ribboned horses into the arena is way slower than most European shows.
Requests for tables in the VIP pavilion are heavier than ever as are applications from vendors that provide atmosphere. Food and beverage services for the larger number of entries and spectators are being given a higher priority after complaints of poor service and lack of choices in the past two years.
But he is expected to bring change by Equestrian Sport Productions (ESP) that owns and operates the 12-week dressage circuit along with the Winter Equestrian Festival.
WEF is the template for success. It has undergone a revolution since ESP took over the shows six years ago, rebuilding the show grounds, reorganizing a schedule to pack spectator stands for Saturday night prime events and a party atmosphere that attracts both families and singles looking for fun and excitement in addition to the traditional horse show lovers.
Higher prize money and an enviable list of top drawer sponsors has followed.
In the first two years of GDF, the number of international level competitions from three separate show organizers exploded and some events had as few as one or two entries.
Competitions that were staged at the Jim Brandon Center, a taxpayer-owned multi-use facility in West Palm Beach, have now been assigned to GDF in Wellington and the Palm Beach schedule consolidated into six international CDIs with the inconic Palm Beach Dressage Derby remaining at neighboring Loxahatchee as the only other CDI3*-plus event.
The official calendar also lists five national shows at White Fences in Loxahatchee as well as those at Wellington over the three-month winter circuit.
White Fences, the original home of dressage in South Florida, offers excellent footing and an atmosphere that is the opposite of Wellington–no loudspeaker announcements, about as close as one can get to a down home show while remaining professional and free pizza for lunch. Rare are openings in the start lists.
Thomas is no stranger to the Florida circuit or to the special requirements of the Americas and the Pan American Games.
In his role as one of the six members of the FEI Dressage Committee, he worked with Maribel Alonso of Mexico to create a new format to raise the competition level of the Pan Ams by adding big tour horses and riders on team with small tour combinations.
The template has been developed at the GDF and will get a full blown test at the 2014 Nations Cup where more complete national teams are expected to outnumber squads of mixed nationalities from the first two years. Among them could be nas many as four teams from Latin America, three or four from Europe as well as Australia, Canada and the United States that have had such teams from the start.
The 2014 Nations Cup in Wellington will be “a huge step forward… that also adds value to the world series which is still a pilot project. It shows that dressage will be able to let such a series grow. We are not jumping with a worlwide circuit, but now we have the first show outide Europe and that is good for everybody.”
With the possibility of a truce in the long running political war between ESP and the Village of Wellington government with a majority elected to oppose the dressage facility it could lead to year round operations that will raise expectations from riders, officials, media as well as spectators.
Most of all, though, the pressure will be from ESP that has spent about $8 million to construct six outdoor arenas with Olympic quality footing, permanent stabling for 200 horses that ESP wants to expand to meet demand and a covered arena with enough room for at least three full size arenas funded by founding sponsor Kim Boyer on behalf of her late father’s Van Kampen foundation.
Thomas was at the GDF grounds when work was underway on the 59-acre (24 Ha) site once named the Palm Beach Polo Club and the original heart of equestrian sport in Wellington, first with polo and then with jumping and finally dressage.
As one of the six members of the FEI Dressage Committee he has been active along with Maribel Alonso, a FEI 5* judge from Mexico and expected to be named next month to the Dressage Committee, in development of the Wellington Nations Cup. It was the first non-championship international team competition in the Western hemisphere.
In 2014, he will be primarily responsible for how its unique format of big and small tour combinations will be implemented as a pilot for the 2015 Pan American Games. Teams may be entered from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, the United States and Venezuela and the increased scrutiny that will result.
Part 2: What to Expect from Thomas Baur as the New head of the Global Dressage Festival