Lexington, Va.—May 28
When the Clemson Eventing Team missed out on the 2016 U.S. Eventing Association Intercollegiate Eventing Championship win by less than a point, they vowed they would return to try again. They spent the next year planning and preparing, and they traveled back to the Virginia Horse Trials in Lexington, Va., this weekend ready to rise to the challenge.
The Clemson Tigers team consists of returning riders Samantha Hay (Tre’ Jolie), Alexandra Peterson (Willie Wiggins), and Sarah Pyne (Quintessential) competing at the preliminary level as well as CCI* and Intercollegiate Championship first timer Samantha Messamer with Finn McCool.
They began the competition with a collection of good dressage scores, and by the end of the day on Saturday, all members of the team had completed all three phases of competition. It then became clear that their overall team score of 84.405 could not be beat by the remaining teams.
“Clemson was the reserve national champion last year in football and the national champion this year, so we just followed the pattern!” Hay said.
Since last year’s Championship, the team has focused on horse and rider education and boosting team camaraderie. Their dedication and hard work paid off with a strong performance at the Championship, but the Clemson Eventing Team has benefited with an increase in overall participation, now registering nearly 40 members.
“Last year I don’t think we were expecting to do so well, and then we all had our ‘oopsy daisies,’ so we’ve been talking about this since first semester, coming to Virginia and kicking butt. So it’s amazing to finally accomplish it,” Peterson said.
Hay and Pyne took their accomplishment one step further finishing first and second in the preliminary rider division. “I went one second too slow, and she stole the win from me!” Pyne said. “But who better to lose to than your teammate?”
The University of Kentucky team of Alexa Ehlers (Amistoso), Mia Fox (Sport Tracker), Emma Higgins (Jones Player) and Michaela Yowaiski (Darla Doll) earned the reserve championship on a score of 90.6.
Brannigan and Cambalda Best CIC**
Jennie Brannigan won the CIC** with her longtime partner, Nina Gardner’s Cambalda. They were the only pair in the division to finish on their dressage score of 43.4.
Virginia is “Ping’s” first run since the Cloud 11-Gavilan North LLC Carolina International CIC*** (N.C.) in March. Brannigan was headed to compete Ping in the inaugural $50,000 Devon Horse Show Arena Eventing class in Pennsylvania. Later this summer she’s aiming him at the Great Meadow CIC*** in Virginia and Rebecca Farm in Montana.
Just three riders made the time on cross-country in the CIC**, including Brannigan and Ping. “The aim with him was to go out and have fun and give him a good fitness go. He’s the horse I know the best so I thought I’d have a crack on the time. It was fun to have him out,” Brannigan said.
She also won the advanced/intermediate division with Elsbeth Battel’s Cool As Ice, adding 7.6 time penalties on cross-country to finish on 41.0. Stella Artois, owned together by Battel and Brannigan, finished third on 46.7 with 10 time penalties to add. Both of these horses are entered in the Bromont CCI*** in Canada next month.
Alyssa Phillips and her own and Julie Phillips’ Oskar finished second in the CIC** on 50.1 after jumping a clear round with just 2.8 time penalties. Phillips had been leading the division after dressage and show jumping with Bliss III, but they retired on cross-country after picking up a refusal on course. Phillips also represented Texas Christian University in the Intercollegiate Championship.
Matthew Brown and BCF Belicoso, owned by the Blossom Creek Foundation, rounded out the top three. They were one of only six combinations to jump double clear over Chris Barnard’s two-star show jumping course. They then added 8.4 time penalties on cross-country to finish on 56.5.
Riders Respond to Course Improvements
The Virginia Horse Trials has made a tremendous effort to meet the needs and desires of competitors with an emphasis on improving the footing and adjusting the tracks on cross-country. Organizer Andy Bowles called in internationally renowned course designer Captain Mark Phillips to lay out new tracks on the Oak Hill course, and careful grass maintenance has been a major focus to ensure optimal footing. New water complexes were also debuted on both the Oak Hill and Horse Center courses.
The courses were confirmed and fences set early in the year to keep heavy machinery off the course as much as possible, regular mowing has been done since the start of the growing season, and the courses were aerated ahead of the competition. Despite significant rainfall earlier this week, the footing on cross-country held up extremely well.
“This is the best ground I’ve run on all year,” Brannigan said. “You can’t control the weather, but this was by far a big step up from the events here last year. Everyone going to Bromont that ran had good things to say about the footing.”
Will Coleman rode two young horses in the intermediate division, which does cross-country on the Oak Hill course. “The turf was in the best condition I’ve seen it on that side of the road,” he said. “I don’t think that ground can get too much rain and the footing was perfect in my opinion.”
Coleman brought OBOS O’Reilly to run a combined test in the advanced/intermediate division in preparation for the Luhmühlen CCI**** in Germany next month. His two intermediate horses were seven-year-olds making their first and second appearances at the level.
“It ended up being a very good run for the horses,” Coleman said. “They are green but the course suited them really well. They got a good bit of fitness out of running up that hill. The new water complex at the top is going to be really flexible and multi-faceted. I can’t say enough about how happy I am with the improvements. It’s very encouraging and a sign of things to come.”
The flow of the intermediate and FEI courses on the Oak Hill side changed significantly as the direction of the track was reversed. This reduced the amount of downhill galloping required towards the end of the course in exchange for a steady uphill climb early on.
Allison Springer rode four horses across the intermediate and one-star divisions, with Fernhill Casano and Lord Willing gearing up for the Bromont Three-Day. “I love having that pull in the beginning of the course. They get to the top, take a breath, and recover,” she said. “It’s also really nice having the start and finish lines closer to one another. It makes it so much easier with multiple horses and course walks.”
Springer also praised the Horse Center course and designer John Michael Durr’s intuitive challenge for beginner novice through preliminary levels. Brought on board with VHT as part of the Course Design Mentor Program in 2015, Durr’s involvement has progressed to now assisting on the one-star course design.
“I was very vocal about what a good job John Michael did on the Horse Center side in the fall,” Springer said. “I love that they let him work with Mark on the one-star course [this time]. It was challenging and you had to make some choices, but it was a very fair and good course.”
In addition to the upgrades on cross country, the footing was replaced in the show jumping competition and warm-up arenas.
“I’m really appreciative of all the changes the organizers put into this event,” Allison said. “They really listened to all the feedback that has been given… I will definitely be back.”
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