I went to Thermal expecting to not like it. After all, when a dressage show draws 100 entries, it has a hard time competing for space and attention when it’s on a showgrounds as vast as the Thermal site, which at the same time is hosting 1500 hunters and jumpers.
But it turned out to be a really enjoyable show.
As I said, the Thermal site is huge. You can walk miles and not cover much of it. Golf carts, scooters, bicycles, vehicles of all shapes and sizes are everywhere, constantly. Some of the less brave DQ’s took exception to the fact that the traffic on the showgrounds far outstrips the traffic on nearby Airport Road, but most of the riders I spoke to were thrilled to have the opportunity to expose their horses to a show with more atmosphere than the usual bell jar dressage venue. Oh, sure, the first few times a “virgin” dressage horse sees a jumper gallop and leap, there are bound to be a few bug-eyes! And the commotion of rails falling can startle even those of us who grew up jumping anything that held still. One of my friends was riding a baby who had never seen anything like this, and whose good-natured response to anything new was to stop and stare … she said it took her a half hour to walk the quarter mile between the barn and the schooling ring the first time.
The dressage horses were fortunate to be stabled in the permanent barns, which have large, airy, matted stalls. From what I could see, the tent stabling was not even an option: not the study nylon walls of the higher end portables, but small stalls constructed of plywood panels. I’m told that most of the folk who stable in them rent 3 stalls for every 2 horses and reconfigure the walls to make them a livable size.
We were also fortunate that it rained the day before we all arrived, leaving puddles and absolutely no dust, as well as clear desert air and a glimpse of snow on the nearby San Jacinto Mountains.
My only gripe was the light.
Not outside: goodness, Mother Nature had that completely under control, with brilliant gold mornings and crystal afternoons. But the CDI competition was held in the Tent Arena, a vast, white-skinned convention tent which normally houses the jumper grand prix events. It was beautifully decorated: There were 25-foot tall potted trees in the corners, red, white and blue bunting across the short sides and on each judge’s box, and so many flowers that I don’t think we could have stuffed another one in. But inside, it was…. how shall I put this….
I shoot with the best camera technology in existence, and still I was on the absolute edge of what those babies could do. For those of you who know what these numbers mean, my settings were 3200 ISO, 200th of a second at f/2.8. Let’s just say that in shooting situations like this, it is good that I do not drink anything with caffeine in it.
Shooting in the Tent Arena became a Zen pursuit of giving the camera every possible chance to find something to focus on, and anticipating the moment of stasis in each horse’s stride. When it worked, I really enjoyed the resulting “bokeh” of soft background, but it sure took every iota of concentration to get it right.
You’ll find Thermal Highlights here, as well as individual proof galleries.