Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2024

There’s So Much More Than A World Cup In Las Vegas

Riders reveal what they do in Las Vegas when they aren’t competing.

Trying to describe Las Vegas, Nev., to someone who has never been there is like trying to explain the Rocky Mountains to a person who has lived on the beach his entire life. Its extravagance, enormity and electrifying atmosphere are often overwhelming for first-time visitors, who tend to walk around with their heads tilted upwards, their jaws dropped and their eyes as bright and shining as the thousands of lights that decorate Las Vegas Boulevard.

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Riders reveal what they do in Las Vegas when they aren’t competing.

Trying to describe Las Vegas, Nev., to someone who has never been there is like trying to explain the Rocky Mountains to a person who has lived on the beach his entire life. Its extravagance, enormity and electrifying atmosphere are often overwhelming for first-time visitors, who tend to walk around with their heads tilted upwards, their jaws dropped and their eyes as bright and shining as the thousands of lights that decorate Las Vegas Boulevard.

“If you have never been there it’s an amazing place,” said Jan Brink, who lives in Sweden and will head to Vegas for the third time in April to compete in the Rolex FEI World Cup Finals in dressage. “It’s a big difference from the world I am from. Sweden is calm and another kind of culture. [Vegas is] a little bit of a crazy place.”

Crazy is an appropriate description of the lifestyle in Las Vegas, and perhaps it should be called “the city that never sleeps” instead of New York. The nightlife rages on until the early morning hours, and the casinos never seem to close.

“I love the energy of it,” said show jumper Schuyler Riley, Wellington, Fla., who competed there in 2000, 2005 and 2007. “You never get tired there. You’re tired when you get home, but you never get tired there. The energy and the atmosphere translate to the horse show, too. Everyone is really pumped up at the World Cup Final.”

The atmosphere inspired dressage rider Anky van Grunsven from the Netherlands, who participated in a spur-of-the-moment marriage to her partner, Sjef Janssen, in 2005.

“It was really impressive,” she said of her first trip to Las Vegas. “Everyone always talks about [getting married in Vegas], and we saw all these people getting married. Being there sort of got us in the mood of it, so we got married! I have this wonderful fake ring. We were in jeans and Elvis Presley married us. It was really fantastic.”

Rolling The Dice

While not everyone takes the plunge and gets married, many riders enjoy walking the strip, shopping, and a little gambling.

“I consider it a win if you break even,” said a laughing Riley, who enjoys roulette. “I like betting small bets. I prefer to go home with something, like a great pair of shoes!”

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Show jumper Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil said he is a gambler by nature and enjoys playing blackjack and roulette. “I’ve won some big money, but I’ve lost it, too,” he said. “I’ve never walked away from there with a big check except from the horse show.”

Lady Luck has been kinder to dressage rider Leslie Morse, Beverly Hills, Calif., who also likes to play blackjack. “I like thinking games. At least blackjack makes me feel like I’m thinking,” she said with a laugh. “One time I came home with $5,800. That’s pretty good, don’t you think?”

Will Simpson, Thousand Oaks, Calif., said that he used to gamble when he was young and foolish, but Richard Spooner, Agua Dulce, Calif., and Rich Fellers, Wilsonville, Ore., both show jumpers, had similar thoughts regarding  gambling. “I’m actually trying not to gamble,” said Spooner. “I gamble enough on horses.”

Fellers echoed Spooner’s sentiment. “I gamble enough with life in the horse business,” he said.

Helicopters And Wax Museums

While Las Vegas’ claim to fame is gambling, it’s not the only thing to do there. With a plethora of restaurants featuring cuisine from every corner of the world, a visitor is bound to find something to enjoy. In fact, the first thing Spooner does when arriving is head to his favorite sushi restaurant, Nobu.

“For fun I go to the prime rib buffets,” said Todd Minikus, Central Valley, N.Y. Minikus rode in the Budweiser FEI World Cup Show Jumping Finals in 2003 and 2005. “That’s all I can tell you. The rest of it stays in Vegas.”

Golf is another activity that Minikus enjoys, along with Pessoa. “They have beautiful golf courses,” said Minikus. “But it takes a lot of time, and you don’t end up having that much time, even though you’re only jumping once a day.”

However, you don’t necessarily have to stay in Vegas to have a good time. The Grand Canyon, considered to be one of the Natural Wonders of the World, is only a little more than 100 miles east. By helicopter, it’s a quick but worthwhile tour of a breathtaking landscape.

Both Brink and Riley participated in one of those tours. “I took a sunset helicopter ride,” said Riley, who also recommended the wax museum. “It was memorable and really fun. The Grand Canyon is something unbelievably special. That topped my list.”

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Brink enjoyed the helicopter ride, as well as the many shows and concerts available. “I’ve been to see Celine Dion and Queen,” he said.

Fellers said that he is not a big Vegas guy but that he enjoys spending time with his family. “We try to come up with activities we can enjoy as a whole family,” he said. “We do stuff you can do with teenagers. We enjoy it; it’s fun. It’s nice to be with the kids and not have the pressure of clients and riding horses all the time. It’s quality family time.”

For Simpson, who has two children, going to the Bass Pro Shop is one of his favorite destinations in Las Vegas. “I almost won a smoker there once,” he said. “I did win a trucker baseball hat and a tin of pancake mix. My son and I love to make pancakes in the morning, so that was pretty cool.”

Simpson also enjoyed all the dancing in Vegas: “They’ve got ballroom dancers, sometimes the square dancing community is in town, they’ve got break dancers on the black top. They got dancers all over the spectrum in Vegas. People out there just love dancing.”

At the end of the day or night, or morning, in some cases, going to Vegas for the World Cup Finals is a great experience for everyone involved.

“It’s really impressive,” said van Grunsven. “The whole atmosphere, even in the show, was different. People were really enthusiastic, and the crowd was really spectacular.”

“It’s really about catching up with friends and watching and taking it all in,” said Morse. “It’s a phenomenal venue, and it’s a great time to get together with people and celebrate the World Cup.”

If you’re headed to the Rolex FEI World Cup Finals on April 15-19, be sure to check out some of the activities the riders have enjoyed. With so many things to do and see in the entertainment capital of the world, visitors are certain to have a good time.

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, isn’t that what they say?” said Minikus with a laugh. “If you can’t find anything to do there, you’ve got a problem.”  

Coree Reuter

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