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October 23, 2013

Lots Learned From Fair Hill

I learned a lot about both Tali and myself on the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill CCI*** cross-country course. Photo by Sara Lieser

My first and most important conclusion coming out of the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI*** is that I have an exceptional horse that will not be bounded in the future. I have to thank Larry and Amelia Ross who have been partners of mine with Tali, or Crown Talisman, for the past few years.

Tali started off the week in fine form, putting together his best dressage test to date and finishing on a 43.6, just a point back from the lead. Before entering the ring, I would have been more than happy to break into the top 10. Needless to say I was thrilled to be in second! I've got to thank my Mom, Linda Zang and Betsy Steiner for their help. It's been a group effort for sure, and the amazing thing is that there’s a bunch of room for improvement. It’s scary to think how good he could be five years from now.

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After walking the cross-country course a number of times, I felt quite confident that Tali had all the jumping ability and tools to tackle the course. This being his first three-star, I was not sure if he was fit enough and ultimately had the genetic gift of endurance to finish a 10-plus-minute course in good form.
Fair Hill is known to be a true test of horse and rider—this year was no different. The terrain always plays a significant role and Derek DiGrazia is a very clever designer who takes advantage of all the land has to offer.

My priority was to come home with a confident horse with energy to spare. We were the sixth combination out on the course which suits me well. I always prefer to run early in the order. No one knows my horse as well as me, and after a plan is formed, I'd rather get out and jump rather than sit and watch.

Tali started off strong and grew to be more confident with each complex. I crossed the finish line with a much better horse than I had leaving the start box. Tali finished with plenty left in the tank and just 6.8 time penalties.

Sunday's jumping course was a typically influential design from Sally Ike. Tali jumped well save one green mistake in a one-stride combination. While finishing with 4 penalties dropped us to fourth place, I couldn't have asked for a better first three-star outing.

We still have plenty of work ahead, but to say this is a great start feels like an understatement. Looking up the leaderboard, I was very happy for Jan Byyny. She has been dealt a rough hand, persevered, rode incredibly well and deserves the win more than anyone. I can't wait to see where she and JR go from here.

My engineering background was also employed this past weekend, giving me the second takeaway message from Fair Hill. You had better be in excellent physical shape to compete!

Many have told us, and I completed believed, that if riders were better shape their performances would improve. Never before had I seen quantitative proof, and certainly not to this degree.

As many are aware, at the larger competitions I often wear a helmet camera. I did so at Fair Hill, but in addition I wore a GPS watch that logged time, speed data along with my heart rate. Before heading out on course, I was very interested to see my speeds in different areas of the course.

I fully expected the heart rate data to be unremarkable. I would have bet a lot of money that my rate wouldn't have exceeded 75-80 percent of maximum. I couldn't have been more wrong!

Amazingly, after 1:20 minutes into the track I was bouncing between 92-98 percent of maximum, averaging 95 percent over the 10-plus minutes. Being that my maximum rate is 193 beats per minute, it oscillated from 180-190, peaking at the key complexes and dropping during the longer gallops.

Leading up to Fair Hill I was cycling at least three or four times per week. While on course, I felt sharper than I had ever felt in the past. I was biking primarily to keep lean and strong, but after reviewing the data I'm certain it helped me more than just shed unwanted pounds. The reason I felt sharper was not a fluke, but a direct result of my cardiovascular fitness.

Going forward I'm going to take it one step further and boost my weekly mileage and cardiovascular load to better prepare for cross-country. We expect our horses to be in peak condition, so it's imperative that we hold up our end of the bargain.

The nerd in me had to figure out a way to display and share these findings. After scouring the web, researching options, I was able to put together the following video which overlays all of the data on the helmet-cam footage along with an analysis of my ride.

Doug Payne is a professional event rider operating out of his Doug Payne Equestrian in Pottersville, N.J. You can read his introductory blog for the Chronicle here