October 15, 2017 – The horses and riders who make it through cross-country at Fair Hill know they’ve been tested. Competitors are fond of saying that the competition billed as a 2-star is really a 2 ½ star and the 3-star similarly gets another half-star promotion.
It’s not only the terrain (they don’t call it Fair HILL for nothing); it’s the way course designer Derek DiGrazia uses the lay of the land to take the measure of the combinations at this fall championship. They need to be fit, they need to be fast and they need to be ready to fight.
The two divisions were completely different stories this time around. Tamie Smith, who came from California with four horses and a vanload of determination, led the 2-star from start to finish with the meticulous Oregon-bred Sunsprite Syrius, adding nothing to her dressage score of 40.9 penalties either on cross-country or over Sally Ike’s demanding stadium course.
“He was perfect in every phase and I couldn’t have asked him to be better,” said Tamie, who won by a mile.
“He show jumped like a million bucks, and I didn’t miss. I was really happy.” (To hear more from Tamie about how she brings her horses east for this special event, watch this video on Facebook)
After cross-country, Tamie had conceded that when she arrived at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Area, “I didn’t know what to expect. He’s never been in an environment like this before. It’s why we brought him. He didn’t question one thing. He was spot-on everywhere.”
As pointed out by Will Coleman, who was second aboard Off the Record, “Any time you finish a three-day event on your dressage score, it’s a major accomplishment.” He matched Tamie in that regard, but started out in fifth place. His 49.8 dressage score with nothing added was good enough to put him in the runner-up spot.
Both Will’s and Tamie’s horses have graduated from the intermediate level and will be moving up to advanced. After that, the sky’s the limit, judging by what we saw this weekend.
Will was the most successful rider at Fair Hill in terms of placings, since he was second in both divisions. With a Canadian, Selena O’Hanlon, winning the 3-star on Foxwood High, Will’s runner-up designation got him the USEF 3-star Fall Championship title as the highest-ranked American .
While Selena started out in the lead after earning 39.4 penalties in dressage, she lost the edge after cross-country, where 1.6 time penalties put her behind Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights, who were double clear on cross-country to promote them from second place in dressage with a score of 39.8. But Sally’s show jumping route foiled Colleen and her homebred gelding, as they dropped three rails to wind up ninth.
It was painful to see, watching victory slipping away so fast, but even more painful to live through. Colleen, however, took all the blame when I talked to her about what happened.
“It’s not him, it’s me,” she shrugged, managing to take it in stride.
“”I can’t find a distance on him if I help, which is what I did. It got us into trouble. I just should have waited a little more. I can’t be upset with him.”
To hear more of what Selena had to say, watch this video on Facebook.
The tight time allowed produced a pot full of penalties. Nine of the first 11 riders on course had time penalties, although it must be noted that the go-list was in reverse order of standings. The only rider in the top seven to have time penalties was Selena.
Once she started her round and her mount began tapping his toes on the fences, she knew she had to do something, and that is why she was three seconds slow, finishing on 44 penalties.
“I took the time it took to have a clear round, because that was my goal, and got it all worked out in the end anyway,” said Selena, who trains with the show jumping Millar family, including Ian, the patriarch, known as Captain Canada.
Will was very appreciative of his thoroughbred’s efforts, especially since last year, he had four rails down in the show jumping. But his clean slate today wiped away those memories. Tight Lines, 13th after dressage with 46.3 penalties, finished on that mark.
“He was magic yesterday on the cross-country,” recounted Will, who won the Fair Hill 2-star title on him two years ago.
“Today, he just tried his heart out. I think the horse’s biggest attribute is that he gives 100 percent. He’s not the simplest, but he’s really trying.”
Will and I talked about thoroughbreds as eventers in this video on Facebook.
A very impressive third was Boyd Martin on the American-bred Trakehner, Tsetserleg, by Windfall. Did he expect to finish as high as he did today?
“Never in my wildest dreams,” Boyd said. His mount was 12th after dressage on 46.1 penalties. He added 1.2 penalties for being three seconds over the optimum time on cross-country. Without that, he would have wound up with 46.2 penalties, which would have put him ahead of Will’s 46.3 score by 0.1 penalties. Oh well.
On the cross-country course, Boyd said, “I just went easy on him. This would be the first real test I’ve ever had with him. This place is an epic event. It’s got a massive hill. It’s a test of endurance. I just didn’t set out too hard and wasn’t sure how he’d respond. In hindsight, I could have been 20 seconds faster.”
Tsetserleg is a horse “who doesn’t wow you at home,” said Boyd, who now believes he’s proved himself to be “a proper 4-star horse.”
Boyd, who always seems to be in perpetual motion, rushed home from Fair Hill to get Crackerjack out for a school and a couple of fences before setting off for the Pau, France, 4-star this week.
Tim Dutta expressed his commitment to Fair Hill, where preparations are being made for it to become a 4-star in 2019 on another part of the property. There was more excitement in the air because of that, I think, and the competition got a bigger crowd than usual. It was a group that included many non-horse people coming out to see what it’s all about, doubtless spurred by the publicity generated by the 4-star announcement from the USEF. The FEI (international equestrian federation) still has to approve, yet it’s hard to believe it’s anything but a done deal.
Citing how his business has grown among eventers, Tim vowed his continued support of the sport in exchange for that loyalty.
During Fair Hill, it was announced that Erik Duvander will be taking over as the U.S. performance director for eventing. The Swedish Olympian moved from riding into coaching, taking the helm in several countries, including New Zealand and Japan. That type of leadership role has been empty in this country for five months, since David O’Connor resigned as technical advisor and chef d’equipe.
Erik couldn’t be at Fair Hill, but the news of his hiring was welcomed by riders. I talked with some of them, and the word “excited” kept cropping up when they discussed their reaction to the appointment
“I thoroughly enjoyed riding with him,” said Tamie, who noted he was at her barn for a few days last summer.
“I think he brings a fresh perspective to U.S. eventing. He did a great job with the New Zealand team. I’m excited about it.”
Phillip Dutton, who had planned to ride Mighty Nice at Fair Hill before an accident last month that left him in the recuperation stage this weekend, was on the rail watching the action when we talked.
Of Erik, Phillip said, “He understands the sport very well, especially at the international level, and where we need to get to be there. I think all the riders are looking forward to having a new leader and hopefully creating new things. I’m excited about it.”
Jennie Brannigan, who won the national Young Horse Championship in the 2-star on FE Lifestyle, said, “I’ve ridden with Erik a few times . I’m very excited to have some new blood and someone unbiased to come in to give some real help. I think his help is on another level of any help I’ve gotten before. He’s very into detail and I appreciate it. A changing of the tide.”
So Fair Hill is in the books for another year, and I’m switching back to show jumping again as I head for the Washington International, one of my favorite shows. Look for my reports Oct. 29, and go to www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman for photos. Take a look at the ones from Fair Hill, why don’t you?
For Fair Hill results, go to this link