She and her fellow Canadian riders stage a coup d’état in Quebec, sweeping all three CCI divisions.
When Hawley Bennett got the ride on Gin & Juice three years ago, the mare’s name inspired her to call all of her horses by lighthearted, drinking-related names: Gin Fizz, Amstel, Five O’Clock Somewhere and Last Call. But she didn’t have any Champagne until she won the Bromont CCI*** in Bromont, Que., June 10-14.
Bennett, a Canadian citizen based in Temecula, Calif., had plenty of reason to pop corks after riding Gin & Juice to a huge win in the second-annual Todd Sandler Memorial Challenge division. “Ginny,” an 8-year-old Thoroughbred mare (Audio—Qtrapastree), finished on her dressage score of 51.9.
“It’s kind of cool having it be in my home country,” Bennett, 32, said. “It’s so incredible that Canada won the one-, two- and three-stars. It’s kind of exciting. Ginny should be a team horse. She’s got all the parts. She’ll definitely be aiming for the World [Equestrian Games] and the Pan Ams and the Olympics.”
The pair started Saturday morning in fifth place, but one of only two double-clear cross-country rounds in the division sent them into the runner-up spot.
“Ginny was great right from the get-go,” Bennett said. “She’s fast, but [in the past] I’d had to check her a little bit. But now I think the bigger fences back her off, so I don’t have to do as much work.
“I was actually a little nervous,” she continued. “But I had a good warm-up, and that gave me a good feeling going in, and it ended up being probably one of my best rides ever. She was like a little sports car. I’m so proud of her.”
Heading into the show jumping, U.S. veterans Corinne Ashton and Dobbin held a lead of .3 points over Bennett and Ginny.
Armed with the knowledge that she’d already had a hard knock in the warm-up, not to mention a neck strap to help her stay with Ginny’s catapult-like jump, Bennett looked cool as a cucumber as she cantered around the Bromont International Horse Park’s massive main arena. The diminutive mare ate up the course as eagerly as ever, but she looked calm and focused.
“I know if she hits one in the warm-up, she won’t do it again,” Bennett said. “The mare can jump. It’s just whether she gets nervous or not, if I pick down to the base of the fences.”
After Bennett logged a thrilling double-clear, Ashton entered the arena in an uncomfortably familiar position. She’d been winning the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) last fall until Dobbin pulled the very last rail on course to drop to second. And Ashton’s disappointment was evident when history repeated itself at Bromont—the second-to-last fence, a square oxer in the middle of the triple combination, spoiled their victory. The crowd let out an audible “Awwww,” as they passed through the finish flags.
Bennett couldn’t help feeling thrilled for her young mare, however, and for her owner, Linda Paine of KingsWay Farm. Paine made the trip to Bromont, but by the time the CCI*** division jumped on Sun-day, she’d already had to leave to catch her flight home. Thus, she missed out on seeing her youngster lead the victory gallop.
“She’s a homebred horse, so [Linda and her husband Terri Paine] should be thrilled,” Bennett said. She’s been based at the Paines’ KingsWay, in Temecula, since 2004. “I owe them so many thanks for the ride on her. I got her when she was going novice and then brought her all the way up through the levels. We’re so proud of her.”
A bad splint kept Ginny from competing for most of last year, but Bennett was thrilled with the way she came back this spring. The road to Ginny’s first CCI*** has been a long one with several detours, however, stretching from Southern California to New Jersey to Quebec.
“That horse has taught me patience,” Bennett said. “I’ve been to the hospital three times because of her.”
Two of those incidents took place at home in California, but the most recent one came at the Jersey Fresh CCI*** (N.J.) in May.
Bennett’s long trip east was met with some unexpected drama when she reached her layover spot, Buck Davidson’s farm in Riegelsville, Pa. She was just feet away from Davidson’s RV when it exploded due to a severed propane line the week before Jersey Fresh (May 8, p. 52). No one was hurt, but Davidson, whom Bennett counts not only as her coach but also as one of her best friends, lost almost everything he owned.
It was even more disappointing, then, when Bennett failed to complete her destination event the following weekend. On cross-country, Ginny tripped up and jumped her rider out of the tack, jostling her around on both sides of her neck until Bennett finally fell, necessitating a ride off the course in an ambulance. Ginny, meanwhile, galloped wildly over hill and dale for several more minutes, cutting herself up quite nicely on the galloping lane ropes.
Neither horse nor rider’s injuries were serious enough to keep them from rerouting to Bromont, however, so Bennett flew back and forth between Pennsylvania and California for the next several weeks to balance her work with Ginny and her clients at home.
“I owe a big thank you to all of the people at home taking care of my horses in California—and to my poor husband,” Bennett continued. “It’s been a lot of hard work, and it paid off. She’s been a work in progress, but [this weekend] she was unbelievable.”
Getting To Know You
Karl Slezak, who’s based in the neighboring province of Ontario for nine months of the year, felt right at home at Bromont but less so in Charley Farley’s saddle. Leading the victory gallop together on Sunday afternoon, however, gave a significant boost to their rapport.
Canadian rider Penny Rowland competed the Irish Sport Horse gelding (Crosstown Dancer—Ballykeeran Lady) through the two-star level for owner Don Good, but she offered the ride to Slezak this spring so she could concentrate on her lower-level horses and watch Charley Farley compete at the advanced level.
Slezak took over the ride at the end of April, right after he rode Kachemak Bay at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, but he hadn’t quite established a bond with the new horse before Bromont.
“He was so good,” Slezak said of the 13-year-old gelding. “I’m still trying to get to know him, and it showed [on Sunday], because it was not as pretty as I’d hoped. We had a few great jumps where I felt like I had it, and that felt awesome. I just need to know him a little bit more so that it’s that way over every fence.”
