A cold wind blowing, RF Scandalous came down the chute to the dressage arena in Rolex Stadium “exhilarated” and “super excited to be going into the stadium,” said her rider Marilyn Little. “I got a little bit defensive, a little bit more conservative in first few movements, but all of a sudden felt her maturity and her professionalism coming through,” she continued. “And I said, ‘All right, we’ve got to go and show them what we can do,’ and then I got braver … and she got some sparkly marks at the end.”
Those marks helped propel Little to lead the group of 35 horse and rider pairs who competed on the first day of dressage at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by Mars CCI5*-L . Their ride earned them a score of 78.33 percent—the best dressage score at Kentucky CCI5*-L in the last decade, plus, the best five-star dressage score from a U.S. rider in the history of the competition. The remaining duos will compete tomorrow.
“She’s so much more mature. She’s learned so much. We both have learned so much,” Little said of the 16-year-old Oldenburg mare. “Riding a horse like Scandalous here is also a privilege. She’s my horse of a lifetime. I’m acutely aware of that, so I’m trying to make sure that I enjoy every moment with her.”
Little said that with "Kitty’s" character, one might think that Kentucky’s typical crowds would “affect her negatively, but she is really a performer. She knows what she’s doing.” The riders did have spectators of a sort—several board cutouts of various people were set in the seats in the middle section of the Rolex Stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
Defending champions Great Britain’s Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class finished in second place with a score of 75.93 percent. “He felt very relaxed in there,” Townend said. “He’s probably one that does miss the crowds a little bit because he’s a very laid-back character … you don’t really worry about him blowing up. You worry about keeping him going, basically in the dressage.”
Townend said that he misses the enthusiastic, knowledgeable crowds at the Kentucky Horse Park but said the journey to get to Kentucky this year has been “probably difficult mentally more than anything else because it’s been a little bit stop, start. ‘Are we on? Kentucky’s off, that’s disappointing. Baminton’s off, that’s disappointing.’ It kind of takes the wind out of your sails a little bit, and because this is obviously what we’ve worked our entire lives for. But then when it’s back on, the wind went back into the sails.”
Three-time Kentucky winner who sat atop the leaderboard in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with three different horses, Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt is in third place with Oratorio. The two scored 72.10 percent. It’s been six years since Fox-Pitt has ridden at Kentucky, and he said driving into the Kentucky Horse Park was “quite emotional.”
As for Oratorio’s dressage test, Fox-Pitt said, “He was quite excited to be here. He’s done nothing for quite a long time now, so to actually be in there on his own was a bit of a novelty. He was on his toes, but he was on the job.”
Fox-Pitt said Oratorio has had a very light prep for Kentucky because there were no shows to go to in Europe, so while he’s fit, he’s a little underprepared. But he said that horses don’t forget.
Looking toward Saturday’s cross-country course, Fox-Pitt pointed out that there are four serious water jumps with big drops in. “Anything can happen at those. There are skinnies everywhere. They’re all very fair, but they’re certainly skinny. … I’ll be very pleased when Saturday is done.”
CCI4*-S: A Three-Way Tie
The top three riders in the CCI4*-S tied with 71.91 after the first day of dressage: Liz Halliday-Sharp with 9-year-old Cooley Moonshine, Doug Payne with the 10-year-old Starr Witness and Tamie Smith with 12-year-old Danito all sat atop the leaderboard.
Though Cooley Moonshine got tense in the walk and canter, Halliday-Sharp was thrilled with her horse because he’s still young, and even without spectators, riding dressage in the Rolex Stadium still had plenty of atmosphere.
“He’s a great jumper and he’s brave and he moves well,” said Halliday-Sharp about the horse she’s had since he was 5. “He’s pretty strong cross country so that’s currently our learning process, trying to find the right ride and the right combination of things to make him go at his best, but that’s partly why we’re here—is just one more educational experience.”
Payne says that “Janet” was a bit amped in the warm up but was excellent in the competition arena and put in her best test yet. The mare was imported by hunter trainer Emil Spadone as a hunter, but she was a little too hot, so when Spadone mentioned her to Payne, he “scooped her up.” She had jumped through 1.25 meters, so Payne said, “It’s not so much to teach her how to jump but teach her the nuances that are presented in eventing. And she’s wicked smart. She’s quick on her feet. … Her attitude is such that she’s going to want to try her best. Lucky for us she’s an athletic freak to accomplish it with ease.”
Tamie Smith said the normally easy-going Danito was also excited in the dressage arena, joking in the press conference if anyone had taken a photo of him in the warm up, his head would have been straight up in the air and his mouth wide open. “He was really fresh and kind of naughty, but you really just have to compromise with him. You’ve gotta be firm but you can’t get mad or get after him or he freaks out. I went into that test today, not really being able to ride him so I was disappointed in my ride because he can produce such better tests than he did today.”
Smith said she started to ride Danito when her friend Ruth Bley asked Smith to take Danito home after he’d given his then-rider a difficult time at a competition and Bley wanted to sell him. Smith rode him and the clicked immediately. Smith called Bley and asked if she was sure she wanted to sell him. Though at their first event, he wheeled around coming out of the start box, after that, Smith says, “it’s just been a match made in heaven. He’s such a trier.”