Ocala, Fla.—March 18
After Karen Cudmore hit the dirt hard off her first horse in the $100,000 Sullivan GMC Truck Grand Prix, she wasn’t quite sure if she was going to saddle up for another round on Shea.
“I had a lousy warm-up with her. We were all arguing if I should go with her or not. And honestly, I wasn’t feeling good,” Cudmore said. “But I thought this was a really good course for her.” So, Cudmore dusted the dirt off her white breeches, swung a leg over Shea and cantered into the ring for the finale class of the HITS Ocala Winter Celebration (Fla.) on March 18.
When she headed to the first jump as the 33rd of 41 to go, there was just one clear round on the board. Course designer Florencio Hernandez had set a track that proved difficult for riders to master. A few riders had left all the rails in the cups but fallen victim to a tight time allowed and picked up time faults. Aaron Vale was the only rider so far to post scores of 0 in both jump and time fault sides.
Cudmore had a good idea just how tough the course was. She’d been well on her way to a clean round on her first ride, Ceonto, when she’d fallen victim to a dastardly difficult line late in the course that had caused a lot of problems. Hernandez had set an oxer off a bending line from a massive triple-bar.
A tricky distance of either three forward or four tight strides led straight to a combination of verticals set at a deathly tight two strides. “I was going a little bit too forward into that combination, and that’s just what I didn’t need to do,” Cudmore said. Ceonto jumped explosively to clear the second vertical, popping Cudmore loose. “He did everything in his power to get out over that jump,” she said. “It’s no fault of his.” Cudmore tried hard to keep Ceonto between her and the ground, but gravity won.
Don't Be An Idiot
So, it was up to Shea to brighten Cudmore’s day. And the 9-year-old mare didn’t disappoint. A powerful jumper, she made short work of the first course. When no other rider could match Vale and Cudmore’s performance, it was up to just the two of them to jump off.
Vale, first to go over the short course, had no real choice but to lay it on the line and put pressure on Cudmore. He and Honeylands Douglason motored around quickly, stopping the timers in 48.65 seconds, but two rails hit the dirt on the way. The door was open for Cudmore to gallop right through.
She and Shea pulled one rail on their leisurely way around the jump-off, but her score of 4 faults in 52.13 seconds was good enough for the blue. “I couldn’t be an idiot and go really slow and have a few rails,” Cudmore said. “I just jumped the course. There wasn’t much strategy involved. But the way she was jumping, I was pretty confident. I just got her close to that one combination. If I had just kept coming to it, she would have been fine. She’s actually better the faster that she goes.”
This was the biggest win so far for Shea, a Holsteiner mare that Cudmore and her husband bred at their farm in Omaha, Neb. The rangy bay’s sire is another of Cudmore’s grand prix rides, Conejo. Cudmore and Conejo represented her native Canada at the 2002 World Equestrian Games (Spain).
Shea is now 9, but she had a late start to her career since she didn’t start showing until she was 7. Cudmore giggled a bit when she revealed why Shea had a delayed debut. “We couldn’t catch her!” she said. Shea was turned out in a big field as a young horse, and she was a bit reluctant to become a contributing citizen. Finally, though, they got a halter on her and sent her through a free-jump chute.
“We watched her jump and thought ‘Holy smokes!’ So, we broke her and kept going,” said Cudmore.