This month, global equestrian extravaganza The Masters Grand Slam indoor is riding into LA for the first time ever.
Why isn’t LA horsier? Settled by ranchers, populated by movie cowboys, and blessed with arguably the best riding terrain of any major city, LA should be one of the planet’s equine hot spots. Yet strangely, not since the 1984 Olympics has the city held any world-class equestrian events. That’s about to change on September 25-28, when LA is set to follow Paris and Hong Kong in hosting the Masters Grand Slam Indoor horse-jumping competition. Twenty-five of the world’s top-ranked riders will face off atop a sawdust course in the Los Angeles Convention Center for a million-dollar purse.
“LA offers a unique combination of spectacular sporting action, lifestyle entertainment, and red-carpet attendance,” says Christophe Ameeuw, founder and CEO of EEM World, the organizers and creators of the Masters Grand Slam Indoor. It’s going to be a scenic affair, full of ancient ritual, as riders in the classic uniform—knee-high leather boots, white riding britches, and olive-colored jackets with white shirt and tie—climb atop their gleaming horses to perform elegant ballerina leaps across small pools (“liverpools” in horse parlance) and fences.
Well-heeled and-fed spectators watch the Grand Prix competition at the 2014 Longines Hong Kong Masters.
“I’ve been training for the past five years in Germany” says hometown hero Lucy Davis of Brentwood, one of the competition’s favorites. Having come from three generations of Angelenos active in horsemanship (her grandfather, Robert Barron Frieze, was a prominent jockey agent), the blonde beauty gained overnight fame last September when she unexpectedly beat two Olympic medalists to win the Grand Prix of Lausanne, Switzerland. At 20, she was the youngest rider ever to win the Longines Global Champions Tour. She got a standing ovation from the usually subdued crowd.
But that subdued crowd is also unusually colorful. As with Wimbledon, Ascot, and other blue-blooded sporting events, horse jumping attracts the well heeled and well bred, and much of the best action and people-watching will be happening outside the arena. “If horse racing is the sport of kings, horse jumping is the sport of emperors,” says another SoCal favorite, Richard Spooner, who currently lives in the horse-friendly prairie of Acton, just east of Los Angeles, and who will be riding his 16-year-old gelding, Cristallo. “You have to remember, although this hasn’t become as big a sport in LA as in the rest of the world, it attracts the crème de la crème, not just from Europe and South America, but also from the Middle East.”
Reed Kessler at the Gucci Paris Masters.
If past Grand Prix are any indication, expect to see equestrian fans and luminaries such as French movie star Marion Cotillard, European and Arab royals, and even Bruce Springsteen and Michael Bloomberg (whose daughters are both professional jumpers)—not to mention Hollywood’s own royalty—wandering amid the pop-up stores for Gucci, Hermès and Longines (the competition’s title sponsor and official timekeeper). If you’re hankering to get royally fed for the weekend, plunk down $18,750 per six-seat table to nibble caviar-sprinkled scallops carpaccio and other delicacies prepared by chef Yves Mattagne, who has been awarded double Michelin stars—that’s two more than the Convention Center’s tried-and-true Levy Restaurants concession stand has.
Oh yeah, and there’s also going to be horse jumping. Once you tear yourself away from the red carpets and Rodeo Drive-like attractions, notice individual riders dismounting to pace out the distances between obstacles like a golfer measuring his next swing: They’re planning striding strategies—the crux to winning the competition.
Horses greet each other at the 2013 Gucci Paris Masters.
“You want to know your horse’s exact pace for optimum striding,” says Davis, who now spends the bulk of her time training with her 10-year old Belgian gelding, Barron, after recently finishing her senior year of architectural studies at Stanford.
Even for those not familiar with the nuances of horse jumping, the Grand Prix, on the third day of the competition, is an edge-of-the-seat spectacle; a speed race among finalists, where whoever goes the fastest around the course without knocking down an obstacle will walk away with the prize. “For that kind of payday, we’re going to be going a lot faster than we probably should,” laughs Spooner.
Will this competition mean LA might finally claim its heritage as a world-class city for horsemanship? “Our goal is to establish Los Angeles as home to the American leg of the Masters Grand Slam Indoor for the long term,” says Ameeuw. “Just like Paris and Hong Kong, we want to establish the Longines Los Angeles Masters as an iconic rendezvous on the social and sporting calendar.”
PHOTOGRAPHY © MGSI