Friday, 09 July 2010 08:23

A Premier Event

Written by  Story by Karen L. Kirsch Photos by Primo Ponies Photography
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Because the horse's score is averaged with the vaulter's to give the overall score, the horse's performance is quite important. This is Romeo, a 13-year-old Shire gelding.

 
Smokin' Joe is a 17-year-old Belgian gelding
The ideal horse can maintain a steady 3-beat canter, while giving in to the side reins, maintaining a bend on the lunge circle, as does Praise, a 13-year-old Belgian

Attention all horse fans! For the first time since its inception, the Alltech World Equestrian Games (WEG) will be held in America. An expected 60 nations will be competing at the 2010 Games to be held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. The Games begin September 25 and run through October 10, but tickets, with prices starting at $25, are already on sale.

The WEG are held every four years (two years before the Olympics) and are governed by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) to decide the world's most accomplished competitors in eight equestrian sports. Categories include Dressage, Driving, Endurance, Eventing, Jumping, Vaulting, Reining and new this year, Para Dressage.

The Kentucky Horse Park is a working horse farm/theme park and equine competition facility. Being chosen was quite an honor although they have been vying for the Games for 14 years. Obstacles ranging from logistics to country-specific equine health issues had to be confronted and conquered, but they did it. While the 1,224-acre facility was impressive before, the drastic modifications to prepare for this event now make it the most outstanding equestrian center in the world.

A climate-controlled, 6,000-seat indoor arena and a new 7,500-seat outdoor stadium have been built. Four new competition barns with 300 stalls adjoin the indoor arena and the 21 existing barns are all under renovation.

Although the state-of-the-art footing installed by Otto Sport- und Reitplatz GmbH of Germany may not be noticeable to spectators, it is a critical factor for competitors. The product has been tested at the highest levels of equestrian sport and has proven to reduce the risk of slipping while providing 40% shock absorption, thus optimizing the safety of horse and rider. Otto Sport has devoted the past 20 years solely to the development of riding arena surfacing.

The Trade Show Village will encompass 800,000 square feet. Traffic, lodging and people moving issues have also been addressed. In other words, every facet of the Park has been analyzed, modified or redesigned to make the Games enjoyable and safe for all. Breyer (model horses) has even commissioned artist Kathleen Moody to create a sculpture symbolizing the spirit of the horses competing in the eight disciplines. Known as “Esprit,” the sculpture will be available in several mediums to commemorate the Games.

The WEG disciplines may be familiar, but here’s an abbreviated sketch of the categories:

Jumper classes are held over a course of obstacles, including verticals, spreads, double and triple combinations with many turns and direction changes. The purpose is to jump cleanly over a set course within an allotted time. Faults are incurred for knockdowns and blatant disobedience, such as refusals. Horses are allowed a limited number of refusals before being disqualified. Placings are based on the lowest number of points or “faults” accumulated.

Dressage, occasionally referred to as “Horse Ballet,” is judged on a prescribed series of movements performed within a standard arena. Each movement is judged on the basis of an objective standard. The training scale is arranged in a pyramid fashion, with “rhythm and regularity” at the bottom of the pyramid and “collection” at the top. This scale is used as the guide for dressage training. While most Olympic and other international FEI competitions feature warmblood horse breeds, any breed may compete in dressage.

Eventing comprises dressage, cross-country and show-jumping. Cross-country is probably the most exciting and dangerous facet as it requires both horse and rider to be in excellent physical shape and to be brave and trusting of each other. This phase consists of approximately 12 to 20 fences at the lower levels, 30 to 40 at the higher levels, placed on a long outdoor circuit. The fences are solidly built of telephone poles and may include stone walls. There are also ponds, streams, ditches, drops and banks and combinations including jumps. The course is based on things that might commonly occur in the countryside.

Vaulting, which is gymnastics and dance performed on horseback, is more art than sport. In Germany, vaulting is part of basic equestrian training, so it’s little wonder German vaulting squads are highly ranked and very competitive on the world stage. Vaulting enthusiasm is growing. America has been competing internationally and has produced several world champion vaulting teams. Heavy horse breeds are commonly used.

Senior Judge Craig Coburn of the American Vaulting Association has nothing but praise for draft horses in vaulting. “There’s been an international push to use sport horses for vaulting," he says, "but draft breeds are the core of American vaulting. They are wonderful horses.”

He notes that cantering in a small circle can be difficult for some heavy horses and may require extra time and training to condition them to bend and stay at a canter, but the effort is well worthwhile.

The history of vaulting goes back thousands of years, but in 1920 it was included in the Olympics as Artistic Riding, performed by cavalry officers. Modern vaulting was developed in post-war Germany as a way to introduce children to equestrian sports. American vaulting began in 1956.

In 1983, it became one of seven disciplines recognized by the FEI. The first world championship competition was held in Switzerland in 1986. American vaulters have taken medals in every WEG since 1990.

Reining was featured for the first time at the 2002 WEG in Jerez, Spain. It is a western riding competition through a precise pattern of circles, spins and stops all done at the lope (a slow, relaxed version of the canter) and gallop (the fastest gait). The horse must be responsive and in tune with its rider. Aids can not be obvious. Horses must be agile, quick and responsive and leg conformation is crucial as limbs and joints are often under considerable stress. Holding position in a sliding stop or a rollback requires powerful hindquarters. Coordination is necessary for proper spins and flying lead changes. The American Quarter Horse is the leading reining horse breed.

WEG Driving is limited to Four in Hand put to a three-phase or marathon vehicle and harness. Competition is in Driven Dressage, Marathon and Obstacle Cones. Presentation is graded on turnout, safety, cleanliness, general condition and impression of the horses, tack, vehicle, the matching of the horses or ponies and the dress of the driver and groom(s).

Driven Dressage is similar to dressage under saddle; performed in an arena with letter markers and judged on transitions in speed and gait. Difficulty increases with each subsequent level of competition.

The Marathon category is thrilling to watch. Obstacles or “hazards” throughout the course test the speed and agility of the horses and the whip’s driving ability through hazards like water, tight bends through obstacles, steep hills, fences and pens.

The Cones phase tests accuracy, speed and obedience. Competitors walk the cones course before they drive it. Drivers negotiate a course of up to 20 pairs of cones which are only a few centimeters wider than the wheels of the carriage. Each cone has a ball balanced on top. The object is to clear the cones without displacing the ball.

Endurance tests the ability and stamina of the horse being ridden over a 100-mile course. The horse completing the course in the shortest time is the winner. There are five compulsory vet checks along the way.

While Para Dressage has been included in the Paralympics since 1996, 2010 will be the first WEG competition. To compete in Para Dressage riders must have a measurable physical or visual impairment caused by illness or accident and are graded according to their disability profile and classification and judged against others with the same grade. Physically impaired competitors are permitted to carry or wear formally approved compensating aids, while visually impaired riders can use audio aids.

Experiencing the WEG at Kentucky Horse Park is a fantastic opportunity. For details, see: www.alltechfeigames.com.

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