At the conclusion of Friday’s dressage, there were changes at the top as Tamie Smith (USA) and EnVogue took over the #1 position in the CCI4*-S at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian at the Kentucky Horse Park. What had been a three-way tie for first place the day before was broken by Smith (25.4) and Canada’s Colleen Loach, who rode Vermont (27.0) into second place.
Smith had originally entered the 16-year-old Hanoverian mare in the CCI5*-L but reconsidered in the lead-up to Kentucky. “This spring she came out and she just wasn’t her attacking self out on cross-country,” Smith said. “I really want to set [the horses] up for success and there wasn’t a lot of success. I had to stop and reflect and think ‘is this the right thing for her?’ I think she needs to do another four-star long before maybe doing Maryland’s CCI5*-L.”
Loach was thrilled with the performance of the nine-year-old Hanoverian gelding Vermont. “I know he has it in him, but sometimes he can get nervous and with the tension it’s tough, but he really stayed with me every step of the way.”
She especially appreciated “that feeling of connectedness throughout the whole test, like he really was listening to every step and I was able to really ride him and ask him for everything.”
Loach was introduced to the horse when he arrived from Germany while she was working for Clayton Fredericks. “I told [Canadian eventer] Peter Barry to come look at this horse, because it is a really nice horse and I knew Peter was looking.” Peter ended up buying the horse, but following his stroke in 2017, Loach went back to help out and ended up getting the ride. “I’m very fortunate to have such a lovely horse. I’ve been able to bring him up the levels and we’re developing a pretty strong partnership.”
This is the the “giant” 18.2-hand horse’s first 4*-L event. Loach describe ‘Monty’s’ personality as “very emotional. I think he’s starting to trust everybody around him a little bit more, so he’s starting to relax.”
Jessica Phoenix made history when she rode down centreline aboard Watson GS, becoming the first Canadian rider to do 100 four star level events, and one of only 17 riders globally to have achieved that milestone since 2000. Unfortunately, her test was cut short when Watson reared during the rein-back and the pair were rung out shortly thereafter by the judges for “marked lameness.” Phoenix posted on her Facebook page afterward: “Unfortunately, awful timing to develop an abscess in the right hind ‒ but this is sport and we will live to fight another day.”
She was certainly vindicated with her second ride of the day aboard the 19-year-old campaigner Pavarotti. They had a fluid, obedient test, scoring 29.8 in the gelding’s first time in the ring this year to snag 8th place. Phoenix spoke to his longevity at the upper levels. “He’s just an exceptional athlete. I have a team of people at home that keep him going every single day. He honestly keeps getting better.”
Looking ahead to Saturday, Phoenix called the cross-country course “Incredible. It seems like such a great lead-up to Tokyo ‒ all of the questions that we need to practice are out there.”
CCI4*-S leaderboard here.
No one could dislodge Marilyn Little’s hold on first place with RF Scandalous, but Tamie Smith (USA) and Mai Baum came close with an impressive mark of their own of 21.8.
“That was definitely his best performance. He was such a showman,” Smith said. “He was actually really nervous. It was kind of cute because normally he doesn’t really get nerves. He kept blowing his nose and wasn’t eating today. I think he knew it was a big day. He went in the ring and it was absolutely stunning. I almost cried. It was just so nice to have him go in there and have such a good performance.”
Looking to the rest of the field, Oliver Townend (GBR) has two in the top five, sitting in third place with Cooley Master Class on 24.1 and in fifth place with Ballaghmor Class on 26.5. Boyd Martin (USA) piloted all three of his CCI5*-L entries into the top eleven: Tsetserleg TSF is fourth (25.4), On Cue is seventh (27.0), and Long Island T is equal eleventh (28.2). The last ride of the day, Buck Davidson and Carlevo, slotted into sixth place with a 26.7.
For the Canadian contingent, Colleen Loach’s third ride down centreline was on another good horse owned by Peter Barry, Qorry Blue d’Argouges, a 17-year-old Selle Francais gelding she has the ride on since before the 2015 Pan Am Games. They scored 34.8 to finish tied for 42nd as top Canadian in the huge CCI5*-L division.
“I think maybe my warm-up was just a touch too long,” she said of a bit of tenseness he displayed. “He got a little bit ‘don’t touch me’ in there, but overall he had a lot of good things; the changes were good, which historically we’ve struggled with. The half-passes were good. He just started anticipating the halt in the first centerline and when I put my leg on he kind of objected.”
Hawley Bennett-Awad and the 17-year-old mare Jollybo made the trip from the west coast and scored a respectable 36.7 to end the dressage phase in 53rd place. “She was quite good today,” said Bennett-Awad, who has been riding the mare for just four years. “She was super relaxed. She has been a little saucy just because of being in Florida and the weather being cooler here. But I actually was pleased with her. It’s actually the worst score I’ve ever gotten but you know, like they say, this is not a dressage show.”
Keen to get out of the start box on Saturday to tackle the rather formidable cross-country track, she noted, “The course looks big and tough, a typical Derek course.”
While she lives in California, Bennett-Awad has been training in Florida and hasn’t been ‘home’ to BC in a long time. “I’m not allowed ‒ it’s just too much of a hassle I haven’t seen my family for a year and a half. It’s crazy.”
The final Canadian rider in the 5*, Lisa Marie Fergusson and her own 15-year-old TB/Welsh cross Honor Me earned 41.1 and finished the day in 60th place.
“We had some really good moments, our changes were a lot better,” she said of her test with the horse she has owned since he was four years old. “He got really lit up when the applause started for Dom [Schramm] when they came out. I didn’t get enough time to settle him before I had to go in the ring, so that was a bit unfortunate. It’s always a work in progress. At his age should be better, but he lives for Saturday!”
“Vitale” is “such a goofball in the barn. He gives kisses for cookies, he smiles, he’s just a big clown. He likes to throw blankets on the ground. I got him because I’ve had four of the Welsh crosses and they’ve all gone through advanced. I had his full brother Smart Move, who was incredible.”
Like many eventers from the Great White North, Fergusson is now based in the States, but managed to see her family in Canada in November ‒ with required quarantine of course.
Her thoughts on the course?: “It looks like a whole lot of fun. I’m glad I’m sitting on the horse I’m sitting on!”
CCI5*-L leaderboard here.
The CCI4*-S was originally scheduled to run cross-country on Saturday morning, but the timetable has been reversed due to the expected weather conditions. The CCI5*-L will go cross-country first starting at 8:30 am and the CCI4*-S will run in the afternoon. Without spectators on the course to cheer them on it is sure to be an eerily quiet day for the riders. You can watch the livestream here free of charge with a USEF Fan Membership, which is available at no cost using the code LRK3DE21. https://www.usef.org/network
~ with files from Classic Communications