Team Purina, winners of the 2015 Challenge of the Americas. Photos by Mary Adelaide Brakenridge and Alexandra Lynch.
Wellington, FL – March 25, 2015 – The 2015 Challenge of the Americas (COTA), presented by Deloitte, brought elite dressage athletes and show jumpers to the International Polo Club (IPC) Palm Beach on Friday evening to showcase their skill, entertain the crowd, and do their part to raise money for breast cancer research. Team Purina earned a hard-fought win in the Challenge, defeating Team ShowChic and Team Merrill Lynch to take home the title.
COTA is dedicated to raising money for breast cancer research. Proceeds benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation through their partner, Play for P.I.N.K. (Prevention, Immediate Diagnosis, New Technology, Knowledge). COTA 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. Mary Ross created it in honor of her mother, Jean Cruse, who died of breast cancer.
“It was a wonderful evening from start to finish,” Ross said. “I’m truly grateful to all of the riders and coaches who devoted so much time and hard work to preparing for the Challenge, as well as the sponsors, committee members and volunteers who did so much to support the event. I can’t thank them enough. Their commitment allows us to make a real difference and contribute to the fight against breast cancer.”
Following the opening ceremonies, the show jumpers led off the 2015 COTA with a fast-paced gambler’s choice competition. Two show jumpers for each team tackled the course, trying to rack up as many points as possible within the time allowed. Juan Manuel Lander, jumping for Team ShowChic, was the top scorer of the group, with Purina’s Spencer Smith and Merrill Lynch’s Javier Berganza not far behind.
As the action shifted over to the dressage arena, two exhibition groups took the stage. Germany’s Michael Klimke and Christoph Koschel teamed up to perform a pas de deux sponsored by John and Leslie Malone. The pair showed impressive harmony and synchronization. Allison Brock, Kati Dagge and Jim Koford of the U.S. put on a fun, engaging pas de trois, sponsored by Deloitte. The creative choreography by team coach Tigger Montague of Spirithorse Productions told a story using upbeat tunes like “Call Me,” “Big Spender,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “This Is How We Do.”
Team ShowChic was first up in the quadrille competition, and they made an impression before the horses even entered the ring: baton twirler Kayden Muller-Janssen led the way as a group of women and girls, including young riders from Dressage4Kids, carried in a giant pink ribbon. The team rode nicely in time to the music throughout their challenging routine. Erin Swaney of Erin Swaney Dressage was the coach and choreographer for Team ShowChic with assistance from Mary-Cameron Rollins, and Karen Robinson of Applause Dressage arranged the music.
The next team to go, sponsored by The Seley Parker Group of Merrill Lynch, came into this year’s COTA on a two-year winning streak. They put in a spectacular performance to try to defend their title, and they kept the audience guessing with letters on the back of their shirts that spelled out “Breast in Show” when they eventually lined up. Ruth Hogan Poulsen of Freestyles from A-C choreographed the routine and coached the team with assistance from Melissa MacLaren.
The competition came down to the wire, and the pressure was on the last to go, Team Purina. They delivered in style, earning nearly perfect marks from the judges for their harmony, artistry and technical merit as they danced to “On the Floor,” “Fireball,” “Uptown Funk,” and other popular hits. Canadian Olympian David Marcus, FEI 5* judge Linda Zang and FEI 4* judge Lois Yukins comprised the judges’ panel for the event.
Zang remarked that Team Purina had a great plan and stayed in beautiful harmony throughout their ride, and Yukins said the performance was so good, she was sad to see it end. Marcus added that he appreciated the technical difficulty of their routine.
“They were doing Grand Prix movements and doing them really well,” Marcus said. “On top of that, it was a huge crowd-pleaser. The music was great, and it was executed well. That’s hard to beat.”
Team Purina riders were Betsy Steiner, Pamela Goodrich, Jim Koford, Bent Jensen, John Zopatti and J. J. Tate. Terry Ciotti Gallo of Klassic Kur was the team’s choreographer and coach with assistance from Bill Warren. The majority of the riders on Team Purina have performed together at COTA for a long time, but Tate was new to the team and taking part in her second COTA.
“I was really excited to be asked to be a part of it,” Tate said. “We were very committed and very serious at practices every Tuesday. Terry did a superb job putting the music and the choreography together, and I think we knew from the beginning it was going to be pretty cool.”
She appreciated the opportunity to participate in an event that has personal meaning to her.
“What really makes it special for me is that my mom is a 15-year breast cancer survivor,” Tate said. “For me, it hit home how important breast cancer research is. This is a way to give back and be part of something bigger than yourself, something that’s incredibly important to many women as well as men.”
The Challenge Gala put the finishing touch on the evening of entertainment with an elegant dinner and dancing in the IPC Pavilion, drawing a large group of VIPs to enjoy the night and raise additional funds for breast cancer research. Along with exquisite food and an active dance floor, highlights of the Gala included a live auction featuring two fantastic items and a silent auction with fine art, tack and supplies, jewelry and much more.
During the live auction, guests bid on safe and comfortable transportation for a horse from Wellington to Kentucky with popular equine shipping company Brook Ledge Horse Transportation as well as a chance to have themselves or a person of their choice included in “The Bitter Season,” the next book by bestselling author Tami Hoag.
Deloitte teamed up with COTA for the first time this year as the event’s presenting sponsor. Judy Sloan of Deloitte said the professional services firm was glad to get involved with an Olympic sport in which men and woman compete on a level playing field.
“This is Deloitte’s first foray into equestrian sport,” Sloan said. “I’m really thrilled that we can take on our equestrian adventure and sponsorship of all things horses with this event. This is a great cause.”
Mary Adelaide Brakenridge for Phelps Media Group, Inc. International