California Riding Magazine • January, 2009

Thermal Preview
Simpson, Spooner, Fellers and Ward
set for a jumping showdown

by Kim F. Miller

If an alien was to land in the Palm Springs area’s Thermal anytime between Jan. 20 and March 22 and didn’t pick up a newspaper, the creature could easily conclude that all was well in America. Fit and handsome horses will fill the 230-acre Horse Shows-in-the-Sun (HITS) show grounds, attended to by their equally healthy and attractive people.

As of mid-November, HITS president Tom Struzzieri anticipated that America’s terrible economy would have only minimal impact on participation at the eight weeks of competition that comprise the Thermal hunter/jumper circuit. His Saugerties, NY management company, which has been running shows out west for 24 years, has $725,000 in prize money on offer and an onslaught of Olympians en route to get it. Olympic gold medal show jumper Will Simpson looks forward to an East Coast challenge from teammate, McLain Ward, currently the top-ranked show jumper in the States. Canadian team silver medalist Jill Henselwood will be there, and the West Coast’s roaring Richards, Fellers and Spooner, will be on the scene with their best jumpers, gunning for prize money and World Cup points. Thanks to his remarkable success in Europe this year, Spooner cracked the FEI World Ranking top 10 in October, and currently sits eighth.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” says Struzzieri of attendance expected to be on par with last year at between 1,300 and 1,800 horses showing each week. “The way we look at it, we know that people are going to be smart about what they spend, but unless they are selling their horse, they’ve already made the big commitment to the sport and it’s a fixed plan. Showing would not be the most expensive part of that commitment. For some families, showing is a natural progression for their kids and they are not going to take that away from them because the economy is bad.”

Finances may cause some to compete for fewer weeks, Struzzieri notes. And he anticipates there may be slightly fewer vendors. Over the past year, and at shows across the country, vendors have seen a sales dip. “I think people are still prepared to show, but they’re being more cautious with their dollars while there.”

Class entry fees are the same as 2008, notes Struzzieri. HITS was pleased to “massage our late entry policies” to give California exhibitors more flexibility as their horses progress during the circuit.

Keeping Costs Down

Even though the cost of feed and shavings has gone up since last year, HITS will keep its prices the same on those items. The company, which brings an estimated $120 million to the Thermal economy, expanded the list of hotels and car rental agencies that have discounts for HITS customers. “We went out of our way to make things reasonable,” he says.

As promised every year since the built-from-scratch venue debuted in 2007, HITS has pumped more money into improvements. A slew of complaints about footing, various stabling and training amenities and landscaping were addressed during the 2007 off-season. Improved footing in two main hunter rings and upgraded stabling are among the upgrades that await this year’s attendees. Competitors last year were, for the most part, extremely happy with improvements made and Struzzieri expects that trend to continue.

Last year competitors and spectators were thrilled with the EquiBase indoor ring. Per the riders’ requests, the small space will again host all of Thermal’s four World Cup qualifier Grand Prix and it will also showcase $25,000 Grand Prix contenders on World Cup weeks, many of the 3’6” equitation medals and other spectator friendly classes. It’s a perfect venue for simulating exciting, European-style indoor jumping competition and for preparing juniors and amateurs for the Indoors circuit back east.

Event organizers in many mainstream sports actively recruit top athletes as spectator draws, but the practice is not seen often in American equestrian competition. McLain Ward’s weeks II and III appearance is definitely the result of Struzzieri’s recruiting efforts. “We went after him,” the manager says. “Last year, we lost some customers to the East Coast. We thought, if we could get a prominent East Coast rider to come West, and that rider reports that we have a good product, we might get others to do the same.” Like Simpson, Richard Spooner relishes the chance to compete against his friend McLain. “It is always a pleasure to have a chance to compete against someone of his caliber,” Spooner notes.

Struzzieri anticipates that the Olympic riders will be fully on board with marketing efforts to parlay their appearance into more spectatorship. Local school visits and media interviews are expected components of that effort.

The manager looks forward to having his family with him at Thermal. HITS’ West Coast management team of Dale Harvey, Fred Bauer and Brian Morris will be key to ensuring another year of great competition and satisfied exhibitors.

