There is a rare three-way tie for the lead after the first day of dressage in the CCI4*-S at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event Presented by MARS Equestrian™ at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. Tamie Smith (USA) and Danito, Doug Payne (USA) and Starr Witness, and Liz Halliday-Sharp (USA) and Cooley Moonshine all received a score of 28.1 from judges Helen Brettell (GBR) and Mark Weissbecker (USA).

The Kentucky Horse Park’s Rolex Arena was eerily quiet due to the absence of spectators and combined with bitterly cold temps in the mid-30s F and a stiff breeze, a number of the tests were “expressive” to say the least.

“He was really fresh and kind of naughty [in warm-up],” said Smith of her horse. “You just have to compromise with him. You’ve got to be firm but you can’t get after him or be mad at him or he freaks out. I went into that test today not being able to really ride him, so I was disappointed after my ride. He can produce a much better test than he did today.”

Payne piloted Starr Witness to an equal score. The mare started out as a hunter/jumper but showed early promise in eventing, earning a team gold medal with Payne at the 2019 Pan American Games.

Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit were first in the ring in the CCI4*-S. (MacMillan Photography)

“She’s a unique case. She had jumped through 1.25m prior to coming to us. In many aspects it’s not so much to teach her how to jump but more to teach her the nuances that are presented in eventing,” Payne said. “She’s wicked smart, quick on her feet, and very athletic. The Pan Ams were a big ask and she just stepped up to it and she’s continued to do that as we’ve gone forward.”

Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine rounded out the three-way tie for the lead. “He’s still pretty green and this is his second four-star. It’s such a great opportunity to get a horse like him into this atmosphere. He can be a bit hot and is keen to get on with the job all the time. I think he’s very world class and hopefully an exciting one for the future.”

In the CCI4*-S the scores are close at the top, with the best nine of the first session all scoring under 32.0 penalties, including Colleen Loach and FE Golden Eye with 31.9 in 9th place.

“‘Goldie’ is fairly inexperienced at this level,” said Loach. “He did go to the Pan Ams [in Lima], so this is kind of his second time in this bigger-type atmosphere. And he handled it really well. The first halt he got distracted and then he only got better from there. Overall I was pleased with the ride; I feel like where we are at with his in his training and experience level, I could not have asked for too much more today.”

Kyle Carter and Reddy Or Not. (MacMillan Photography)

Loach, of Dunham, Quebec, has had the nine-year-old Hanoverian gelding since he was a four-year-old. “He’s mine and my parents and Amanda Bernhard’s. He is really sweet horse―a pet. He is a favourite in the barn.”

Of the lead-up to this event she explained, “I was lucky to be able to spend the winter in Ocala. I have not been back home [to Canada], which I wouldn’t have anyway. Usually I would stay in the States until after Kentucky, but this year I am going to stay in the States until Jersey Fresh and then go home. When I go home I think I’m allowed to quarantine at home if I do a land crossing at the border rather than flying.”

Jessica Phoenix, who has four horses in this division, earned 35.7 with Bogue Sound and the pair sit in 13th place.

“‘Bogie’ was amazing,” she said. “I thought he was very obedient. The only thing I would have changed was his last [canter lead] change. But wow, for his first turn of the season, his movement has just gotten so much better and he is so much stronger. We are definitely getting to know each other better now. We’ve been around a lot of big courses together and I have a ton of confidence in him.”

Kyle Carter and the 12-year-old Trakehner mare Reddy Or Not scored 36.7, good for 15th place. Carter is based in Ocala, Florida, and this is the mare’s seventh 4*-S. “She’s been going great this week and I thought the environment was really going to help her, but I actually lost her attention a little bit in the ring, which is unusual. In the walk she got a little worked up about that camera down there, which yesterday she wasn’t bothered by. So it’s never everything you want, is it? But, I was happy with her.”

“I call her my Breyer horse. She is a poser; she just stands there and looks gorgeous. And she’s just got a really solid, kind personality. I rode her in there yesterday and within 30 seconds I had a grin from ear to ear and when I was coming out someone said, ‘What’s that all about?’ And I said, ‘It’s just nice to be on one who doesn’t try to kill you.’ She’s just a sweetheart. My kids could ride her.”

