Great Britain’s Tom McEwen hasn’t been riding JL Dublin for very long, but their partnership looked solid as the pair danced to the lead of the CCI5*-L at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian™. McEwen and JL Dublin strutted their stuff in front of a crowd of 7,158, the largest Thursday crowd since 2017.

The 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding, owned by Mr. and Mrs. J. Lambert and Mrs. D. Johnston, was trained and competed by McEwen’s fellow countryman Nicola Wilson until last year, when Wilson suffered a serious accident that led to her retirement from high-level competition. She passed the reins to McEwen, who formed a fast partnership with “Dubs.”

“He was amazing, and it’s all thanks to Nicola I get to enjoy him,” McEwen said after his ride which scored 22.6 penalty points. “He’s the most amazing horse and I’m unbelievably lucky to get to take the reins. I’m very excited. And it wouldn’t have come together this quickly without everything she’s done, so this is all thanks to her.”

McEwen’s 22.6 puts him just ahead of Americans Tamie Smith aboard Mai Baum (24.2) and Liz Halliday-Sharp aboard Deniro Z (29.0). McEwen finished second on “Dubs” at the Boekelo CCI4*-L in October 2022; this is their first time at this level together.


Tom McEwen and JL Dublin doing their dressage test.

Tom McEwen (GBR) and JL Dublin lead the CCI5*-L. (Michelle Dunn photo)


“He was amazing at Boekelo, but we had a few things to get to know about each other,” he said. “Over the winter, we built our partnership and spent time getting to know each other and it’s showing today, but there’s certainly some more polishing of the diamond to be done for both of us.”

McEwen’s admiration for his equine partner is clear in the way he speaks about him. “Dubs is the kindest horse you could ever meet — lovely, soft,” he said. “What you see in the arena is what you get: lovely, soft, and kind and also the personality of a showman. He loves being on stage and in front of people. He’s just a lovely, lovely horse.”

In contrast, Smith has a long-term relationship with her 17-year-old partner Mai Baum, owned by Alexandra and Ellen Ahearn and Eric Markell. But she feels like even now, things get better every time she competes with him.

“I just feel him getting stronger and being more in self-carriage and in front of my leg,” she said. “He answered all the questions super, and I couldn’t have asked him to be better. We maybe had a few tiny mistakes but overall, I’m very pleased.

“With any horse, as time goes on, you hope to develop a good, trusting partnership, and the quality has always been there, but his confidence and strength for both of us has grown,” she concluded.

As the highest-placed American, Smith currently leads the Land Rover/USEF CCI5*-L Eventing National Championship presented by MARS Equestrian.

Holding down third place is Halliday-Sharp and her veteran partner Deniro Z. The 15-year-old Dutch-bred gelding owned by Ocala Horse Properties has an impressive résumé, but his flying changes in the dressage test have been a challenge. Halliday-Sharp was especially pleased with his performance today.

“He got three out of the four so I guess we should be excited,” she said with a laugh. “At home, his changes are the best they’ve ever been.”

She credits the improvement to her recent work with U.S. dressage rider Shelly Francis. “She’s changed the way I teach horses to do changes,” she said. “He’s starting to understand what he can do. The changes are physically very hard for him … and at 15, he’s still getting better.”

While most of Halliday-Sharp’s ride was smooth and harmonious, she did have a bit of a challenge on the first centerline. “Deniro decided something was terrifying with the camera (near the judges’ stand). He’s never done that, ever, and it shows they are all individuals and can do cheeky things,” she said.

Halliday-Sharp also had a great ride on her Cooley Nutcracker in the Cosequin® Lexington CCI4*-S, where she stands first after Thursday’s competition with a score of 24.5. She leads Smith on Solaguayre California (27.6) and Canada’s Colleen Loach on Peter Barry’s Vermont (29.8).

The nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse is a newer ride for Halliday-Sharp, but she’s excited about his future and the glimpse she got of it today.

“Nutcracker is a younger horse, but I’m completely thrilled,” she said. “That’s the best test he’s ever done in the biggest atmosphere he’s ever seen. He’s very sensitive, quite quirky and sharp, and it’s taken time to get him comfortable in the ring and staying with me. Today, the pieces came together, and he fought for me in there. I’m thrilled. He still needs strength, but today was a snapshot of what he’s capable of in the future.”

In a reverse of the 5*, Smith stands just behind Halliday-Sharp on the 12-year-old Argentinian-bred mare Solaguayre California, owned by Julianne Guariglia. “That mare is quite green at the level, and it was her best test … she tried really hard,” Smith said. “She has another 6-12 months to get strong. She was really brilliant in her self-carriage and movement.

“Her half-pass work and trot work were quite good,” Smith continued. “She hasn’t always been able to push and have the hind end strength needed to be able to do that.”

The dressage phase continues Friday, with the second half of competitors in both divisions performing their tests in the Rolex Stadium. The heart of the competition, the cross-country, takes place on Saturday, followed by the final test, the show jumping phase, on Sunday.

Results here.

Livestreaming info here.