February 23, 2014 — First she took the victory gallop; then she won the class.
That literally is what Audrey Coulter did, but it doesn’t really explain what happened to the 21-year-old Dartmouth College student, whose profile was instantly elevated by beating a slew of Olympic medalists, not once — but twice — in the same day at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival.
They included Great Britain’s gold medalists Ben Maher and Scott Brash, who have been 1-2 twice in the biggest grands prix here. Also on the list were Meredith and Marcus Beerbaum of Germany, Audrey’s coaches.
I had never met Audrey, but I have interviewed her sister, Saer, who won a big grand prix in their native California a few weeks ago. Now I can say with authority that both are very impressive, not only for their riding ability, but also for their presence, intelligence and, it goes without saying, amazing riding ability.
Let me quickly set the stage before detailing what happened on a marathon day of show jumping at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center grounds in Wellington, Fla.
We were all set last night for a gala evening featuring the $280,000 Adequan CSI 4-star Grand Prix. And then it rained, the type of downpour in which Florida specializes, complete with some lightning. So the grand prix was called off until this morning, when 44 horses were scheduled to jump prior to the class originally planned for the day, the $84,000 Suncast 1.50 meter Championship Jumper Classic. Did I mention that one had 79 entries? That is a looong day of show jumping.
The first class had five clear, and everyone expected another Ben/Scott duel. Scott is ranked number one in the world, and Ben is number two.
Yet they were no match for Audrey, who brought her willing chestnut Acorte through the timers in 40.51 seconds, while Scott could only manage second best on Ursula XII in 41.10, and Ben finished third in on Cella, the number one horse in the international rankings, in 41.31.
“I’m speechless,” said Audrey.
“I so can’t really believe it, to be honest, I’m so excited to be here, and competing against Ben and Scott was amazing.”
“Audrey did an absolutely fantastic run today,” Scott said. He explained he had “a bit of a stumble” that threw off his focus during the jump-off, and it was just enough to lose. Ursula is going home now and Scott will be riding Hello Sanctos, his Olympic mount, in the big classes here from now on.
Ben praised Cella, but said “I didn’t have the jump-off I really wanted. It wasn’t smooth. But I was still as fast as I could go.”
Audrey obviously has a real bond with her mount, so I asked how she selected her.
After the Adequan victory, I also asked Audrey what she could do for an encore. She noted she would be competing in the Suncast and said, “I don’t know if I can live up to it.”
Neither of us dreamed that she would be claiming another blue ribbon. Ironically, Acorte’s temperament doesn’t lend itself to presentations, so Audrey did her Adequan victory gallop on Victory DA. Then she took that horse in the Suncast and did it again.
It was a good class, but it just went on and on. There is a thing as too much show jumping, unless you’re the winner.
She edged another Ben in the Suncast, Australia’s Ben Meredith, who has had some good results lately.
Her time in the 10-horse jump-off with her magnificent grey mare was 38.51 seconds, to Ben’s 39.43 on Bernadien van Westuur.
I caught up with Ben afterwards and asked what it was like to be part of Audrey’s luckiest day.
The course for the Suncast, designed by France’s Frederic Cottier, included a quadruple line — one stride between fences one and two and two and three, and two between three and four. I can’t recall seeing a set-up like that in a big class, so I asked technical delegate (and world class course designer) Anthony D’Ambrosio Jr. about it.
Audrey handled everything they threw at her today and came up a winner twice. It was a twist of fate that put two big classes on the same day, so I’m guessing few, if any, riders have had a streak like hers.
This summer’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games hasn’t crossed Audrey’s mind, but I’m betting U.S. coach Robert Ridland wishes he had her on his team for this Friday’s Nations’ Cup.
Audrey has been focusing more on college than riding, but she’s taking this quarter off from school to work for a pharmaceuticals company and ride. Her major is economics, with a minor in chemistry. Oh, and this summer, she’s working in investment banking.
“I’m not really sure where it’s going to take me yet,” she told me.
All I can say is “wow.”
Oh, I can also say, “I need a break.” I probably took 1,000 pictures today. I’m not even going to count them, but I am going to put some up on www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman tonight.
I’ll be back with you Saturday as I send a postcard from the Nations’ Cup and drop in at next weekend’s dressage show. Along the way, I’ll make sure I post photos at www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman and www.facebook.com/dressagetoday.