February and March – A recap:
California Dreaming: it’s not just the name of a song, or a state of mind. It’s also the name of the show management team that’s injecting new excitement into the California Dressage scene.
California Dreaming Productions is the brainchild of Glenda McElroy and David and Alisa Wilson. They joined forces this year to produce three top-notch CDI competitions: the Mid-Winter Show at the LA Equestrian Center; the Capistrano International and the Festival of the Horse, both at Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park (“The Oaks”) in San Juan Capistrano.
Having spent last spring doing the Grand Tour of European shows, and seeing what is possible in terms of creating a convivial atmosphere around a dressage show, it was great to work with Glenda, who is no stranger to show management, and David and Alissa, who are no strangers to How It’s Done In Europe.
The competitors were smiling when I arrived at the first show at LAEC. There were coffee and snacks outside the show office, and two ringside lounges with tables, chairs, couches and wide screen TVs where sponsors and riders could watch the streaming video, which was a joint production between CPD and The Chronicle of the Horse. Banners for Hof Kasselman who provided the premier sponsorship, flowers and lots of greenery dressed up the Equidome, and most importantly, a convoy of dump trucks had arrived the week before with the brand new footing by Footings Unlimited that CDP brought in just for the event.
It had been a long time since I’d felt this sense of optimism at shows. One of my vendor friends quipped, “It feels like 2004”, as in, before the Great Recession began. Our top West Coast riders chose to stay in California to support these shows, rather than traveling to Wellington, so there were oodles of wonderful horses at all three shows.
I took a quick trip to Wellington right after the LA show, to catch up with my Florida painted portrait customers. Global Dressage is a whole different animal: unlike either LAEC or The Oaks, it’s a dedicated dressage facility that doesn’t have to make a chameleon-like change between disciplines in the gaps between dressage shows … because there are no gaps. It’s ten weeks of dressage, mirroring the schedule of the WEF jumpers down the block. The stabling is brand new and the footing is consistently excellent. We jokingly called the VIP tent the Cruise Ship because it is so easy to eat your way through the day: bagels and lox in the morning; hot and cold buffet at lunch; dinner and open bar during the Friday Night Lights freestyle.
But it was a relief to get home. In many ways, Wellington is the perfect venue to compete in. The purpose-build infrastructure couldn’t be more convenient – every barn in Wellington or Loxahatchee is less than 20 minutes away. But at the first of the San Juan Capistrano shows, it was my journalist friends, just arrived from Florida, who summed it up. They were puzzled. “It’s so different out here,” they each said. “It’s so relaxed, and everyone seems to like each other.” The thing is, a lot of the folks out here really DO like each other. Most of us live here year round, and these are our neighbors, so we tend to treat each other as if we’re going to see each other all the time. In Florida, the migrating riders arrive for four months as if it were an extended stay at a resort, which seems to give some folks license to behave as if they are in Las Vegas. But with the millions of Facebook posts and Tweets that rehash everyone’s every move, what happens in Wellington obviously does not stay in Wellington. True, they will all load their vans and scatter to the four winds in April, leaving 8 months for memories to fade, but still, after a week in Wellington I sometimes feel the need to detox.
In San Juan Capistrano, a big VIP tent decorated with chandelier, black linens and pots of succulents stretched the length of the main arena. A second lounge tent with couches and a monster TV screen was the anchor of the vendor village. Here too, the footing had been recharged, and competitors were smiling. The first week, we were the only event on the grounds, and the second we were joined by the first of the spring jumper shows. There is less crossover between the two disciplines than there is in Europe, but I did see a number of riders sporting tan breeches with knee patches mixing with the folks in full-seat white breeches around the dressage arenas. There’s a lot more atmosphere here when the jumper show is going on: more golf carts, more trailers, more horses, more pony moms. It’s a good place for a horse to see a lot of stuff, to get used to electronic scoreboards, and flags, and the clinking of dishes in the VIP tent, and the semis and tractors trundling by beyond the scrims behind the judges’ boxes. We’re often short of this sort of controlled mayhem at our dressage shows, and I think that some of our fire-breathing dressage horses could learn a lesson from hunters standing half asleep as their riders used them as comfy chairs while watching our foreign sport.