May 15, 2016--A turbulent weekend at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event ended today with fine show jumping performances, but no celebrations, as the mood remained somber in the wake of competitor Phillipa Humphreys' death on the cross-country course Saturday.
Neither Ryan Wood, who took the 3-star on Powell after holding the division's lead wire-to-wire, or Phillip Dutton, the come-from-behind winner of the 2-star with Sportsfield Candy, led a traditional victory gallop. Instead, ribbon winners exited the ring in silence at a walk in respect for Philippa. Before the show jumping, a memorial tribute was held for her. Everyone stood silent, on horseback or on the ground, listening to a eulogy and a bagpipe version of “Amazing Grace.”
Organizers and various sport governing bodies are looking into not only Philippa's accident, but also the frequency of cross-country falls involving both horses and riders at the competition.
A record entry and beautiful weather for most of cross-country day set a festive mood. Tailgaters around the Jersey Shore water complex and in view of another nearby water obstacle on course were enjoying the sport. Organizers had made a huge effort to upgrade every aspect of Jersey Fresh for its 14th year at the Horse Park of New Jersey.
But things started going awry early yesterday morning. Skyler Decker's CCI 2-star entry, Inoui Van Bost, was injured at the 19th fence, a Trakehner. He was taken to a veterinary facility and euthanized due to a leg injury. That caused a delay, and more followed, as it took time to replace broken frangible pins around the course.
Then at 12:38 p.m., Philippa's Rich N Famous in the CCI 3-star division had a rotational fall at fence 16, a table. The 33-year-old rider parted company with her mount, who fell on her. She was treated immediately at the scene but declared dead after being taken to a nearby hospital. Philippa was the third rider in the world this year to die following a cross-country fall. The other two fatalities were Olivia Inglis, 17 and Caitlyn Fischer, 19, both from Australia.
A native of Great Britain who ran a Michigan-based horse business, Philippa was a U.S. Eventing Association ICP Level II certified instructor. In nearly every picture taken of her going cross-country over the years, she had a broad smile, an indication of how much she loved the sport.
Philippa was the mother of six-month-old Millie. The child was at home with Philippa's husband, Peter, while the rider was at Jersey Fresh.
A fund has been started in Philippa's memory by Joanie Morris on behalf of the U.S. eventing community to pay for Millie's college. For information, go to https://www.youcaring.com/millie-elizabeth-humphreys-570323.
Boyd Martin had been training Philippa in preparation for her goal of competing in last month's Rolex Kentucky 4-star, but a trailer accident involving her mount for the event put an end to that dream. Undaunted, she continued to pursue her passion.
In the process of working with Philippa, Boyd got to know her husband and her mother, Jill. I asked him to speak about Philippa, so people could get a sense of what she was like. Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear what he had to say.
In talking to various riders and other knowledgeable people about the tragedy, the consensus was that her fall was a heart-breaking accident at a fence that caused no other problems.
U.S. Eventing Coach David O'Connor gave his view of the situation. Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear what he had to say.
There was, however, a feeling that the many other falls were symptomatic of problems at Jersey Fresh, though no one with whom I chatted blamed course designer John Williams. They cited other possible causes.
The event hosted both the CCIs and two CICs, with a shorter cross-country format, but several people commented to me that the limited scale of the property available at the Horse Park for the courses meant the routes involved twists and turns, doubling back on themselves. That could, I was told, be distracting for the horses.
Buck Davidson, winner of last year's Jersey Fresh CCI 3-star, and I talked about the situation. Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear his viewpoint.
Since he pointed out that using acreage which had accommodated the steeplechase during long format days when the event began might be a solution to easing restrictions on the CCIs, I wondered why it wasn't being used already.
Lisa Mackintosh, a member of the organizing committee, told me that down the road, there are hopes of using the old steeplechase acreage. But at the moment, it's an abandoned cornfield that would “require a lot of investment” to pay for the massive work needed on the footing before it could become part of the course. That won't happen in the immediate future, she said, while emphasizing, “we would like to utilize that space.”
