by Patricia N. Saffran
The third annual Rolex Central Park Horse Show was held at the Wollman Rink from September 21st to 25th under the aegis of founder Mark Bellissimo, and CEO of the International Equestrian Group. Once again the functional rink was utterly transformed into a magical place. Attending the show for the first time, Barry Lewis, architectural historian and co-host of the PBS A Walk Through Central Park, was impressed by the transformation. He said, “The use of artificial ivy covering the structure of the bleachers transforms the space into a bower.” There were classes for the duration of the show for various age groups in different disciplines. The following are some highlights:
On September 21, the exquisite Arabian horses, presented by the Arabian Horse Association and Aljassimya Farms, competed in a variety of classes, including Arabian Western Pleasure, Arabian Country English Pleasure and halter classes. Some of the classes featured a professional and amateur riding the same horse.
As was the case last year, top horses were flown in for the show from all over the world. The Arabian Mounted Native Costume class was won for the second year in a row by Cathy Vecsey on the speedy 27 year old HL Sanction, supporting the notion that this breed has stamina to spare. The Arabian Senior Stallion Halter class proved a dilemma for the judges, the two stallions being equally excellent in every way. The winner, Aria Impresario, shown by Michael Byatt, is retiring after this competition to go to stud.
On September 22, the $25,000 U.S. Open Hollow Creek Farm Under 25 FEI Grand Prix was won by Daniel Coyle (IRL) on Fortis Fortuna. Mr. Coyle said, “Conor Swail rode the horse and very nicely gave her to me to ride.” When I asked Mr. Coyle about his unusual jumping seat where he repositions himself from time to time, he said, “I do what’s necessary to win.” The $40,000 Canadian Pacific U.S. Open FEI Speed Class was won by McClain Ward (USA) on HH Carlos Z who bested second place Conor Swail (IRL) on Cita by over two seconds. Mr. Swail characterized McClain as “a very fast rider on a very fast horse.” I asked Mr. Swail about finding a speedy horse to tackle HH Carols Z next time. He agreed that he might have to look at a horse from the racetrack. New to the show this year was $50,000 Engel & Völkers Puissance, jumping over a high wall made of take-apart wooden blocks painted to look like bricks and green shrubbery on top.
There was a tie for first with McLain Ward (USA) on ZZ Top VH Schaarbroek Z and Andrew Kocher (USA) on and C’havinia, both knocking down a shrubbery piece at 6”9”. September 23, The $216,000 FEI Grand Prix CSI 3*, presented by Rolex, was won with a double clear round by Jimmy Torano on Day Dream, a Dutch warmblood, about whom Mr. Torano says, “This horse has a lot of quality and he is very careful.”
The $75,000 U.S. Open FEI Dressage Freestyle CDI 4*, presented by Axel Johnson Saturday night featured dressage to music with top competitors. The winner was Judy Reynolds (IRL) on Vancouver K. Following the competition, the triple Olympic gold medal winning Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro, put on a freestyle demonstration to a rapt audience. Considered the best dressage horse in the world, Valegro, with the stable name Blueberry, epitomizes power and grace. There is never any hesitation in his movements.
Valegro will retire at Olympia in London in December. After his demonstration, he was swamped with fans wanting to kiss, and pet him, and take photos. Groom Alan Davies who travels everywhere with Valegro, and keeps him calm, said to those crowding around Valegro, “Keep away from his rear end. After all, he is a horse.” Mr. Davies then led Valegro back into the ring for his admirers. Katherine Bellissimo, the wife of Mark Bellissimo, upon seeing the fans surround Valegro, said, “I’ve never seen a horse like that with people. He’s like a rock star.”
The popular celebrity Friesian, Frederik The Great, from Pinnacle Friesians put in some dressage demonstrations on various days during the horse show. His owner, Stacy Nazario told me over the phone, “Frederik is considered one of the most photogenic Friesians. He has appeared in movies and on TV. He had his own Facebook page and a following of millions when the Daily Mail did a story on him, and then he had even more millions of fans.”
The Freestyle class and Valegro’s performance were marred by a booming rock concert close by in the Sheeps’ Meadow and a noisy hovering police helicopter, both disruptive to the ongoing horse events. Even when the concert wrapped up, the helicopter lingered in the sky. On the way out I asked the police outside the gate who said, “The helicopter is there for the concert and also for the guests of the horse show and we have no way to communicate to it to leave.” The next day, I called the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and spoke to the affable Sam Biederman, Assistant Commissioner for Communications. Mr. Biederman explained their error, “It’s a concert we hold every year for a charity, and it shouldn’t have been there.” Mr. Biederman said that it should have been moved further uptown or held on another night, and he said they will also take up the issue of the nuisance helicopters at their next meeting.
Sunday September 25 was Family Day, with face painting, pony rides, and appearances by mini horses and Frederik The Great. The demand for pony rides was so great that twice as many ponies could have been brought in.
Photo Credit: Sportfot