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October 4, 2013

Oscar Aces The Test At Richland Park

Boyd Martin’s decision to “get down to business” with Trading Aces paid off with a win in the CIC*** at Richland Park. StockImageServices.com photo.

In his first big event back after ankle surgery, Boyd Martin rides Trading Aces to the top of the CIC***.

On the 10-hour drive from Cochranville, Pa., to the Richland Park Horse Trials in Richland, Mich., Boyd Martin had plenty of time to think about strate­gies for his three-star mount, Trading Aces.

While the gelding, also known as “Oscar,” is “the complete package,” according to Martin, they just teamed up in 2012.

But on Aug. 22-25, Martin knew it was time to push. “I thought, well, there’s got to be a time where we decide we’re not getting to know each other, and we’re not green,” he said. “This was the sort of event we should start having a bit of a crack at. The footing is good, and the course is big, and it’s a competitive field.”

Martin’s risk paid off, and the pair topped a big CIC*** field.

“This is one of the best horses I think I’ve ever ridden,” he said. “His score and his performance at Richland would be competitive anywhere in Europe in a CIC. I feel like we’re just starting to showcase him a little bit. I sort of got caught protecting him and coming up with excuses to the syndicate [that owns him] and to the selectors as to why I’m looking after him. It’s time to actually start doing the business now that we’re getting close to the selection period.”

Richland Park marked Martin’s first major competition back after under­going surgery to repair torn ligaments and tendons in his right ankle due to a series of falls this spring (see sidebar “Looking On The Bright Side”). While he was recovering, his wife, Grand Prix dressage rider Silva Martin, worked on Oscar’s flatwork and competed him at third and fourth levels.

The extra help worked, as Boyd and Oscar started off at Richland with a steady dressage test to put them in second place (43.9) behind Phillip Dutton and Ben (41.8).

“He has a wonderful ability for the dressage,” said Boyd, 34. “He’s got brilliant presence, extravagance and great movement. It was the first time I was able to get a test together that showed that quality without too many mistakes.”

Marc Donovan’s show jumping course featured several related distances on an undulating grass field that rewarded forward riding. Boyd and the 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Coevers Diamond Boy—Ballyvannon Beauty VII, Leaburg) jumped one of eight double-clear rounds to move into the lead over what Boyd called one of the toughest three-star show jumping tracks he’s done.

“I think the sport’s evolving a little bit, and the show jumping being before the cross-country means that the horses are a little fresher and usually jump a little bit better, so Marc Donovan designed a very technical course that was very big,” he said. “I think we’re going to see more and more of this in the CIC to make sure the show jumping phase has the same amount of influence on the results as the other two phases.”

No one made time over Ian Stark’s cross-country course, but Boyd certainly didn’t dawdle, accruing just 3.2 time penalties.

“I thought I did a poor job riding him at [Rolex] Kentucky,” he said. “I was a bit herky-jerky and stopping and starting. I didn’t have a good rhythm around the course. At Richland, I wanted to master riding the fences out of stride, and I also wanted to test his ability by making tight lines to the very complicated combinations. They were three-star questions, but if you turned up to them on a half-stride approach, it made it a four-star question. He’s a very honest horse.”

Oscar started the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** this spring but ran out of steam near the end of cross-country, and Boyd pulled him up. In hindsight, Boyd realized the gelding wasn’t fit enough, so this summer he’s been focusing on adding more frequent canters up and down hills after receiving advice from Dutton and Andrew Nicholson.

Boyd also realized that he shouldn’t have headed to a four-star after only completing one three-star with Oscar.

“You can do that, I believe, on a Thoroughbred, but on a sport horse, I think they need two CCI***s to really have that long basic condition, of cantering around a course for 10 or 11 minutes before they try their first four-star,” he said.

Boyd is now focused on making Oscar the strongest three-star horse possible before heading to another four-star. He received a grant to compete at the Boekelo CCIO*** (the Netherlands) in October, so he plans to ride Oscar at the Plantation Field CIC*** (Pa.) in September where, if conditions allow, he’ll try for one more fitness run.

“Thinking forward for the next year and years after, I want him to feel bullet­proof around a three-star rather than just making it around a four-star again,” he said.

Back In Business

Sinead Halpin also made her return to top competition at Richland Park after an injury. She and Manoir De Carneville led the advanced division from start to finish.

Halpin suffered a collapsed lung, fractured scapula and broken ribs in a fall from a preliminary horse in July and only had two jump schools to prepare for Richland Park.

“To be honest, it was all a bit rusty,” she said. “ ‘Tate’ was very, very good. I felt a little out of practice for sure, but overall I was happy that he could still win on a couple of days that we didn’t feel like we were on our top form.”

