Mackenna Shea and Landioso are at the Jaguar Land Rover Bromont CCI for one reason, and one reason only: three-star redemption. After the pair fell at fence 3 on the Jersey Fresh CCI*** course in May, Shea, who'd made the long trip east from her home in Tacoma, Wash., went through several iterations of a new plan.
“At first I was like, ‘I’ll just go to Bromont,’ ” she said. “We haven’t had the easiest time at the three-star level, so I’d thought if Jersey didn’t work out, Bromont would be next. But my parents said, ‘It’s really expensive for you to stay out here, and it’s a big thing for us.’ I have the coolest parents in the whole world, so they would never tell me that unless it was a serious issue. So I was like, ‘OK, I’ll go home and go to Rebecca Farms [Mont.] or something.’ ”
Then Shea ran into USEF Managing Director of Eventing Joanie Morris, who asked about her plans. The 21-year-old rider, who’d sustained a minor concussion in her fall at Jersey and was craving the comforts of home, told her Bromont was a no-go.
“Then Barb Crabo and Gina Miles, who’d also come to Jersey, came up and were like, ‘You’re crazy. You need to stay. You’re going to go home with a fit and sound horse who’s ready to run, and you’ll be sitting on your couch watching Bromont on the live stream,’ ” said Shea. “I called Joanie, and I was like, ‘Have you left yet? I need to talk to you!’ ”
Within 20 minutes, Morris had lined up a job for Shea with Boyd Martin—whom she'd never even met, let alone ridden or worked with—starting at 7 a.m. the next day. In the last few weeks, Martin has rebuilt Shea and Landioso’s confidence after their spill at Jersey, moving fences around for them to do mini cross-country schools every other day.
“At Jersey I was trying to be a bit more competitive with the time,” said Shea. “I’d had a light spring but a good go in the [Twin Rivers] CIC***, and I think I was just a bit more aggressive than he was used to. He’s not a strong horse, but he kind of locks against me a little bit, so I went to rebalance at the third fence, and he just locked and kept going and just caught it.
“It sucked, but it was probably the best thing that could have happened to him,” she continued. “He was a bit spooky after that, and I think it’s been a good wake-up call. He gets really cocky. It was a reminder that he has to listen to me a little. Boyd's helped us a ton. He completely took me under his wing, and he didn't have to do that.”
Now Shea and Landioso, a 12-year-old Bavarian Warmblood (Legendaer I—Aspen, Pilotek) gelding, are leading the Jaguar Land Rover Bromont CCI*** after dressage on 45.2 penalties.
“I have had a lot better trot work this year than I have previously,” said Shea. “It’s swapped because I used to have better canter work. I was kind of going for it in the trot a bit and then trying to produce a more through and showy canter. I kind of get in there and get a little passive, and it gets a little weak, so I’ve been trying to improve that. He was so good today. He’s always really good. He makes it easy.”
Though the pair has accumulated a stellar West Coast record—winning the Twin Rivers CCI** in 2010 and the Twin Rivers CIC*** in 2012 and 2013—they haven’t had the same luck at CCI***s so far. They were eliminated on the cross-country course at the 2012 Galway Downs CCI***, and they came east for the 2013 Jersey Fresh CCI*** and were third after cross-country before Landioso was spun at the second horse inspection.
But Shea’s a big fan of Derek di Grazia’s cross-country tracks and is looking forward to tackling his here at Bromont tomorrow. She’s putting together a rap playlist to get pumped up before she heads out.
“I am nervous, and I just want to ride well and ride smart, but I love Derek’s courses,” she said. “They really suit my horse, I think. I’m going to go out and ride what I have and have a good time and be smart. Be reactive and be smart—that’s my plan."
After this event, Shea will head back to Temecula, Calif., where her boss and coach Tamie Smith is based. She’s been borrowing Smith’s trailer all spring.
“This whole thing has been a big team effort!” said Shea.
Maya Black, another Area VII rider who’s been based east this spring, working for Jan Byyny in Middleburg, Va., and Doesn’t Play Fair are second after dressage in their first CCI*** on 50.2 penalties. Doesn’t Play Fair wore a special Team USA ear bonnet for his dressage today, given to Black by her cousin, dressage rider Adrienne Lyle—an extra from Lyle's trip to the 2012 London Olympic Games with Wizard.
