Team Purina Mills USA Wins 2006 Cadillac Challenge of the Americas

WELLINGTON, FL – March 12, 2006 –

Team Purina Mills USA emerged victorious after two rounds of competition in Wellington, Florida, last night at the fifth annual Cadillac Challenge of the Americas, a benefit for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The Americans claimed victory with an overall score of 98.30%. Team International sponsored by Morgan Stanley and the Cultural Trust of the Palm Beaches placed second scoring 95.56%. Last year’s winners, Team Canada, finished third with 93.84%.

Team Purina Mills USA, winners of the 2006 Cadillac Challenge of the Americas (l-r) Lynda Alicki, Susan Jaccoma, Pamela Goodrich, George Williams, Bent Jensen, and Betsy Steiner. (not pictured, Tami Hoag)
Photo: SusanJStickle.com

“We were pretty determined after last year to do our best,” said George Williams, who rode on the winning Team Purina Mills USA. “It was a joint effort with everybody. The camaraderie is great. And it’s fun to do dressage and have a good time at it as well.”

More than 1,600 spectators witnessed the spectacular dressage musical freestyle competition held at night under lights in the expansive Stanford Field at International Polo Club Palm Beach. The Cadillac Challenge Gala followed the competition with dinner, dancing, and a live auction for 600 patrons.

“I thought it was a fabulous success,” said Mary Ross, chairman of the Cadillac Challenge. “It was a great success for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and it was great for dressage. I’m really pleased and thrilled with the whole evening because it went very, very well. I can’t thank the riders enough. I enjoyed the whole evening and I think everyone else did too.”

Performed at the Grand Prix level, the competition featured a Pas de Deux in the first round, which counted for 40% of the overall score, and a Team Quadrille in the second round, which counted for 60%. The combined scores determined the overall winning team.

Judging the competition at ‘C’ was the International Judges Panel comprised of Linda Zang, Anne Gribbons, and Carol Lavell, who gave marks on the coordination, technical, musical, and artistic aspects of the rides. Celebrity judges at ‘B’ were Steffen Peters, Debbie McDonald, Ulla Salzgeber, Mike Azzaro, Karin Reid Offield and Myra Biblowit, president of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, who provided scores on their overall reaction to the rides and crowd response.

First to take to the dressage arena was Team Canada with Evi Strasser riding Pryme Tyme and Jacqueline Brooks aboard Gran Gesto. The pair used a variety of instrumentals featuring banjo, guitar, big band swing, and rock ‘n’ roll with a version of the Rolling Stones’ I Can’t Get No Satisfaction highlighting the trot work. The Canadians received a total score of 88.80%, which gave them a third place finish in the Pas de Deux round.

Representing Team USA Purina Mills in the Pas de Deux was Betsy Steiner riding Coco Chanel and Tami Hoag aboard Feliki. The pair put in a crowd-pleasing performance to music from the Oscar-winning film Chicago. Highlights of the ride that brought appreciative applause were the side-by-side one-tempis and mirror pirouettes both performed on the centerline. The Americans earned a total score of 98.00%, which proved to be unbeatable and gave them a first place finish in the Pas de Deux.

Tina Konyot aboard Liberty and Katherine Bateson-Chandler riding Rainier represented the International Team and stunned the audience with their dramatic costuming and out-of-this-world soundtrack. The two gray horses were painted with yellow and orange flames and sprayed with gold from hoof to tail, and the riders wore whiteface with mask-like features painted on in black. Their music was outer-space-based tracks from movies and TV featuring Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek, and 2001 Space Odyssey. The pair utilized many mirror-moves in piaffe and passage and executed some dramatic transitions, including passage to piaffe to canter pirouettes. The judges awarded Team International a score of 90.40%, which placed them second in the Pas de Deux.

Prior to the Team Quadrille round, the audience was treated to a special exhibition performance – a Pas de Deux ridden by U.S. Dressage Team Coach Klaus Balkenhol with Kingston and his partner Leslie Morse aboard Tip Top 962. The riders were outfitted in red, white, and blue jackets and white baseball caps and rode to a medley of patriotic music including This Land Was Made for You and Me and Yankee Doodle Dandy. The judges awarded them an unofficial score of 100% and they exited to God Bless America and a standing ovation. Balkenhol and Morse signed his cap, which was later auctioned off at the Cadillac Challenge Gala with his jacket.

The Team Quadrille round began with a spectacular performance by Team International’s riders and their mounts: Marco Bernal/Diamore, Patrick Burssens/Limonat, Mirja Block/Asarhaddon, Silke Rembacz/Black Georg, Jan Brons/Georgio, and Karen Lipp/Caribi. The dynamic soundtrack was from the movie The Lion King featuring The Circle of Life. The riders intricately split into threes and performed mirror image half-passes, synchronized pinwheels, and a tightly paired move they called the ‘do-si-do’. The judges were highly impressed and awarded them a score of 99.00%, which gave Team International the victory for the Team Quadrille round.

The Canadians put on a show from start to finish with their Team Quadrille, which included teammate Jacqueline Brooks afoot with children bearing Canadian flags ‘bribing’ the celebrity judges with T-shirts, an entrance with six “Royal Canadian Mounties” (grooms and owners in costumes) marching in front of the horses and then down the outer edge of the arena where they led a patriotic chant. Riders and their mounts were: Chris von Martels/Korenbloem, Susan Dutt-Roth/Rheirattack, Ashley Holzer/Imperioso, Cheryl Meisner Linssen/Lucky Strike, Lisette Milner/Eminence, and Tom Dvorak/West Side Lady. The fun music was all by Canadian artists and rocked the arena with tunes including Taking Care of Business, Lover Boy, and Proud to Be a Canadian. The judges scored them at 97.2%, which put them in third place in the Team Quadrille round.

Team USA delighted the crowd, entering the arena with Western accessories and plenty of red, white, and blue sparkling ‘bling’ added to their shadbellies and tack including cowboy hats and flashy red kerchiefs. The riders and their mounts were: Betsy Steiner/Wurlitzer, George Williams/Marnix, Lynda Alicki/L’Aviateur, Pamela Goodrich/Melville, Bent Jensen/Liberty Light, and Susan Jaccoma/Jellowa. They carried the cowboy theme through with music including Thank God I’m a Country Boy for the entrance and exit, Walking in Memphis for the trot work, Sweet Home Alabama for the canter segment, and Achy Breaky Heart for the passage/piaffe tour, but the piéce de resistance was Save a Horse, Ride A Cowboy for the canter work featuring one tempis in a line down the center and work in pairs of three. The crowd loved it and the judges did too, but the Americans were edged into second place, earning 98.50% for the round.

When the totals of the two rounds was averaged, the overall scores were:
Final Placing Pas de Deux Team Quadrille Overall
1. Team Purina Mills USA 98.00 98.5 98.30
2. Team International 90.40 99.0 95.56
3. Team Canada 88.80 97.2 93.84

The International Judges Panel divided their scoring into three segments, with Lavell marking coordination, Zang marking music and artistic, and Gribbons marking the technical. Assessing the six performances she judged, Gribbons said, “First of all, everybody has really practiced it. They’ve taken it seriously and they have honestly put a lot of work into it. As far as the Pas de Deux, all the judges agreed that first place was definitely Betsy Steiner and her student, Tami Hoag, because they really coordinated their ride. They were right together, which is important in a Pas de Deux. They worked very well together. Those horses were technically very correct. The music for Betsy and Tami was really fun and up and appropriate – it’s okay to use vocals for exhibition. They were right on all the time. They won by a big score and that actually helped the Americans to win overall. It was the Pas de Deux that pulled the win because with the Quadrille, the teams were very close.”

Steiner and Hoag had to pull their Pas de Deux together quickly when the USA team line-up changed – originally Charlotte Bredahl Baker and Leslie Morse were scheduled, but when Baker’s horse Komo developed a skin reaction, she withdrew him. “We got the music on Wednesday at midnight and Thursday, Friday, and today, we practiced as hard as we could,” Steiner explained after her winning performance. “We practiced twice a day.” The two both loved the music from Chicago and based their performance on the track. “Terry Gallo did a fabulous job with the music and really made it fun and sassy. Tami’s two horses are spectacular Grand Prix horses and it was really nice because they work so well side by side – that was extra fun because you could really keep them close and do things nice and tight. It was a whole lot of fun!”

Gribbons also explained the judges’ assessment of the Team Quadrille performances. “We all had the International Team quadrille as number one because they had a lot of surprise moments. In the other quadrilles, we could tell exactly what was coming, but with the International Team, they had everything happening very fast, and a little bit unexpected. They took big risks and they pulled it off and that’s important. Plus they were very synchronized in symmetry.”

Patrick Burssens, who has ridden in all five freestyle fundraisers for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), was a member of Team International this year. “We worked very hard at it,” he said of the team’s winning quadrille. The group stepped up their once-a-week practice sessions and rehearsed four times this week. Burssens noted some of the technical difficulties of his team’s six-horse quadrille, “Most of the time we were riding in two groups of three, so we had to pay attention to the music and the other three at the same time so that when we all got back together, it was not just at the right spot but also with the music. That took the most training to get it right, but it was beautiful. Everybody worked really, really hard at it. It was a wonderful group.”

Burssens, Steiner and Lynda Alicki were the original three riders in the first musical freestyle exhibition ride and he is pleased at how the event has evolved. “It’s growing and it’s wonderful. It’s exactly the way it should be. It’s turned into something fantastic. I’m very, very proud that I’m still invited to ride.”

Beth Zimski, who has choreographed rides for the BCRF fundraiser all five years, was the choreographer this year for the Team Quadrille for both Team International and Team Purina Mills USA. “When you judge a quadrille you don’t judge it like you do an individual freestyle,” she explained. “It has to be synchronized, which means that if the rider crosses at A and the other rider is supposed to cross at C – they’ve got to be doing that. They’ve got to make the mark. And Team International did. They were so careful. They executed everything so beautifully and none of it was easy. The quadrille the international team did was very difficult. They were all so into it, every rider. They were wonderful to work with and it just got better every time they did it.”

Terry Ciotti-Gallo, who has also participated as the creator of soundtracks for the BCRF fundraiser all five years, put the music together for four of the night’s rides, including the winners of the Pas de Deux (Team USA Purina Mills), the winners of the Team Quadrille (Team International), the exhibition Pas de Deux (Balkenhol/Morse), and the Team Quadrille for Team USA. “I listen to my riders and what they would like to do,” Ciotti-Gallo explained. “For the Americans, we changed the music about a week-and-a-half ago. I was inspired by something I had seen on Dancing With the Stars,” she laughed, noting the well-known TV show on ballroom dancing competition. She saw a performance danced to Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy, which cemented her track for the Americans. “I said, ‘that is it!’ because we had wanted to do a country theme and I was looking for an anchor tune and it wasn’t coming to me. Then I saw that on TV and I said perfect, that’s my centerpiece and the rest was easy.”

Reflecting on how the event has grown in five years, from a three-horse luncheon exhibition to the 24-horse international team extravaganza, Ciotti-Gallo said, “The growth has been wonderful because it raises money for such a good cause and it’s been a great exposure for dressage too. It’s always been great to work with the riders. They’re fabulous. They donate their time and if it weren’t for the riders, this wouldn’t happen –it’s their generosity and their kindness. And of course, Mary Ross!”

In the awards ceremonies, all the riders received Tiffany crystal awards. Additionally, riders on the overall winning team, Team Purina Mills USA, each received coolers from Ecogold. All the horses and riders in the Cadillac Challenge received beautiful ribbons.

The 2006 Cadillac Challenge of the Americas finished with a flair as all rose for the playing of the United States of America National Anthem and Team Purina Mills USA took a glorious victory lap of honor.

The Challenge Gala that followed the competition was a sold-out event that included dinner, dancing, and a live auction in the International Polo Club Palm Beach Grand Marquee.

Mary Ross and her husband, Stanley Ross, were co-chairpersons of the Cadillac Challenge this year with Tamara Gerber. The sell-out crowd for the gala buoyed everyone’s spirits long into the night. “People are saying to me, ‘I guess we have to reserve for next year because there won’t be a seat left’,” said Mrs. Ross. “It was fabulous. People really seemed to be having a great time. The riders were super and worked really hard, and everyone loved the venue. I could not be more pleased. I’m looking forward to next year!”

Sponsors of the 2006 Cadillac Challenge of the Americas
Cadillac, Official Vehicle of the Cadillac Challenge of the Americas and the event’s title sponsor; Purina Mills, USA team sponsor; Morgan Stanley and Cultural Trust of the Palm Beaches, Team International sponsor; Cunningham & Cunningham, event insurance sponsor; and Wild Horse Winery, official wine for the gala and cocktail party. Promotional Partners for the Cadillac Challenge: the United States Dressage Federation (USDF); Equestriangraphics.com; DressageDaily.com; HorseSport USA; and Equestrianmag.com. Tiffany sponsored trophies and rider gifts. Ecogold of Canada sponsored coolers to the winning team.

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