Wellington, FL – March 10, 2013 – Merrill Lynch Team International bested Purina Team USA in a thrilling battle for the title of quadrille champions at the 11th Challenge of the Americas Presented by SSG Gloves, held on Saturday evening at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center.
Spectators gathered to enjoy equestrian entertainment and support the important work of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) through Play for P.I.N.K. The funds raised by the Challenge go directly to benefit critical research projects at BCRF.
Pas de Deux and reining performances opened the evening and set the stage for the quadrille showdown. Top riders from multiple disciplines joined Challenge founder and organizer Mary Ross to support the cause by putting on a show for the eager crowd. The Challenge Gala, an elegant event with dinner and dancing, capped the evening of equestrian entertainment.
“It was an outstanding evening,” Ross said. “The riders were absolutely super. All of them worked so hard to put together their performances and raise money for breast cancer research.”
After guests enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, the event got underway with a reining demonstration by brothers Rick and Trevor Steed. Rick Steed began by donning a wig and bright pink t-shirt to energize the crowd, racing around the ring and guiding his horse without a bridle. His brother then joined him for a freestyle exhibition, and the two were perfectly in sync as they showed off their thrilling sliding stops and spins.
Mason Phelps and Debbie McDonald’s Pas de Deux was a true crowd-pleaser. The two former Olympic-level competitors in the disciplines of eventing and dressage came out of retirement to support the Challenge, riding an upbeat test that included disco moves to “Stayin’ Alive.” Phelps and McDonald were supported by the best in the business: Carl Hester helped choreograph the test, while Terry Ciotti Gallo compiled music for the pair. Phelps rode Oliver Twist, owned by Jennifer Benoit’s Seahorse Stables, while McDonald rode Suzanne E. Mott Dansby’s Perfect Step.
“Debbie and I are thrilled to have helped the cause,” said Phelps. “Mary is a dear friend and this event has been one of the highlights of the season. We’re glad it’s back.”
The mother-daughter team of Evi Strasser and Tanya Strasser-Shostak matched each other stride for stride throughout their fluid Pas de Deux aboard their horses, the appropriately named Action Tyme and Dancing Tyme. Strasser-Shostak arranged the music, while Strasser choreographed their routine. Strasser is a seasoned international dressage competitor for Canada whose career has included appearances at the Olympics, World Equestrian Games and World Cup Finals, while Strasser-Shostak has been racking up the ribbons on the North American Junior and Young Rider circuits.
Team International, sponsored by The Seley Parker Group of Merrill Lynch, led off the quadrille competition, and their performance won the approval of the judges and the hearts of the crowd. Team coaches and choreographers Ruth Hogan-Poulsen and Erin Swaney put together an intricate quadrille pattern and worked with the team to prepare the exhibition. Hogan-Poulsen arranged the music, a mash-up of recent pop hits that included chart toppers by P!nk, David Guetta, Adele, and Bruno Mars.
Team International riders Todd Flettrich, Devon Kane, Susanne Hamilton, Nancy Later, Sharon McCusker and Cherri Reiber faced the dual challenge of mastering a complicated quadrille and adapting to the unique format of the Challenge. Many of the riders were making their Challenge debut, but their talent and hard work resulted in a spectacular performance.
“This was my first year riding in the Challenge, but it won’t be my last,” Hamilton said. “It was a blast, just so much fun. I had great team members, fabulous choreographers in Ruth and Erin, and a fantastic organizer, Mary Ross.”
“It’s definitely a commitment, but it was worth every bit of it last night,” she added. “It’s for a great cause that is very dear to me. I’ve lost a very close friend to cancer, so when I took those long drives to practice in the evenings, that’s who I thought about. And it was worth every second of driving. It’s such an important cause and I’m very proud to have been a part of it.”
Merrill Lynch Team International’s effort earned them a score of 94 out of a possible 100 points from the Quadrille Judges Panel, which included Lois Yuken, Karin Kruger, Lorraine MacDonald and celebrity judge Robert Dover. The judges assessed the two teams on criteria such as choreography, musical interpretation and harmony of horses and riders. The international team received particularly high marks in the musical category, while the U.S. team earned strong scores for choreography and horse/rider harmony en route to a total of 86 points.
Purina Team USA’s star cast of riders relied on their extensive experience with the format of the Challenge to put together a precise performance. Dressed in leather jackets and poodle skirts, Pam Goodrich, Chris Hickey, Betsy Steiner, Bill Warren, George Williams and John Zopatti rode to a selection of rock-and-roll music that included the classics “Old Time Rock and Roll,” “Shout,” “Rock Around the Clock” and “Duke of Earl.” Longtime Challenge choreographer Terry Ciotti Gallo created the pattern and musical accompaniment for the U.S. team.
“I’m crazy about the way Terry Gallo does her music – she does such a great job, and we really enjoy riding to it,” Steiner, who has ridden in the Challenge every year since its inception in 2002, commented. “I think the standard is raised every year. It keeps developing, and the teams get better and better.”
“It’s just such a fun event, and it’s one of the nicest things of the season to spend time with other professionals,” she added. “We are all quite busy, and we all find the time. I think that has a lot to do with Mary Ross and with the cause. It means a great deal to me personally – we have some very dear friends who are breast cancer survivors. If you know that you’re just a little part of doing something that might help someone, it makes you feel much better. You think, ‘My goodness, I’m doing something I love and it could help somebody.’ It doubles the effect.”
Matt Ketcham, a representative of Team USA sponsor Purina, noted that the spectators enjoyed the show. “The Wellington crowd is always welcoming,” Ketcham said. “Purina is always interested in supporting programs like the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It is always good to mix good people and animals because animals make people better.”
“Everyone had a good time,” Ross remarked. “The Breast Cancer Research Foundation was able to attend, and they enjoyed the whole evening.”
“Jim Brandon Equestrian Center was a perfect venue for the event,” she continued. “It was exciting for both the riders and the spectators to have an intimate setting that lets the audience see everything up close.”
The Challenge of the Americas has grown over the years from a small luncheon dressage exhibition at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby to its current status as a one-of-a-kind exhibition and gala. Ross created it in honor of her mother, Jean Cruse, who died of breast cancer. Each year’s event features dressage alongside another equestrian sport, such as polo or show jumping. In its first 10 years, the Challenge raised over $8 million for breast cancer research.
“Not only do I congratulate all of the riders and coaches, especially the winning international team and coaches Erin Swaney and Ruth Hogan-Poulsen, I also thank them from the bottom of my heart,” said Ross. “They commit a great deal of time to preparations for the Challenge, and we would not be able to do it without them. Every single one of them is devoted to the cause. They do a fantastic job and allow us to make a real difference.”
Along with SSG Gloves, the presenting sponsor, the Challenge received support from a number of generous patrons. Sponsors included Purina, Merrill Lynch, Back on Track, Palm Beach Equine, Cunningham & Cunningham, the United States Dressage Federation, International Polo Club Palm Beach, MatchnRide.com, Red Barn Feed & Supply, Samshield, Steed Training, Tackeria, Wellington Classic Dressage, Dover, Bushel Stop, 360 Landscape & Design, and Mulvehill Nursery, Inc.
For more information about the Challenge, visit their website at www.challengeoftheamericas.com and follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ChallengeoftheAmericas.
The Challenge of the Americas Beneficiaries
Play for P.I.N.K.
The Breast Cancer Research Foundation