April 2018 - Raising The Bar

Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival & this month’s “Convention” with Edward Gal, Peter Hans Minderhoud & Monty Roberts set new standards.

by Kim F. Miller • photos: Terri Miller Photography

A lot has happened since Scott Hayes noticed some open weeks on the Del Mar Fairgrounds calendar a year ago. He was in the venue’s office while staging the super successful West Coast Dressage Convention with Carl Hester when those openings triggered an epiphany that may go down in U.S. dressage history: How about a top-level, multi-week circuit on the West Coast?

On Friday Feb. 16, the reigning queen of international dressage Charlotte Dujardin and four-time U.S. Olympian Steffen Peters closed out the manifestation of that epiphany – the Adequan® West Coast Dressage Festival -- on a very high note.

Charlotte was the clinician in one of four educational “Masterclasses” that highlighted each week and Steffen won the last of the circuit’s four CDI-W Grand Prix Freestyles, this time with his new horse Suppenkasper. In between the CDIs, the Festival hosted a national show for the San Diego Chapter of the California Dressage Society and the United States Dressage Federation’s Adequan FEI Level Trainers Conference with German “reitmeister” Johann Hinnemann.

From its first week at Galway Downs in Temecula, starting January 3, through its last of three weeks of CDI competition at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the Festival drew universal praise on several fronts. With qualifying classes for championships ranging for the World Cup Finals and World Equestrian Games to U25, Amateur, Junior and Young Horse Championships, riders racked up scores toward various 2018 goals.

Others, like Susan Ighani, gained valuable mileage for future goals without having to travel far from their region. Coming from her base in Northern California’s Napa, Susan and a few clients planned to contest two weeks of the circuit. After experiencing the quality of the event and the competition, however, Susan came back with her mare Liaison. The back-to-back CDI experience was priceless. “This is sort of our growing up year for us at the international Grand Prix level,” she explains. “It was great to be there in front of five judges, amidst all those top quality horses and riders and some weeks under the lights at night. I was really proud of my horse and myself.

“The Festival set the bar really high for the caliber of shows we can have here on the West Coast,” Susan continues. “Scott is known as a good businessman and he also thinks about what is good for the horse, as well as what’s people friendly.” From the footing to the ringside VIP area, she couldn’t have been more pleased.

From the outset, Scott believed the West Coast equestrian community could support a dressage circuit that will eventually rival that in Florida. He’s the first to credit California’s longtime dressage show organizers with building a solid foundation for the sport on the West Coast, but recognized the need to take things up a notch with the Festival. As in every english discipline, the East Coast has more riders and horses to support a Florida circuit. Plus, winter weather in the region makes a several-month relocation to the south appealing and more practical from the standpoint of keeping horses and clients in regular work.

Scott’s belief was validated even in the event’s first year. Exhibitor turn out was not huge, but it included contenders from Canada, Arizona and even Germany. Master coach Johann Hinnemann and his student, U25 Grand Prix contender Sarah Runge, were the first of what the organizer thinks will become a strong contingent of European equestrians looking to test and refine their performances in front of the international format’s five judges.

San Diego-based professional Nick Wagman is another big Festival fan and not just because he and his two top horses dominated many winners circles. He believes the predictable posture of “sitting back and waiting to see how things go” is over and that positive word of mouth will see the Festival’s attendance rolls swell considerably next year. “My gut feeling is that it’s going to be much bigger next year,” says Nick.

Along with every amenity supporting peak performance and competition from the horse’s perspective, the Festival set new standards for people treatment. The ringside VIP area with good food and drinks and comfortable, relaxed seating is a subtle touch that goes a long way in “elevating the level of competition,” Nick says. “When you are basically spending seven weeks with the same people, including your owners, clients and family members, it’s really nice to have a comfortable place to sit down by a fire, get some nice food and relax.” He’s one of several exhibitors to highlight that aspect of the Festival.

Five Star Future

“It went off quite well,” says Scott after a month to reflect on the Festival’s first run. Growing the exhibitor and sponsor base going forward are priorities that he already has a handle on. For exhibitors, emphasizing the opportunity for long-term stabling at the Fairgrounds is something he believes will draw in more out-of-towners next year. “You can’t stay on at the show grounds even in Florida,” the innovative entrepreneur notes.

“That’s something we have that is very unique.” Even for those who came and went with their horses this year, the Festival kept all equine exhibitors in the same stall. The ability to leave shavings and barn set-ups in place between visits is a convenient plus.