Halpin was disappointed in her dres­sage test, despite their score of 23.8.

“I don’t know where that came from!” she said. “He was really good in warm-up, but [since] I’d only been back riding for about two weeks, I was more worried about his fitness and jumping. The last five minutes where I needed to leave him alone, I kind of panicked about not knowing my dressage test and started over-schooling. He did everything he needed to do, but he wasn’t as strong on the contact as he normally is. I just felt like I let him down and let myself down a bit.”

Halpin, 30, Oldwick, N.J., admitted she was nervous heading out on cross-country because she hadn’t been able to school at all before the event. She knew Stark’s track would be forward and positive though, and once she was on course, her anxiety faded away.

“He was actually a little strong out of the box,” she said. “That was cool. I had a great time, and I felt fine. I was a little worried that I wasn’t going to feel too good. About halfway through, I jumped through the second water and was turning back around, and I had to take a couple of deep breaths, [which] was kind of unusual.”

Because of her injury, Halpin’s changed her fall schedule for Tate, a 13-year-old Selle Français gelding (Gaub—Carneville, Matador Du Bois). Instead of competing in the CCI*** at Blenheim Palace (England), she’s rerouting to the Dutta Corp Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.).

“In hindsight, I think it’s actually a really great thing for Tate,” said Halpin. “I think a quiet year before our attempt at the [Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games] is a nice thing without a big travel overseas. For me, I actually feel a little more pressure at local competitions, trying to recreate what happened last fall [where Halpin and Tate finished second in the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials CCI**** (England)]. I think fine tuning my warm-ups and utilizing the local [shows] and getting used to David [O’Connor] is actually going to be a really great prep for next year.”

Halpin admitted that her win at Richland Park wasn’t easy, and that she’d like to get to a point where staying focused is less of a struggle.

“I want to feel like it comes easier to him and easier to me, and I think staying at home working through that will be a really good thing,” she said. “He’s a horse that gets fantastic under pressure, and I actually think I go a little better under pressure and with an atmosphere too. If we can get it feeling really good and nailed out in competitions that don’t involve that type of atmosphere, I think it’ll be even better.”

Forward Rewarded

Lauren Kieffer and RF Cosima took the top spot in the dressage in the CIC** and never looked back, finishing just ahead of Canadian Colleen Loach and Qorry Blue D’Argouges.

Kieffer and “Cosi,” an 8-year-old Holsteiner mare (Conello—Heringia, Sir Shostakov), completed two CIC***s this spring, but Kieffer wanted to drop down a level for their first fall event.

“We went out [on cross-country], and it felt easy, “ she said. “I wanted to make sure it was a little bit of a test. We’re still getting to know each other, and she’s only 8. Richland is quite testing enough, so it was nice to go out and make everything feel simple.”

Of 50 starters in the CIC**, only 13 show jumped double-clear rounds, and Cosi delivered for Kieffer.

“The courses just asked that you rode forward and accurately, and you really never had a chance to let your guard down because everything was quite related,” said Kieffer. “As long as you got in there and got a forward rhythm and kept coming through your turns, you were usually rewarded.”

Jacqueline Mars imported Cosi last fall after Karen O’Connor and Marilyn Little found her in Europe.

“I went over and tried her late last summer and loved her from the moment I sat on her,” said Kieffer. “Karen competed her once in the fall over there, and then she came over here, and I started competing her.”

The pair immediately started racking up the ribbons, finishing ninth in the CCI** at the 2012 Dansko Fair Hill International (Md.). They came out strong this year with a fifth-placed finish in the CIC*** at Jersey Fresh (N.J.) and a third-placed finish at the Volvo Bromont CIC*** (Quebec).

This spring, Kieffer, 26, The Plains, Va., started working with Canadian dressage rider Jacqueline Brooks, who was on hand at Richland Park to coach several riders.

“This is the best dressage score so far,” Kieffer said. “Jacquie’s great. She has a lot of the same theories as David [O’Connor], and she’s worked with the Canadian eventing team a lot. She’s really good with the event horses because she’s great about getting the most out of them without putting on too much pressure. She understands their fitness levels and that you kind of have to finesse the extra points out of them.”

Kieffer is aiming for the Dutta Corp Fair Hill CCI*** in the fall, and Mars hopes to breed Cosi via embryo transfer next spring.

“She’s a great addition to Ms. Mars’ breeding program,” said Kieffer. “She’s extremely trainable and very talented. She’s a great mover and a beautiful jumper, and she’s got an amazing brain. That’s very appealing from a broodmare aspect.”

Homebred Hero

Most eventers would be thrilled to finish fourth in a competitive CIC*** divi­sion, but for Colleen Rutledge her white ribbon with Covert Rights meant much more.