A dressage mark of 51.2 placed them sixth in the 28-horse two-star field on Friday. But it was their romp around cross-country the following day that turned heads and reshuffled standings. As the dressage leaders plummeted in the placings, and no one made time, Slezak captured the lead with the fastest round in the division. He and Charley Farley added 1.6 time faults to their total.
“I was a little nervous,” Slezak, 27, admitted. “There wasn’t anything I was really concerned about [on the course]; it was just the whole ‘not knowing him well’ thing. But I tried to give him a positive round the whole way around, and he just ate it up. He was confident, and I had a lot of fun on him. He was on it.”
Double-clear rounds weren’t unheard of in the other two CCI divisions, but many riders were surprised and disappointed to finish slower than they’d planned. Slezak’s long-legged gray gelding virtually devoured the terrain, though.
“He was fit, and he’s got a big stride,” Slezak said. “Coming into this, Penny and I had talked about it, and she was confident that he was fit enough to go for it. And it’s been a while since I’ve run here, but I just kind of put the pedal down from the very beginning. I let him coast a little near the end, but after the last water I just sort of gave him a kick, and he was still full of running.”
Saturday’s cross-country success was a bit euphoric, but Slezak quickly came back down to earth on Sunday. The pair’s fault-free round had plenty of positive moments, but the rider said he was still humbled and slightly embarrassed about the way his horse had to save him over a few fences.
“I left out a good stride and a half to fence 10, and I felt like I was going to fall off over it,” Slezak admitted. “I lost my whip, and I was coming down on that pommel, and I knew it was going to hurt!”
The barrage of pats Charley Farley received from Slezak after crossing the finish line in first place were proof positive of the rider’s gratefulness.
“It was his day,” Slezak said.
Slezak spends about three months in Florida every winter to focus on his own upper-level horses and be closer to Canadian coach David O’Connor and other professionals. But for the remainder of the year, he runs Pat Fitzgerald’s Wolf Run Farm in Caledon East, Ont., just north of Toronto.
“It’s difficult in the summer, when I’m at home with my clients, to get [to O’Connor], so I try to take advantage of the training sessions before the three-days and when I see him at the horse shows in the States,” Slezak said. “We do quite a bit in the States because we’re lacking in intermediate and advanced horse trials in Ontario. But [Wolf Run] is a great little place. I love being there.”
The advanced horse trial at Maui Jim (Ill.) in July will be next up on Charley Farley’s schedule, if he’s not carrying a new owner by then. Slezak and Rowland see plenty of potential in the horse, but Slezak in particular is cautious in his optimism.
“I’ve ridden a bunch of upper-level horses, but, unfortunately, most of them seem to be temporary,” Slezak said, laughing. “They seem to be sold before I really get to the good stuff. But I’m really excited and thankful to Penny. I think she really wants to be riding him, but she really enjoys watching him go.
“He’s a phenomenal horse,” he added. “I hope to have the ride on him until he does sell. [The Canadian team] is trying to organize a trip for some people to go over to England for the Blenheim CCI*** and Burghley CCI**** this fall, so if all goes well, I’d maybe have one for Blenheim in Charley Farley.”
A Foregone Conclusion
An unexpectedly large field of 32 horses started the CCI* division, but Kelli McMullen-Temple made sure no one came close to catching her lead throughout the weekend.
She rode Carl Bouckaert’s Veelion, a 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Emilion—Parabel), straight to the top in the dressage (42.4) and finished on the same mark on Sunday afternoon.
“He’s an experienced preliminary horse, so I felt like this would be a relatively easy experience for him,” said McMullen-Temple, who rides for Canada but is based in Round Hill, Va. “But I was pleased that he won the dressage. He tends to be a little bit spooky and unpredictable in the ring.”
McMullen-Temple, 48, has a passion for finding, training and re-selling young horses, and she spotted “Linus,” in England as a 5-year-old. He’s only been eventing for two years, but McMullen-Temple has moved the gelding up quickly. In May he won a preliminary-level horse trial and his first intermediate start, so he’s already looking like a prodigy horse.
“He appears that way now, but nothing in eventing is like that really,” McMullen-Temple said. “It always looks easier than it actually is from the outside. As a young horse he was always really talented, but it took a while for him to be competitive in the dressage because of his spookiness.”
McMullen-Temple raved about Derek di Grazia’s cross-country course and said it gave her horse a positive experience. But while the leaders fared well, many other riders struggled with the undulating course. Four were eliminated, and six more had jumping penalties.
Fence 4AB caused many problems, as riders had to cross a culvert, make an immediate left turn to a downhill fence, then bend right around a tree to a skinny chevron set beside the large white VIP tent. The distraction proved overwhelming for a few horses, who never made it on to fence 5.
“The hardest part was that I was afraid he was going to be afraid of the tent when I came around to B,” explained McMullen-Temple, who rode through the combination flawlessly. “So I had planned to just go a little bit low [down the hill in my bend] so he had time to look at that before. The jumping’s quite easy for him, but he does like to look around at his surroundings a bit. But he focused in.”
Since he’s brave and a bit spooky, Linus is a treat to ride across country.
“He was fast, he’s easy to ride, and he’s adjustable,” she said. “Because he looks a bit at the jumps, you can really ride him forward to them. He felt very comfortable.”
And after some feigned spooking and wiggling before the first fence in show jumping, Linus settled into a rhythm and cleared every jump on Sunday morning with room to spare.
“Honestly, I knew he would jump clean,” said McMullen-Temple. “He doesn’t like to touch a rail, so it really was a foregone thing. It’s nice to go into the show jumping feeling that way.”