A Wonderful Weekend at Sonoma Horse Park Gorgeous Giant Steps Gala and Great Grand Prix

(SONOMA, CA) - August opened with a wonderful weekend at Sonoma Horse Park - commencing with Saturday evening's spectacular Giant Steps Charity Classic Gala, presented by Colin Cowie Celebrations, and culminating on a sunny Sunday afternoon with the $40,000 Shaklee Grand Prix.

The handsome tables at the Giant Steps Charity Classic Gala. Photo by Alden Corrigan

Saturday was Special

Dressed in billowy white, complete with fresh flowers and warm ivory pashmina shawls for each guest to use after the sun went down on Saturday, Sonoma Horse Park sparkled. All the finery aside, Saturday was about the Giant Steps Therapeutic Equestrian Center. In a luxurious Colin Cowie setting, the seats filled and the memorable moments began.

After a lively cocktail hour, Ashley Herman, owner of Sonoma Horse Park, opened the evening talking about the inspiration behind the Giant Steps Charity Classic. “I have the privilege of coming to work and witnessing the miracles that they do for their riders every day. They change their lives and they change their family's lives. And this gala and this horse show enable them to do that. It's so much bigger than Sonoma Horse Park, bigger than me,” she stated. “It's an unbelievable gift to be able to participate. They are so deserving.”

She also praised Colin Cowie Celebrations and the man himself. “The reason that Colin Cowie is the greatest event planner of all time is because he knows how to stop time. He knows how to make a moment last forever. You are a master, a genius, and it is such an incredible honor to be able to work with you... I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Colin Cowie. Photo by Alden Corrigan

The Live Auction followed with a select list of unique lots, including the Horse & Style – Paris Edition, which features a Saut Hermès adventure in Paris; a private dinner with award-winning Chef Gary Danko; and much more available for bidding. Entertainment ensued with the Voena Children's Choir, joined by an incredible performance from fifteen-year-old Giant Steps rider Christopher Duffley. A sensation in his own right, as well as on YouTube, the blind and autistic Duffley started with a moving “Lean On Me”. He finished the classic rendition with a modern twist – "Call me, text me, email me, Skype me, YouTube me, Google me...."

Christopher Duffley performing with the Voena Children's Choir. Photo by Deb Dawson

The crowd cheered exuberantly. Soon after, a soft silence fell as the Giant Steps Riding Demonstration entered. The audience was asked to show their appreciation by waving their hands, instead of clapping, as a form of applause. Four riders showed their skills on horseback as their moving stories were told by their parents over the loudspeakers.

Giant Steps changes the lives of these children, and many more, who deal with debilitating diseases. Giant Steps rider, eight-year-old Grace Anne Doyle, then took the stage and sang a lovely rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

The Giant Steps Riding Demonstration. Photo by Alden Corrigan

The Giant Steps Fund-A-Need Program delineates areas where dollars are critical. Over 53% of the riders are on scholarship, so money raised not only supports these individuals but also the horses, veterinary bills, instructors and more. If not previously a donor, the moving and emotional events of the evening certainly inspired a number of attendees to give to this worthy cause.

The equestrians then closed the entertainment, first with the Daredevil Sweethearts racing by the crowd doing tricks on horseback.

The Daredevil Sweethearts wow the crowd. Photo by Deb Dawson

The finale was the $10,000 Six Bar, presented by Colin Cowie Celebrations. The sport of horses jumping multiple elements in a gymnastic format, with the final obstacle being the tallest, directly in front of the crowd, draws attention to the talent of the horse and rider. Just two riders remained for the final round at 1.65m (5 feet 5 inches), Jill Humphrey on Emma Boyce's Zanzibar, and Guy Thomas aboard Black Jack (owned by Danielle Lambert). Zanzibar was clear over the highest obstacle, but had rails over previous jumps, which meant that if Black Jack jumped clean throughout, he would take the top prize. Thomas piloted him to do just that, and the pair were victorious.

Guy Thomas and Black Jack celebrating the Six Bar win with Ashley Herman and Colin Cowie. Photo by Deb Dawson

DJ Donna D'Cruz played a great mix of music, as guests mingled, danced and enjoyed the Chardonnay provided by Rombauer Vineyards and the Pinot Noir by Keller Estate. A superbly successful evening.


Sunday's $40,000 Shaklee Grand Prix

As the final and fastest entry in a five horse jump-off, Chilean Matias Fernandez rode his own horse, Alegria to a speedy win on Sunday.