In his first CIC***, Rutledge’s homebred Thoroughbred-cross gelding tried his heart out and put in three solid phases.

The pair started out in 11th place after dressage (48.5) and had one of only eight double-clear show jumping rounds.

“I was so proud of him because he was determined to leave every­thing up, no matter what I did,” said Rutledge. “I rode a fairly forward, aggressive course because I wanted to make sure that he had a positive ride out of it.”They added a handful of time penalties on cross-country to finish just a few points out of the lead.

“We had a couple of rough spots here and there, but considering how green he is, he read the ques­tions beautifully, and he had a great gallop,” said Rutledge. “I never asked him to really gallop, gallop until after the last water, because I wanted to see how fit he was. He came back a smarter horse, so I’m excited to go to the next show and see what he’s going to do.”

The 7-year-old gelding (BFF Incognito—Let’s Get It Right, Covert Operation) is out of Rutledge’s first advanced horse, an off-the-track Thoroughbred. She was the first horse Rutledge learned how to break when she was a teenager.

“My trainer at the time said, ‘Alright, go longe this 2-year-old out in the round pen,’ and I went out in the round pen and turned around and said, ‘Longe,’ and she turned around and said, ‘Get out!’ and charged me,” Rutledge remem­bered. “My boss just shook her head and said, ‘Figure it out. One of you will come out of there smarter and wiser—let it be you.’ ”

From that point forward, Rutledge and Let’s Get It Right formed a partnership, although the mare was never easy.

“She was a tough competitor of a mare,” Rutledge said. “She was tough to ride, but I loved her. I found a stallion that I thought would mix really well with her and give her some of the rideability that she lacked, and she would lighten his brain, and between the two of them, I got ‘C.R.’ ”

Rutledge picked a half-Thorough­bred, half-Clydesdale stallion and found that C.R. inherited the best of both of his parents.

“He has such an amazing brain that I can throw stuff faster at him than I would some other horses, and he absorbs it and thinks about it and comes back, and he gets smarter about it,” said Rutledge, 36. “If he makes a mistake, it doesn’t fluster him. He comes to work with a smile on his face every single day, even when the work is really tough. He shows up, and he’s ready to play.”

C.R. finished fifth in the U.S. Eventing Association’s Young Event Horse 4-year-old East Coast Finals at Fair Hill (Md.) in 2010 and seventh in the 5-year-old final in 2011. Rutledge is hoping he’ll compete in the Dutta Corp Fair Hill CCI*** this fall, making it his fourth consecutive appearance there (after completing the 2012 CCI**).

Although C.R. may seem on paper to have rocketed up the levels, Rutledge, Mt. Airy, Md., said she looks to him to decide when to move up.

“Every time I’ve asked him a question he’s answered it,” she said. “He’s always like, ‘Yep, sure, I can do this, no problem!’ ”

Beyond the fall three-star, Rutledge has big hopes for her homebred.

“Fair Hill will answer a lot of questions,” she said. “My main goal right now is to get the smartest horse I possibly can to Fair Hill and see how he answers those questions. From that, who knows? We might do another three-star in the spring, or it may be that he answered that so easy, let’s see what else he can do. You don’t know until you try.”

Looking On The Bright Side

After the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** this spring, Boyd Martin bit the bullet and underwent a surgery on his right ankle that he’d been postponing.

A series of falls over the spring season resulted in four torn tendons and ligaments that became painful enough to affect his riding. Although the down­time was mentally tough for him, Martin did his best to use it to his advantage.

“I actually had time to sit down and study Phillip [Dutton] jumping my horses and [my wife] Silva dressaging the horses,” he said. “Sometimes you can get yourself into a bit of a rat race of riding as many horses as you can and quickly teaching, then bolting off to a clinic and then racing back to ride at a show, and before you know it, you lose a little bit of the quality and the focus of what you’re actually here to do. It was a good little half-halt for me to re-look at everything and try to reinvent the way things go.”

When he was cleared to ride, Martin spent about six weeks doing so without stirrups. And he’s now doing physiotherapy three times a week.

“It’s one of those injuries that doesn’t come good straight away, so I’m probably at about 70 or 80 percent,” he explained. “It’s been a frustrating year, obviously. Things haven’t quite gone my way, but I’ve still been enjoying my horses and enjoying the training.

“I’ve been through periods of my career before where you have six months where you pick up an injury or a couple of your top horses pick up an injury, and you’ve just got to soldier on and not get too down and out about it,” he added. “Usually you come out the other side, and things pick up again.”

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "“Oscar” Aces The Test At Richland Park" ran in the Sept. 9, 2013 issue.

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