If these World Equestrian Games are anything like tonight’s opening ceremonies, we’re in for one heck of a show over the next two weeks.
Artistry on horseback, swirls of color, a reverence for culture and Spanish pride produced a wonderful dramatic melange in the main arena, called the Olympic Stadium, Chapin I. We’ll be seeing the Grand Prix dressage there tomorrow.
The King of Spain himself presided over the kick-off of the fourth consolidation of seven world championships. If you’ve ever watched the Olympic opening ceremonies, you’ve seen something like the WEG bow, though without the Olympic flame and on a much smaller scale, of course.
There was, however, nothing hokey about this presentation. I wish I could say the same about the Olympic opening ceremonies. I felt genuine emotion here, both from the stands packed with 22,000 spectators, and the delighted athletes who marched across the field behind their nations’ flags at the beginning of the presentation. It was very “Chariots of Fire.”
The real fun for me was seeing the U.S. contingent, of course, led by the red, white and blue. Those of us who are away from home for the anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy can’t help thinking about it, and the flag streaming in the breeze seemed to have extra meaning now.
The program for the opening ceremony was fan-shaped, which those who came early were using to flutter in front of their faces against just a touch of heat. As the stadium filled, the red and white fans going back and forth looked like butterflies.
At the center of the arena was a giant blanket of balloons depicting Fino, the blue and white winged mascot of the Games. The balloons were eager to get away, rising skyward instantly as soon as they were released.
Later, when we got a close look at Fino himself, it was obvious that Pegasus, he is not. This guy, who appeared in “person” at the end of the opening, is more cuddly than the famous winged horse. How did he get his name? Jerez is synonymous with fino sherry.
So they let the balloons go, jets with colored trails flew overhead, flags were fluttering at the edge of the arena, skydivers were dropping and excitement was building as each of the performances proceeded. The center of the action was the Pure Spanish Horse. Whether these beauties were being ridden side-saddle or astride, driven from the arena floor into airs above the ground, or participating unbridled and a-jingle with bells in synchronized movements, there was no question about which aspect of the evening was the main attraction.
I loved the “cobra strings” of breeding mares, attached to each other only with neck straps and driven by a trainer on the ground or a man on a horse. The mares were lined up side by side, a formation once used to thresh grain. They go in circles and in formation, doing a pinwheel of two lines at one point; very impressive.
The riders from the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, right in the WEG’s neighborhood, practically, also were impressive, as were the dozens of drivers and beautifully decorated horses and carriages.
But the disctinction of a close second to the horses belonged to the dancers wearing fanciful giant horseheads and metallic chaps or swallotail coats. They pranced through the ranks of seated volunteers on the stadium floor, who made a statement in their bright yellow shirts that we’ll be seeing a lot of throughout the Games.
I loved the grand finale, when the arena filled with 400 women dressed in brightly hued and flounced flamenco dresses. They danced to the songs of flamenco singer Jose Merce. He’s obviously a star, though his strident vocal stylings definitely are an acquired taste.
But seeing all the horses weave their way through the arena and out was so special. It had me, and everyone else, eager for morning when the competition begins at what many already believe will be the best World Games ever. I’ll tell you how it goes. Every day.
Right now, however, I’ve got to get some sleep so I don’t miss the first dressage horse. I’ve been up 48 hours straight; travel may be broadening, but it’s also tiring.