Del Mar competition inspired by European ‘dressage affaires’

By Claire Harlin

After competing in European dressage events, Kim Keenan Stordahl noticed how different they were than American horse shows, which she said happen more frequently and are often much less involved.

“It’s the difference between a horse show and a major production,” said the 43-year-old Orange County resident and owner of Keenan Production & Events. “In Europe, there was so much entertainment associated and social activities for the riders, so much attention to detail in the presentation … There are horse shows all the time, but people look forward to a competition when it’s a big, major event.”

Her fascination with the European style of dressage competition was the inspiration behind starting her own production company and annual event, now called the Rancho Valencia Dressage Affaire, which will take place March 7-10. Since its beginnings in 2004, the event has been held at the Del Mar Horse Park, located at 14550 El Camino Real.

“It’s such a beautiful place to have the event and there is a high concentration of riders in that area,” said Keenan Stordahl, a former board member of the California Dressage Society who has been riding for three decades.

In addition to attracting some 250 competitors from around the country, the event will feature three Olympic riders who will engage in a special, music-led performance. Attendees will have the opportunity to buy grandstand admission tickets or seats at VIP tables, where a plated champagne brunch will be served.

Riders may attend a party at Rancho Valencia while supporting a great cause by purchasing a ticket to the invite-only USPEA Benefit Party on Thursday night, March 7. Contact Sean Caddell at for more details.

The party, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., will be dedicated in large part to spreading the legacy of Paralympian Jonathan Wentz, who passed away in his sleep last fall at age 22 from heart complications, only months after competing at the Paralympics in London, England. The Texan lived with cerebral palsy and was a huge supporter of the Rancho Valencia Dressage Affaire, in which he competed in 2010 and 2011.

Proceeds from the U.S. Para-Equestrian Association event will go toward a scholarship to fund the endeavors of other disabled riders, especially those with aspirations of representing the U.S. in international competitions.

“He was so remarkable,” said Keenan Stordahl of her decision to dedicate the event to Wentz. “When we found out he had passed away, it immediately seemed like something we should do.”

In addition, a fundraising event will be held on Friday, March 8, in which all competitors and spectators will be able to participate. The Grand Meadows Casino Night party will take place at 5:30 p.m. and will benefit the scholarship fund.

For more information about the events or to buy tickets, visit