The open intermediate divisions at the Pine Top Winter Horse Trials (Ga.) on Feb. 7-9 were jam-packed with impressive three- and four-star horses out to stretch their legs. Of the three divisions, Jan Byyny won one with her Fair Hill CCI*** winner Inmidair, Peter Barry topped one on his Olympic mount Kilrodan Abbot, and Allison Springer was back in her favorite place—on her Rolex Kentucky and Burghley CCI**** veteran Arthur.
Arthur hasn't competed since the 2012 Burghley CCI**** (England), where he was sixth. He and Springer cruised to the top of open intermediate, division 1, at Pine Top, winning the dressage and jumping a clean round with 14 time penalties to take the blue. Springer was also sixth in open intermediate, division 3, with Copycat Chloe.
What has Arthur been up to since his last outing at Burghley in 2012?
He’s been recovering and getting healthy and strong; he looks good. We went to Wellington, Fla., for January and worked with Katie Prudent over fences and J.J. Tate on the flat.
We got to spend a ton of time at the [FTI Winter Equestrian Festival] show grounds, and it was good to get him back in action. He feels great, and he was super happy to be out today. He’s such a personable horse; you can really tell his emotions. He was happy as a clam all day long just to be at the show. It’s pretty cute.
At what point in his recovery did you know he’d be able to come back to this level of competition?
He did get hurt after Burghley, but I don’t really talk about that. I always knew he'd come back. I probably should have done something in the fall. I don’t think there was ever a question about [him coming back].
Originally I thought I’d be bringing him back to do the Aachen (Germany) [CICO in June] and all that this past summer because everything looked so great at the beginning of the year. But then the new team coach [David O'Connor] and my head vet and I decided that it was an unnecessary risk.
Did your plans for Arthur change when Lionheart passed away?
No, Arthur and [Copycat] Chloe’s plans were always the same. It was great to have them in Wellington [when Lionheart coliced and was euthanized] because that was such a heart-breaking time. I just connected to that horse so quickly and fell in love with him.
I love riding all my horses, but Arthur is like my very old friend. We’ve been together forever, so I think that was the most healing thing, to have those horses. It’s kind of the down time when you’re home alone when you really cry and get upset, so it just felt good to sit on the horses and ride. That’s been my church.
The most healing thing for me is to ride, and I think Copycat Chloe and Arthur were fantastic in Wellington. They both feel great. Losing Lionheart was incredibly heart-breaking, but those two are on the same path that I always intended for them to be on, and they’re looking good.
Have you noticed any long-lasting effects of Arthur’s time off? Does he feel as strong as he was pre-injury?
He’s 15 this year—15 going on 7. He definitely feels stronger in his body; he’s physically better. He always felt like a great horse, but he does feel pretty amazing now. I would think that the whole year was helpful to that; he looks great. It’s definitely been a trial of patience to wait this long, but it never hurts to do that.
How do you think your training program has contributed to your success at Pine Top—the 23.3 in dressage and finishing without any jumping faults?
Arthur is a beautiful animal. Always the trick with Arthur is getting him relaxed; sometimes he gets spooky and tense.
We have a wonderful partnership, and we’ve been together for 10 years now, so we know each other really well. I think being in Wellington for the whole month of January was excellent. His spook is very visual, so just being in Wellington and being around the circuit all the time is great for that.
Chloe is really sensitive to noise, so in the beginning of the month when we went over to the show grounds to ride, she hated it—all the noise, staple guns and speakers everywhere. At the end of the month, she was a lot better.
We got to do a couple dressage shows and a couple jumper shows and take a lot of lessons. We would do trot sets all the way over to the show grounds and just chill out and watch, so it was really good for both of them.
Arthur knows his job, and he loves it. He’s always a spooky, tense horse; the first day in Wellington that we went over to the show grounds he was spooky the whole way over. Then when we got there, he was like, "Ah, thank God I’m here!"
It had been a while since I rode him in the William Fox-Pitt clinic last fall. At that clinic, I knew they’d have a speaker system, tons of auditors, and that he’d be nervous and tense, so I was hoping William could help me work through it. But I took him there, and he was absolutely perfect. So he knows his job.
He’s always been a little bit of a tricky horse, but we know each other really well, and he trusts me, and he certainly loves to jump. He was so happy to be out [at Pine Top].
Do you plan to compete at Rolex Kentucky and then aim for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games?
Yes, that’s the plan. The Olympic year [in 2012] was just way too much; the horses never got a break, and they were being asked to peak and peak and peak up until selection and then you have to stay peaked as an alternate and then realize, "Well, that’s not going to happen." It’s just a long year.
Riders have fought for earlier selection for years, and this year we got it. I think everyone thought it would be good all around; better for the horses, better for the team camaraderie, sending a fresh group of riders and horses. Looking back, it probably would have been nice to do some competitions in the fall with Arthur to get some qualifications out of the way for WEG, but I thought about that a little too late. But I think it’s better to take all that time for him.