Cooley Master Class started the week a little bit cheeky, but the 16-year-old Irish Sport Horse showed he’s a professional when it counts. He and Great Britain’s Oliver Townend laid down a dressage trip that earned them a score of 21.1 penalties, soaring to the top of the leaderboard on the first day of dressage in the CCI5*-L at the inaugural Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill.
“He’s a lazy horse by nature, but he’s squealing and been messing about and a pain in my backside all week. I don’t mind this as long as in the dressage you behave yourself, which he’s done better than ever before, so we couldn’t be happier with him. He’s a very special horse to the whole team at home.”
The first day of five-star dressage saw 22 competitors ride down centerline. Tomorrow will see another 23 horses and riders.
Though Cooley is older than when he and Townend earned their back-to-back wins at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2018 and 2019, Townend said the gelding is better than ever. “It’s very rare a 16-year-old gets better, but he’s definitely, definitely improving as the years go on,” Townend said. “He’s cheeky, he’s funny, but he’s, at the end of the day, a high-class athlete and, and a very, very good friend.”
Tied for second are a veteran and a first-time five-star horse. Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot, an 18-year-old Irish Sport Horse, are even on the leaderboard with Lynn Symansky and RF Cool Play, a 13-year-old German Sport Horse. Each of the horse and rider combinations have 28 penalties.
“It’s always more pressure when the horse is going well, I feel like,” said Burnett, who won the 2012 Fair Hill CCI3* in 2012 with Harbour Pilot. “He’s just been awesome leading up to the event and, today, so quiet and reliable. So I was like, ‘All right, I better not screw this up. You know, it’s all here for me to lose.’ But I felt pretty good about it. I mean, there’s always improvements that could be made, but he was perfect.”
Symansky was proud of her Coolio. “He was a good boy. We both left some marks on the table, but it’s pretty nervous here,” she said after her ride in the arena, which is surrounded by grandstands on three sides and a VIP tent on the fourth. “It’s a lot of atmosphere for them. It’s not maybe the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen, but it has that feel almost like Burley [Horse Trials in England], where the crowds are very close. And so you get more people at Kentucky, but this actually feels a lot more electric for a lot of the horses”
Jennie Brannigan sits in fourth with Stella Artois, aka “Toddie,” a 13-year-old, 17-hand Thoroughbred/Hanoverian mare, despite having to swat a spotted lanternfly off her the mare’s ear during her test. “There was a bug on her ear in the walk, and I was like, ‘I don’t know whether to get this giant bug or let it be.” Ultimately, Brannigan decided the bug had to go. “I was like, ‘I don’t care. I’m just going to take it off because if it stays on her ears, she’s not going to like that.”
For complete results from today’s five-star dressage test, check here.
Riders on the Cross-Country Course
Relentless, bold, big. Those are just a few adjectives that riders used to describe course designer Ian Stark’s first five-star track. “Ian Stark’s a very big hero of mine as a kid,” Townend said. “And he was a brave rider and is certainly proving to be a brave cross-country course designer. The fences would be all fine to a certain extent, but the terrain is the big thing, plus the fences, plus the time, plus the pressure of the five-star. So it’s not going to be straightforward. Not everybody will make it to the finish, but it’s going to be a very exciting track to watch. And at the end of the day, this is a five-star and that’s what it should be like.”
“The course is tough,” agreed Burnett. “The first part I was walking in, and I was like waiting, waiting to find out like what everyone’s talking about. And then you get to that water and then it’s like, ‘bam, bam and bam.’ So I think the middle part of the course, it’s going to be pretty tough and it’s going to really test what I’ve been working on lately, which is like riding tough when it’s not perfect or pretty or feels good. I think it’s going to be a lot of scrappy riding out there.”
Kurt Agardy Martin and 9-year-old D.A. Lifetime sit in the lead after the first day of dressage in the CCI3*-L, which is also the U.S. Equestrian Federation Eventing National Championships. “Clarence was brilliant. I was really happy with her,” Martin said. “She’s worked in well all week. You’re a little bit unsure when you come to this event all … how the horses will react and going into a large atmosphere. But honestly, she was brilliant from the start when we got here."
Twenty-five horses competed in the three-star dressage test today. Three-star dressage kicks off tomorrow at 8 a.m. with the final 25 competitors. For complete results, check here.
For more information about the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill and to purchase tickets, visit maryland5star.us. Follow Practical Horseman’s coverage of the inaugural Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill on Facebook and Instagram with Mane ‘n Tail, Cowboy Magic and Exhibitor’s, here.