Now that they have a “product” under their belts, Scott’s team at SH Productions is poised to maximize the Festival’s potential for sponsorships. Livestreaming and special weekly social functions, for example, are proven popular elements that should help entice more corporate sponsors next year, hopefully including more from beyond the equine world.

Along with top competition, Scott was pleased with the Festival’s four educational Masterclasses. For Week 1 in Temecula, natural horseman Monty Roberts and Olympic eventer Boyd Martin brought unique and colorful insights and demonstrations to the dressage world. U.S. Olympian Laura Graves came the next week in Del Mar, followed by German Olympian Helen Langehanenberg and the finalé with Charlotte Dujardin.

The SH Productions team is just getting started. Five weeks of CDI competition is on the drawing board for next year, with talks in the early going to make a fifth week one of only two 5* dressage competitions in the country. That would be huge for the West Coast and a big step in capitalizing on the 2020 return of the FEI World Cup Dressage Finals to Las Vegas. “To have the Festival draw clients from Europe in its first year is a big deal and it leads us to having many more in the future.” The lure of World Cup Finals qualifying scores should entice contenders from throughout North America and well beyond, with extended stay options making the circuit all the more compelling and practical for out-of-towners.

Scott envisions that a weekly special event will continue as part of the Festival format. He’s contemplating fewer Masterclasses and the interspersion of mainstream entertainment – concerts or comedians, for example. As has been a hallmark of his success with the Festival and superstar educational events, Scott is open minded and happy to go beyond dressage traditions in presenting the sport to the widest possible audience.

Edward Gal, Hans Peter Minderhoud, Monty Roberts

Speaking of top quality dressage education, SH Productions’ fifth West Coast Dressage Convention takes place April 21-22 at the beautiful, privately owned El Campeon Farms in the north Los Angeles area’s Hidden Valley.

Edward and Peter are Dutch Olympians and many-time international medalists. Peter will focus on young horses and Edward on horses performing at levels from Prix St. Georges to Grand Prix. The same horse/rider pairs will work individually with each clinician on Saturday and Sunday, a great format for seeing the changes and improvements that result from top coaching and new ideas.

In a twist typical of SH Productions’ approach to the sport, “the Man Who Listens To Horses,” Monty Roberts, will present his “Join-Up” sessions. Many within and well beyond the equestrian world are familiar with his sessions with unbroken horses, but the renowned horseman’s focus at the Convention will be working with seasoned, well-started show horses. The approach was very popular during the Festival Masterclass in Temecula, when Monty helped riders de-spook and gain the trust of their competitive stars.

Rider spots for the clinic are filled but auditing is available, with tickets ranging from a $130 one-day pass to 10-person ringside tables and super luxe food and drink that are part of the VIP Experience package. The first four West Coast Dressage Conventions received glowing reviews. Previous Conventions in California featured British dressage multi-medalists Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester. Both were super well received for their unique combination of education and a fun, elegant experience to share with like-minded friends and enthusiasts.  Tangible training take-aways are a hallmark of the Conventions so far, as are the rare opportunities to see international stars in an “up close and personal” setting.

A Team Effort

Scott’s impressive resume in the equestrian world obscures the reality that the 31-year-old is relatively new to the sport. With an introduction to dressage from his husband Andrew Rommens, he immersed himself in various facets of the industry to get a sense for what horses and riders needed and wanted to excel in their goals and for the sport to grow to new levels of participation and support. He brings extensive business experience in hospitality, marketing, retail and design to all endeavors, reflected in the high quality and sense of community that suffuse SH Productions’ events.

The right team has been mission critical from day-one. Core team members include Administrative Director Kim Dennis; Website and Graphic Designer Elizabeth Trenchard; and Jacqueline Sauve as Sponsorship and Special Event Coordinator. The Festival competitions have an expanded crew that starts with two show organizer veterans: Heather Peterson as Competition Manager/Secretary and Joe Coleman as Competition Manager; and Jessica Eaves Mathews is the Festival’s VIP & Hospitality Director.

Together with the warm welcome and strong support of the dressage community, Scott and his team have made great strides toward their leader’s vision. “Creating a sense of community between professionals, entertainers, athletes and enthusiasts has always been the main goal,” Scott concludes. “I intend to take it beyond my imagination and spread it world wide through my events, my projects and my life.”

For tickets to the West Coast Dressage Convention and the latest from SH Productions and the Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival, visit www.shproductions.ca or www.westcoastdressagefestival.com.