Meanwhile, she said, “We're going to try to continue to build on the progress that we made this year.”
Lisa also noted it already has been decided to have two ground juries next year. That should provide a solution to Buck's concerns that there were not sufficient officials to handle the demands of a large entry and four divisions, noting that starting the dressage on Wednesday last week, instead of Thursday, was not a good plan. (With two ground juries, multiple arenas can be used for dressage).
He also felt having more personnel would have enabled more time for a closer look at the cross-country course before approving it. In the CCIs, a double combination of corners in the arena that led to falls when horses had trouble reading it was reduced to a single fence for the CICs, but Buck wondered why it hadn't been done earlier.
There was plenty of talk this weekend about all of the above, with several experienced hands, including Phillip Dutton, noting they had never seen a day with so many falls. Even so, we shouldn't let it overshadow the competition that has an important place on the calendar and also served as an Olympic selection trial.
Ryan's victory was his first in a 3-star CCI, and Boyd, his mentor, was so impressed he suggested that the Australian Olympic team should be looking at the winner and his mount. Boyd, who grew up in Australia, knows whereof he speaks, but noted Australians competing in America can have a tough time getting the attention of the Aussie brass.
Ilona English of Summit Sporthorses, who bred Powell, was understandably thrilled at her 10-year-old baby's performance.
“It's just wonderful for me to see him come this far, and Ryan's done a super job. I picked Ryan for the training because he's a real horseman and he cares about the horses, and that's really important to me as a breeder,” said Ilona, who has been the U.S. Equestrian Federation's leading U.S. eventing breeder for the last two years.
Boyd was right behind Ryan, but even though he was double-clear in stadium on the promising Welcome Shadow, he couldn't make up a 0.3 penalty deficit. He remained in second place, but as an American, won the U.S. spring championship. (It can't go to a foreign rider). Phillip had been tied with Boyd after cross-country, but two rails down dropped him to fifth on Indian Mill, though a double clear with Z kept him in fourth, behind Canada's Jessica Phoenix on Bentley's Best, one of her three Olympic prospects.
In the CCI 2-star, Phillip rose from fifth after cross-country on Sportsfield Candy to take the trophy with a fault-free show jumping trip over Sally Ike's influential course in the arena. The win could have belonged to Holly Payne Caravella with Bruisyard Hall, but a single rail kept her in second place with Shelby Godfrey's off-the-track thoroughbred. One of her secrets in selecting a thoroughbred is to look for a link to Fruition, a stallion with whose relatives she has had great success. Fruition is the grandsire of Bruisyard Hall, who took the award for the top-placing thoroughbred in the division.
Holly and I talked about what it's like to do so well with a thoroughbred in a world where warmbloods often seem to have the upper hoof. Click on the video below to catch her insights.
The CICs were decided Saturday, with Kurt Martin's efforts on DA Calimero edging overnight leader Will Coleman aboard Off the Record by 0.1 penalties. Kurt had been catch-riding the horse in Florida, but got the official ride on the Wednesday before Jersey Fresh, so it was an impressive result. Time penalties in stadium jumping and cross-country proved costly for Will.
In the CIC 3-star, Kylie Lyman was thrilled to win on Sacramento, a horse she rode and produced while she was living in Ireland and never thought she'd ride again after eventing him there at the 2-star level. He was sold to Kristen O'Hara, but Kylie got the ride back on him a year ago and she picked up where she left off.
“It's exciting just to have him back,” said Kylie, who had a 0.1 penalty advantage over Joe Meyer and Southpaw.
Go to facebook.com/practicalhorseman for more photos from Jersey Fresh. Click on this link http://www.evententries.com/livescoring/16126.html for all Jersey Fresh results.
That's it for me after a busy three weeks. My next postcard will be coming from the Devon, Pa., show June 3.