You don’t have to be rich (or even own your own horse) to be a top show jumper, or come from a rich family, but it doesn’t hurt…financially, that is. Taking a fall from a horse hurts just as much, no matter the thickness of your wallet.
Sunday, Sep. 28 was the closing day of the four-day inaugural Los Angeles Masters, sponsored by Longines, part of the Masters Grand Slam, a series of indoor show-jumping events that already includes Paris and Hong Kong.
Show jumping, also an Olympic sport, features horses and riders clearing obstacles of varying heights (up to just over five feet) and widths (up to well over six feet) along a predesigned course. The obstacles are loosely put together, and riders are penalized for dislodging parts of the obstacles, if the horse refuses to jump, going off course, or for not being fast enough.
And, flying out of the saddle and landing on the ground (as happened at least once over the weekend, to American Richard Spooner) isn’t good either (horse and rider were OK).
The horses are of various breeds and ages (from eight until well into their teens). Males and females compete together, as they do among the riders, who, at this show, ranged from 12 years old until early middle age.
In the United States, show jumping is a sport best known on the East Coast, with a circuit that runs from Florida to New England, plus overseas competitions, mostly in Western Europe.
One goal of the L.A. Masters, held in the downtown Los Angeles Convention Center’s South Hall, was to introduce world-class show-jumping competition to a city that normally only sees it on TV. Fifty-one horses arrived on their own plane (click here for a video, part of the Masters Grand Slam YouTube Channel), separate from a cadre of top riders representing the U.S., and other countries in North America, South America, Europa and Asia, and even an Egyptian (by way of Chicago, Kuwait, Germany and Stanford University).
Adjacent to the show ring, there was art on exhibit, apparel and riding gear for sale, live music, and equestrian entertainment inside and outside the ring. Fans could also see riders and horses up close, since the practice ring was right in the middle of the entertainment area.
On the opposite side of the show ring from the grandstand was a VIP seating area, which, since this is L.A., featured celebrities–including those with a special interest in the competition.
Among the famous faces on hand to cheer on their offspring were Bruce Springsteen and singer wife Patti Scialfa (Jessica Springsteen); BET co-founders Bob and Sheila Johnson (Paige Johnson); former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Georgina Bloomberg); and Microsoft founder Bill Gates (Jennifer Gates).
Also competing were Hannah Selleck, daughter of Blue Bloods star Tom Selleck, and actress Kaley Cuoco (Big Bang Theory). The two appeared in the same competition, a costumed pro-am on Saturday night to benefit various charities. Paired with pro Laura Kraut, amateur Selleck came out on top for Just World International, an equestrian organization to provide food, medical care and education for children in developing nations (but all the charities participating received $35,000).
As for other results from the celebrity daughters competing, Johnson, aboard a horse called Luke Skywalker 46, took first place in the Airbus Grand Prix on Sunday morning (click here for the results including videos of Johnson’s two rounds); and Bloomberg took third on Juvina in the Longines Grand Prix, which closed out the competition on Sunday afternoon.
In show jumping–as in race-car driving–riders can just be hired on to compete with mounts that belong to someone else. But the advantage of coming from wealth (or marrying into it, as in the case of U.S. Olympian Michael Matz, who now trains Thoroughbreds, including the tragic Barbaro), is you can buy your own horses.
In the racing world, an untested but well-bred Thoroughbred yearling can bring $1M or more at auction and start racing when it is two or three years old, then be retired as early as three years old for breeding.
Sport horses, which are often part or even predominately Thoroughbred in their lineage (and sometimes are full Thoroughbreds), can cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars–but that’s for a mature, proven animal. Nevertheless, it’s a pricey endeavor. Owners of top competition horses are seldom less than upper middle class, and often much wealthier than that. That means a horse show can provide interesting networking opportunities.
No doubt a few wealth- or job-creating deals were made sitting at the six-to-eight-seat VIP tables, which cost up to $25,000 and featured meals from two-Michelin-star chef Yves Mattagne. These high-priced accomodations, of course, help to subsidize the grandstand seats, available from $30 to $120.
The Masters Grand Slam, which aired on Fox Sports, has a five-year contract to return to Los Angeles, and at least for next year, will remain at the Convention Center.
Speaking to Breitbart News after the event, Mattheiu Gheysen, vice-president and events director for organizer EEM World said, “The world of show jumping deserves to be promoted, to be more and more presented to the audience. We try to bring different aspects besides sport, to draw attention for not only people who like horses, but people who like art, who like music, entertainment, fine food, people who can work on their business relations in the V.I.P section.
“It’s one of the objectives of the event. We like to welcome key people from the business world, from major industries, celebrities. On the one hand, we want to offer business opportunities, for deals to be made. On the other hand, we want to offer opportunities for people who know the sport, to meet their favorite riders, and for people who don’t know the sport, to discover what it’s all about.”
On the list for next year, he said, are additional grandstand seating, more promotion and a special area for children.
Here is a look at the Longines Speed Challenge from Friday night, won by Jane Richard Phillips of Switzerland: