As the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival came to an end one week ago, World of Showjumping got the opportunity to catch up with Rolex Testimonees Rodrigo Pessoa, Eric Lamaze and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum in an exclusive Rolex 10:10 call. Pessoa, Lamaze and Michaels-Beerbaum all shared their thoughts on the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival, it's future, the coming outdoor season as well as their plans and thoughts on the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014.
How has the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival been, and what are the benefits of it?
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum: "I'm very excited about this festival. I have had a new horse called Atlanta with me here – a 9 year old by For Pleasure-mare that I got at the end of last year – and she has come along great during the circuit. She is new to the Grand Prix ring; she jumped one Grand Prix here on a Saturday night with one time fault – but that was the first Grand Prix I have done with her and this event on Saturday night was for sure the hardest thing she has done. She has a lot of talent, and she has really improved over the circuit [...] I was a little bit unlucky with my horses coming here as one of my horses – Malou – was injured early on. But Checkmate – my 19 year old – was quite competitive and good, and was able to qualify alongside Atlanta for the last Grand Prix here. Our students have done really well, with my husband Markus training them [...] So for us all in all, it has been very successful circuit for bringing on young horses like Atlanta and training our students – and I have really enjoyed our time here in Wellington."
Eric Lamaze: "[...] I have had a new horse here called Zigali, which I have got to know very well during this circuit. Powerplay – my number one horse – didn't adapt as well to Wellington as I would have hoped, so Zigali has had to take over a little bit. Florida and Wellington is fantastic, for many of us we have homes here – so it's very nice being in one place for a long period of time without having to move everything to go to a show. It's a top class facility here now, the grounds are very good – so it's very nice to be here.
Is there one stand out-performance that have caught your eye during the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival?
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum: "For me the stand-out performance actually came from our student Audrey Coulter who abeat Ben Maher on a Saturday night in the Rolex Grand Prix to surprise everyone. She rides only part-time, she was on a new horse and went in there and blew everybody away so it was an extremely exciting Grand Prix and a tremendous win for her – her first Grand Prix win ever in her life. And to beat number one and number two on the world ranking was really exciting!"
Eric Lamaze: "All the jump-offs have been very, very competitive. I don't think anybody here can say that they won a Grand Prix here without going as fast as they could. Every Saturday night has had great performances, I think the Grand Prix that Rodrigo won was a fantastic class. I think that the jump-off in that class seemed to be going faster and faster, and then he went in and put it to bed. I think it's been fantastic sport."
Rodrigo Pessoa: "The level of competition here has gotten to a high standard. I think you can say that if you won a Grand Prix here, you had to go at your maximum. The level of riders has been very good, and the conditions on the Saturday nights have usually been very good."
With the development of the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival – do you think the top of the sport will be more centred in the US during the winter and how will this influence the World Cup League in Europe?
Rodrigo Pessoa: "I think that the Western European League is not in danger. It's not everybody who can just take off from Europe, close the shop there and be here for three months. You have to be able to do that, so still the majority of the riders will stay in Europe and do the World Cup season like they have been doing. The second factor that you cannot dismiss is the costs of showing here; it's extremely high compared to Europe and it is not every stable that can come here. You have to rent stables, housing – and the entries are ten times higher than in Europe. So, all these factors are the answer to the question – the Western European League is not in danger, it will have the majority of the best riders in Europe still competing in it."
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum: "This event is top class as far as the facilities are concerned. The conditions for horse and rider, the prize money – especially now with Rolex involved – has come to a whole new level. So, this has become – as you can see from the horses and riders that are here – one of the best circuits in the world, without a doubt. [...] It is really a wonderful place to be for three months, have the horses outdoors, while the rest of the Europe is indoors. So, I really do see this becoming one of the main circuits of the world."
Eric Lamaze: "I think with Rolex involved, and the increase in the prize money, it will attract more and more European riders coming to this circuit. I think every European rider that I can think of that has come for one year, has always returned. I think once you have experienced this sort of life here, I think it's very hard not to come back the year after. [...]"
The Rolex Testimonees on their plans for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014:
Eric Lamaze: "For me it's something that I plan to do with Powerplay, but who knows – like I said Zigali has jumped very well in Florida. We didn't really purchase him thinking it was a championship type horse scope wise anyway. We just thought it was a lovely horse, and bought him. My thought is that Powerplay will be the horse for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™. Having said that you never know, if Zigali keeps going as he is going at the moment – he is only 10 years old and seems to be improving every Grand Prix that he does – there is maybe some thought at some point that Zigali might be the horse. But like said, it's very early for any of us to make a decision for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ at this point."
Rodrigo Pessoa: "I am lucky to be able to choose between two horses; Status and Cadjanine. We are going to let the months of May and June roll out in Europe first, and then come end of June beginning of July I would like to have made my mind up to which horse I would like to bring so that I can really focus on a very precise program the last two months so come the time of the championships I can really be ready."
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum: "Unfortunately for me my top mount for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 Bella Donna was sold, so I am not in content for the German team. My goal for the rest of the year is to bring along my young string of horses to add to that string, to get some horses I can focus on for the future. So, unfortunately I will be missing the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ this year."
The Rolex Testimonees on the final and its format at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014:
Eric Lamaze: "I think the format is very exciting, and something the crowds really enjoy watching. But I really wish that by the time you got there and everybody got to ride your horse, that you would be guaranteed a medal. I think it's very sad that one person walks away without a medal having gone through the entire process. And I think the order that you get the horses can change everything."
Rodrigo Pessoa: "I personally like the format, because it is something different [...] The only thing I would maybe like to be change is that it would be one round less, as it is a lot of jumping. If the Grand Prix on Saturday could be reduced with one round, I think for the horses that would be a good thing. Having done the final twice, it's an exciting moment – but like Eric said the draw is very important. But for me personally – the thing I would really like to see changed is one round less."
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum: "Having done the championships and made it to the final four with Shutterfly – of course everybody knows the famous change of horses there where Shutterfly was extremely agitated and upset about that. It is probably the negative aspect of that change when you have a very sensitive horse like that who basically is not used to being in a stadium with 50.000 people watching while his saddle and rider is changed and he became very nervous.
On the other hand I have to say it's a very exciting finale, and its one way of really determine the best rider of the group. It's exciting, it's different, and we only have that in that championship and it's fabulous for the crowds to see. I think there are positive and negative aspects of it, and you can look at it in two different ways. If I had Checkmate in the final he would have thought it was the most fun thing ever to stay in the stadium and look at all the people, and have three others of the best riders in the world on his back – so it really comes according to the horse."
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