Jennifer Wooten and The Good Witch made up in speed what they lacked in experience and raced around the advanced course to victory at Copper Meadows Horse Trials in Ramona, Calif., Sept. 16-18.
It was only their second advanced run, but Wooten, of Buellton, Calif., believes in thorough preparation.
“I try to look at each event as putting ourselves through the next combination of exercises,” Wooten explained. “That way nothing looks too overwhelming.”
She also shows her event horses in the A-rated jumpers to keep her skills sharp between events, which can be few and far between in California.
The Good Witch, a 9-year-old Thoroughbred, was imported from Ireland for Wooten two years ago by owners Donn and Daisy Tognazzini. They wanted to help Wooten, 27, find an experienced horse because she’d only ridden young prospects until then.
“Pooh” had competed at intermediate in Ireland, but never gone advanced, and Wooten figured their winning dressage test at that level was still about six months away.
“The changes are weak,” she said. “I can ride the movements, but it’s putting them together.”
They placed down the order in seventh (40.43) in dressage, but they went on to gallop to the only clean cross-country within the time. Five of the 17 starters were eliminated on the cross-country course, designed by Yves Sauvignon, and only three finished without jump penalties.
Wooten was able to go quickly because of her good preparation at her first advanced event, The Event At Rebecca Farm (Mont.) in July. “I chose Rebecca Farm because it was a nice forward, galloping test,” she explained. “We came off really confident, and that feeling of galloping up to combinations helped me make the time at Copper Meadows.”
One jump that caused trouble on course was a narrow chevron in one of the water jumps. “People tried to ride in a direct line, and it was a long five strides,” said Wooten. “If you show jumped it in a bending six, it was perfect.”
The dense early morning fog also may have contributed to difficulties on course. “The visibility wasn’t good. You had to be sharp,” said Wooten.
Wooten and Pooh went on to lower two rails in show jumping and have 2 time penalties, but they still won handily on a score of 50.43 faults.
“I was a little nervous,” she admitted. “I’ve never been in that position before [leading the advanced division]. I had a rail, and then my horse had a rail.”
Wooten plans to ride in the short-format CCI** at Galway Downs (Calif.) in November before starting her new job as resident trainer at Copper Meadows in December. A perk of the new position is that it will allow her to travel East next spring to try her luck in her first three-star.
Debbie Rosen won the intermediate division on a catch ride from Gina Miles. Miles broke her leg earlier this year and asked Rosen to give Philippa, a 7-year-old Holsteiner-Russian Thoroughbred, some extra intermediate miles.
Rosen, of Los Angeles, Calif., ran Philippa at the High Prairie CCI** (Colo.) in May but couldn’t complete because the mare came down with altitude sickness. Miles asked Rosen to compete Philippa a few more times this fall because of the impending birth of her daughter.
Rosen and Miles have been good friends for a long time. They met when they were both training with Brian Sabo.
“I wouldn’t have done it [catch riding at intermediate] had it not been one of Gina’s horses,” said Rosen. “When you’re familiar with the training program and the ride, it makes it a lot easier. It was an easy decision to make considering the circumstances, but if I didn’t say I wasn’t a little bit nervous, I’d be lying, at least the first time!”
Although Rosen’s had limited time with Philippa, she had no trouble figuring her out, and they placed second in dressage (31.0).
They went on to have a blast cross-country, coming in with just 5.2 time penalties. “She rides a bit like a pony,” said Rosen. “She’s very uphill, and you kind of just let go and kick. She doesn’t pull; she’s very aware and very adjustable. You can just go flying across the field, sit up, touch the brake a little bit, and she comes right back. It’s pretty effortless.”
Their clean cross-country moved them into the lead, which they held with a faultless show jumping round.
“Gina took her in the level 6 division at Indio [HITS Desert Circuit (Calif.)] this spring, so jumping around 3’9″ for her is not so taxing,” said Rosen. “I heard the announcer say she was the fastest horse of the day. She’s so quick to turn and catty and brave. She’s the cutest thing.”
Rosen was extremely honored to get the ride on Philippa, but Miles will be back in the tack as soon as possible.
“I’m running her at Twin Rivers [Calif.] next week,” said Rosen. “[Miles] was supposed to be due right after Twin, but she started lightly dilating right before the competition [at Copper Meadows]. She was trying to get permission from her doctor to come anyway, and I said, ‘It would kind of ruin my day if you went into labor in the cross-country warm-up.’ It’s six hours out in the middle of nowhere, where there are no hospitals.”