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Greatest Dressage Horse in American History Retires

Dressage riders took to the ring today in a glorious showcase of how exciting and entertaining the sport can be, and culminated in a moving ceremony honoring America’s greatest dressage horse.

The second day of dressage competition at the FEI World Cup Finals was a bit more relaxed than yesterday, with only exhibition competitions and one very special presentation on the schedule. There was a whole lot of fun, a few tears, and a great day of dressage for all. You didn’t have to be an aficionado to enjoy today’s showcase.

After a fantastic laser light show, a reining routine performed by “Elvis” to his tunes, and the singing of the National Anthem, which was accompanied by the flag horse doing piaffe and canter pirouettes, the Hermes and Der Dau Pas de Deux Challenge began. Three Olympic riders teamed up with their students or peers for three fun and exciting routines. Eschewing the traditional black-and-whites for coordinating costumes complete with bling, each pair of riders performed a Grand Prix Musical Freestyle that added the challenge of staying in sync with each other to the already difficult movements. The exhibition was run like “Dancing with the Stars,” with scores from judges Wojtek Markowski (the show’s Foreign Technical Deligate) and Linda Zang, and audience participation combined to determine the winners.

Debbie MacDonald on Felix and Adrienne Lyle on Wizard were up first, with a fun routine to a medley of tunes that included Soul Man and Play that Funky Music. Although the crowd loved Felix’s highly animated extended trot and piaffe, the riders had a few bobbles and were not always in sync. Although Debbie requested that the audience hold their applause until the end, the crowd could not seem to contain themselves at some of the more spectacular moments. The pair received 8s from both judges.

Next up was the team of Charlotte Bredahl-Baker on Liberty Light and Charlotte Nielson on Midt-West Dacapo. From the moment they passaged in side by side to the tune of Peter Gunn, it was clear it was going to be a great test. The crowd loved the side by side shoulder-ins and the John Travolta-style dance moves to “Staying Alive”. The judges also liked the routine, with Zang remarking, “The horses flowed. They were consistent.” The effort was enough to earn this team a 9 from Zang and a 10 from Markowski.

Last to enter the arena for the Pas de Deaux exhibition was Guenter Seidel on Fandango and Elizabeth Ball on Orion. Dressed as The Phantom of the Opera and Christine Daaé, they were already a cut above the other teams before they even started their performance. However, they soon proved they were not all clothes and no substance, because every movement was not only beautifully ridden, but about as perfectly in sync as you can expect two horses to be.

“Your spirit and my voice…in one, combined,” lyrics from one of the Phantom songs used in their routine is the perfect description of a dressage horse and rider, and this pair in particular. The routine culminated in the two riders side by side in a passage up centerline, holding hands with a rose between them. The crowd was on their feet at the final bow, and it was clear who the winner would be. The judges were equally impressed, awarding an 11 (out of 10) from Markowski and a 10 from Zang.

The teams were brought back in one at a time for the audience to cast their vote based on the intensity of applause as gauged by a decibel meter. McDonald and Lyle rated a 97.5 on the applause meter for a total score of 113.5, Bredahl-Baker and Nielson received 98 for a total score of 117, and Seidel and Ball hit the ball out of the park with a 101 for a total of 122 and the win.

Next on the agenda was the International Superstar Young Horse Exhibition, during which judge Zang explained the Young Horse program. Four Young horses were brought into the arena: Zidane with yesterday’s champion Steffen Peters, Wynton with Edward Gal, Valeska DG with Willy Arts and Big Tyme with Marisa Festerling. Each put on a beautiful performance, but it was clear that Big Tyme was the star of the day, receiving a total score of 9.26. “This was truly a pleasure,” said Zang. “I’m glad she’s riding for America.”

Finally, it was time for Brentina’s retirement ceremony. Her owners, Parry and Peggy Thomas, were brought into the darkened arena under a spotlight and presented with roses and a plaque thanking them for their contributions to the sport. Emotions were high as a retrospective of Brentina’s career played on the JumboTron, and then the crowd rose to their feet as the mare of the hour entered the arena with Debbie MacDonald astride.

MacDonald covered her face several times, clearly unable to contain her emotions as she and Brentina walked around the arena while the announcer read the words she wrote, words written in Brentina’s voice, saying good-bye and thank you to all of her fans. MacDonald rode into the center and dismounted, and tears flowed freely in all corners when the saddle was removed from Brentina’s back. Several presentations were made, including a sash, roses and a cooler, then MacDonald led her faithful partner out of the arena to tumultuous applause accompanied by Aretha Franklin’s RESPECT. It was a fitting end to the career of this most celebrated of horses, one that will not be forgotten…and nor will she.

All in all it was a spectacular day for equestrian sport with anticipation building as two finals approach. Show Jumping features a national grand prix and the much anticipated reining challenge featuring two teams comprised of a show jumping star, a dressage star and a top reining professional. They will duel for bragging rights. Dressage concludes tomorrow night with the Grand Prix Freestyle and the awarding of the 2009 Dressage World Cup.


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