Behind the Scenes at London Olympia Christmas Horse Show: World Cup Warmbloods, Sugar Plum Fairy Piaffes, High-Flying Senior Showjumpers

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Once upon a time there was a horse show planned for Christmas. The shopping was laid out, the private boxes with fine linen were set, and the best horses in Europe filled the entry list. But that wasn't enough. The organizers wanted to add magic, so there would need to be the Household Cavalry, a troupe of flying Ukrainian Cossacks, dog agility classes, scenes with actors and huge horse puppets from the hit London play War Horse, a Shetland Pony Grand National, and evening finales to widen the eyes of children of all ages.

If you're not there, all you hear are the headlines of who won the World Cup dressage or show jumping or the puissance, but this show offers much more. It's the last show of the season. Chasing points--except for the World Cup set--is moot. The air is festive, and people fall in love with the season and with horses all over again.

Like at all inner city horse shows, the back stage area is cramped, but that's where the magic takes shape. Outside, it was snowing during most of the show, but people still came.

Even the horses seem to know that this is a special event. The stage manager of this event is a maestro! Even the jump crew looked like they had been precision-trained!

"The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from Tchikovsky's Nutcracker ballet is perfect Christmas music. Who knew it was also the perfect tempo for a Dutch warmblood's piaffe? Including Christmas-themed music in her kur was a masterful coup for Dutch dressage star Adelinde Cornelissen on Jerich Parzival, who won the FEI World Cup Qualifier. The honors were split this year: Britain's Laura Bechtolsheimer won the Grand Prix, and the Netherlands' Edward Gal presented a dressage masterclass.

The best in Europe, including World Cup leader Kevin Staut of France, were at Olympia for the World Cup showjumping on Sunday. A dozen horses advanced to the torturous jumpoff, which was won by the last and possibly oldest rider, England's own beloved Michael Whitaker. He was one of many Whitaker family members to ride over fences this year at Olympia. His ride defined risk and thrill; the audience got more than their money's worth from that one performance.

But it's not just once upon a time, it's every year. If you ever have the chance to be in London the week before Christmas, go!

by Fran Jurga | The Jurga Report at
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