November 15, 2011

Fiera Cavalli and the Verona, Italy, FEI World Cup Qualifier

After a four hour train and bus ride from my cozy apartment in downtown Florence, Italy, I arrived at the gates of Fiera Cavalli 2008, the annual horse fair and expo held in Verona, Italy.  I was alone, hundreds of kilometers from anything familiar, and still only about an intermediate Italian speaker, but I was fearless and my eyes were surely shining as I walked underneath the banner you see at the right.  Up to that point, it had been a long, primarily horseless semester of study abroad, but a chance sighting of an ad in a magazine I had purchased in a train station a month earlier had led me to this, the mecca of equine sport in Italy.

The fair itself was impressive, and I got a quick education that things at the top levels of Italian sport are not as they are here in the US.  I saw everything from red alligator skin boots, to helmets that looked like a science fiction creation, to pitiful attempts to recreate American western wear.  But that wasn't why I was there.  I was there to see the FEI World Cup Show Jumping Qualifier.

Vintage Texas originals!  Somehow, I doubt that.


So many cute old guys on gorgeous horses.  I cannot overstate this Italian phenomenon.

I settled into my seat in time to catch the second half of the Prestige class, which occurred right before the FEI class, and it was during that class that I saw the most stunning display of horsemanship I've seen in my life, before and since. 

Ludger and his young horse in the Prestige class.
All of the competitors were going lights out in the class with the intention of winning it, but it was clear that that wasn't Ludger Beerbaum's intention from the moment he and his flashy young Chestnut walked into the ring.  Where others had been taking sharp rollbacks and galloping, he took the course slowly and methodically, clearly only intending to use this as a chance to give this young horse a low-pressure introduction to a big show ring atmosphere.  As he went around the course, you could see him holding this young horse's mind in his hands, shaping a confident future competitor as he guided him and picked him up after he made young horse mistakes.  That ride taught me so much about creating an independent, confident equine partner.

Ludger Beerbaum, in the FEI class.

Then for the FEI class, I'm pretty sure my jaw never left the floor.  I'd never seen a horse jump that high before in real life, and it felt like it almost defied physics that they could get that high off the ground and come back down safely.  Competitor after competitor went until we had a jump-off of three, one of whom was the hometown hero (and I'm so sorry, I can't remember his name.)

What happened next, during the jump-off, I'm still a little embarrassed about to this day.
The winner...oops...

The hometown hero, (whose name I still cannot remember, I apologize) was the second to go in the jump-off.  The first competitor had had a rail, so he needed to go clear.  He had a breathtaking ride, both full of passion and technically correct.  When he was finished, my section began cheering loudly  (these are Italians, after all, they don't do anything quietly!) and suddenly I realized that we were the only ones cheering and the rest of the stands were groaning.  My section wondered, what had happened?  Then I moved to my left and realized that the actual final jump was set up in such a way that it was behind a metal support beam and impossible for my section to have seen or realized.  It's quite likely that our cheering at the second to last fence caused him and his horse to lose concentration and take a rail on the last fence.  The third rider ended up going clear and winning the competition.

It was only one of three horse experiences I had in Italy, but the mark it left on my equestrian personality is the most indelible.  There is no forgetting an experience like Fiera Cavalli and the FEI Verona World Cup Qualifier.


  1. How cool to experience that. Those colored irons are FANTASTIC!

  2. Kristen, it was really unforgettable. Can you believe I didn't buy anything? I was a poor student just trying to make it through the semester without having to cry home for cash, but I wish I would've bought SOMETHING!

    Also, I stalked your blog (sorry?) and your kitchen designs are fantastic! I may have to hire you someday, you know, when I'm not a poor newlywed and new homeowner just trying to keep the house in one piece!