Oct. 19—Elkton, Md.
Hannah Burnett is a familiar face in the press conference at the Dansko Fair Hill International, as she won the two-star and the three-star here in 2009 and 2010 respectively with St. Barths.
But today was the first time she’d led after dressage, topping the three-star with Harbour Pilot (43.0) ahead of Marilyn Little on RF Smoke On The Water (44.8) and Heather Gillette on Our Questionnaire (48.6).
“I’m really excited to be back here. I love this event. I’ve always done really well,” said Burnett, 26. “I was quite nervous today. We’ve had a bumpy year trying to figure out all three phases. I really want to bring it home this weekend, so I was feeling a lot of pressure.
Burnett, who works as an assistant trainer for the O’Connor Event Team in The Plains, Va., and Ocala, Fla., said she felt tense during her warm-up, which affected “William,” but he was good in the arena.
“He’s such a showman in the ring. When he’s in the little white box he does his job, which is really nice,” she said of the 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Cruising—Shannon). “We had a couple little bobbles. Our halts were not very good today, which was kind of abnormal, probably because I was tense. Our first change was a little bit exuberant. The rest was quite good. The medium and extended trots have gotten much better, which is exciting because he used to just trot like a little pony. Now he’s really throwing his legs out there. It’s cool to see his progression. It’s very exciting for Mrs. Mars, who bred him.”
Watch a video interview with Burnett as she talks about why Fair Hill is special to her and how she stole her mount from David O’Connor.
Although Little’s mount is young—RF Smoke On The Water is just 7—she felt confident now that dressage is out of the way. “He’s very brave. He’s very confident. He’s in his element tomorrow. My hardest day is over. I get to enjoy the rest of the weekend,” said Little, Frederick, Md.
Little, 31, described the Wurttemberg gelding (Samos—Rapaula, Rapaulo) as an old soul. “He’s one of those horses that just gets it. He wakes up in the morning, and he knows his job; he sees it and knows he has to get to the other side. He’s a pretty unruffleable little horse,” she said. “We developed our partnership early on in the show jumping ring during the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) last year. The partnership formed without a lot of effort. We kept things cool in between the events and used the competition time to enjoy it. He’s come along nicely. I’ve made a lot bigger effort with other horses, and with him it just sort of happened.”
Gillette, 43, was thrilled to be sitting in third on “Questy”, a result of a many hours in the dressage ring over the summer with trainer Betsy Steiner. “We had some stupid freak little injuries that set us back. That’s why our flatwork has gotten so good because we’ve been doing nothing but flatwork for a very long time,” she joked.
She said they haven’t been able to jump big fences with the 16-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Westminster—Strike A Pose, Straight Strike) since April this year due to his injuries. “Just little things. One kept us out of Rolex [Kentucky CCI****] a week out. Hopefully the partnership we have will see us through tomorrow,” explained Gillette, of Califon, N.J. “I’ll keep my hands down and go fast. Mine is a little older, so I’ve got to take care of him from that end and trust him.”
The standings from the two-star didn’t change much from Thursday. Susan Beebee retained her lead on Wolf (40.8) over Danielle Dichting on The Graduate (41.4), while Doug Payne slotted into third place with his afternoon ride aboard Crown Talisman (41.7)
“I’m relieved to still be here. It’s fabulous,” said Beebee. “I’m happy to get a shot at going through the direct ABC route in the arena. Last year I added the advanced element and got a technical 20. The course looks great. Wolf should be fabulous out there.”
Payne rode at the end of the division during a brief rainstorm. “This is an exceptional horse,” he said. “He’s 9 this year. He had an injury at Pine Top (Ga.) about a year and a half ago where he ripped the ligament off his stifle. He’s come back from that and been absolutely excellent. He was in great shape at Millbrook (N.Y.), and he ended up having a wicked heel grab, so this will be his first run back. He’s very brave, an excellent horse and very talented.”
Heavy thunderstorms this morning meant that dressage was held for an hour, and cross-country won’t start until 9:30 on Saturday to let the course dry out.