Putting on a show

Show organisers are usually the invisible, unsung heroes who leave the limelight to the others. There is, of course, one exception. A man with a Spanish first name, a Polish last name, a German passport, a Dutch wife and a home in Canada – Pedro Cebulka.

By Camilla Alfthan, images courtesy of Pedro Cebulka.

EVEN those who don’t follow equestrian sports on a regular basis could not have missed the incident that involved one of  the ring master’s notorious hats. When the British dressage champion; Charlotte Dujardin, created history with her gold winning performance at the European Championships in Denmark and then borrowed Pedro’s flamboyant hat to receive the honours.

Dressage is usually a conservative business. Now how did that happen? We were together when Charlotte won gold in London at the Olympic Games and that was magical. So when she won gold at the European Championships, she said, ‘Pedro – can I just borrow your hat for a minute for a picture before you go in the ring?’ I said, ‘Of course,’ and gave her my hat. And she said, ‘You know what? Maybe I’ll wear it in there’, and I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And she said, ‘Yes, I’d love to’ and I said; ‘OK – let’s do it’. As it turned out it was the picture of the year in the horse industry. It sticks out in the mind and it’s good for the sport.

You obviously have a special relationship with the riders, you go everywhere with them, they’re like your kids in a way..In many ways kids, most are younger than me, some are brothers, and some are a little bit older than me. I’ve been in this business for 37 years. Rodrigo is second generation as many other riders. I have a relationship with these riders – mostly it is very special and sometimes sad, but there is a bond between us which is really nice.

You’re a little bit like the school master who calls them in. Yes, I call them in and I put a lot of energy in it. Obviously, I’m doing it because I enjoy it  and I get so much back from the riders. Like anything in life, if you work with the best in the world in whatever it is, you always learn. How to be succesful and the dedication that the riders have for their job is inspiring. When I see the love they have for their animals..those are their partners. I have so many beautiful stories of what I’ve seen.

What is your favorite memory? I’m thinking about people who raised the horse  – the horse always comes first. In championships, Christian Ahlman, or someone like that, always say that they’re so thankful to their horse.

How did you get into this world? I used to ride when I was your age and going to school. We always had horses but for fun. I always loved this animal and then, in 1977, I ended up in a  trip around the world in Canada in Spruce Meadows where I started out cleaning stables. It was a brand new place and luckily enough I knew a little bit about horses and I speak many languages so when the Mexican and the German teams came up I could interpret them. I did announcements, maintenance, course building; everything. I started at the bottom.

Checking the order of the show with Rodrigo Pessoa

When did you start as a ring master? (The show organisers) Equitana knew I had close relations to both riders and grooms. So in 1986 they asked me if I could be at the in gate and call them in. So my job is very simple. To get horse and rider in and out of the ring on time and safe. Its about communication with the jury, the veterinarians, the tv crews.. It’s important to make sure the riders are on time and calm. If they’re calm the horse will also be in the right frame of mind. If they’re nervous, the animal feels it and it gets so much more difficult.

When did you start to dress up? I’ve done it for 25-26 years. At first I was dressed in suit and tie. Then one day, I wore a tropical helmet that I’d bought in Hawaii that the riders really liked. So it went from there. Now, for the Gucci Masters I wanted to wear something special. I spent five hours in a rental place. Yesterday, I was Napoleon, before that King Louis, now I’m a musketeer.

And tomorrow? It is always a surprise what I’ll wear the next day. Sometimes I sit in the bar with the riders for a refreshment and they ask; ‘Pedro, what are you going to wear tomorrow?’ and they know I’ll never tell – it’s a game, it’s fun.

Sometimes I sit in the bar with the riders for a refreshment and they ask; ‘Pedro, what are you going to wear tomorrow?’ and they know I’ll never tell.

Do you have some favorite riders? I have nice stories for almost everyone. Eric Lamaze is a good friend. I went through the most difficult times with him in his life. He missed the Olympics twice because he had a drug problem. He was selected and he failed twice and it was really sad for him and his country. But then, when he finally made it and when we were in Hong Kong – he’d been out of the sport for a year – and he won gold I gave him a high five at the gate and that was so beautiful. He’d had hard times but that was the highlight of his life.

Letting their hair down – with Michel Robert

At night we celebrated. I wore a yellow emperours robe and a hat, and he jumped on my shoulders and took my hat and we danced like that for fifteen minutes. We partied until five in the morning. Another Canadian is Ian Miller. He did ten Olympics and five with me. I always call him for his birthday. I tell him, that I don’t call to congratulate him ; I call to make sure he stays in shape so we can do one more Olympics together.

pastedGraphic.pngHow long will you be doing this? As long as I can. I’ll do the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, the Pan American games, the Olympic Games the year after. As long as people ask me I’ll be there.

Do you have some favorite horses? I have many. One small story is about Milton (John Whitaker’s flamboyant star and the first show jumper to win over £1 million in prize money.)

I used to fly the horses to Canada to Spruce Meadows and we were at Stansted in England and the groom somehow lost the horse. We were on the runway so I jumped over and grabbed his rope. The horse was rearing and I hanged on to it – if he’d run off he could have been hit by a plane. When I then let go of it the skin of my hands came off but we saved Milton! So that’s one of many happy stories with the horses.   I did 20 years of flying with horses. We brought Europeans over on a jumbo with 65-70 horses. In the old days they had to organize it differently than now. There were grooms and veterinarians. Every groom looked after their horses. The captain decided where the mares and the stallions should go. It was fun.

Do you have a favorite show? I worked all over the world – in Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, the States, South America – I did shows in Venezuela and Brazil. I do Hong Kong now. Aachen has a history and a size that makes it unique. Hermès takes place in an unbelievable location..There are so many beautiful shows that it is impossible to name which ones I prefer. I only do 10-12 shows a year and I always enjoy it.

 It’s the only sport where we have an animal and a human being competing together. And the only sport where men and women compete against each other on the same level.

How do you see the sport in the future? We have to bring it more and more to the people. Show that it is not just people in helmets who do it all. We must focus on the horses and the bond between rider and horse. It’s the only sport where we have an animal and a human being competing together. And also, it’s the only sport where men and women compete against each other on the same level. I dress up to make people smile and I give some rosettes to the riders at the prize giving. Basically; its a about giving the people a show. ©

REED KESSLER – THE SPEEDER

 








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