Back in July, in typical LA traffic I had the chance to stare at a billboard featuring a showjumping logo. It read: Longines Masters, 26-28 September. I had no idea what the Longines Masters were, but I could tell it was going to be a world-class event.
I researched tickets and bought two for Friday 26 September. At $70 each for front row I thought they were an okay price (and their value becomes more apparent later in this post). The Longines Masters is recognized by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) and the US Equestrian Federation as a CSI 5* event, so showjumping doesn’t get much better than this people!
On the Friday night we drove to downtown LA and parked in the South Hall at the venue, the Los Angeles Convention Centre. Before the event started at 6pm we wandered past the neighboring Staples Centre for a light dinner at Wolfgang Puck. Random people wearing jodphurs, high socks and lanyards on the street was a sign we were in the right place!
Returning to the venue the smell of horses and well-conditioned leather bought a wave of memories. I was so excited to see horses, and slightly overwhelmed by the red carpet and lights, the fancy art work surrounding the warm up ring and the whole spectacle. Remember, this was just the warm up area!
Some horses were big movers, some were fiery mares, some looked like more like pony club plodders who suddenly perked up toward the jumps. My non-horsey husband Dikko also seemed a little overwhelmed, perhaps as everything was new and he had so many questions! I was more than happy to sweep my showjumping brain cobwebs to share answers.
A huge screen above a black curtained entrance between the warm up and arena displayed the competition had started. We drew ourselves away from the warm up ring to watch the competitive action. The convention centre had been transformed, with a VIP area on one side featuring table service, wines and dim lighting. On the opposite side of the arena were the general admission tickets with aluminium bleachers, where we sat in Section E.
City of Los Angeles Trophy – 1.50m with $83,500 USD prizemoney
The first event was a Table A with jump off (so we saw those who jumped the first round clear do another round against the clock). I was surprised to see so many different conformations of horses, some stocky, some lithe, some overly energetic, some nonplussed! We had a fantastic view of a treble (three jumps in a row) and the second round had the crowd engaged with cheers and ooooohs as horse and rider approached the final fence in the second round.
There were only a couple of refusals, and unfortunately for the riders involved, there were a couple of stacks. Dikko winced more than the riders I think! Nobody was hurt and each time the riders remounted before leaving the ring. A highlight for me in this event was seeing the UK rider Michael Whitacker, when I was aged in single digits his brother John Whitaker and the famous grey Milton were on the cover of horse magazines I read cover to cover.
In the end the winner was Kent Farrington from the USA riding an athletic, grey, Dutch Warmblood gelding called Willow. You can find videos of their amazing rounds here.
Intermission and the Prestige Village
At 8.15pm there was a special performance as part of the break between the two showjump events. Unsure what to expect we hung about in our seats as they cleared the entire course and the lights dimmed. I had a feeling it would involve piaffes and half passes and some other dressage, maybe even a crazy capriole.
Clémence Faivre and her chestnut Lusitano named Gotan did not disappoint. Some of the music I recognised (from Love Actually) and some of the movements I’d never seen put together before. You can watch parts of the talented show here.
After the emotional rollercoaster of such a beautiful performance I was hanging out for a hot beverage, a cup of tea, or chai, or even a hot chocolate. Alas, there was only alcohol and soft drinks being served. It was the only disappointment of the event experience for me, next time I’ll take a thermos and a nanna rug!
Riders walk the course for the Speed Challenge
The above video I recorded for my parents, to show them that even at this level, there are still courses to walk, jumps to build, heights to measure, and rails to be picked up at the end of the day!
Longines Speed Challenge – 1.45m with $132,500 prize money
This was the event I’d based our tickets on. As Dikko had never watched showjumping I wanted to keep it interesting, and what better way than to watch the world’s best horses and riders complete one course, as fast as possible!
The rules were great for showjumping spectator newcomers – if a horse and rider knocked a rail they just received a two second penalty, so it all came down to one number – the total time to complete the course.
It was exciting and we had the best seats in the house! Directly before us was a single rail leading to a fat oxer as part of a double. No kidding, at the end of the night Dikko was rubbing grit out of his eyes that’d flicked up from the horses. There’s not many sporting events where you can get that close to the action!
Best seats in the house for the Speed Challenge!
I enjoyed the different styles of riding, horses from all over the world, and the tension that rose with every round. The cliffhanger atmosphere was made even more entertaining as the fastest rider would dismount, hand the horse to their groom/s, then be seated in a huge white chair on a podium with the second and third fastest riders. As the fastest rounds changed, the riders in the seats changed. It was a nice touch.
An absolutely brilliant round won the event, with Jane Richards Phillips from Switzerland and the big bay gelding Dieudonne de Guldenboom deserving their first prize. You can watch the Speed Challenge rounds here.
Jessica Springsteen (yes Bruce Springsteen’s daughter) came thirteenth in the Speed Challenge
While some things have changed since I followed the best riders in the world (glittery helmets come to mind), the timeless partnership of horse and rider continues in many equine sports around the world. Granted, some of the riders we saw come from families with a lot of money, yet they still have to put in the hard yards of training, riding and facing up to those huge jumps.
I really feel lucky to have seen some of the world’s best horses and riders in action. After events in Hong Kong and Paris, the Longines Masters returns to Los Angeles next September. I’d definitely go again.