The Night That Changed Dressage Forever

It wasn’t just one of the great dressage performances of all time, it was the night that changed the sport forever!

An electrifying performance by U.S. rider Debbie McDonald and the magical chestnut mare Brentina at the 2005 FEI Dressage World Cup Final in Las Vegas broke all the rules and paved the way for dressage’s emergence as an entertaining spectator sport.

Traditionally, dressage had featured freestyle performances to classical music and audiences that would sit still and remain silent until the end of the performance. However, on this Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, the crowd could not contain itself. Debbie and Brentina performed to a medley of popular Motown hits and as they rode their last piaffe pirouette and passage down center line, set to Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T, the capacity crowd was standing and clapping to the music which made Debbie grin from ear-to-ear. As the pair danced to their final salute, the crowd erupted in cheering so loud that the building nearly shook ! It was pure magic and dressage has never been the same!

If you’ve never seen this remarkable performance, or if you want to see it again, click here. Be sure to turn up the volume and listen as the end of the performance nears to hear the crowd as it joins in. It still makes me smile!

“People still bring it up when they see me,” Debbie once told me. “And I have to say that I smile every time they do. I really do feel that it changed the way we present dressage and I think it played a major role in our sport’s growth. It was something special and I’m sure it is a night I will never forget!”

Peggy Thomas, who owned Brentina with her husband Parry, for whom Las Vegas’s Thomas & Mack Center is named, once said, “The bigger the crowd and more frightening the situation, the better Brentina would perform. ‘Bring it on, I can take it,’ she would seem to say. She lit up the minute she walked into the ring at the World Cup, as if to say, ‘Oh good, my public has arrived!’”

Debbie and Brentina didn’t win the Final that year (they did claim a spot on the podium after finishing in third), but that hardly mattered. Their incredible performance changed the direction of the sport and how people watch dressage. It was a fitting legacy for one of the most beloved, and one of the most successful, horse/rider combinations in dressage history!

Debbie and Brentina first stepped onto the international stage at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada, where they won team and individual Gold medals. It was an incredible accomplishment as Brentina was just 8 years-old! The pair dominated the sport over the next decade, winning medals and championship titles at the most prestigious competitions around the world.

The pair won the 2003 World Cup™ Final in Gothenburg, Sweden, the first U.S. pair to do so. They competed at two Olympic Games – 2008 in Hong Kong and 2004 in Athens, where they were part of the U.S.’s Bronze medal team. They were part of the Silver medal U.S. Team at the 2002 World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Jerez, Spain, as well as the 2006 Bronze medal WEG team in Aachen, Germany.

Brentina was formally retired in a special ceremony at the 2009 World Cup Finals in Las Vegas.  The diminutive Debbie wiped tears from her eyes as Brentina’s long-time groom, Ruben Palomera, took her saddle off for the last time and a beautiful rose garland was placed over the beloved 18-year-old Hanoverian mare’s neck. The Thomas family, along with Bob McDonald, Debbie’s husband, were also spotlighted in the arena and the packed stadium gave her a long standing ovation. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house!

Brentina was inducted into the U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Hall of Fame that year and she has been made into a Breyer horse model. After her retirement, Peggy and Parry Thomas continued Brentina’s legacy through sponsorship of the Young Adult “Brentina Cup” with the hopes of supporting rising stars in American dressage. One example is Adrienne Lyle, who trains with Debbie. Debbie is now also the U.S. Dressage Team Chef d’equipe and Technical Advisor.

As we think back on her incredible career, it is safe to say that the beautiful Brentina will forever have

R-E-S-P-E-C-T as America’s ‘Queen of Dressage,’ just as the late Aretha Franklin will forever be loved as the ‘Queen of Soul.’

The 2020 FEI World Cup™ Finals return to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas next April 15-19.  It’s hard to predict what magical moments, like Brentina’s historic performance, will occur, but I know you won’t want to miss them. So please, ORDER YOUR TICKETS NOW!

All-Session tickets for both disciplines are now on saleAll-Session Ticket Packages are available as follows:

  Jumping Dressage Combo
VIP Seating $2,000 $2,000 $3,950
Plaza $450 $450 $850
Balcony $250 $250 $450

*Additional fees may apply

All VIP ticket holders will have access to the impressive Taylor Harris Club presented by Lugano Diamonds which will be an amazing experience. Located in the brand new Strip View Pavilion, the new 36,000 square-foot, two-story magnificent VIP space has an outdoor patio overlooking the stabling area with spectacular views of the world-famous Las Vegas Strip. Access to the Taylor Harris Club, presented by Lugano Diamonds will provide:

  • VIP seating in the first four rows of the venue
  • Easy access from seats to the VIP area
  • VIP Food & Beverage
  • Live music
  • An exclusive entrance to the venue for VIPs only
  • Large screen TVs so no one has to miss any action
  • Complimentary World Cup Souvenir Program
  • Complimentary Day Sheets

Click here for the 2020 FEI World Cup™ Finals Tentative Schedule

Further information on the 2020 FEI World Cup™ Finals in Las Vegas, and the chance to join the World Cup Club, is available at the event’s official website at

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