October 16, 2016--Too often beset by rainy, grit-your-teeth-and-get-on-with-it weather, the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Three-Day Event was blessed this year by sunshine and memorable performances at Maryland's lovely Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area.
Cross-country day drew big crowds, while horses had the opportunity to be at their best over optimum footing on Derek di Grazia's course, which had changed direction from last year.
The three-star was dominated by Marilyn Little, who took the coveted Fair Hill bronze trophy that goes with the title on her 2015 Pan American Games (two-star) double-gold medal mount, RF Scandalous. "Kitty," as she's called around the barn, came from behind, sort of. She was first after dressage, but dropped to second behind her stablemate, RF Demeter, after she incurred 4.8 time penalties on cross country. Marilyn explained that she rode Kitty at what she considered an appropriate speed for her move up to this level.
But Kitty made a comeback today when her more experienced stablemate, nicknamed Demi, dropped a rail at the A element of the triple combination on the show-jumping route. Marilyn had gone earlier in the competition with Kitty, so she knew she had won even if Demi made a mistake.
Marilyn had believed that Demi, last into the ring, would win. But when the rail dropped, she was more focused on thinking about getting to the B element than who would be wearing which ribbon at the awards ceremony.
“Truthfully, I thought it was Demi's weekend,” mused Marilyn. “That's just the way the chips fell. She's just as deserving and truly an incredible horse, an incredible partner. She has made my time in eventing so special. I owe her everything.”
Not to be left out of the honors, Demi was awarded the prize for best-conditioned horse.
Kitty and Demi have a bit of a friendly rivalry, according to Marilyn. Hear more about that in a video interview with Marilyn at www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman.
While Kitty was tired after her first CCI three-star cross-country round, she rallied over the fences this afternoon.
Marilyn started out as a show jumper (she now rides both disciplines) and her expertise showed up in the way she took Kitty around the striped rails.
“I was thrilled with her effort and the heart she showed today and really stepped up and showed what an exciting horse she is for the future,” said Marilyn, who won with 46.3 penalties. Demi's total was 48.6.
An interesting note--one of Kitty's owners is Robin Parsky, better known as the owner of show jumper Kent Farrington's American Gold Cup winner Gazelle. (Another mare!) Kitty's other owners are Jacqueline Mars, who has had so many great eventers, and Phoebe and Mike Manders.
Emily Beshear, third with her longtime mount Shame on the Moon going into the jumping segment, had a difficult time. Five toppled rails plummeted her to 21st place. Hannah Sue Burnett on yet another mare, Under Suspection (49.6), rose to third from sixth with a clear round.
“She's a really fantastic jumper and gives me a lot of confidence in the ring,” Hannah Sue said of the horse.
“I know that if I cluck at her at the base [of a fence] if I'm a little wrong, she's going to take care of it and try really hard,” she added.
Representing the male side of the sport, Phillip Dutton was fourth with I'm Sew Ready, who he is riding for Kristin Bond while she is pregnant with her second child.
While Phillip said the horse “didn't excite me in the warm-up,” he added,“as soon as he jumped fence one, I knew I would have a good round because he was trying really hard.”
He added nothing to his total of 50.8 penalties. Phillip was also clear on Mr. Candyman, who finished fifth on his dressage score of 52.9, moving up 10 places from his ranking after the first phase.
The three-star became the focus of controversy yesterday when blood was spotted on Kitty's mouth late in her cross-country run. There was no sign of a cut when she was inspected at the vet box, so officials whose duty it is to make decisions about such matters felt there was nothing to pursue. You can hear what CCI three-star ground jury president Christian Landolt had to say by going to Practical Horseman's Facebook page.
I discussed the subject with Jim Wofford, an Olympic medalist who draws on his vast experience in the sport when he writes his monthly column for Practical Horseman.
“Blood in horses is a very sensitive issue. At the same time, it does cry out for discretion,” he told me. The FEI allows for that. While there's no excuse for blood drawn by spurs, blood in the mouth is a different matter, he said, pointing out that it's discipline-dependent.
“If a horse bites its tongue in dressage, they're in front of the crowd and they are very close to the ground jury, moving relatively slowly,” he said, which makes a case for elimination.
On the other hand, “a horse that bites his tongue on cross country going up to 20 mph, that's very difficult to deal with. There's no cut-and-dried rule you can make that takes care of the welfare of the horse, the efforts of the rider and the interests of the public,” he explained, which is why it's up to the officials to decide what to do.
In the CCI2*, Jennie Brannigan's victory on Stella Artois was not without its wistful side.
Every time she comes to Fair Hill, she thinks of Cooper, who had been her NAJYRC gold- medal mount. Seven years ago, he sustained an injury during the show-jumping phase at the event and had to be put down after colicking.
“This time of year and this place is very emotional for me because of Cooper,” she said. “Time doesn't seem to necessarily make that easier.”
Despite her level of experience (she won the CCI3* two years ago with Cambalda) Jennie admitted to some nerves this morning, but the mare didn't let her down.
“I'm just thrilled. This is a horse I've always believed in,” said Jennie, who was happy not only for the horse, but also for her co-owner, Beth Battel. She enabled Jennie to buy the imported mare, known as Toddie after Mark Todd (long story), because she had vowed she wouldn't go home from Germany without her.
Toddie was bred to Royaldik (whose dam is a full sister to Heraldik, sire of several renowned event horses) and already had one foal out of a surrogate mare. A second foal is on the way, also with a surrogate.
Emily Beshear had better luck during the morning in the CCI2* than she would experience later in the day. The powerful Silver Night Lady, who led after dressage and dropped back to second after cross country, was fault-free to end up a half-penalty point behind Stella's 44.5-penalty score.
To find out more about Emily's two gray mares, listen to the video on Practical Horseman's Facebook page.
Third went to Lauren Kieffer--who rode a total of five horses between the two divisions--aboard Landmark's Monaco (45.80). The horse is owned and bred by Jacqueline Mars, as is his sibling, Landmark's Monte Carlo, 12th in the three-star.
“It's very fun to have the homebreds and to produce them to the level and have them do well,” said Lauren, recalling that when Monaco finished cross country in his first one-star “[Ms. Mars] was in tears at the end. She was so excited. She's had horses go to the Olympics and everything else, but they're like her children to her, so it's always really special for her.”
The awards ceremonies were full of proud moments for Karen O'Connor, who has worked with Hannah Sue, Lauren and Marilyn. She said at this point, she's happy to be their eyes on the ground if needed, but notes they've all taken wing and are doing well on their own.
I was following another horse in the two-star, Rich N Famous, a pinto who's hard to miss. His owner, Phillipa Humphreys, was killed in May at the Jersey Fresh International when he fell with her. Philippa's family kept the horse, and Meghan O'Donaghue got the ride. They finished with a very respectable seventh-place ribbon, dropping from fourth following cross country after dislodging a rail in stadium jumping.
Meghan was practically in tears when I talked to her about Philippa, who is always on her mind.
“I'm doing the honor of getting to continue on his career,” she said of “Rocket.”
“She did a beautiful job with him,” remarked Meghan, who said every ride she takes on the horse is for Philippa. “It's definitely emotional.".
Be sure to check out wwwfacebook.com/practicalhorseman for video interviews and more photos. Here is the complete scoreboard.
I'll be sending another postcard from the Washington D.C. International in two weeks.