COTA Team Choreographers Create Fun While Prepping for Pink

Ruth Hogan-Poulsen explains the next movement to Team International sponsored by Seley Parker Group Merrill Lynch. Melissa MacLaren looks on. Photos by Meg McGuire.

Wellington, FL – March 4, 2014 – All of the volunteers for the Challenge of the Americas (COTA) donate untold time and energy to the event that raises funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, but the dedication of each quadrille team’s choreographers is beyond admirable.

The effort the three team leaders have put into the intricate dressage freestyles will make the event, set for Friday, March 7, at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, FL, all the more spectacular. Teams are passionately putting the final touches on their freestyles and are excited to reveal their efforts before a supportive audience.

The music, choreography and other details of each team’s performance are kept under lock and key. All will be revealed Friday night as these teams playfully compete for the crowd’s heart. As professional as these quadrilles will be the night of the event, the compositions were as fun to craft as they will be to watch.

“We sat at the table with colored M&Ms and said, ‘OK. These four go here, then these four go here,'” said Ruth Hogan-Poulsen of her and co-coach Melissa MacLaren’s initial vision for Team International, sponsored by the Seley Parker Group of Merrill Lynch.

Team Purina USA’s choreographer Terry Ciotti Gallo said she likes to start the fun with her riders right from the beginning.

“One night we usually make it a party,” Gallo explained. “We have dinner, we listen to music, they (the riders) let me know if they like it, they make suggestions. This isn’t a dictatorship. My riders have input. The answer is usually that they have very good suggestions. So it may start with me but it doesn’t end with me.”

Endel Ots, rider and choreographer for Team Off the Record sponsored by ShowChic, said he and his team also took some creative liberties in their initial process while not skimping on the party.

“We all went to dinner one night and walked through it in the parking lot,” he laughed.

Bethany Peslar helps Team Off the Record's coach, Endel Ots, play the team's music for the quadrille from his phone
Bethany Peslar helps Team Off the Record’s coach, Endel Ots, play the team’s music for the quadrille from his phone

Team Off the Record is comprised of six riders all under the age of 30 and this is their first year to participate in the event.

“It’s a great cause,” Ots said. “I watched it last year and it brought a lot of joy to people. Dressage can be so serious – we all work so hard. It’s fun to make it a little bit more fun. So it’s more of a party. It’s nice to have it be a fun experience for a great cause.”

Team Purina USA’s leader has been contributing her time to COTA since its founding in 2002. Gallo explained how crafting the choreography and music for the quadrille is a specific and tailored process.

“We want that audience to come back every year because the main purpose is to raise money for breast cancer; it’s not to get a score,” she explained. “So we want to keep it entertaining and light so people come back year after year and know that they’re going to have fun.”

All the team participants make this event special based on the passion that’s behind their production.

“Once I have a vision, I cannot put it down until it’s finished,” Team International’s Hogan-Poulsen explained. “I have this vision of how I want it to come out. I’ll edit, call Melissa in – it’s a lot of feedback. I’ll be sitting at my computer with a glass of wine, but at some point I have to put it away and go to bed!”

As the choreographers worked on their creations, they each incorporated themes – though in the spirit of competition, Team USA was reluctant to share theirs. Although Gallo wouldn’t divulge, she did say she enjoyed the creation of the freestyle.

“It’s my favorite part – how to figure out a puzzle,” she said. “I am a puzzle person.”

Hogan-Poulsen has composed a statement, echoing the mashup of music and lyrics, which will be featured in the evening’s program to capture the spirit of the quadrille: prepare, support, say something, be brave, fight for pink.

Hogan-Poulsen described the musical compilation as “upbeat pop and rock with motivational lyrics. Lyrics that all say something about the cause. If you listen to the music, there is a story. Whether you hear the lyrics or not, you’re going to feel the emotions. You’re still going to feel the story.”

Ots said they have a unique surprise in store for the audience with their Great Gatsby themed piece.

“It’s not a very long number – the idea was to make it really quick and really fun. We wanted to have it be a big party – and the party is not just down in the arena,” he hinted.

Hogan-Poulsen and Gallo both share the tactic of keeping a journal where they gather potential quadrille patterns and ideas throughout the year. They also both said their riders are given a substantial voice in the creative process.

It’s evident that a playful essence shines through in each of these quadrilles’ distinctive voices, pushing creative boundaries while championing a great cause.

“We don’t often get the opportunities to give back, so when we’re asked we have to say yes,” Gallo said. “I really truly believe it’s part of our responsibility as the human race. We have a responsibility to ourselves, we have a responsibility to our families and we have a responsibility to the society around us. I really truly enjoy it and it’s why I come back year after year.”

The Challenge of the Americas Presented by SSG Gloves and Havensafe Farm Fast Facts

What:  The Challenge of the Americas (COTA), presented by SSG Gloves and Betsy Juliano’s Havensafe Farm, is a spectacular event in which teams of high-performance dressage riders compete in intricate quadrilles set to world-class music and choreography. New to 2014, teams will also include elite show jumpers riding a four-bar course in an effort to rack up more points for their teams.

This annual fundraiser is a one-of-a-kind affair. Competing riders include the “Who’s Who” of top equestrian competitors in the United States, Canada, Latin America and Europe. The 12th annual Challenge will once again raise money to help find a cure for breast cancer by benefiting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation through Play for P.I.N.K.

Fri., March 7, 2014
5:30 p.m.     Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres
6:00 p.m.     Opening ceremonies
6:10 p.m.     Challenge of the Americas Competition
7:45 p.m.     Award Presentation
8:00 p.m.     The Challenge Gala: Dinner and Dancing

International Polo Club Palm Beach
3667 120th Avenue South
Wellington, FL 33414

Ticket Information:
Mary Ross
8067 Montserrat Place
Wellington, FL 33414
(561) 433-0988

Ticket prices:
VIP Tables of 10:   price includes competition and gala dinner and dancing
Gold Patron           $6,500 per table
Silver Patron         $4,500 per table
Bronze Patron        $2,500 per table
Individual Seating: $250 per person
General Admission seating $20 per person at the gate
Children 12 and under admitted free (General Admission)



The Challenge of The Americas Beneficiary: The Breast Cancer Research Foundation through Play for P.I.N.K

Play for P.I.N.K.
Play for P.I.N.K. (Prevention, Immediate diagnosis, New technology, Knowledge) is a grassroots organization dedicated to raising funds to fight breast cancer, by creating and promoting awareness of breast cancer through sporting and lifestyle events including men’s and women’s golf tournaments, tennis, swimming, card games, equestrian events, and shopping benefits.  Our commitment is to contribute 100% of all funds raised to our beneficiary, The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  In 2013, PFP donated $4.25 million to BCRF for a cumulative total of $34 million. For more information about PFP, visit



Meg McGuire for Phelps Media Group, Inc. International

Phelps Media Group, Inc.
12012 South Shore Blvd #105
Wellington, FL 33414
561-753-3389 (phone)
561-753-3386 (fax)

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