Stepping Out

In the saddle

Prestigious equestrian competition brings an elite group of riders to L.I.

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The American leg of the renowned Longines Masters Series makes a stop here in a display of world-class equestrian competition.

Many of the world’s top equestrians — including two-time Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward — will put on a high-jumping, heart-pounding display of showmanship at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, Thursday through Sunday, April 25-28.

Known as the “Grand Slam of indoor show jumping,” Longines Masters New York is the third leg of the prestigious international equestrian competition that takes place yearly in New York, Paris, Hong Kong and Lausanne, Switzerland. It features four days of challenging competition, including show jumping, speed challenges, team competition and natural dressage.

“Nassau Coliseum is a great set-up for horses,” says the 43-year-old Ward.” It’s a more intimate setting than the large outdoor venues where the Olympic Games are held.”

The competing riders represent the best of the best and include Olympic winners like Ward and rising stars of the college equestrian circuit, along with other well-known competitive riders includig Joey Wölffer and Georgina Bloomberg.

“You don’t often get this caliber of riders in such a small venue,” says Wölffer. “It’s an amazing venue and it’s exciting.”

Wölffer started riding when she was six-years-old. “My father bought land on eastern Long Island when it was all potato fields,” she says, “and the person managing the farm had a donkey and horse and that’s how it all started. I was addicted to riding as soon as I did it.”

Like many of the competitors, there was also a family connection. “My mom rode, then my dad started riding around when I did and we all became passionate at the same time.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever turned back,” she adds. “It’s the thing that gives me the most peace.”

Ward had a similar experience. “I grew up in Brewster, N.Y., on my family’s farm and started riding at about a year old. My mother and father were both riding professionals,” he says. “It was motivating to me at first, to want to spend time with my father and do what he was doing. Slowly but surely, I got better at it. Then when you get good at something, you pursue it.”

He pursued it all the way to the Olympics where he won Team Gold for jumping in 2004 and 2008 and a Team Silver in the 2016 Games.

A jumping competition is one in which the combination of horse and athlete is tested under various conditions over a course of obstacles and hurdles. If an athlete makes certain faults such as knocking down an obstacle, or exceeding the time allowed, penalties are assessed that affect the overall score.

Ward and the other competitors will need to muster all their skill and showmanship to compete in events like the Longines Speed Challenge, considered the fastest-speed jumping competition in the world and the Lamborghini Masters Power. This high jump competition is like the limbo in reverse. The jumps continue to get higher with each round, ultimately honoring the one who can break the two-meter barrier.

It’s a loud exciting event and the crowd is encouraged to cheer on their favorites.

One of the favorite fan events, the Rider’s Master Cup, is a team competition pitting the U.S. against their European rivals.

“It’s an exciting competition for the crowd,” says Ward. “The team captain picks which rider goes against which rider so you can try and get the advantage. The way the point system works, teams can come back from a slow start which provides excitement down to the very end.”

In addition to the competitive riding portion, the event includes plenty of family friendly activities — even some serious puppy love, compliments of the American Kennel Club.

“Canines and Equines features six dogs that have a deep history with horses as herders or hunters,” says the American Kennel Club’s Brandi Hunter. “We’ll have an area set up with booths so the public can meet the handlers and pet the dogs, including Russell Terriers, Afghan Hounds, Salukis, German Shorthaired Pointers, Beagles and Pembroke Welsh Corgis.”

Dogs, of course, can be quite the competitors as well, and attendees will get to cheer on 60 dogs during an agility canine competition. They’ll compete in three different jump heights, with the winner getting a trophy and a $10,000 purse.

“The agility competition is fun for all breeds and includes All-American border collies and even some mixed breeds,” notes Hunter.

Adding to the festive atmosphere, the venue will also feature a Concourse Village with pop-up boutiques selling luxury goods from the equestrian world’s top brands as well as plenty of food and beverag offerings.

“I love having an event of the caliber and level of the Longines Masters in my home state of New York,” says Ward, “I’m a proud New Yorker.”

Longines Masters New York

When: Thursday through Sunday. April 25-28. Times vary. Tickets start at $25; available at the Nassau Coliseum Box Office, (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.

Where: NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, Hempstead Turnpike, Uniondale.