Matias Fernandez and Alegria. Photo by Deb Dawson

FEI course designer Marina Azevedo of Brazil developed the track for the class of twenty-six entries. Seemingly easy to master, the first four horses on course didn't drop a rail. With the exception of Jill Humphrey and Zanzibar's one time fault, three of the first four returned for the jump-off.

However, the challenge of the questions asked by Azevedo was unveiled as the remaining entries rode the course. Only two of the next twenty-two rides were fault-free. The line at 12a-b-c with the Colin Cowie triple combination proved to be the most challenging – with six strides after a wide oxer at fence 11, the triple rode a touch tight and required scope to jump out of the oxer at element 'C'. Fifteen of the twenty-two had rails or refusals at that spot.

Mattias Ekeroth and The Governor returned first in the jump-off. Setting the pace, the pair were double clean in 40.92. With an enticing gallop to the last oxer, Kristin Hardin and last week's grand prix winner, Firestone (Nicole Teague, owner), had the speed but lowered the height of that final fence for four faults, ultimately fourth. Next to go, Nicole Bloom and Camerone (owned by Rhys Farms, LLC) bobbled in the tight rollback, but recovered for four faults in 42.51 and fifth.

Mattias Ekeroth and The Governor go double clear for 2nd place. Photo by Alden Corrigan

Guy Thomas and his veteran partner, Willow Tree Farm's Peterbilt, were vying for the win, and again had the time, but a rail at 12c relegated them to third place. In galloped Fernandez aboard Alegria. Knowing he had to be clean to win, as well as where he could make up time and where to be careful, he rode the jump-off without a hitch, clean in 39.79 for the win.

Showered with awards, including a basket from Shaklee, a beautiful Hermès blanket, an over-sized gorgeous ribbon, a happy Fernandez exclaimed, “Finally, I won a Grand Prix!'

Fernandez came to the U.S. from Chile three years ago, and has been working for Dusty Blackwood for the last year. Tiny but full of heart with a big jump, Alegria is a 15.3h, nine-year-old mare that Fernandez bought in Chile as a four-year-old. Not her first victory, the little wonder mare has won grand prix classes in Tucson and Sacramento. The pair are dynamite to watch.

“The course was pretty tough, with a tight combination that required scope to jump out. But it was a good and fair course,” said Fernandez. “I added one stride in my first line in the jump-off, but stuck to my plan for the rest. She is such a trier, I don't know what I did in the combination but she was great!”

Matias Fernandez and Alegria, owned by Dusty Blackwood, win the $40,000 Shaklee Grand Prix. Photo by Deb Dawson

Full results for the $40,000 Shaklee Grand Prix are here.




About Colin Cowie Celebrations


Colin Cowie Celebrations is more than just a full-service event design and production company — they partner with you to turn your dreams into reality. They follow the latest trends in food, décor and entertainment, always focusing on the personalized details that make your event one-of-a-kind. Their proactive approach and whatever-it-takes philosophy are why they enjoy such a loyal following among their clients.

Whether designing weddings, milestone celebrations, corporate events, galas or charitable functions, Colin Cowie Celebrations' unmatched creativity and precision event planning will give you a truly meaningful, memorable and magical experience.


About Shaklee


Shaklee believes that nature holds the answers to a healthy and productive life. By using pure and potent ingredients and the foremost scientific research, Shaklee formulates nutrition products that are truly life enhancing.

For 100 years now, Dr. Forrest C. Shaklee’s philosophy has guided everything they do. He believed that each of us could make a healthy difference in the world. His vision first took shape in 1915 with his development of one of the first multivitamins in the U.S. It continued through the next four decades as he exchanged ideas with thought leaders, researched and published four books, explored the science of nature, and considered ways to help people achieve their best. That vision took physical shape in 1956 when he founded Shaklee Corporation. Since then, it has grown in ways even he might not have believed.


About Sonoma Horse Park


Established in 2010, Sonoma Horse Park is a horse show facility located 25 miles north of San Francisco in southern Sonoma County. Together with veteran horse show manager Sally Hudson, Sonoma Horse Park hosts seven show jumping competitions annually, each attracting top competitors from all over the Western United States, Canada and Mexico. Known for its beautiful grounds, innovative competitions and events, meticulous execution and unparalleled client service, Sonoma Horse Park is the largest horse show series in Northern California.