Some classic Fair Hill rain on Thursday didn’t stop Woods Baughman (USA) from claiming the lead during the afternoon’s dressage tests at the MARS Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill presented by Brown Advisory. The last to ride in the Main Arena, Baughman quickly danced into the top spot with a score of 27.2 aboard his, Kim Baughman and James Baughman, Jr.’s C’est La Vie 135.

The MARS Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill presented by Brown Advisory, one of only two 5 Star level equestrian events of its kind in the United States and just the seventh worldwide, returns to the Fair Hill Special Event Zone in Cecil County, MD, October 13-16. The event’s prestigious 5 Star (CCI5*-L) designation is the pinnacle of the Olympic sport of Eventing, often described as an equestrian triathlon.

In addition to the 5 Star competition (CCI5*-L), the event also features a 3 Star competition (CCI3*-L), which serves as the USEF CCI3*-L Eventing National Championship, and The Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse East Coast Championships presented by Dubarry of Ireland. The four days of eventing competition feature Dressage (Thu-Fri), Cross-Country (Sat) showcasing Ian Stark-designed courses, and Show Jumping (Sun).

Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit in the 5*-L trot-up. (Shannon Brinkman photo)

“He’s a fantastic horse,” Baughman said of the 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding. “He likes as much free time as possible, so we give him as much time as we can to just be himself. He’s a big, strong horse that doesn’t like to be pushed around too much, and we’ve found that I’m better off stepping in last minute to tell him what we actually need to do.”

After his starts in Kentucky and Burghley earlier this year, Baughman came into Maryland with significantly fewer nerves. “We’ve been laughing this week because I kind of feel normal,” he said. “I feel like I do when I go to most of the other events, my horse is ready, and we’re quite thankful because there haven’t been any flights. I feel totally relaxed and have just stayed my normal self.”

While wrapping up the dressage competition through the day’s hardest rain, Baughman knocked fellow American Tamie Smith and Danito out of the top spot on the leaderboard. Smith and Ruth Bley’s 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding now sit in fourth place with a score of 29.4.

France’s Astier Nicolas sits second behind Baughman with his score of 29.1 aboard Babylon De Gamma, an 11-year-old Selle Français gelding owned by Nicolas, Etienne Grivot, Marielle Grivot Bize, and Benedicte Nicolas De Monval. Liz Halliday-Sharp (USA) and Cooley Quicksilver, The Monster Partnership’s 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, earned a score of 29.3 to claim third.

“I think (the MARS Maryland 5 Star team) has done a really good job this year,” Nicolas said. “They’ve made quite a few improvements from last year, the course is difficult but fair, and we’re really happy with the way it all looks so far.”

The Main Arena opened Thursday morning with dressage tests for the USEF CCI3*-L Eventing National Championship, where World #5 Will Coleman (USA) and Cold Red Rum took the lead with their score of 27.1.

“I’ve had this horse for just over a year, and I don’t think I competed him for the first three or four months I had him,” Coleman said of the 9-year-old Westphalian gelding owned by the Cold Red Rum Syndicate. “I felt like I had to really give him that time to settle emotionally and to physically develop. He was a bit of a weak and nervous horse for his age, but we’ve given him a lot of time.

“He’s really coming along,” he added. “My motto with all of them is to never be in a rush. I think now everyone is starting to see the quality that we saw when we tried him. He still has a long way to go, but we’re quite pleased with where he is at the moment.”

Fellow Americans Amanda Beale and Lauren Nicholson sit in second and third, respectively. Beale piloted the Get Ready Syndicate LLC’s 12-year-old Brandenburg gelding Carlson 119 to a dressage score of 27.7, while Nicholson is not far behind with her score of 28.0 aboard I’ll Have Another, a 9-year-old Warmblood gelding owned by Brandye Randermann.

“The one thing that you get for the 3 Star horses here is the 5 Star atmosphere,” Coleman said. “I think the 3 Star track this year is a significant step up from last year, but I also think it’s extremely fair. It’s going to give everyone a very good fitness test for what their horse is ready for. And that’s sort of the idea, right – these 3 Star Longs are supposed to prepare you for the next level. I really think Ian (Stark) has accomplished that here.”

The Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) East Coast Championships presented by Dubarry of Ireland also concluded the 4-year-old division Thursday evening with Diego Farje of Altoona, FL, bringing home the win aboard Boyd Martin’s 4-year-old Zangersheide Shmick. The 5-year-old division will be awarded Friday evening following the final rides for the CCI5*-L dressage.

For live results, visit Hippo Data.

The entire CCI5* is available via livestream through USEF Network in North America and Horse & Country outside North America.