Gladstone, N.J., October 7, 2009 -- Here's a recipe for success: A party featuring elite riders (and a driver), excellent information on equine nutrition and a ground-breaking dressage/eventing pas de deux. Oh, and of course, lots of food--eat while you learn, what could be better?
Pennfield Equine Feed Technologies combined all the elements for the finale of its "That's a Promise" tour at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation's headquarters here. It was fun to roam the historic stables and chat with the company's sponsored athletes. I congratulated Chester Weber on his record seventh national four-in-hand championship victory in Kentucky last weekend, then turned around to see Bruce Davidson and talk with him about his prospects in next weekend's Dansko Fair Hill International (don't forget to read my postcard from there October 18.)
Meanwhile, show jumper Georgina Bloomberg was having her photo taken with anyone who made a contribution to her "Rider's Closet" project to equip intercollegiate competitors with show clothes they couldn't otherwise afford.
She told me she had just outfitted the Williams College team from the gear she keeps in the garage at her Gotham North farm in North Salem, N.Y.
"Basically, we have no cars in our garage," she laughed. "Right now, I have probably 100 pairs of boots, and usually a couple of hundred shirts and jackets. I try to keep it where I can manage it and keep it clean and organized.''
Georgina, who signed with Pennfield this year, enjoyed the idea of being involved with the finale. Actually, all the athletes were active participants. After a lecture on feed by Dr. Joe Pagan, the guru of Kentucky Equine Research, which is associated with Pennfield, the riders sat in panels and answered questions from the audience of more than 200 people about their feeding programs. One woman got advice from Bruce about what a horse that she hunts should be eating. Chester gave a good testimonial, noting that he lives in a town (Ocala, Fla.,) with two feed mills but still uses Pennfields. His results, of course, speak for themselves.
The highlight of the evening, coming after a champagne toast to Chester's achievement, was a pas de deux between Olympic alternate Michael Barisone and 2000 Olympic individual eventing gold medalist David O'Connor. As president of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, David is a very frequent flier to meetings of all the committees around the world. He's doing more flying than riding these days, and in fact, he just got off a plane from Germany before rushing out to the USET to change into riding gear and a white Pennfield shirt for his close-up. That was only the tip of a complicated iceberg, however.
David had never ridden the pas de deux. Michael came up with it and had his assistant, the amiable Justin Hardin, ride David's part on a Fourth-Level horse. Michael performed the Grand Prix movements on Olympus while Justin wove his mount in around him.
"It took a few tries to get something that worked to show off David's jumping horse and Michael's Grand Prix horse," Justin said.
Meanwhile, the horse David hoped to ride last night had just gone lame. So his wife, Karen, took another of his horses, Walk on the Moon (known as Danny around the barn) and brought him up at the last minute. Danny had been in work but not really in training.
Sounds like a disaster in the making, right? Oh ye of little faith...you're dealing with professionals here. David had a brief dress rehearsal with Justin jogging along beside him to show him the way, and then it was show time.
Everyone piled out of the stable and into the cold, sipping champagne and watching the action, which included some very impressive piaffing (Michael) and jumping (David). The music was rock and roll, with Van Halen's "Jump" as the appropriate theme for Danny's efforts. Danny did fine until David tried him one more time over a set of planks painted with an upside-down yellow V. Didn't I just see that in the gymnastics phase of the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals East? I wouldn't have put that fence up for something like this at night. But no one asked me, can you imagine?
Danny refused twice (I didn't blame him), and David wisely decided not to try again. But he handled it well and the pas de deux ended harmoniously as the two horses came down the center line side-by-side, with Michael waving a little American flag. The crowd loved it. This could be the start of a trend, who knows?
As Jeff Katelan, national sales and marketing manager for Pennfield Country Life Products, noted, it's a lot more original than ending by shooting off some fireworks.
Back in the stable, I talked with David about his groundbreaking performance.
Listen: David O'Connor
Then I chatted with Michael.
Listen: Michael Barisone
As if all this weren't enough, there also was a silent auction. Diana Orban, who has worked in public relations for the Rutgers University Equine Science Center (ESC), bought a painting of Karen O'Connor on wonder pony Teddy O'Connor and plans to donate it for use in the ESC's exercise physiology lab.
"It may just inspire somebody," Diana said. "The little guy did good."
Proceeds from the tour go to the USEF's Young Rider program. Jeff noted it will be a few weeks until he knows the total of what was raised, but he estimated it will be in the neighborhood of $30,000-$35,000, which should be a big help for this important initiative.
Next year, the tour will take a different form because of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, and in 2011, the tour will be focused on the West Coast. There should be more good information there, because Pennfield is the official feed of the USEF and has been used at every Olympics and WEG since 2002.
Wherever you are, try to come to one of these sessions. I got a lot of good information that I can use with my horses and an overview of nutritional principles. I can tell you that many of us are working in the dark unless we pay attention to this information when we decide what to feed our horses.
I like the theme of the tour. "That's a Promise" refers to this principle: "A promise to take care of your horse to the best of your ability for the time you are together." It's a promise I hope everyone keeps.