Harrisburg, Pa.—Oct. 16
Top show jumper Kent Farrington had a choice to make when considering a mount for the $40,000 Pennsylvania Big Jump class at the Pennsylvania National. He’d had solid results on Blue Angel and Voyeur all summer, but as he counted down the weeks to Harrisburg, his choice of mount for the tight indoor arena was clear and simple: Willow.
And when they put in the fastest round on Michel Vaillancourt’s technical track, his decision was validated.
“I think he really shines indoors,” said Farrington, 33. “He’s incredibly fast, he has excellent balance and he can really roll in short to all the jumps. It really plays to his strengths to be inside.
“He’s a little bit of a spooky horse, which I’m sure you can see,” he continued. “When he enters the arena, he’s quite strong and that’s just the way the horse goes. He has sort of an attacking canter and a lot of energy and it takes a little bit of strength to contain him, but he’s a real competitor and he is naturally fast, so that’s a huge advantage in the jump-offs. He’s a real winner.”
He and the grey gelding owned by Amalaya Investments partnered up last fall and took second in the PA Big Jump, then went on to place second in the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix (Fla.) in March, also earning some ribbons at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.). But this summer Farrington’s focus shifted to other horses, especailly his Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France) mount, Voyeur.
Willow’s spookiness was only intensified by a bit of a summer vacation. So how’d they win?
“I think he’s gotten more confident the better he knows me,” said Farrington, of Wellington, Fla. “And we have a more solidified partnership as time has gone on. It wasn’t a huge jump-off field, and we still have our bigger class [the Grand Prix de Penn National], so I just tried to measure the horse.
“He’s very naturally quick on his own, so it was more just trying to have a smooth round and not take too much out of him,” he added. “Hopefully we leave some gas in the tank for Saturday.”
Where others lost time to the clock, the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood jumped effortlessly, edging out second-placed Beezie Madden on Simon and third-placed Ali Wolff on Casall.
As for the show jumping star’s training program at home to prepare for their performance, it’s all about fitness.
“I try to train them like any other professional athlete—I think having them being overly fit for the job is going to help,” said Farrington. “And then being competitive and maintaining their soundness. I’d say that’s the No. 1 part of my program, and the rest is sort of catered specifically to what event is coming up. Maybe if I struggled the last week, I’ll work on an exercise that the horse is struggling with, or if he’s going great and doesn’t really need anything, I’ll go a little bit easier on him and sort of let him roll on to the next show, save his jumps.”
Willow will head to the National Horse Show (Ky.) next, then Europe to compete.
Madden was consistent and conservative for second place on Simon.
“I wanted to practice a little bit in the beginning,” she said. “Like in the beginning, I tried to do the right number [of strides from fences] 1 to 2 and some very neat turns, but then I didn’t want to race at the end because he can get a little strong on me. Saturday night is important for me. I haven’t done any World Cup qualifiers yet, so I have zero points.”
To read more about the winners at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, check out the October 27 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse print magazine.