March 7—Tallahassee, Fla.
She’s slogged through rain, she’s jumped through mud, and now Last Call has but one more phase standing between her and a mega-comeback story. Today she and longtime rider Alexandra Knowles laid down a flawless show jumping performance over tacky turf to retain their dressage lead in the 48-horse Red Hills CIC*** division.
Last Call, a 15-year-old Mecklenburg mare (Land Capitol—Modesta, Morg 3419) known around the barn as “Fergie,” is coming back from a lengthy hiatus, having been eliminated in her first attempt at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** last April and then withdrawn from the Jersey Fresh CCI*** (N.J.) a few weeks later due to injury. She sat out competitions for the rest of 2013, but all the while Knowles was rehabbing, retraining and preparing to come back with a vengeance.
They did so the weekend of Feb. 14-16 at the Rocking Horse Winter II Horse Trials in Altoona, Fla., winning from start to finish their first advanced outing in almost a year. And their performances thus far at Red Hills suggest that was no fluke.
“My horse has been a trouper through some rough conditions, and I had great rides yesterday and today, and I couldn’t be more happy,” said Knowles, Paris, Ky. Together they’ll the leaders’ last-out position on Hugh Lochore’s brand-new cross-country course tomorrow, standing on 40.8 penalties.
“This is my first time here, so I have no comparison to the hilliness or whatever that it was known for,” Knowles said, referring to the old course which traversed a more heavily wooded and hilly tract of adjacent land. “So it’s a fresh look at it, and I’m excited. It looks good, I think they’ve done a great job building the course.”
Other Red Hills Tidbits:
☻Boyd Martin has six horses running at Red Hills, but that’s far from the only thing on his mind this week; his wife Silva is in a hospital six hours away recovering from a serious brain injury. Boyd headed straight to Delray Beach, Fla., as soon as he got word of Silva’s accident on March 5, but he made it back in time to perform two dressage tests the following day. (Read an update on Silva’s condition here.)
“Basically I tried to put myself in Silva’s position [and think of what she’d do],” he explained of his decision, after talking with her doctors, to come back and ride. “I’d be furious if Silva was sitting around in a waiting room in a hospital [missing a major competition because I was injured]. Silva’s been helping me prepare for this event, and it’s been a goal of ours for a long time. And really, you’re pretty helpless when you’re sitting around waiting in a hospital. I’m not sure whether she knew I was even there, to be honest. But deep inside I knew she’d be alright.”
But that stress and uncertainty, coupled with an unscheduled road trip and much less sleep than intended, plus media attention and an overwhelming outpouring of emails, phone calls, texts and social media messages, could push many a rider to distraction. That’s why focus has to be practiced every day, Boyd said, so that when the going gets tough, the real athlete is emotionally and mentally equipped.
“I think all great sports people always compete,” he said. “Every day I wake up, I‘ve got problems—financial problems, horse problems, staff problems. And you basically learn to switch everything off and compete and get the job done.”
Boyd’s doing just that so far. With only cross-country left to go, he stands second in the CIC*** with Trading Aces, the horse with which Silva worked especially hard in the run-up to Red Hills, and 12th with Sir Donovan in the same division. In the advanced division, he rode his new mount Shamwari 4 to third place in the dressage and Steady Eddie to sixth, while Pancho Villa stands second in the intermediate and Otis Barbotiere eighth in open preliminary.
☻Leslie Law jumped into the CIC** lead with a clear round aboard 7-year-old Tout de Suite, but his wife Lesley Grant-Law followed right on his heels as the next rider in the arena with What Law, and they currently stand ninth. So what happens when a husband and wife have to warm up together and then go head-to-head?
“She’s in her own zone, but I’m expected to help her, so I have to be in both zones,” Law joked. “Really it’s not difficult; she’s riding great, she’s on a good horse, and at this stage of the game you really are just warming up, not changing anything.”
Law and Grant-Law found both horses in England. Tout de Suite came recommended by longtime friend J.P. Sheffield, and Law “sat on it, liked it, bought it” all in one fell swoop. The British Sport Horse of unrecorded breeding is now owned by Law’s longtime supporter Beatrice Rey-Herme.
What Law, on the other hand, came up for sale at a time when the couple couldn’t get over to England to try him out.
“So I actually sent my brother Graham to sit on the horse and buy the horse. I told him it was no pressure, just my money that he was wasting if he was no good,” Law joked. “He’s very good at evaluating horses, so we actually bought that one sight unseen.”
What Law is a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Mill Law.
☻You’ll find two horses in the CIC** top 10 ridden by Kristen Bond: Seams Ready (second on 41.9 penalties) and I’m Sew Ready (seventh, 46.7). “They’re both owned by Kristine Norton, who’s actually a quilter,” said Bond. “Like a really amazingly talented one—she travels all over the country to workshops and everything. She came up with both the horses’ names.”
☻Red Hills has seen copious amounts of rain this week, so much so that organizer Jane Barron said this afternoon that they’d already completely consumed their entire supply of shavings. Not to worry, though. Barron has been stockpiling leftovers from years past at her farm nearby for just such an emergency. She’s been sending loads of bags back here to the event throughout the day.
☻Andrew Palmer leads the CIC* on Tatendrang, a U.S.-bred Trakehner stallion (Onassis—Tanzania, Avignon) whose name means “lust for life” in German. They held onto their winning dressage score of 36.2 today. “And tomorrow is his birthday!” Palmer noted. “He’ll be turning 8.”
☻Elisa Wallace stands third (43.4) in the 57-horse CIC* division with the Dutch Warmblood Corteo, but she’s also got some very excited Mustangs on her hands at Red Hills. “They’re doing well, but they’re quite frisky because it’s chilly,” said Wallace, who earned cross-discipline fame by winning the 2012 Extreme Mustang Makeover competition and has since taken on two more project horses. “I rode Rune in the [dressage] test ride for the three-star.” She’ll also be performing a “Mustang makeover” demonstration for the Red Hills crowds on Sunday.
Looking for full provisional results from Red Hills? You can find them on EventEntries.com.