Two-time Canadian Olympian Jessica Phoenix of Cannington, ON, was the top Canadian finisher at the Virginia International Horse Trials held from October 28 to 31, 2021, at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, VA.
Riding three horses in the CCI3*-L division, Phoenix placed fifth riding Tugce, seventh aboard Mighty Mouse, and 17th riding Shaitani. A total of 21 entries contested the division, which saw U.S. competitor Ariel Grald lead from start to finish riding Diara and win with a final score of 26.4 penalty points. Grald also finished second with her other mount, Isla de Coco, with a score of 27.9.
With Tugce, her eight-year-old Brandenburg mare (Domherr x Chico’s Boy), Phoenix was tied for third place with a score of 27.9 following the opening phase of dressage. A clear jumping performance with two time penalties added over the cross-country track designed by Andrew Bowles of New Zealand gave Phoenix a provisional score of 29.9. One rail down in Sunday’s final show jumping phase resulted in a final score of 33.9 penalty points, giving the pair a top five finish.
“I was thrilled with her performance,” said Phoenix, 37, who has represented Canada on multiple occasions in major games competition. “From start to finish, she was world-class. She is so competitive in her mind; she knows every phase and doesn’t want me to get in her way. She’s amazing!”
A former hunter prospect, Tugce had been sent to Phoenix to be sold.
“When she got to my property and I sat on her, I said, ‘I have to buy this horse!’” recounted Phoenix. “She’s definitely not a hunter but she’s definitely an event horse. I had just sold one of my other horses, so I took that money and purchased her.
“She reminds me of a female Pavarotti in many ways,” continued Phoenix, referencing one of the most successful horses of her career and the winner of five medals in Pan American Games competition. “I was pleased to have her in Virginia and to be competing at the FEI level. I’m looking forward to producing her to the four-star level next year. I think she’ll be an exceptional horse for Canada.”
Riding Mighty Mouse, Phoenix was sitting in ninth position after dressage with a score of 32.1. A clear cross-country trip inside the time on Saturday followed by a single error for four penalties in show jumping moved the pair up to seventh place with a final score of 36.1.
“Mighty Mouse is owned by my client, Saskia Goedhart,” said Phoenix of the 12-year-old Australian-bred warmblood gelding (Contenda x Jubilee Bay). “She purchased him from Shane Rose in Australia and brought him up to the preliminary level herself. She has an encompassing job and can’t always get the time to go to the competitions, but she does all the flat work on him. She probably does 70 percent of the riding on “Mouse,” and I do the fitness work and the jumping with him. It’s a team effort. It’s so rewarding to teach Saskia on “Mouse,” and then have him come out and compete at this calibre. It’s incredible to have a top 10 finish in his first three-star long.
“He is a gifted horse,” continued Phoenix. “He’s so competitive. He wants me to sit down, show him where to go, and not say a lot to him. He’s so joyful to ride in all three phases. When you get back to the barn, he’s the sweetest, most lovely horse. He’s always kissing you! He’s the kindest, softest horse to be around and a pleasure to compete in all three phases.”
Of competing at the Virginia International Horse Trials, Phoenix said, “It is a huge fitness test for the horses; there is a lot of terrain at this horse park. The cross-country course had a lot of technical combinations, and it was well-designed to give the horses a good fitness test without over-facing them. The footing felt perfect for cross-country, and then they just put in a new ring for show jumping. It was a great way to finish the weekend.”
In addition to competing herself, Phoenix was also coaching three other Canadian athletes. Melissa Boutin, 31, of Ascot Corner, QC, riding Obeah Dancer GS and Hanna Bundy, 27, of Toronto, ON, riding Lovely Assistant both enjoyed top 10 finishes in the CCI3*-S division while Claudia Iannuccilli, 42, of Wentworth, QC, contested the CCI2*-L riding Gregory the Great, a Canadian thoroughbred gelding she bought off the track.
Across the Atlantic, Canada was represented by Mike Winter, 47, at CCI5* Les 5 Etoiles de Pau held from October 28-31 in Pau, France. The Canadian Olympian, who is originally from Toronto, ON, and currently based in Cirencester, England, placed 25th overall with a score of 61.3 penalty points riding El Mundo, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Numero Uno x Calvaro F.C.) that he and his wife, Emma Winter, own in partnership with Jonathan Nelson. One of the few five-star events held in the world, CCI5*-L Pau attracted 46 entries this year and was won by Tim Price of New Zealand riding Falco.
For more information on the Virginia International Horse Trials, visit here.