Second Annual Rolex Central Park Horse Show

By Linda White

Opportunities come along all the time; it’s recognizing and taking advantage of them that’s the trick. A couple of years ago, a group of Arabian horse people were sitting around at the Registry offices in Colorado, tossing around ideas for ways to promote the breed.

“We decided it would be fun to showcase our Arabians at a place we had never been,” Arabian Horse Association President Cynthia Richardson remembers. “Not long after, we received a press release from USEF about a show in New York’s Central Park that was being organized. That got our attention. Here was a concept, and a place, that were new and unfamiliar to the Arabian world. This might be the opportunity we were looking for.

“We called Mark Bellissimo, who is CEO of International Equestrian Group, LLC (IEG), the event’s sponsor. I met with Mark numerous times in Wellington, Florida, where he lives. We set up a contract, and we started the process of working together. The Arabian US Open would be on the show’s first night. Then, during matinees on Saturday and Sunday, we would tell the story of the Arabian horse with educational, interesting materials about the Arabian breed as the ancestor of all the light breeds of horses. We will be guests at the show, so we have to be sensitive to the needs and expectations of the hunter/jumper world – a new audience,” she adds.

“The Rolex Central Park Horse Show made a spectacular debut and is poised for an even greater year,” Bellissimo told one interviewer. “The expanded schedule includes the beauty of the Arabian horse. Showcasing the many facets of the horse world in the heart of New York City is exciting for us, and for the equine industry,” he said.

In September 2014, by invitation only, the world’s most decorated equestrians came to New York City to compete. Sold-out crowds welcomed them, and the Rolex Central Park Horse Show garnered over 640 million media impressions. The show featured a US Open Jumper Grand Prix; top hunter competitors; and both a Dressage Grand Prix and Dressage Freestyle class. This year’s event has been expanded: “a more robust schedule,” promises a recent press release.

The $210,000 Central Park Grand Prix in show jumping, presented by Rolex, will be televised on NBC Sports Network during prime time on Sunday, September 27. This show is a very big deal, and this year, Arabians will be part of the spectacle. “This is the first time ever that we have been accepted in an arena with Olympic-level horses,” says Richardson, marveling at the enormous exposure and potential the opportunity will bring.

“The top horses in the world have been invited. This will be our ‘Wow!’ moment: our ‘meet and greet’ moment. Central Park is the most-visited urban park in the world; to even be there gives us legitimacy. This is our chance for people to see and recognize the joy and wonder of our breed: to see them as the beautiful, useful creatures they are. This is our chance to make a good impression on a group of people we have never before had access to.

“We have already been in the Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of the Horse. The Chronicle of the Horse’s online coverage of the 2014 Rolex Central Park Horse Show got more hits than the World Equestrian Games! The Arabian horses’ inclusion is new to the media, so there will be lots of coverage, both before and after.”

On Wednesday evening, September 23, 2015, at 6:00 pm EDT, six halter classes and three performance classes will present the Arabian at his very best, to a brand new audience … and the audience will be huge. The breed’s beauty and grace, good manners and responsiveness to humans will be evident in each of the three performance classes selected. Western and country English pleasure will be followed by Arabian mounted native costume. “The Arabian mounted native costume class will take an audience through time, showing the magic and romance of the Arabian horse, of yesterday, today and tomorrow,” rhapsodizes one effusive- but not inaccurate - online promotion.

The six in-hand classes will be grouped by gender and age, to show the Central Park audience what an Arabian horse should look like – and what makes him or her a desirable candidate for breeding. The halter classes will also give spectators a glimpse of the Arabian’s tractability and brilliant spirit. A full roster of AHA-credentialed judges will preside. A 2-judge scoring system will be used for the performance classes, and the breeding/in hand classes will use a 5-judge international system. There will be five horses in each performance class, and six horses in each halter class.

“The horses will be placed,” notes Cynthia Richardson, “and in keeping with the Olympic theme, we will be awarding gold, silver and bronze medals to the top three in each class.

“I asked John Ryan, Stan Morey and several other horsemen to help evaluate which performance

horses would be suitable for the under saddle events,” Richardson explains. “The horses will
have to be really trained. There is only one course to the ring from the stabling area, so the horses will have to walk over after warming up, stay in a small holding area, then go in to perform. When people volunteered their horses that was one of the first questions we asked. Did their horse have to be warmed up right before going in the ring, or could it handle the delay? The performance classes were chosen to demonstrate a horse for all riders: the quiet, smooth Western pleasure horse, to the more animated Country English pleasure horse, and culminating in the extreme motion of the Arabian mounted native costume horse as the grand finale.

“The halter horses were asked to apply for the show based on their previous wins, just as they would at any other US Open competition. The horses would have to show their Arabian spirit and natural animation. Some playfulness would be all right, but they would have to come right back down. They would demonstrate that they were ideal companions, beautiful and in tune with their handlers. Many of the hunter/jumper people think Arabians are flighty and hard to handle … so this is our chance to show them otherwise.

“There are only 58 stalls, and the Central Park Conservancy won’t allow horses to come in and out during the busy hours of the day, so the main stabling will be in Gladstone, New Jersey, about 45 minutes away. This is the USEF Olympic trailing facility, which has a big arena and plenty of stalls and exercise areas. Fifty of the stalls in Central Park will be for the horses showing that day, and the remaining eight stalls will be shared tack and ready rooms; it will be highly restricted.”

“The transformation of the ice rink to a horse arena, complete with seating, is nothing short of a miracle,” says AHA National Events Coordinator Kelsey Berglund. “The logistics are challenging, but the results are a magic place to showcase our breed. We will have a combination halter and performance show on Wednesday evening, and then the opportunity to show our horses to the general public on Saturday and Sunday.

“The script for the matinees will tell their story, from the Bedouin tribes living with their prize mares, to the importation of these horses all over the world, not only to preserve their ancient heritage, but to add their strength, stamina and intelligence to other breeds. The Rolex Central Park Horse Show is our opportunity to reach a totally untapped market, at a first class event that will allow us to tell our horses’ story, and to show them to the world at their very best.”