LOS ANGELES–Lots of folks ride horses in the Los Angeles area, but this past weekend, L.A. got a taste of high-level equine competition usually reserved for the East Coast.
L.A. has world-class Thoroughbred racing, but Spruce Meadows in Calgary dominates the world of professional show jumping west of the Mississippi. In the U.S., the professional circuit lies mainly between Florida and New England, with jaunts to Europe, both indoors and outdoors.
There are a lot of reasons for that, such as history, culture, facilities, and the cost of shipping horses over the Rockies. But EEM World, which stages international show-jumping competitions, decided to create a series of indoor competitions featuring top riders from around the globe.
With Masters Grand Slam events already in Paris and Hong Kong, EEM landed on Southern California as the site for its American venture, but not before announcing in 2011 that the location would be the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, in the fall of 2013. That didn’t happen, so plans shifted to the Convention Center in downtown L.A., where the well-attended Longines Los Angeles Masters, sponsored by the Swiss watch maker, took place inside the South Hall exhibition space from September 25-28.
Emirates Airlines flew in fifty-one horses from Belgium, taking just under 11 hours to make the trip (with a vet on board, just in case). They were stabled near the competition ring, which had grandstands on one side and a VIP area on the other. A variety of celebrities showed up to watch, but only one competed. Kaley Cuoco, of CBS’ Big Bang Theory, was the amateur half (with pro Paris Sellon) of a pro-am team for Saturday night’s costumed charity competition.
The show’s official site offers full results, with photos and video, but here’s a look at Friday’s Longines Speed Challenge, won by Jane Richard Phillips of Switzerland.
Much like Thoroughbred racing, show jumping is a purely quantifiable sport–there are no style points. Horse and rider must clear a series of loosely assembled obstacles (up to just over five feet tall, and up to just over six feet wide), not knock off any pieces on the way, and complete a complex, winding course in a set period of time (usually around 75 seconds).
Penalties are assessed for dislodging jump elements, a horse refusing to jump (which more often results in a fall for the rider than the horse), or the course not being completed in the time allowed.
Speed, power, and accuracy are valued. Also vital is great communication between a rider and his or her horse, which has no idea where it’s going when it heads onto the course, since it changes with each phase of competition.
Like in racing, male and female riders compete together. But in show jumping, it’s more of an equal gender split, with physical size and age differences not taken into consideration.
Male and female horses also compete on equal footing, and as long as it’s a horse and can jump, it’s in. At elite levels, most of the horses are European breeds that are partly or mostly Thoroughbred, but that’s a function of size and ability. While many Thoroughbred racehorses are retired by three, with only a few going past six, show-jumping horses don’t start competing at high levels until they’re eight or nine, and they continue well into their teens.
The Longines Los Angeles Masters featured a 12-year-old human competitor–America’s tiny Alyce Bittar, winner of Saturday’s Euraoasia Grand Prix, who is only a year older than her mare, Beirut B–and an 18-year-old gelding, Oscar, ridden by American Hillary McNerny.
Top American competitors included 2012 Olympian Reed Kessler; McLain Ward, who took team Olympics gold in Athens in 2004, and in Beijing in 2008; Elizabeth “Beezie” Madden, who was on the same gold-medal-winning teams as Ward, and also took a bronze for individual jumping in Beijing; and Kent Farrington, currently the top-ranked U.S. rider, and 3rd in the world.
There were also some famous last names among the Americans, including Jessica Springsteen, daughter of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa; Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Hannah Selleck, daughter of Blue Bloods star Tom Selleck; Jennifer Gates, daughter of Bill and Melinda Gates; and Paige Johnson, daughter of BET co-founders Bob and Sheila Johnson. All the parents except Selleck (who films his show in New York City) were in attendance.
The large international contingent included veteran Michael Whitaker of the U.K., winner of eight European Championship medals; Ireland’s Darragh Kenny, and Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa, his nation’s flag bearer at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
The L.A. Masters closed on Sunday afternoon with the Longines Grand Prix, won by 18-year-old Belgian Jos Verlooy, with Bloomberg, who just came off a win earlier this month in the Central Park Grand Prix in New York City, coming in third.
Asked by Breitbart Sports after the show whether the Los Angeles Masters could jump-start her sport in Los Angeles, Bloomberg said, “Yeah, absolutely. A few years ago, we believed this event would come to Barclays Center in New York. Logistically, it didn’t work, so they brought it here. Like I said, this is a great infusion for West Coast show jumping.
“It’s what they need to be brought to the top level, so that the best riders in the world come and compete. That’s very good for American show jumping, but especially for the West Coast.
“As difficult as it is for me to admit, as a New Yorker, it’s been great. I’ve loved being here. The West Coast isn’t bad”
Here’s a look at Bloomberg’s winning ride in New York, on the same mare she brought to L.A.: