USA Purina Mills Wins 2008 Challenge of the Americas
WELLINGTON, FL - March 9, 2008 -
The bright lights of the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, FL, showcased three teams in two rounds of competition on a very chilly Saturday night, March 8, with Team USA Purina Mills emerging as the winner of the 2008 Cha llenge of the Americas. The USA team claimed second place in the High Jump and first place in the Musical Quadrille, which counted 40% and 60% respectively, giving the eight-member squad the victory after a spectacular dressage performance to a “Blue Angels” themed soundtrack.
Betsy Steiner of Team USA, who has participated in this event every year since its inception seven years ago as a Pas de Trois, exclaimed, “I can’t believe it’s seven times already! We were so excited to win it because though we’ve won the overall team, this is the first time we’ve actually won the quadrille. We were very committed this year to do the very, very best we could, so it’s a thrill to really come out winning this one. It’s a good feeling.”
Team USA Purina Mills show jumpers Todd Minikus and Emily Williams notched the team’s first set of scores in the High Jump, placing second, which translated to a value of 4 points. Steiner, with teammates Lynda Alicki, Pamela Goodrich, Chris Hickey, Susan Jaccoma, and Bent Jensen earned an additional 10 points for the team with their quadrille victory. George Williams was the quadrille team coach and Terry Gallo of Klassic Kur created the choreography and soundtrack. Team USA Purina Mills finished the night in the Gold Medal position with the winning total of 14 points.
Team Can/Am SSG Gloves, the defending champions of this event, placed second this year. Canadians Ainsley Vince and Martin Hoygens won the High Jump phase, giving their team a starting score of 6 points. Simone Williams, Jacqueline Paxton, Kayce Redmond, Chris Saunders, Jackie Brooks, and Gary Vander Ploeg notched 5 points for their third place finish in the Musical Quadrille. Eva-Marie Pracht coached the quadrille riders. Team Can/Am SSG Gloves claimed the Silver Medal in the final standings with a total of 11 points.
Vince, who was competing in the Challenge for the second consecutive year, admitted the ‘puissance’ format can be daunting. “You never know how high you’re going to jump and how the horses are going to react,” Vince said. “We had a little bit of a last minute substitution on the team, but it worked out great. Martin was a great sport about it. His horse was fantastic. I was just glad to be a part of it. It’s a great cause and we all feel fortunate to be able to participate in it because we’re so much behind the cause.”
Team International Morgan Stanley earned third place in this year’s Challenge. Darragh Kerrins of Ireland and Eduardo Salas of Mexico completed the High Jump phase in third place, delivering 2 points for their team. Marco Bernal, Patrick Burssens, Mikala Munter Gundersen, Karen Lipp, Cathy Morelli, and Silke Rembacz captured 7 points for their second place finish in the Musical Quadrille. Beth Zimski was the quadrille coach and choreographer, and Marlene Whitaker of Custom Freestyles, Inc. created the soundtrack from Zimski’s music selections. Team International was awarded the Bronze medal for their overall score of 9 points.
“I am very grateful to these talented riders and the owners of their wonderful horses for donating their time and efforts to help the Challenge raise funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. They were all simply phenomenal,” said Mary Ross, founder and chairman of the Challenge of the Americas. “The quadrille coaches, choreographers, and soundtrack creators provided outstanding productions. All the teams were a thrill to watch and I am grateful to have such fabulous people involved in the Challenge.”
The spectacular evening of sport and entertainment kicked off with Opening Ceremonies featuring two solo dressage exhibitions setting the scene before a sold-out crowd in the International Club and a cheering section of General Admission fans in the blue seats. Olympian Steffen Peters riding Fantasma owned by Deborah and Rex Howe, a Selle Francais stallion shown in Grand Prix by Rick Silvia, performed one of his award-winning freestyles as a “Salute to America.” Pan American Games Team Gold and Individual Silver Medalist Lauren Sammis rode Sagacious HF owned by Al Guden in a tribute entitled “In Memory of Judy,” honoring her mount’s owner, Judy Guden, who died of breast cancer last year. Pan Am teammates Chris Hickey and Susie Dutta stood ringside during her wonderful freestyle to Billy Joel tunes and after the final halt they presented Sammis with a bouquet of flowers in honor of Mrs. Guden.
Equestrian Idol winner Ki-Juan Minors delivered a beautiful version of the “National Anthem” to launch the Challenge of Americas competition.
High Jump Tiebreaker Ends in Win for Team Can/Am Show Jumpers
In the High Jump phase, the audience witnessed the height of the bar raised four times, starting at 5'. It was upped six inches in the second round, six more inches in the third round, and topped out at 6' 3" in the fourth round tiebreaker. Steve Stephens, one of the course designers for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, created the pink-and-white-striped vertical bar and supervised the height adjustments.
Each jumper had the opportunity to attempt to clear the jump twice, earning 2 points for a clean trip. In Round One at 5', all of the riders went clear in the first attempt except for Hoygens of Canada, who cleared it in the second attempt, giving all the teams 4 points each. In Round Two at 5'6", all of the riders went clear in the first attempt, adding another 4 points to their totals. In Round Three at 6', Team USA’s Williams had a rail down but cleared it in the second attempt and Minikus went clean, giving them another 4 points; Team International’s Kerrins went clear, but Salas failed to clear the jump, ending their phase with only 2 additional points; Team Can/Am’s Vince and Hoygens both went clean, garnering another 4 points.
