A relatively new partnership took the lead in the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5* after the first day of dressage. And two longtime horse-and-rider combinations follow close behind in second and third.
Olympic gold and silver medalist Tom McEwen (GBR) and JL Dublin are in first with a score of 22.6. Next up is Tamie Smith (USA) and Mai Baum with 24.2. Third is Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z with 29.0.
The CCI5* kicked off yesterday in Lexington at the Kentucky Horse Park with the First Horse Inspection, and it will run through Sunday. In today’s dressage competition, attended by 7,158 people, 20 horses took the stage. Dressage continues tomorrow with the remaining 18 rides.
Tom McEwen Takes the Early Lead with JL Dublin
McEwen started the ride on Dublin, the 2021 European Champion, in the middle of last year. Dublin’s previous rider, Nicola Wilson, fell with him at the 2022 Badminton Horse Trials. McEwen and Dublin placed second at the Military Boekelo CCIO4*-L last fall.
This is their first CCI5* together. Of their dressage ride, McEwen said, “He was phenomenal. … [I’m] very lucky to take the reins on him. He’s such a picture to watch anyway, so to go in and pull off a test you know he can do very easily and actually still have a few things to polish up on is very exciting, really.”
McEwen gave Wilson the credit for Dublin’s effort. “With Dubs, he’s been so beautifully trained. Everyone’s given me so much help. We’ve stuck with the same trainer, so everything stayed the same, so everyone knows him. It’s basically just following along from Nicola’s amazing training. It has, of course, taken a few months, but actually it’s been since Boekelo and a bit of winter’s training. So we’ve gotten to know each other, and definitely we’ve learned to understand each other. And also what makes him tick at a show.”
This is McEwen’s first time riding in the Kentucky CCI5*. “I’m delighted to be able to come here,” he said. “It’s always one thing I’ve wanted to come and see and do and compete in. It’s definitely lived up to its hype.”
Tamie Smith and Mai Baum
Smith and Mai Baum have been together since 2015. This winter, she’s been working to improve his dressage. “I spent a lot of time this winter just getting him stronger and working with my dressage instructor Johann Hinnemann at home. And I ended up doing the Prix St. Georges over the winter, and it was really good exercise because I felt like that was his best test. He really stayed in front of me.”
Of riding at the FEI dressage level, Smith said, “It’s really hard. The concentration it takes and the quickness of the movements. It feels like in eventing you have all day. … So it was really good for both of us because we were able get more understanding of the transitions and the self-carriage and all that.”
And of Mai Baum’s quirks, one is that his ears are on crooked. “If his head is straight, his ears are very crooked, which really sucks in the lateral movements because it looks like one ear is pointed down.” Another is that he hates being sprayed. “He dances and piaffes when he gets sprayed with anything and he gets sprayed a lot.” But overall, “he’s just a very special horse and just such a genuine animal. He’s a joy to be around all the time,” Smith said.
Smith’s plans for Derek di Grazia’s cross-country course on Saturday is “to give it all I’ve got, and I feel like our partnership is in a place where I feel like we have all the ingredients and all the pieces. …. I’ve just got to keep my focus and ignore the outside stuff and just do my job.”
Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z
Deniro Z is back at the upper level after a two-year break from some bone bruising. And he made the most of it during his dressage test, getting excited after seeing the camera during the first centerline. “I don’t think he has ever done that in his entire career. I was completely blown away. So that was unfortunate. That definitely was expensive. …. It wasn’t our very best today, but it’s nice to have him back and have him feeling very well, which he clearly is. So from that side of it, I’m happy, and I think he’s happy he’s out on the big stage.”
One part of the test Halliday-Sharp and Deniro have worked on is flying changes. Though he missed one change in the test, “at home, they’ve been the best they’ve ever been this year,” she said. “I owe a lot of that to some training I’ve done with [Grand Prix rider] Shelly Francis lately. She really just changed the way I teach the horses to do changes, and it made a huge difference to him. … He’s starting to really understand at least what he’s supposed to do with the changes.”
Speaking about Deniro’s strengths, Halliday-Sharp said, “He does a good medium trot, and he does lovely lateral work. … He’s a professional, but today he was a little spicy, and that’s just reminding us that they’re individuals too, and sometimes they just get a little big for their boots just like we can.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s cross-country course, Halliday-Sharp said, “There’s enough to do, and I think near the end of the course, there’s some very strong questions, which will demand a lot of accuracy.”
CCI5* competition at the 2023 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event resumes Friday, April 28 at 1:00 p.m. EST with day two of dressage.
For full results from day one, click here.