Postcard from the Cosequin Festival

Wellington, FL, Feb. 17 — After a day of torrential rain (so no one has to be jealous that I’m here) the sun finally came out this morning. And it shone brightest on Markus Beerbaum of Germany.

He’s the brother of the world’s number one show jumper, Ludger Beerbaum and believe me, his riding ability isn’t so shabby, either. You should have seen the cut he made on Royal Discovery to the fourth-to-last fence on the eight-obstacle jump-off course in the $75,000 Idle Dice Classic at the Cosequin Winter Equestrian Festival. It was a vertical in front of the VIP tent, so all the people finishing their pecan tarts and coffee at the Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Club could see the crucial move on Pepe Gamarra’s course.

Markus, who’s very well-spoken in both English and German, was chasing a conservative time of 40.78 seconds set by Chris Kappler on Rafiki, who had the first clear round in the seven-horse jump-off after Markus’ wife, Meredith, sent the rails flying on Shutterfly as the tiebreaker got under way.

Chris’ gray Trakehner stallion looked fantastic, but he’s not very fast.
“He’s such a big horse. He’s just starting to learn where all his pieces are,” laughed Chris about the 17-hand behemoth, who sometimes seems to be as long as he is high.

“His horse is not the fastest horse,” observed Markus. “I thought I could beat him.”

As I mentioned previously, that fantastic turn at the vertical helped shave time, and Markus finished up in 38.06 seconds. But the leader, who went third in the tie-breaker, then had to spend some time worrying himself.

“I thought someone else could beat me,” explained Markus, who wears a brown riding jacket with the Golden Toast logo of his sponsor, a bread company, on the pocket. It is, of course, the duplicate of the one his wife wears. She says they don’t have the bread for breakfast — “We don’t eat breakfast” — though they eat a lot of it the rest of the time.

Sorry for the digression. Back to the grand prix. The person Markus had to fear most was Lauren Hough with the always-speedy Windy City. But the chestnut gelding not only knocked down the final fence, he also was slower than Royal Discovery, finishing in 39.16 seconds with the fastest four-fault round to wind up third.

Royal Discovery previously was ridden by Alison Firestone, but she’s now concentrating on Crocodile Dandy, who will be her mount in the trials for this September’s World Equestrian Games.

“We work very closely with the Firestones,” said Markus, who got a round of applause from Diana Firestone and congratulations from her husband, Bert, in the warm-up area after the class. The victory was important to Markus, who wants to go to the World Cup finals in May but was having trouble qualifying in the points department.

“Now, with this win, I’m right there,” he said.

Pepe had quite a task with his course, which was jumped by 53 starters. It needed to be difficult, but not too difficult.

“Everybody’s happy, because it was not a really crazy test. It was good preparation for what’s coming,” he said, noting the immediate future includes next month’s Nations’ Cup, the American Invitational later in March, and the Budweiser American Invitational in April.

Dressage also was going on today, unlike yesterday, when many classes — including the Grand Prix Special — were nothing but scratches because of the downpour.

I had a long talk with Michelle Gibson, the winner of one of the Prix St. George divisions with World of Dreams (69.583 percent), as well as an Intermediaire I division with a score of 73.25, the best in the FEI sections at this show. I could boil down the whole conversation to World of Dreams’ nickname: “Indie.” That stands for independent, which is what Michelle wants to be, and is.
She owns this horse herself, and expresses thanks for the support of her family, who live near her base in Georgia.

Until she started riding Indie this year, Michelle hadn’t done an FEI test since the 1996 Olympics. Remember how she was on the bronze medal team there with Peron, and then lost the stallion when the owners decided to sell him? He died subsequently of an allergic reaction, and it took her a long time to come to terms with the whole situation.

But World of Dreams has helped her do it. He’s also a stallion, a chestnut Hanoverian.

“I like having him in the barn,” she said. “I like to walk down the aisle and scratch his neck and give him a carrot.”

She’s so much more relaxed than she was when I knew her six years ago.

“I’ve accepted everything that’s happened and went on,” she told me. “I’m happy where I’m going. I’d like to think I’m a good coach and a supportive trainer and good friend.”

We were sitting in the pavilion by the dressage arena, watching the grand prix freestyle as we talked about the past, present and future. Then she smiled at me and spread her arms wide and said, “does it get any better than this?”

The answer, for both of us, was no. We are doing what we wanted to do.

Other dressage notes, real quick. Sue Blinks and the adorable Flim Flam won the USET Grand Prix with a score of 71.667 percent, and Rainier (Robert Dover’s 2000 Olympic dressage mount) and Betsy Steiner were second with 69.133.

Tina Konyot took the Grand Prix Freestyle (the Special was cancelled because of the rain), earning 71.833 percent. But she preferred to talk about her up-and-coming young horse, Liberty, who won a division of Prix St. Georges with 70.583 percent over Akatschi and Todd Flettrich with 67.833.

Well, that’s it for me from Florida for now, but I’ll be back at the end of March with postcards from the American Invitational and a week later, the American Grand Prix Association Championship.

Speaking of the latter, the prize money has been cut from $300,000 last year to $150,000 this year. Gene Mische, the head of the AGA, was worried about the economic downturn, and waited until now to put out the prize list with the amount of the purse.

“I wanted to leave us some breathing room,” he said, but hopes to up the ante again next year.

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