After three rounds, Team USA and Team Can/Am were tied with 12 points each. Team International was locked in third with 10 points. The tiebreaker Round Four was set at 6'3". Team USA’s Minikus attempted the jump, had a rail down and retired, but Williams cleared it, adding 2 points to their total, and they finished with 14 points. Team Can/Am’s Vince went clear, and on the second attempt, Hoygens also went clear, adding 4 points to their total, and they finished with 16, winning the phase.
The point values for first, second and third place in the High Jump were 6, 4 and 2 respectively, counting for 40% of the team’s total. For the phase, Team Can/Am earned 6 points; Team USA earned 4 points; and Team International earned 2 points.
Musical Quadrille - Team USA Wins the Quadrille for the First Time!
In the Musical Quadrille phase, each team showcased six Grand Prix dressage riders performing rides to music scored by a panel of top judges: Linda Zang (O), Gary Rockwell (I), Anne Gribbons (O), Carol Lavell (R), and Lois Yukins (I), who all presided at ‘C’.
The judges awarded scores from 1 to 10 in the following categories: Spacing, Alignment and Synchrony; Choreography; Harmony Between the Horse and Rider; Music Choice and Interpretation; and Impact. The phase counted for 60% of the score, with the points values set at 10, 7, and 5 for first, second, and third place respectively.
Team Can/Am SSG Gloves was first in the ring, dancing to a track of tunes from the film “Mary Poppins” including “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and “Chitty, Chitty Bang, Bang.” The horses were decked out with accoutrements in pink, the symbolic color of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), including pink leg wraps, pink browbands, and pink emblems stenciled on the hindquarters - the BCRF symbol and the Canadian Maple Leaf. The audience showed their appreciation of movements several times with cheers and applause. Spectacular movements included all six riders cantering in a circle and then performing pirouettes in unison, and also an extended trot in pairs going across the arena on the diagonal. They finished in a line-up of six abreast, performing passage to the judges’ stand.
Team Can/Am earned 7.0-Spacing, Alignment and Syncrony; 7.5-Choreography; 7.8-Harmony Between the Horse and Rider; 8.0-Music Choice and Interpretation; and 8.0-Impact, for a percentage of 76.30%, which eventually placed them third for a point value of 5.
Team USA Purina Mills was next to go. The soundtrack started with a voiceover noting that the theme was “Blue Angel,” based on the superstar fliers of the skies. The entrance was eye-catching with horses six abreast, and then a halt with the riders performing a stylized military salute to the judges. Music from the movie “Top Gun” flavored the performance including the “Top Gun Anthem,” “Highway to the Danger Zone,” and “Take My Breath Away.” Audience-pleasers included half-pass in groups of three to the “Top Gun” theme song and canter work to “Fly Like an Eagle.” A minimalist beat for the passage work was spectacular, matching the horses’ gaits. A thrilling ending with six abreast coming down the center in extended trot to the “Top Gun Anthem” was topped off with a perfect halt and their signature salute.
Team USA earned 9.8-Spacing, Alignment and Synchrony; 10.0-Choreography; 9.0-Harmony Between the Horse and Rider; 8.8-Music Choice and Interpretation; and 9.5-Impact, for a walloping 95.5%, which landed them in first place for the phase and a point value of 10.
Terry Gallo is a well-known kur producer for individuals, but it was her first time creating choreography for a quadrille. “They had a very intricate choreography,” Gallo said. “A lot of times they were crossing each other in scary, risky moves like two-tempis. The two-tempi combination they did was the most difficult part of the choreography because everybody turns and comes on a diagonal all at the same time doing the twos. The most impressive thing that they do is when they finish coming down the final centerline in a trot extension because it’s just very powerful when you see that happening.”
Gallo noted her favorite part of this quadrille saying, “What I really liked about it was the commitment on the part of the riders to make this really work. They not only came out and worked, but they also had private sessions where they reviewed videotapes and looked at themselves so they could see where there were places where they could make improvements.”
Team International Morgan Stanley was the final group in the International Arena and began its quadrille with a voiceover that announced, “This One’s for the Girls” - and indeed, featured that titled tune in the beginning of the performance. The riders wore pink ribbons around their top hats that floated out like flags in the breeze during their ride. A Madonna tune for the passage fit beautifully, and a fabulous piece with the lyric “Heart to Heart” for the canter work fit the gait beautifully. The exciting pinwheel in the trot brought huge applause. The group finished six abreast down centerline in trot to their theme tune, “This One’s for the Girls.” They exited to Madonna’s “Material Girl.”
Team International scored 8.0-Spacing, Alignment and Synchrony; 8.5-Choreography; 8.2-Harmony Between the Horse and Rider; 9.0-Music Choice and Interpretation; and 9.0-Impact, for a score of 84.7%, which put the team in second place for the phase and a point value of 7.
Adding the totals of the two phases: Team USA scored 4 for High Jump plus 10 for Quadrille, totaling 14 points for the win. Team Can/Am scored 6 for High Jump and 5 for Quadrille, totaling 11 for second place. Team International scored 2 for High Jump and 7 for Quadrille, earning 9 total for third place.
An Awards Ceremony gathered the teams and sponsors, plus the officials and organizers of the event, including Mary Ross, founder and chairman of the Challenge of the Americas, and Mark and Katherine Bellissimo of Equestrian Sport Productions who were Honorary Chairpersons and sponsors of the event.
The 2008 CN Winter Equestrian Festival attracts the best horses and riders from around the world to Wellington and offers more than $5 million in prize money. For more information, visit www.equestriansport.com