In looking ahead to next year’s FEI World Cup Dressage Finals, I want to flashback to the 2005 Finals in Las Vegas and remember the mesmerizing performance by U.S. rider Debbie McDonald and her superstar mare, Brentina, owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas, for whom Las Vegas’s Thomas & Mack Center is named.
Based on their record, Debbie and Brentina are one of the most successful combinations in US dressage history. The pair won the 2003 World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, the first U.S. pair ever to do so. They competed at two Olympic Games – 2008 in Hong Kong and 2004 in Athens, where they were part of the U.S.’s Bronze medal team. They also participated in the 2002 World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Jerez, Spain, and the 2006 WEG in Aachen, Germany, where they also won a team Bronze medal.
Brentina was formally retired in ceremonies at the 2009 World Cup Finals in Las Vegas. There was barely a dry eye in the house as a scarf of roses was laid over Brentina’s neck in celebration and appreciation of the much-loved Hanoverian mare and her contribution to the sport. However, with all their winning performances, Brentina and Debbie are in many ways most remembered for their groundbreaking performance at the 2005 Finals in Las Vegas when, performing in front of a sold-out crowd, the duo virtually ‘rocked the house” with their Grand Prix Freestyle, forever changing the way dressage is watched.
The general rule of thumb in dressage is for the spectators to remain silent from the start of the performance until the finish, but in this case the crowd could not contain itself. The choreography and music choice could not have been more perfect for the big chestnut mare, as each of Brentina’s footfalls struck the ground in perfect timing.
As Debbie and Brentina performed to a medley of Motown hits, the crowd got totally involved and as Brentina performed her last piaffe pirouette and passage down the center line, the packed stadium found itself clapping along to the music which was reaching its climax with Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T. With McDonald grinning from ear-to-ear, Brentina floated to her final halt after which the crowd erupted in cheers. What an amazing moment!
Although Debbie and Brentina didn’t win that Final, winding up in third place, the world will forever remember that performance as one that changed the direction of the sport. For the way the crowd reacted to the upbeat performance changed the way people watch dressage, a fitting and lasting legacy for one of the sport’s most beloved combinations.
I spoke with Debbie earlier this year about that night and she agreed that it truly was an incredible moment. “People still bring it up when they see me,” she said. “And I have to say that I smile every time they do. It was something special that I know I will never forget!”
If you’ve never seen this remarkable performance, give yourself a treat and click on the video below to watch the night Brentina and McDonald ‘rocked the house’ at the 2005 FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas. And be sure to listen as the end of the performance nears to hear the crowd join in like it never had before!
The 2015 FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas feature both the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final and the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final. The event promises to be bigger, better and more exciting than ever, and who knows what magical moments lie in store! So if you haven’t ordered your tickets yet, you should do so now. What a perfect holiday gift!