“I was pleased with his test because he’s never been in an atmosphere like this before,” said Black. “I just went in and had a really quiet, steady test, and he was very obedient. I’m excited because I know it can be that much better in the future. Now it’s getting the last bit of impulsion and self-carriage.”
Katy Groesbeck isn’t far behind in third with Oz The Tin Man (50.4). She’s originally from California but has been based with Buck Davidson Eventing since October.
“We’re just so much more educated,” said Groesbeck. “Our record has been less stellar since we moved out here, but the quality of how he’s going and my level of knowledge is so much more. At the end of the day, I think it’s way better riding.
"It’s almost like the more you know, the worse you get,” she joked.
Grin And Bear It
This year’s CIC*** is the division most woefully lacking in entries, with just three starters. Lynn Symansky came out on top of the short leaderboard with Donner, scoring 49.0 penalties.
Symansky had a fairytale season with Donner in 2013, placing fifth at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** and 13th at the Pau CCI**** (France), but she’s had to bypass her Plan A, B, and C so far this year. A nagging, mild injury this spring kept her from running the 11-year-old gelding at Kentucky again, and then when they rerouted to the Jersey Fresh CIC*** (N.J.) in May, she parted ways from her mount at the second water jump and got trampled. While she didn’t break any bones, she had to take a few weeks out of the saddle.
Symansky was on crutches for about eight days and only had her first jump school just before coming to Bromont, but the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games hopefuls put in a good showing this afternoon.
"He was very obedient," Symansky said. "I thought the canter work was really good, and the trot work for him was all right. I’m really happy with him, since I’ve been riding so crooked—I was riding [last week] with my stirrup length four holes longer on one side—so he definitely feels that in his back. For him to have put up with all that the last few weeks and to go in there and put in that test, I think it’s pretty cool."
Bromont’s organizers were granted special permission from the FEI to run their CIC division in CCI order, so Symansky still has both jumping phases ahead of her. That will give her a chance to test her newfound sports medicine skills.
"I’ve learned a lot about taping in the last two weeks!" she joked. "[My leg’s] not broken, I just have two muscle tears. He got me with the studs right where the zipper and the harder part of my boot was, so that’s what actually saved me from [the stud] going straight into [my calf]. It didn’t actually pierce the skin, but it did kind of rip the muscle. They don’t see a lot of muscle tears like that, because it was from force, instead of someone who’s running and tears a muscle.
While the injury was of course painful, Symansky's biggest challenge now is keeping her balance in the saddle.
"I have full strength to push on my toes, but I can’t flex my ankle down," she explained. "I’ve been working with the team physio we’ve had, Holly Moriarty, who’s been great, and she’s taught me how to tape and immobilize my ankle. It’s been my full-time job going to physical therapy.
"Over these last few days it’s gotten a lot better," she added. "As of four days ago, I couldn’t walk around. It was a little bit of a gamble coming here, as to whether I was going to get better, but I would have been so mad sitting at home and having it suddenly get better."
The Stars Of The Future
In the CCI**, Ashley Adams rode to the top of the class aboard the 7-year-old Da Vinci Code on 43.5 penalties, a nearly 10-point improvement over their test at the Ocala Horse Properties CCI** (Florida) in April. They jumped cross-country clear with time penalties there, so Adams has a definite chance to go well here tomorrow and retain her lead over Lauren Kieffer and Meadowbrook’s Scarlett (44.1). That pair, however, is coming off a win in the Jersey Fresh CIC**.
Buck Davidson has had good luck in Bromont’s CCI* divisions in the past, and it was no surprise to see him atop the one-star leaderboard again today. He scored 39.0 penalties with the 8-year-old gelding Be Mine to top Peter Barry and Long Island Tea, who’d led for most of the 45-horse class.
Cross-country begins tomorrow at 9 a.m. with the CCI*, followed by the three-star divisions and then the CCI**.
Looking for full provisional results? You can find them on EventEntries.com.