The cross-country at the Jersey Fresh CCI, May 14 near Allentown, N.J., turned the standings upside down in both the two-star and the three-star. Phillip Dutton’s perfect round on Amazing Odyssey vaulted him from sixth to first in the three-star, ahead of Buck Davidson on Hyperlite and Karen O’Connor on Joker’s Wild.
And Stephen Bradley climbed from third to the lead in the two-star, ahead of Melissa Silverman with Center Stage and Rebecca Brown on Twinkle Toes.
When the first three horses on the three-star course fell to their knees upon landing back into the water after jumping onto and then off the covered bridge at the Lexus Lake (fence 23-24), officials decided to remove the bridge from the course. Graeme Thom, the first rider on course, had been having a terrific round until Arrow fell in the water and was eliminated. Then Davidson nearly went down on Hyperlite, somehow managing to survive a thorough dunking to complete the course without jumping penalties and stand second. And Mike Winter had a rough ride through on Balista, nearly falling even though he jumped the longer, left side of the bridge, but he also stayed upright to complete the course, and he stands tied for 12th.
“He jumped in beautifully, and then all of a sudden his head was under water, and all of a sudden I was hit with water,” said Davidson. “I give him credit for standing upâ€”he could have just gone down. Then I was back in the saddle, and all of a sudden the [crowd control] ropes were coming at me. I was spitting dirt and mud out; I was so mad!”
(Click here to see a series of photos of Davidson’s remarkable recovery)
When the bridge was removed, riders were forced to take the long route, which involved jumping in over a log, then turning sharply left and then right to the intermediate bank and bounce. When the long route became the official course, 10 seconds was added to the time allowed. Officials gave Davidson 17 seconds back on his time, to make up for his recovery from nearly falling, as Hyperlite nearly went through the ropes, and Davidson had to circle back to the lighthouse at fence 25.
“I was 17 seconds ahead at the 7-minute marker and 35 seconds down at the 8-minute marker,” said Davidson. “I couldn’t take the straight route [at the Tiki huts after the drop at the end of the course] because he was shaken. He did his job, and that horse is as honest and straight as they come. It takes a lot of energy out of them [to have a hairy ride].”
Officials couldn’t do anything for Thom, as FEI rules don’t allow them to overturn an elimination. “I feel worse for Graeme, because he doesn’t get to do a lot of these [three-days], and if the rules hadn’t gotten in the way, he’d be in the top five,” said Davidson. “He’s such a great guy, and he was eliminated on a technicality no one else had to do.”
Davidson had been wary of the bridge even before the start. “What saved me is, I knew it would happen,” he said. “I was in Atlanta in ’96 and Badminton [England] in ’97 [when there was a roof over a bounce island], and as the horse went into the water [today], I held onto the reins. History shows that with a bounce bridge with a rooftop, the horses lower their heads and jump steep and overrotate.”
Course designer John Williams said the bridge was not built to the specs he had laid out. “It’s a clear span over 32 feet, so the bridge has a springboard effect,” he said. “I had called for a support in the middle and one every three feet so it would feel like real ground. If you’re on [the bridge], you can feel the bounce of someone else on it. I think the horses front feet would land and leave before their hind feet landed, and then the hind end was dealing with the rebound of the front feet, so it gave the horses an extra kick to the hind end and caused them to overrotate and peck on landing.”
Shane Doyle, the builder of this one fence, primarily builds for driving competitions. A driving event used the new water complex last weekend, but no horses had ever jumped through it. “He let us down in every way he could have,” said Williams. “But I’ll take the blame for not picking up on the potential danger of the pieces he left out.”
The rest of the new three-star course rode well and played a big part in the standings. Severson and Royal Venture, who were leading after dressage, had a stop at fence 6, the dock into the water and retired there. Third-placed Bruce Mandeville and Kowhai retired after stops at fences 8 and 9, a corner, and then the camels hump mounds. Fourth-placed Mara Dean retired after Good Stuff stopped first at fence 6, then fence 9. And Bonnie Mosser retired Broadstone Whitehall after a stop at fence 6. Davidson could have moved into the lead on Idalgo, but he fell at the cannon at fence 3.
However, of the 41 horses who started on course, 27 completed, 17 of those without jumping penalties. Only Dutton and his student Susie Beale on Majestic Bear made the time.
Despite having a sinus infection, fever, and sore shoulder following a fall with his two-star horse in the morning, Dutton didn’t see any reason not to go for the time on Amazing Odyssey. “He jumped quite well and was confident the whole way around, so there was no point in taking it easy,” he said. “It rode quite well except for the water.”
Lots Of Two-Star Trouble
The two-star also caused significant trouble, with just 16 of 28 horses finishing. Dressage leader Adrienne Iorio-Borden still stands fourth, despite a stop at the third fence, the cannon, with Better I Do It. Second-placed Sarah Cousins withdrew Top Deck.
“The course was great, and I was surprised it caused as much trouble as it did,” said Bradley. “There were a lot of good questions, but I was surprised there were so many retirements and eliminations.”
Bradley and Silverman made the time, as did Sharon White on Ronaldo, who vaulted from 21st after dressage to stand fifth overnight. But fourth-placed Beth Perkins was eliminated for a fall with Don’t Dali at fence 20, a corner on the way out of the water. And fifth-placed Nadeem Noon had a fall with Phantom at the corners at fence 9, causing a hold on course while medics attended to him. Sinead Halpin was having a blazing fast round until she fell at fence 19, the water, with Glitterati. And Dutton, who had been sixth with Bullet Card, fell at the coffin at fence 18.
“She wasn’t jumping great, but I thought we were through the tougher part of the course, so I picked up the speed, and she started running past the distances,” said Dutton. “She chested the coffin and flipped. I hurt my shoulder, but it’s not broken.”
No one was seriously injured in today’s falls.
Williams and Davidson both thought an inexperienced field contributed to the troubles on course. “The two-star was friendly and forgiving, and to see the problems was scary,” said Davidson. “We need to get better, not make the courses easier.”
“This is a humbling sport and the horses will tell you when you’re not riding well,” said O’Connor. “You can’t just hammer off at the course designer.” And for Silverman, aboard a horse she got from the Second Wind Adoption program, the course was great. “He took very good care of me,” said Silverman, of Columbus, Ohio, of her 13-year-old Thoroughbred who came back from a suspensory injury to give her her best three-day standing yet. Brown, 18, was riding in her first two-star. “I’m so surprised we’ve gotten this far,” said the Texas high school senior.
Although Twinkle Toes stands 15.2 at the withers, 14.3 on his back and 15.3 at his hindquarters (and has a missing front tooth), Brown thinks he’s adorable. And they’ve won their last three intermediate starts, with the help of trainers Rainey Andrews and Jimmy Wofford.
They probably won’t win this one, since Bradley has a cushion of 14 penalties going into show jumping. Dutton, on the other hand, can’t afford a rail or time penalty to keep the lead in the three-star.