Changed Face of American Dressage Shows Over the Past Decade

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Global Dressage Festival grounds in Wellington, Florida. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Global Dressage Festival grounds in Wellington, Florida. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Oct. 11, 2016

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

When a group of horse show lovers took over the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington in 2008 dressage was a bit player to jumpers and hunters with just four CDIs at different venues in Florida, the focus clearly on California that hosted seven of the United States’ 19 competitions that year. The Adequan Global Dressage Festival would not be created for another three years.

A decade on, the Global circuit has its own home and will celebrate its sixth birthday in 2017 as the world’s largest dressage circuit of seven CDIs over 10 weeks with a total purse that will likely at least match the $700,000/€624,000 offered this year.

The same organizers of the seven Global events have grown the number of CDIs to 11 in four states–almost half the entire schedule of the 24 CDIs in the United States for 2017–two at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina built at a cost of more than $100 million over the past three years and bidding to host the World Equestrian Games in 2018 as well as the Central Park Horse Show in New York that has become iconic in three years, and one in Colorado.

Based on prize money at 10 of the shows in 2016, as much as $231,600 for the CDI5* in Wellington to $39,000 at each of the Tryon events, all the purses were more than any other CDI in the U.S. The World Cup event at Devon on Main Line Philadelphia that bills itself as the “premier North American equestrian event since 1975,” offered $35,000 in prize money, the highest of the also-rans.

Five of the six CDIs in California in 2016 had no prize money.

With publication of the 2017 calendar of 24 shows–more than any other nation–dressage-news.com tracked changes in the United States over the past decade.

In 2008, 19 events were on the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) calendar–seven in California, four in Florida, two in New York state and one each in Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Colorado and North Carolina.

Of the five California shows held in the first four months of 2008, the average number of starting combinations in the Grand Prix was 12, from the United States and Canada.

At three Florida shows in the same time period, the average Grand Prix starting lineup was 29 combinations–representing seven different nations though all based in the U.S. Two of the shows were inherited from the former organizer of the Winter Equestrian Festival; the third was the long established Palm Beach Dressage Derby at Loxahatchee, a community adjacent to Wellington.

The following year, 2009, saw the first big shakeup in American dressage although the calendar was reduced to 17 shows, five in Florida and four in California.

Anky van Grunsven on Salinero (center) after capturing the 2010 CDI5* flanked by Isabell Werth on Satchmo and Steffen Peters on Ravel. Photo: Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com
Anky van Grunsven on Salinero (center) after capturing the 2010 CDI5* flanked by Isabell Werth on Satchmo and Steffen Peters on Ravel. Photo: Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

The Wellington organizers staged the first CDI5* in the Western Hemisphere, drawing freestyle superstar Anky van Grunsven and fellow Netherlands’ team mates Edward Gal and Hans Peter Minderhoud as well as top American Steffen Peters from California on Ravel who a month later at Las Vegas became only the second American World Cup champion.

WEF’s International Arena refurbished with world quality footing and stadium-style seating was a sellout for an event with €100,000 (about US$143,000 then) at stake, that had been seen previously in the U.S. only at World Cup Finals.

In 2010 the year of the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, California moved back to the top with seven CDIs while Florida stayed at five though the CDI5* in Wellington established itself as the prime CDI fixture with Isabell Werth joining Anky and Steffen as the major attractions.

FEI recognized events were held in a record 11 states that year.

California staged nine of the United States’ 25 CDIs in 2011 while Florida stayed at five, though none in Wellington. The organizers there were focused on building the jumper/hunter shows that had been expanded to 12 weeks from six when they took over the WEF facility. It dropped the CDI5*. A group that was seeking to build a conglomerate of shows in South Florida picked up the headline event.

At the end of the winter circuit that year, work began on the Global Dressage Festival grounds at Polo Field No. 1 that was the heart of the first equestrian shows in Wellington and where the first WEF jumper events were held in the parking lot.

Ground breaking in 2011 for the Global Dressage Festival at Florida's Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. Village of Wellington Councilwoman Anne Gerwig, now mayor; then=mayor Darell Bowen; Mark Bellissimo, chief executive of Equestrian Sport Productions and Wellington Equestrian Partners, and Robert Dover, six-time Olympian. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Ground breaking in 2011 for the Global Dressage Festival at Florida’s Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. Village of Wellington Councilwoman Anne Gerwig, now mayor; then=mayor Darell Bowen; Mark Bellissimo, chief executive of Equestrian Sport Productions and Wellington Equestrian Partners, and Robert Dover, six-time Olympian. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Before the Global grounds were completed, opposition led by a single family at a nearby estate attempted to block construction with a massive injection of campaign funds that later took control of the local government that stymied development of the site. A condominium hotel, a permanent equestrian retail and restaurant mall and a year-round VIP entertainment club were scuttled. A cluster of permanent horse stalls could be only half-completed.

The first year of Global in 2012 saw an unprecedented 29 international events in the United States–11 of them over the winter in Florida. Global staged five events, including the first non-championship Nations Cup in the Western Hemisphere as well as a CDI5*. Another group put together a lineup of six shows at facilities in neighboring West Palm Beach that included a CDI5*, and at Loxahatchee.

California staged nine shows in 2012 for the second year in a row, but was unable to compete with the prize money or the level of competitions in Florida. Elsewhere in the country, the number of states hosting CDIs dropped to nine from 11 the year before.

In 2013, Global put on six CDIs with five in West Palm Beach in a total of 26 international events, down three from the previous year and in eight states, one fewer than 2012. California was down to seven shows, none of them World Cup qualifiers.