Jessica Phoenix also rode the 10-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Wabbit, who were the trailblazers for the CCI4*-S division, scoring 41.7pp and currently sitting 19th.

“It is the first time he has been the atmosphere of the Kentucky Horse Park and he just handled himself so well. It’s his first run of the season and for a 7 a.m. ride on a cold morning with a hot Thoroughbred, I couldn’t have been happier with him. His trot work was the best it’s ever been. His canter work was fantastic. It was just a little bit too early in the day for his walk, but wow, what an exciting horse for the future!”

Phoenix continued, “Jim Phillips owns him and he came to me just after he had done some Prelims and we’ve just slowly produced him up to the four-star level. He is a galloping machine. He loves jumping and he’s getting so strong in his flat work now, which is a wonderful feeling.

“After this we are going to go home [to Ontario] and our events are starting in the middle of May. Our next event would be Bromont in June in Quebec.”

CCI4*-S leaderboard here.


In the stacked CCI5*-L division, RF Scandalous and Marilyn Little (USA) delivered the best dressage score seen at LRK3DE since 2009. The pair, who were 2018 Land Rover/USEF CCI4* Eventing National Champions, had a stunning performance which earned a 21.7 to lead the field on day 1.

Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous. (

“It’s great to be back here in Kentucky. She’s so much more mature and we’ve both learned so much,” Little said of the 16-year-old Oldenburg mare. “She’s my horse of a lifetime. I’m acutely aware of that and trying to make sure I’m enjoying every moment with her.”

Like many horses, “Kitty” was “exhilarated by the cold,” requiring Little to adjust her warm-up plan. “I got a little bit defensive and conservative in the first few movements. All of a sudden I felt her maturity and professionalism come through,” Little said. “I got braver as the test was going and she got some sparkling marks at the end.”

Oliver Townend (GBR) and Cooley Master Class are attempting to defend their 2018 and 2019 Kentucky titles this week and are off to a good start, scoring a 24.1 to currently sit second.

Three-time Kentucky champion William Fox-Pitt (GBR), currently third with Oratorio on a 27.9, is hoping the 12-year-old gelding’s experience at the level will stand him in good stead given their less-than-ideal preparation due to COVID-19 related event cancellations. This is the first time since his traumatic brain injury incurred in 2015 that he has competed in Kentucky. “It’s very nostalgic to be back here. Driving into the Park I felt quite emotional and excited. It’s great to feel like that. It’s been two very boring years [at home].”

For Canada, Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes had a solid test, scoring 35.3 to land them in 19th place at the end of the day.

“I was really happy with the test,” said Slezak. “He had a lot of energy, which is really where I struggle with him. But, these were the perfect conditions for him; everybody can blame me for the cold weather, because I was praying for it for the last two months!”

He describes the 12-year-old gelding as “so laid back. We’ve given people up-down lessons on him. He is super quiet.”

Slezak’s only other trip to Kentucky was in 2009 and was memorable for all the wrong reasons. “What a miserable time it was! I came in confident ―I was young and stupid. I fell early on and I had to do the walk of shame. I’ve been dying to get back here to redeem myself. And I could not be on a better horse.”

“Home” for Slezak has changed, thanks to the pandemic. “We were based in Canada, but this past year COVID kind of forced our hand and we stayed Florida year round. And now, I believe what we are going to stay with. We’ll go home for competitions now and then, but I don’t think we’ll base there. I’m hoping he’ll go to Tokyo this summer, so fingers crossed.”


Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes. (MacMillan Photography)

CCI5*-L leaderboard here.

Competition will resume with the CCI4*-S level at 7:45 Friday morning followed by the CCI5*-L in the afternoon. Note that because of heavy rain in the forecast for Saturday’s cross-country, the 5* will be run first, then the 4*.

~ with files from Classic Communications

William Fox-Pitt in the 5* warmup. (MacMillan Photography)