Northern California Show Draws Crowds and High Caliber Riders
RELEASE: November 16, 2009
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Marnye Langer
World class show jumpers vied for $75,000 in prize money, thousands of fans packed into the stands, flags from many countries hanging overhead, and a JumboTron showed highlights and tracked the results. Is it Las Vegas or Los Angeles? Neither; it is Sacramento, and it is the only show jumping competition of this caliber in Northern California: The Sacramento International Horse Show at Murieta Equestrian Complex in Rancho Murieta, CA, which was held November 3-8.
Rudy Leone started the show in 2008, wanting to bring international-level riders to Sacramento as part of the West Coast’s World Cup Qualifying circuit. Involved in the industry for 35 years breeding, importing, training, and showing hunters and jumpers, lately he has become more involved in horse show management. “I wanted to put on a better-quality horse show,” he said, “not just another cookie cutter show, but something special.”
Leone’s vision was to create a one-ring horse show, offering fewer classes and more prize money than the typical show. In order to cover the expenses of the show, including well over $100,000 in prize money, he obtained corporate sponsorship from the likes of Toyota and Purina Mills (along with many other sponsors too numerous to list) rather than raise the fees to the exhibitors. He also promoted the show heavily in order to bring spectators into the stands. With 4,000 spectators last year, he doubled the promotion and estimates that the stands held 6,000 fans this year. Those who were there for the Grand Prix on Saturday night would believe it as the covered arena was filled to the brim, with the stands and the VIP box seats filled. “You have this dream, and people tell you it can’t be done,” said Leone. “But when you have a night like that, it’s all worth it.”
The highlight of the show was the $75,000 Grand Prix of Sacramento, a World Cup Qualifier, and 34 horses and riders challenged Olympic course designer Leopoldo Palacios’ course. Only three riders found all the answers to the questions, an American, a Canadian, and a New Zealand rider. Rich Fellers and Flexible wore the stars and stripes, John Pearce and Chianto represented our neighbors to the north, and Guy Thomas on Carino enjoys dual citizenship with the U.S. and New Zealand.
Palacio’s course included 13 elements crammed into an arena that is not large. As a result, there was a very tight corner before the number five fence, an intimidating wall, which was the site of several refusals and a couple of eliminations. A shallow bending line from number 10 provided little room for error to clear number 11, a narrow vertical, and the top rail fell several times as a result. The final element, a double combination headed toward the gate, was another spot for dropped rails. “As a horseman, it was an absolutely fantastic course,” said Leone. “It kept the crowd going all night long. The electricity in the crowd was absolutely phenomenal.”
"It was a tough course,” said Fellers, who posted the only double-clear round of the night. “It looked really big and technical, and it’s a small ring with short corners. I was a little worried about it, but it turned out to be fun.”
After a brief break to change the course for the jump-off while the crowd enjoyed music videos on the JumboTron, Pearce was up first to try his hand at the course. He piloted Chianto around the course quickly, finishing in 35.72 seconds and well under the 47 allowed. However, his four faults left the door open for Fellers or Thomas to take the lead. “I planned my strategy while sitting at the in gate, watching John Pearce,” said Fellers. “He was very quick, but having once fence down took the pressure off.” Although he admitted that he still had some concern about Thomas, who is a fast rider with a good horse. “I wanted enough speed to put some pressure on him (Thomas) while still being cautious.”
After his blistering time of 33.62 with no faults, Fellers concentrated on taking care of his horse while Thomas entered the arena. Fellers saw the first fence go down and that was all he needed to see. The win was his. Flexible has been a winning mount for Fellers these past few years, and the 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse stallion owned by Harry and Mollie Chapman stands just 16.0 hands, and is smaller than many of the horses he competes against and beats. “He has a big heart and a lot of fight,” Fellers said fondly.
Fellers competed in the show’s inaugural year and plans to be back next year. “It’s a really well-run horse show,” he said. “It has a great atmosphere and great crowds—it’s great for our sport. I like to support good competitions.”