I was scrolling through Facebook the other day, and I happened to see a post from an event rider named Cornelia Dorr who mentioned that her young horse Brush Dance had scored a 95.5 in a local USEA Young Event Horse Class. Immediately, my ears perked up... several years ago I worked for the U.S. Eventing Association and I took a close interest in the YEH program, which is geared towards highlighting potential upper-level horses. A score of 95.5 was almost unheard of--scores in the 80s are typical (none of the winners of last year's championships scored higher than 88). Was this a record-breaking score? All signs pointed to yes... but I wanted to do a bit more digging--and, of course, find out more about this incredible young horse.
I contacted Cornelia who was delighted to chat about her young partner, Brush Dance, (aka "Denny"). Turns out, he wasn't a fancy import like I'd imagined - he was a good ol' Maryland-bred off-the-track Thoroughbred. I'm not much of a Thoroughbred bloodlines guru, but Denny's pedigree seems impressive--his sire Dance With Ravens (by A.P. Indy) is a popular sporthorse sire, especially on the East Coast, and from what I've researched he seems to have a reputation for passing along exceptional movement.
Before we jump into our interview, I want to give you a little background about Cornelia. She's a 21-year-old who hails from Boston and works full-time riding and teaching for CCI5* event rider Sharon White at Last Frontier Farm in Summit Point, West Virginia. Cornelia was the USEA’s 2017 and 2018 Young Rider of the Year, was part of the USEF’s Emerging Athlete Eventing 25 Program and was also a five-time NAJYRC medalist. Her top horse, Sir Patico MH, is an adorably flashy pinto Dutch Warmblood-cross gelding (by Sempatico M) that she's had since she was a child--together the pair have climbed the ranks in eventing (more on him below!). Sir Patico was 7th in the CCI4*L at Fair Hill last fall and Cornelia received the Markham Memorial Perpetual Trophy for the spring and the fall 4* championships as the top-placed young rider. A pretty impressive resume!
Emily Daily: Tell me a little bit about the YEH class at Maryland Horse Trials – did you have any idea you’d scored so well?
Cornelia Dorr: I had no idea he had scored so well until late that afternoon! I had asked my friend to send me a picture of scores when she went to walk her course. Denny was so mature from the moment he stepped off the trailer that day, I knew he must have scored well, but I had no idea how well!
ED: What were some of the judge’s comments that really stood out to you?
CD: One judge said, “Very mature for his age, and looks a joy to ride.” That stuck with me because he can be quite a handful at home sometimes. I felt him make an effort to be mature that day and clearly the judge noticed as well!
ED: Do you have experience competing in the YEH program? Do you think it’s done its job of highlighting some future stars in eventing?
CD: This was only my second time attending a YEH competition. I loved the friendly atmosphere for the young horses and I thought it asked very appropriate questions!
ED: When did you first partner with Brush Dance? What’s his background? He’s only 5 years old but you guys have had a lot of success. What’s next for him?
CD: I first partnered with Denny when he was four. I actually rode him for a few months before I bought him because my coach Sharon White owned him. I wasn’t looking for another horse but it fell into place and I am so glad it did! He raced only four or five times, the little guy was too slow. So he came off the track at 3 years old and was let down at Sharon’s until we restarted him as a newly turned four year old. He will have a quite month in August and then will gear up for his Preliminary move up in the fall and the YEH 5-year-old Championships at Far Hill.
ED: What’s his personality like? Are you hoping he’ll be your next top-level eventer?
CD: I am hoping he’ll be my next top horse for sure, but I am careful to not put that pressure on him yet. It is still just about producing him to be the best he can be. Denny is the goofiest and kindest horse I have ever met! He’ll do anything for attention. I was in the tack room once and had another horse on the cross-ties outside his stall, I heard something break and walked out to see Denny holding one cross-tie in his mouth like a dog. He is so snuggly and sweet it just melts my heart.
ED: A lot of people probably know you best from your partnership with Sir Patico. Can you tell us a little bit about your background with him and what he’s like? He’s certainly eye-catching with his flashy color and athleticism and I bet he has a huge fan club! You’ve had a great year with him at the four-star level – what’s next on your radar?
CD: Sir Patico, or Hugo, and I are like an old married couple. I acquired him to just be a safe lower-level horse for me to have fun on when I was twelve. No one thought he would go Prelim, let alone 4*! He is taking me around tracks that I used to only dream of riding around, and I am forever grateful to him for the experience he is giving me! He is the opposite of Denny, very quiet and shy. However, still just as loving.
ED: Lastly, I know that you work full-time with Sharon White at her Last Frontier Farm… what are some of the key takeaways you’ve learned from her and tried to apply to your own training and horsemanship?
CD: Sharon is my absolute role model. Her attention to detail and thoroughness has set a standard for me that I will always uphold. She has taught me many things, but the one I will always carry with me is to ride “Hind end to front end. Not front end to hind end.”
After I chatted with Cornelia, I reached out to our friends at the USEA to see if they had official confirmation that Denny's score was indeed the highest in the history of the program. They did some research and couldn't find any other scores that beat his... but then again, there were 15 years of results to comb through. If we were mistaken and you know of a horse who has scored better, I'd love to hear about it - get in touch!
In the meantime, keep an eye on Cornelia and Denny. Past YEH graduates who've gone on to upper-level careers include Tsetserleg, Cooley Cross Border, Covert Rights, High Times, Indy 500 and dozens and dozens of other talented athletes. Who knows, maybe we'll see Cornelia and Denny galloping around Kentucky in the next several years? In the meantime, I'm looking forward to cheering them on at the YEH Championships this fall.