She scores in an early World Cup qualifier for 2009.
Corinne Ashton captured the CIC***-W at Wits End, in Mansfield, Ont., Sept. 25-28, with her long-time partner, Dobbin, a 14-year-old, unraced, chestnut Thoroughbred.
Second to Buck Davidson and My Boy Bobby after the dressage, with a score of 50.9 penalty points to Davidson’s 41.1, Ashton and Dobbin had a flawless cross-country go under rain-soaked skies.
They came closest of the 11 CIC*** competitors to the optimum time on Wits End’s notoriously hilly topography.
Born in Scotland, Ashton, who has been based in Princeton, Mass., for 20 years, added just 12.0 time penalties to her score and vaulted into the lead when Davidson had a pilot error on the exit to the water jump. The run-out and 27.2 time penalties pushed him down in the standings—although a clear show jumping performance the following day helped him recover for third place overall.
Ashton, who purchased her horse as a 4-year-old out of the classifieds in her local paper, picked up 4 extra penalties for a rail over the technical show jumping course set by David Ballard. But it didn’t stop her from seizing the victory with a three-day total of 66.9 penalties.
“The course was lovely; it rode beautifully,” Ashton said. “It was challenging yet it wasn’t tricky for the horse. Both the one-star and the three-star here were beautifully presented. I can’t rave enough about the place. It’s too bad that there are not more people here.”
Davidson concurred: “They’ve done a great job at this event to make it as rider friendly and horse friendly as they possibly can. I really like coming up here.”
That Extra 20 Percent
Making her three-star debut at the age of 44, Michele Mueller, of Port Perry, Ont., also had a stellar go at Wits End with her student Julie Pring’s Amistad.
Third after dressage, with 51.5 penalties, Mueller smoked around David O’Connor’s galloping course in foot-perfect form and stopped the timers with 17.2 time penalties. The pair then turned in the only other double-clear show jumping effort, to clinch second place overall, as well as honors for the top Canadian.
An ecstatic Mueller remarked, “It’s unbelievable; it’s awesome. Stadium has always been my weakest phase and my horse’s weakest phase, up until recently. All this season, since we moved up to advanced, he just started giving me more, that extra 20 percent, getting his knees up out of the way and listening because he used to be very strong and charging at his fences.”
Mueller, who spent much of her career concentrating on dressage, said, “I did the two-star at Bromont [Que.] in June, and then Maui Jim [Ill.] was my first advanced horse trials—we won that. I made Wits End my first three-star, partly to support our Canadian events, especially the upper levels because we don’t have enough. We always have to cross the border, so it’s really nice to have this one.”
Most thrilling for Mueller was the fact that O’Connor, who in addition to designing the CIC*** course for the past three years, is the technical advisor to the Canadian team, spoke to her post cross-country and recommended she continue on to the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) in three weeks’ time. “He said, ‘Do Fair Hill and then we’ll talk,’” said Mueller. “It’s very exciting.”
Amistad, 9 years old and 17 hands, is the foal of a Belgian-Thoroughbred cross nurse mare named Sleigh Belle, a long-time resident of legendary Thoroughbred nursery Windfields Farm in Ontario. He is by Ascot Knight and was parted from his dam at just two weeks old, in favor of a Thoroughbred foal who needed a foster mother. “He still sucks his tongue to this day,” Mueller said.
Reason To Be Exuberant
In the CCI* division, Canadian up-and-comer Jessica Phoenix bested 23 other entries to win with her 8-year-old, Virginia-bred Thoroughbred, Exuberant (a.k.a. “Newbie”).
“I got him in Florida, out of a field,” she said. “He was a school horse. He wasn’t doing a great job as a schoolie. He was there for about a year, and he was maybe used in two lessons. The first jump I went over with him, I knew I had to have him.”
Phoenix fell off her first CCI* entry, the mare Expression, and departed on her second ride with a throbbing headache. She was later found to have sustained a mild concussion, but close examination and monitoring from on-site medics gave her the go-ahead to complete the competition on Sunday.
Wits End was once again Canada’s only World Cup qualifier, but a snafu with scheduling resulted in the show being run a week after the 2008 FEI World Cup Final, in Deauville, France. Points earned at Wits End will therefore count toward the 2009 season, but the scheduling difficulty also resulted in series sponsor HSBC Bank withdrawing funding for Wits End, forcing dedicated organizers Bill McKeen and Jo Young to dig into their own pockets to provide the promised $25,000 in prize money.
“It was a really unfortunate thing with the final, considering we’d had this date for a number of years,” said McKeen. “We’re still in negotiations with the FEI and the World Cup.
“We lost entries thanks to the other new three-stars [in the United States] and also because horses in Florida are currently not allowed to cross the border into Canada because of the piroplasmosis situation there. On the positive side, it was a fabulous event, the ambulances didn’t move all day, and everyone really enjoyed themselves.”