Nearly a decade ago, Loreen Kay and her good friend Elisa Wallace were slated to compete at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials as the sole Americans at the British event. Sadly, due to horse injuries, they never got that experience. Eight years later, they get the chance to head across the Atlantic to Blenheim—but this time with Loreen grooming for Elisa. Loreen gives us the inside scoop on the success of the Americans at this prestigious three-day event.
September 23, 2015—What a week it was for Team USA at Blenheim Palace International Three-Day Event! We had a huge U.S. contingent this year with seven American riders (eight if you include U.S. resident Aussie Kate Chadderton) in the CCI*** and Lauren Kieffer with two horses in the 8/9 year old CIC***. From day one, everyone felt like this weekend was going to be a good one, and you better believe that we nailed it.
I have to say, the week was nearly perfect. Knowing British weather, we were all a bit skeptical of how it would hold up and how it would affect the footing. Luckily, the only true rainy day we had since arriving at Blenheim Palace was on Wednesday for the first jog. And let’s be honest, the rain made all the horses extra shiny for the jog and the footing on course near perfection, so I say it was a win.
U.S. On Top From Day One
The U.S. dominance started right from the beginning with six of the seven CCI horses scoring below a respectable and competitive 52. For some of our riders, we believed that the scoring was harsh, so in my mind, the Americans brought their dancing shoes…especially Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen who scored an amazing 33.7 to put them in the lead heading into cross-country day.
We continued our reign into cross country with five of the seven pairs completing with no jump penalties including Clark on Glen and Will Coleman on OBOS O’Reilly making it inside the time. Lauren and Veronica added just one time penalty due to an amazing save on Lauren’s part as Veronica got a bit deep at a brush combination and had to put in a heroic effort at the second element.
Unfortunately, British-based Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night had a tack malfunction that resulted in a run-out at the roller coaster combination and Jennifer McFall and High Times were not on their usual game and decided to call it a day mid way through the course. Both Elisa Wallace riding Simply Priceless and Emily Beshear on Shame On The Moon had classy rounds with just a few time penalties each. Overall, coach David O’Connor was happy, so it was a good day.
Show jumping day concluded the fantastic weekend. All horses jogged up sound and Liz and Elisa completed their show jumping rounds in the morning. Elisa had a massive improvement upon her Rolex Kentucky CCI**** round of five rails earlier this spring, and only had one down this time which received a thumbs up from David and praise all around. In the CIC*** division, Lauren decided to scratch Landmark’s Vermiculous to save his spirit for Boekelo CCI*** later this fall, but ran Landmark’s Monte Carlo on cross country to a 12th place finish.
The top 30 jumped in the afternoon at the conclusion of the cross country. In front of a massive crowd, all four U.S. riders inside the top 30 jumped double-clear rounds. Clark had two rails in hand to boot and finished as Blenheim CCI*** champions on his dressage score. Lauren and Veronica finished in 6th, Emily and “Delta” finished in 7th (we were all a bit bummed the ribbon wasn’t its usual purple hue, which is her barn color), and Will and “Oboe” finished in 11th.
A Sweet Redemption
I am so proud to have been a part of the U.S. team at Blenheim as I was head groom for my buddy Elisa (I will clarify for everyone again, it is pronounced E-Leeeeeeee-Sa…so, “Z”, people). I warn you, this is the sentimental part of this post. I am not only proud of how all the U.S. riders came and represented their country so well, but I am particularly proud of my friend.
These days, I live vicariously through Elisa, but eight years ago, we were supposed to be the sole representatives for the United States here at Blenheim. Unfortunately, both of our horses sustained injuries after our final outing at Millbrook Horse Trials. Her first Advanced horse Jackson, had a career-ending injury and my only upper-level mount Russian would never compete at the top levels again. It was devastating for us both. However, Elisa continued pursuing her riding career and I decided that being a professional equestrian was not meant for me and headed to nursing school. My dreams still linger in the back of my mind and hopefully I can compete in the upper levels again as an amateur, but until then, I will keep following Elisa around to the big events making sure to annoy her with my OCD about perfect braids and dirt specks (guys, Pledge is your friend).
So, here we were, at Blenheim, eight years later and, pardon my French, she kicked butt. Johnny was far from the animal he is today and Elisa has built a partnership with him that I honestly believe no one else could have achieved. Finishing 29th out of 110 starters is some kind of impressive, especially since this was their first time abroad and it was only Johnny’s second CCI***. Good job, buddy, you came, you saw, you conquered and you made redemption so sweet for us both. You and John John deserve every bit of praise.
As my rambling comes to an end, the week was nothing short of a whirlwind. While the American national anthem was played and the Stars and Stripes was being raised at the ribbon ceremony, I looked around at all the Americans in the crowd proudly standing with their hands over their heart and thought, wow, doesn’t this sound sweet. Go ‘Merica! Go Team USA!
Loreen Kay competed to the three-star level in eventing as a young rider, and trained extensively with Jim Wofford. She now attends nursing school in Washington, D.C., and enjoys riding friends' horses at the lower levels.