And so it begins, Axel’s final year of judging FEI competition. The Good Bye Tour actually began in Florida, with a string of CDI competitions. February was the 30th anniversary of the Palm Beach Derby, and it brought back memories of all the times that Axel has judged that illustrious show, and the many times that I photographed it. Axel, after all, was there for the first one, back in the day when it was an actual Derby, with the top three riders in the PSG switching horses. There are only a few shows where that happens anymore, and we’ll see two of them on this trip: Hagen, during the German Professional Championships, and also at the Hamburg Derby.
I started photographing the PB Derby myself in 1986, when dressage in the US was still a fledgling sport, and we were all younger and skinnier. I remember driving down from cold grey NY, and arriving in what is now the Wellington and Loxahatchee Disneyland-For-Horses…. It was a grand way to spend the winter even then, thrilling that so many good horses and riders did the same – and still do. This year we reminisced about those that were there at the Derby’s inception, the Pferdekampfers especially, and about those that are no longer with us: Thackery and Pot, Kimball and Fraesdorf, Hotz and Fritz. We toasted them all, as has become a tradition, at Janne and Stan Rumbough’s party at the Everglades Club, where once a year we enjoy an evening of extraordinary food and drink and hospitality.
March brought the 5 Star competition at the Global Dressage Festival ground (yes ground zero of As The Dressage World Turns, that clash of billionaires that holds the fate of Florida dressage in its grip). The facility is stellar. The footing and stabling cause involuntary grinning amongst the riders. There is delightful food and ambiance in the International Tent, and if my airplane seat seems a bit narrow today, I am blaming it on last week’s desserts. And there was big prize money, and good competition, and lots of keen-eyed spectators.
Many people have asked me why Axel is retiring from FEI judging: The FEI, in its collective wisdom, has a mandatory retirement age of 70 for all its officials. Which is strange in this day, when 70 is the new 50, and people are running marathons in their 90’s. It’s not just judges who must retire, but ALL officials, from stewards to course designers. When you consider how many years of experience that it takes to attain international status in any of those capacities, and especially how long it takes to get to the 5 Star level (which is the only level that can judges an Olympics), it makes me wonder why the FEI considers its senior officials so disposable.
But here we are. On this trip we’ll attend four CDI competitions and the trainers’ conference in Ermeloh, Netherlands. We arrived in Dusseldorf after an uneventful flight, and then the usual discussion with our gps, during which we couldn’t acquire a satellite whilst still in the parking garage, and needed to know immediately upon exiting said garage which direction to turn, and so made some colorful comments about her ancestry, we made it to Hagen without further incident. A quick nap, a cup of coffee, and we were ready for the jog, which took place in the lovely indoor arenas at PSI. Jogs here are low key affairs, and the horses were quite well behaved – no handlers appeared to be the tail of the kite, in other words. But all around the rest of the grounds, however, final preparations are at a fever pitch. This “Horses and Dreams” show will be huge: over 90 total Grand Prix Horses, a good-sized Small Tour, and oodles of jumpers. The theme this year is Russia…. This is going to be fun!