It was time to catch up with my daughter and her show jumpers competing in California. Last Saturday I drove from Tucson to Del Mar near San Diego to watch Michelle ride our Holsteiner stallion Clintord I in the $100,000 Grand Prix of Del Mar. Actually I planned to leave on Friday but the wind was gusting so violently in Tucson that driving seemed an unappealing prospect. The same windy weather was whipping up a fierce wildfire in the Hidden Hills area near LA. At its peak the fire threatened some 4,000 homes and a university campus. There are also numerous horse farms in the vicinity including several top grand prix show barns. A thousand horses were evacuated to safer surroundings and fortunately by next day the hot, dry, windy weather abated and the fire was brought under control without inflicting as much damage as was threatened.
The Del Mar National Horse Show is one of a select few remaining across the country that continue to offer the pomp and circumstance that marks a true event. So many of today’s horse shows operate in a closed loop, existing only to bring in entries and crank out classes for the benefit of the participants and the venue’s bottom line. In contrast a show like Del Mar goes the extra mile to entice the public with fun and pageantry, generating an electric energy absorbed by fans and competitors alike. The stands are filled with enthusiastic spectators while the riders suffer an extra edge of nerves to suit the occasion.
Only a limited number of entrants were allowed in the big money class, so a qualifying $25,000 speed class Thursday night served to narrow the field down to 32 horse/rider combinations eligible to compete in the big ring Saturday night. Clintord acquitted himself admirably in the qualifier with a clean round (video) and a 5th place finish to secure his place in Saturday night’s order of go. For the main event we were pleased with his 4-fault effort in a class that saw only four horses produce clear rounds over an imposing course of very big jumps. Congratulations to Duncan McFarlane and Mr. Whoopy for the win, well-deserved for their gutsy ‘full-throttle’ jump-off round!
Now I’m hanging out at Michelle’s Cross Creek West training facility in nearby San Marcos while the horses take a break. After last week’s fire, the weather turned grey and drizzly. While the daily activity of a training stable took place around me – exercising the horses and coaching the students – I prowled the property seeking candids of horses and people but I spent the majority of my time with Clintord while he was turned out in the pasture, green with new spring grass and dotted with cheerful pink wildflowers.
Photo notes: The overcast skies produced a soft light that served well for the impromptu candids I was shooting. This was my first time using Nikon’s new 80-400mm lens and it was awesome! Fully zoomed in across a field, hand-held, ISO kicked up a bit to compensate – the lens captured such details as individual whiskers on a horse, barn flies frozen in motion (later to be cloned away), and sparkling bright eyes all in crisp focus. The quality of the lens and the great flexibility of its range earns it a permanent place in my shooting bag. Traveling overseas frequently as I do always creates a packing dilemma but this lens will solve a lot of my decision-making agony.