By Justine Griffin
When Stephen Williams and Rick Rockefeller-Silvia met for the first time, they didn’t realize how much they had in common.
They came from opposite ends of the equestrian community in Wellington: Steve had ridden on the hunter/jumper circuits as a junior rider and Rick was a grand prix dressage rider. But they both lost their mothers to pancreatic cancer.
Rick lost his mother one year after she was diagnosed. Steve lost his mother when he was just 15 years old.
“It’s something we both have in common and is something we both are very passionate about. It’s really affected our lives,” Rick said. “I never knew the effects something like this could have on an individual or a family. It’s been an education for me. We came together in a way that we can fill in that void by fundraising to help the fight against cancer. We thought it’d be a great opportunity to bring back Dressage Under the Stars, this time not as a venue to promote dressage, but as the sport of dressage being used to fundraise for the fight against cancer.”
Exhibitors Pick Their Passion
Dressage Under the Stars is returning to Wellington this year for one night only after a three-year hiatus. The Dressage Under the Stars Cancer Challenge will draw about a half dozen top grand prix dressage riders and their horses to the Palm Beach Polo & Country Club on February 1, 2017. The event is hosted by Partners for a Cure, a non-profit organization that gives to families in need because of cancer. All proceeds from the night will be donated to cancer-related charities for research.
“The new venue to host this Cancer Challenge version of Dressage Under the Stars is one familiar to many in the equestrian industry, Palm Beach Polo & Country Club,” Steve said. “This property where Wellington’s most famous polo matches have occurred is owned and operated by the same group that hosted Dressage Under the Stars’ last exhibition in 2012 at Polo West.”
Asset manager Tara Lordi expressed her excitement for once again hosting the novel competition. “Dressage Under the Stars is a great family-friendly evening and we had a lot of fun with it in the past. We look forward to welcoming everyone once again for a great night to benefit a spectacular cause.”
The goal is also to raise awareness of diseases, like pancreatic cancer, that aren’t as well known or represented in charity events. “There’s so much awareness for breast cancer, which is great, but few people know about other types of cancers that can be just as devastating,” Steve added.
For Mary Lou Moskal, founder of Partners for a Cure and chairwoman of the Dressage Under the Stars Cancer Challenge, the partnership was a natural choice.
May Lou’s daughter Jennifer Moskal is an FEI dressage rider and owner of Invictus Farms. She trains with Rick in Wellington.
“Rick is our trainer and has become our friend and a business partner in many of the equestrian things that we do,” Mary Lou explained. “Throughout my life, we’ve always done different charitable events, though nothing to the scale of what we’re doing now.”
Mary Lou said the idea to turn Dressage Under the Stars into a charitable fundraiser came up casually at the barn.
“We were sitting at the farm after a day of training and were discussing and reminiscing and I said, ‘Gee, I’d really like to do something like that,’” she said.
Through Partners for a Cure, Mary Lou has fundraised for muscular dystrophy and hosted motorcycle rides and other fundraising events, but nothing within the equestrian community before.
“It started out where we would just make a donation to a charitable organization, but as we talked, we decided to make it into a challenge where the riders could pick their organization. Partners for a Cure supplies funding to different charitable organizations. It’s not just breast cancer, it’s ovarian cancer and others like pancreatic cancer, which is close to Rick and Steve,” Mary Lou added.
Each rider-and-horse pair will perform a freestyle test to the music of their choice and ride in costume. Riders are encouraged to pick songs you wouldn’t normally hear in a traditional freestyle competition and the atmosphere is relaxed and fun. A panel of three judges will rate the test based on its technical movements, but also on its creativity and flare.
Rick founded Dressage Under the Stars nearly eight years ago in an effort to raise awareness for the sport. He tapped Steve to run the event because of his experience in hosting large-scale equestrian events in Wellington and his background in television and live entertainment production. The event ran for several weeks during the winter season and was a way to make dressage approachable and fun for the community.
“The show jumping was always under the lights in Palm Beach and it created so much atmosphere and it gave a special spark to the sport and drew a lot of spectators — not just equestrians but also non-equestrians,” Rick explained. “So originally, my idea for Dressage Under the Stars was to offer dressage riders the opportunity to ride under the lights in the sport of dressage and the opportunity to attract non-equestrian spectators and educate them about the art and beauty of dressage.”
One of the most memorable performances from Dressage Under the Stars is Bent Jensen’s winning ride in 2012. A YouTube video of his performance, complete with curly wig, to “I’m Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO went viral and he won the event’s $10,000 grand prize for it.
“It was a fun event to do. I loved how it made people laugh and just enjoy the night and the sport of dressage,” Bent said. “It’s a different mood. It’s fun for us to dress up and ride but it’s fun for the spectators to enjoy a night out too.”
“Plans are for this to be one of Wellington’s most celebrated cancer fundraising events,” Mary Lou stated.
“Cancer is something that’s very close to everyone around us,” she added. “I have different kinds of cancer directly in my family — personal experiences with heavy losses — I’m trying not to cry talking about it. It’s something that touches everybody. It touches us every day and in everything that we do. When it comes to this event, we have wonderful, passionate people and equestrians in Wellington.”
IF YOU GO:
What: Dressage Under the Stars Cancer Challenge
When: February 1, 2017
Where: Palm Beach Polo & Country Club, Wellington, Florida
Tickets: $25 general admission. Cash bar and food options available
More info: Facebook.com/DressageUnderTheStars