Global’s seven events in 2014–a CDI5*, CDI4*, CDIO3* Nations Cup and four World Cup qualifiers–set the height of the bar despite the local political opposition. California again had a lineup of seven CDIs but the number of states hosting internationally sanctioned events dropped yet again to seven.

The World Cup Final in Las Vegas in 2015 added Nevada to the same seven states that hosted a total of 22 international shows in 2014.

Global hosted the world’s first CDI amateur event in 2015. And later in the same winter circuit hosted a group of riders and their horses from Europe for the Florida Youth Championships to give a boost to development of the sport.

In 2016, Wellington’s Global circuit of seven CDIs had $686,700 in total prize money, a minimum of more than $56,000 at each of two World Cup events.

Only one of six California CDIs–Del Mar with $22,750–had any prize money.

Three other events managed by the same group as Global were the Central Park Horse Show CDI4* in New York with a purse of $85,000 and two CDI3*s in Tryon, North Carolina each with more than $39,000 in prize money.

Elsewhere in the U.S., Devon, Pennsylvania World Cup offered $35,000, the CDI4* test event for the 2017 World Cup Final in Omaha put up $30,000, the Houston Dressage Society CDI2* in Katy, Texas offered $15,800 while a Saugerties, New York World Cup event listed prize money as $9,950.

Laura Graves presented with the Equestrian Sport Productions' Grooms Award of $500 for taking care of Verdades herself to add to the $50,135 on the Adequan Global Dressage Festival circuit this year.Laura and her three Olympic team mates competed at Global ahead of the Rio Games. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Laura Graves presented with the Equestrian Sport Productions’ Grooms Award of $500 for taking care of Verdades herself to add to the $50,135 on the Adequan Global Dressage Festival circuit this year.Laura and her three Olympic team mates competed at Global ahead of the Rio Games. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The average number of starters in the Grand Prix at the seven Global shows was almost 48 horses and riders from about 20 nations.

More than 150 riders shared the total purse with two riders each earning more than $50,000, another 12 above $15,000 .

For the six California CDI Grand Prix the average number of starters was fewer than 15 from three nations.

For 2017,the total number of international events has increased to 24, that includes the World Cup Final in Omaha.

Florida stays the same with a total of eight, plus two at Tryon, a CDI3* in Colorado and the Central Park Horse Show a CDI4* again, all managed by the same group.

Thousand Oaks and newly created CDI1* at Paso Robles will bring the California circuit to six with a new World Cup event at the beginning of January in Las Vegas in neighboring Nevada expected to be strongly supported by Californians.

More Californians have set up winter bases in Wellington, some in anticipation of the still-to-be-built new home for Global at the International Polo Club. Dressage has outgrown the current grounds.

2017 CDI Schedule
Jan. 4-7 – Las Vegas, Nev. – CDI-W, CDIAm, CDICh, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Jan. 11-15 – Wellington, Fla. – CDI-W, CDI1*, CDIAm, CDICh-A, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Jan. 19-22 – Wellington, Fla. – CDI2*, CDI1*, CDIAm, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Jan. 25-29 – Wellington, Fla. – CDI-W, CDI1*, CDIAm, CDICh-A, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Feb. 8-12 – Wellington, Fla. – CDI5*, CDI3*, CDI1*, CDIAm, CDICh-A, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Feb. 22-26 – Wellington, Fla. – CDI-W, CDI1*, CDIAm, CDICh-A, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Mar. 1-5 – Wellington, Fla. – CDI-W, CDI1*, CDIAm, CDICh-A, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Mar. 9-12 – Burbank, Calif. – CDI-W, CDIJ, CDIU25, CDIY
Mar 15-19 – Wellington, Fla. – CDI4*, CDI3*, CDI1*, CDIAm, CDICh-A, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Mar. 21-26 – Wellington, Fla. – CDIO3*-NC, CDI1*, CDI3*, CDIAm, CDICh, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Mar. 23-26 – San Juan Capistrano, Calif. – CDI3*<, CDIJ, CDIU25, CDIY
Mar. 27-Apr. 2 – Omaha, Neb. – CDI-W Final
Apr. 6-9 – Rancho Murieta, Calif. – CDI3*, CDIAm. CDIJ, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Apr. 20-23 – Tryon, N.C. – CDI3*, CDI1*, CDIAm, CDICh-A, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Apr. 27-30 – Katy, Tex. – CDI1*, CDI2*, CDIAm, CDIJ<, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Apr. 27-30 – Del Mar Fairgrounds, Calif. – CDI-W, CDIAm, CDIJ, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
June 1-4 – Parker, Colo. – CDI3*, CDI1*, CDIAm, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY
June 9-11 – Paso Robles, Calif. – CDI1*, CDIAm, CDIJ, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
June 15-18 – Rancho Murieta, Calif. – CDI2*, CDIAm, CDIJ, CDIU25, CDIY
Sept. 14-17 – Tryon, N.C.  – CDI3*, CDI1*, CDIAm, CDICh-A, CDIJ, CDIP, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Sept. 14-17 – Thousand Oaks, Calif. –  CDI-W, CDIAm, CDIJ, CDIU25, CDIY, CDIYH
Sept. 21-24 – Saugerties, N.Y. – CDI-W, CDIJ, CDIY
Sept. 21-23 – New York, N.Y. – CDI4*
Sept. 26-Oct. 1 – Devon, Penn. – CDI-W, CDI2*, CDIAm, CDIJ, CDIU25, CDIY