Thermal Highlights:

DESERT CIRCUIT I:
Fri., Jan. 23 • $25,000 Grand Prix
Sat., Jan. 24 • Equitation/Medals in the Indoor ring
Sun., Jan. 25 • $50,000 EMO Grand Prix
• $5,000 Jr/A-O Jumper Low Classic
• $10,000 Jr/A-O Jumper High Classic
(Course designer: Olaf Petersen, Jr. of Germany)

DESERT CIRCUIT II:
Thu., Jan. 29 • $25,000 Grand Prix (FEI) in the Indoor ring
Fri., Jan. 30 • $1,000 Pony Hunter Classic night class in the Indoor ring
Sat., Jan. 31 • $50,000 World Cup Grand Prix (FEI) night class in the Indoor ring
Sun., Feb. 1 • $5,000 Jr/A-O Jumper Low Classic
• $10,000 Jr/A-O Jumper High Classic
• $15,000 Jimmy Williams Classic
(Course designer: Bob Ellis of Great Britain)

DESERT CIRCUIT III:
Thu., Feb. 5 • $25,000 Grand Prix (FEI) in the Indoor ring
Fri., Feb. 6 • $1,000 Children’s/Adult Jumper Classic night class in the Indoor ring
Sat., Feb. 7 • $10,000 USHJA Hunter Derby in the Grand Prix ring
• $50,000 World Cup Grand Prix (FEI) night class in the Indoor ring
Sun., Feb. 8 • $15,000 Jr/A-O Jumper Low Classic
• $25,000 Jr/A-O Jumper High Classic
• $15,000 Jimmy Williams Classic
(Course designer: Bernardo Cabral of Portugal)

DESERT CIRCUIT IV:
Thu., Feb. 19 • $25,000 Grand Prix (FEI) in the Indoor ring
Fri., Feb. 20 • $1,000 Modified Jr/Amateur Classic night class in the Indoor ring
Sat., Feb. 21 • $50,000 World Cup Grand Prix (FEI) night class in the Indoor ring
Sun., Feb. 22 • $5,000 Jr/A-O Jumper Low Classic
• $10,000 Jr/A-O Jumper High Classic
• $15,000 Jimmy Williams Classic
(Course designer: Aki Ylänne of Finland)

DESERT CIRCUIT V:
Fri., Feb. 27 • $25,000 Grand Prix
• $5,000 Children’s/Adult Hunter Classic
Sat., Feb. 28 • Grooms Class and Pro Medal Class, both night classes
Sun., Mar. 1 • $75,000 Grand Prix
• $5,000 Jr/A-O Jumper Low Classic
• $10,000 Jr/A-O Jumper High Classic
(Course designer: Florencio Hernandez of Mexico)

DESERT CIRCUIT VI:
Thu., Mar. 5 • $25,000 Grand Prix (FEI) in the Indoor ring
Fri., Mar. 6 • Central Equine Relay night class
Sat., Mar. 7 • $50,000 World Cup Grand Prix ( FEI) night class in the Indoor ring
• Equitation/Medals in the Indoor ring
Sun., Mar. 8 • $5,000 Jr/A-O Jumper Low Classic
• $10,000 Jr/A-O Jumper High Classic
• $15,000 Jimmy Williams Classic
(Course designer: Guilherme Jorge of Brazil)

DESERT CIRCUIT VII:
Fri., Mar. 13 • $25,000 Grand Prix
Sun., Mar. 15 • $50,000 Grand Prix
• $5,000 Jr/A-O Jumper Low Classic
• $10,000 Jr/A-O Jumper High Classic
(Course designer: Marina Azevedo of Brazil)

DESERT CIRCUIT VIII:
Fri., Mar. 20 • $25,000 Grand Prix
• Ronnie W. Mutch Equitation Classic
Sat., Mar. 21 • $10,000 USHJA Hunter Derby in the Grand Prix ring
Sun., Mar. 22 • $150,000 Grand Prix
• $15,000 Jr/A-O Jumper Low Classic
• $25,000 Jr/A-O Jumper High Classic
(Course designer: Olaf Petersen, Sr. of Germany)