The 2023 edition of the MARS Maryland 5 Star presented by Brown Advisory came to a close on Sunday, Oct. 22, as the competitors in the CCI5*-L and the USEF CCI3*-L Eventing National Championship took on the show jumping courses designed by Canadian Michel Vaillancourt. Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Connor were the wire-to-wire winners for the three-star national championship, while Ireland’s Austin O’Connor ended a long five-star drought for his country by clinching victory in the CCI5*-L.

The show jumping phase proved to be influential for the CCI5*-L, with only one combination going clear and inside the time. That was Ireland’s Austin O’Connor with Colorado Blue (Jaguar Mail x Rock Me Baby), a 2009 British Sport Horse gelding owned by The Salty Syndicate, and it was enough to move them from fourth place to first. Not only was it O’Connor’s first win at the level, but the first for any Irish eventing athlete in 58 years.

“Salty” is a homebred for O’Connor, and he’s worked with the athletic gray gelding for his entire life.

“He’s an unbelievable horse. He’s a proper, proper five-star horse. He likes to climb,” said O’Connor. “He always looked a good horse, but with age he’s just gotten better. He’s 85% Thoroughbred. He’s all class. He’ll try and try until the bitter end.”

Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht (Birkhof’s Grafenstolz x Nachtigall), a 2012 Oldenburg mare owned by Amanda Gould, had a single rail down in the show jumping phase but held on to their second-place position. Overnight leaders Oliver Townend (GBR) and Cooley Rosalent (Valent x Bellaney Jewel), a 2014 Irish Sport Horse mare owned by Paul Ridgeon, had two costly rails in their show jumping round, but managed to stay on the podium, finishing in third place.

Adding just 0.4 time faults in the final phase, Hannah Sue Hollberg (Kennett Square, Pa.) and Capitol HIM (Con Air 7 x O-Heraldika), a 2007 Holsteiner gelding owned by Christa Schmidt, jumped from sixth place after cross-country to fourth place at the end, finishing as the highest-placed U.S. competitors.

Hollberg got the ride on “Chito” after he proved to be “a little bit too much horse” for his owner.

“We didn’t have extremely high expectations for him starting out,” said Hollberg. “I brought him up the levels, and every time I asked him to do more, he would step up and answer the questions, and he’s gotten better and better. I wish I’d gotten him as a young horse—he’s 16 now. But he is incredible. Every time I ride him really well and ask him to do the right things, he does everything, which is so nice. And also when I mess up, he still somehow does it right.”

This marked Chito’s first completion at the five-star level. Hollberg had decided to step him back to the CCI3* level at last year’s Maryland 5 Star, and he was diagnosed with PPID (sometimes referred to as equine Cushing’s disease) shortly after. With that diagnosis came treatment and medication that put him back on the five-star track.

“He jumped better than he’s ever jumped in his life today,” said Hollberg. “Just amazing. Fresh as a daisy. He felt like he hadn’t run at all. The biggest thing I wish I had done better was that on cross-country, I didn’t know if he would go the distance. You don’t really know until they do. And I held him back a little bit before the corners at the top of the course before the big crab water. I think I could have been inside the time if I’d just let him go. I was worried about him getting tired, so it’s nice to know that he’s so able and eager and can do it.”

Results here.