California Riding Magazine • April, 2014

Horse People:
Regina Antonioli
& the Del Mar National
Dressage Week
Veteran organizer helps the West Coast gem shine for nearly two decades.

by Chris Irwin

As manager of the Del Mar National Dressage week for almost 20 years, Regina Antonioli has a unique perspective on the sport's evolution. She took over the reins in1996 and, with the 69th edition of the three-week, three-discipline Del Mar National, Regina will happily helm dressage week for the 19th consecutive year.

From Ravel's retirement and Brentina and Debbie McDonald's golden era to unforgettable performances by Steffen Peters, Guenter Seidel, Jan Ebeling, Leslie Morse, Sue Blinks, Charlotte Bredahl and Hilda Gurney and their equine stars, Regina has had a front row seat for many of the West Coast's finest dressage moments.

Ravel's retirement last year helped draw the largest crowd yet for Night Of the Musical Freestyles, slated this year for Saturday April 26. Photo: Amy McCool

"There have been some magical years," she confirms. And more are coming with up and comers like Sarah Lockman, Jeremy Steinberg, David Blake and amateur contender Charlotte Jorst sharing the spotlight with veterans who are still very much in their prime.

"It's a very exciting competition to manage. With the exception of Florida during the winter season, we have the largest concentration of high performance national, international and Olympic champions," she notes. Del Mar National dressage week counts on their performances and also their loyalty, Regina relays with appreciation. "I'm so proud and grateful to say that those riders have always risen to the occasion and supported Del Mar. Even when conflicts such as the World Cup Finals in Las Vegas only a week before us have occurred, the high performance riders have brought their horses to compete, or ridden a demonstration, or done something else to help keep our Saturday evening showcase strong."

Regina competing at the Santa Barbara National hunter/jumper show in the late 70s.

Saturday night, of course, is the Night Of Musical Freestyles, to be held this year on April 26. But it was not always thus. When she began managing the competition, the equine variety show, Night Of The Horse, occupied that prime time spot. "Nobody thought spectators would come to see musical freestyle performances," which then were held on Sunday afternoons. "It took me two years to convince the organizers that the freestyles would be popular!"

The Night of Musical Freestyles was born and the Olympic debut of musical freestyle later, in 1998, corroborated Regina's conviction. "Somewhat surprisingly, we had a pretty nice crowd the first year," Regina recalls. That first night probably drew about 1,000 people, she reflects, as compared to current crowds that come very close to the sell-outs she aspires to for the nearly 4,000-seat house. When Akiko Yamazaki and Steffen chose the venue last year as the right place to retire Ravel from the show ring, that goal was very nearly met.

Regina stresses that it takes a village to stage a successful show and that having the 22nd District Agricultural Assn. as the licensee with their Fairgrounds as the Del Mar National's home is a privilege beyond compare. "It's a great team, led by equestrian manager Kenny Baker, and they've done so much over the years." Continual improvements, highlighted by covering the Del Mar Arena and installing the scoreboard and jumbotron, have made the venue an ideal showcase for the equestrian sport. "I would not have the respect that I have as a show manager without having that facility and staff behind me," Regina says. "I am humbled and honored every year I am invited back to manage dressage week."

Presenting to Leslie Morse and Tip Top with sponsor Georgia Griffiths of G-2 Software and FEI 5* Judge Stephen Clarke. Photo: Amy McCool

A Key Player

Regina is a rider, but not one of those who started as a kid. She took her first riding lesson at 28 and pursued a hunter/jumper path while working in mainstream advertising. When the opportunity arose to steer her career toward her passion she began working as a show secretary, then started and ran the magazine Showcase. "I started it with two other partners, but they left after six months saying, 'You can have it: it's too much work!" This was in the pre-computer days, so lay-outs were done by typing stories, cutting and pasting them, along with headlines and photos, onto "dummies" that went to the printer. It was an enjoyable but not terribly profitable venture and, after four or five years as a publisher, she took her talents to the show management, marketing and publicity side of the sport.

A favorite moment at Del Mar: The Stick Horse competition. Pictured from left are Kathleen Raine, David Wightman; Shannon and Steffen Peters, Beth Ball and Guenter Seidel. Photo ©McCool

Since forming Equestrian Concepts in 1982, Regina has been a key player in many major equestrian events. In 2004 she was the press officer for the Olympic Dressage Trials and US Dressage Freestyle Championships. She has worked on numerous organizing committees, including the 1991 Olympic Festival, 1995 Volvo World Cup Dressage Finals and the 2002 WEG Show Jumping Trials. A long-standing role with the CDS Annual Championships show here in California and the North American Young Riders Championships in Kentucky are additional resume highlights.

The Del Mar National is the biggest, but not the only, show Regina manages, and she wears that hat for both dressage and hunter/jumper competitions. She manages her own dressage event at the Fairgrounds, the Del Mar International, and has managed the California Dressage Society Southern Junior Championships since 2008. Regina also manages a number of events at Galway Downs, in Temecula, including dressage shows for the Temecula Chapter of CDS and dressage and hunter/jumper shows for Robert Kellerhouse's company, Del Mar Eventing. Executive director of the San Fernando Hunter/Jumper Assn. is yet another hat she wears.

Jan Ebeling and his new international partner, the Hessian-branded stallion Rassolini, plan to make their big West Coast debut at Del Mar. Jan also plans to compete with his 2012 Olympic partner Rafalca.

Regina has accomplished a lot, but strives for more. She began in the sport back when the mainstream press automatically stuck news of equestrian events on the society pages. Thankfully, those days are long gone, but Regina foresees much more progress toward making real heroes and celebrities out of the sports' stars. "One of our shortcomings, especially in dressage, is that we are not giving our heroes enough PR in the general press," she observes. "It's hard for non-equestrians to follow the sport if they don't know the competitors well enough to care who wins. We need to help the public form some attachments to our riders and horses."

Regina seems just the person for that job.

Debbie & Brentina at Del Mar "Although Debbie was based in Idaho, she always said Brentina acted like Del Mar was her home arena." Photo: Amy McCool