If for no other reason than that sunburns, dusty boots and wide brimmed hats are replaced by air conditioning and stage lighting, the Longines Los Angeles Masters CSI5* is a horse show in a class by itself. But there are many more reasons why this distinctly unique showcase of equestrian sport stands alone as the only event of its kind in North America.
Before the LA Masters debuted in 2014, sunburns and dust were elements du jour at every horse show held in the sunshine-soaked state of California. In the West, where true indoor competitions are substituted for a few events held under roofed arenas in the fall, the LA Masters is an exotic bird – one that’s flown straight from its homeland in Europe to alight in America for one week.
One can’t help but marvel at how EEM, the team behind the Masters trio of international indoors in Paris, Hong Kong and LA, successfully replicate their elegant blueprint in three continents around the globe. Founder Christophe Ammeuw brought the Masters CSI5* back to Los Angeles this year, improving the layout from year one with a more intimately designed space that encircled the on-display warmup arena, and an additional viewing platform at one end of the arena.
It’s all held under one roof in the Los Angeles Convention Center, a building so vast that one wouldn’t have known there was an Adobe software convention being held in the same building on the same weekend unless you took a few wrong turns. The space leaves room for growth and more bleacher rows to be added if demand warrants it in future years. The stands and VIP tables weren’t ever quite sold out this year, although they had every reason to be. It seems that West Coast equestrian fans have yet to get the message that the LA Masters is their one and only chance to see the very best show jumping riders in the world compete live and in person, right in their backyard.
The untouchable World No. 1 Scott Brash, World No. 2 Beezie Madden . . . in fact seven of the world’s top ten riders were in attendance at this year’s LA Masters. And in contrast to the only other high-profile international show jumping event held this year in this part of the world, the World Cup Finals back in April, anyone who was anyone could mix with the riders. If you were bold you could find Olympic champion Steve Guerdat at the warmup rail and ask for an autograph, or pass by Ireland’s superstar Bertram Allen on the way to your seat. The LA Masters is a brilliant combination of spotlighting the world’s best riders under literal bright lights and perched atop podium seats, and creating an environment that is intimate enough for anyone to walk up and say hello.
Depending on your role among the hundreds of riders, trainers, grooms, vendors, media, et. al who descended on Los Angeles last week, there were shortcomings, some inevitable and some not. Grooms and trainers still had to subsist on little sleep to prepare for 5:00am rider hacking times. Early mornings at an indoor show are nothing new, but when parking garages and gates weren’t unlocked for them, some young riders found themselves standing on the pre-dawn streets of LA while they waited to be let in. Meals in the ultra pricey VIP area were rumored to have fallen short (it can’t be true that donuts –and donuts only– were served as VIP breakfast each day, can it?) And unorganized prizegivings on Saturday and Sunday irked the media, most of whom who had traveled afar from Europe and the East Coast to cover the event and grab that all-important podium shot.
There’s no good reason to allow sacrifices in quality that affect someone’s experience –no matter who that someone may be– at what is easily North America’s most elite and polished equestrian event. But there is every reason to keep attending, promoting and supporting the LA Masters while it matures and ties up its loose ends. Because whether you were Steven Spielberg, the Mayor of Los Angeles, or a ten year old girl looking at Scott Brash with stars in her eyes, in its second year, the LA Masters continued to be an unequivocal experience that elevated the sport of show jumping for all, simply upon walking through the front doors.