In her first grand prix event of the year, the 2005 American Grandprix Association Horse of the Year, Madison, ridden by Kent Farrington, proved she is still on top of her game by winning the $60,000 Kilkenny/ICH Internationale Cup CSI*** in Wellington, Fla., on Feb. 12.
Kimberly Prince and Marlou, owned by the Windmill Ranch, also made their 2006 grand prix debut and were rewarded with second-place honors.
Out of 59 starters, only Prince and Farrington cleanly mastered the challenging and technical first-round course designed by Great Britain’s Robert Ellis.
“When I walked the course, I knew it was going to be very difficult,” said Farrington. “I thought there might be four or five clear. It was really technical, and he didn’t give you a break on the whole course. I thought it was going to be really tough, and it was.”
Prince, of Hume, Va., knew how difficult Ellis’ courses could be after piloting Marlou around his 2005 Nation’s Cup course in Hickstead, Great Britain.
“The course at Hickstead was so unbelievably hard I can’t even begin to tell you–carnage everywhere. When I walked out on the field [in Wellington] I was thinking, ‘Here we are, Hickstead all over again,’ ” commented Prince.
The ominous course included three double combinations. The first came at the third fence on course and featured a vertical to a very wide oxer, the second an oxer to oxer, and the third a vertical to a vertical. The oxers at 9AB resulted in 38 rails down, while the verticals at 10AB accounted for another 20 rails.
“We put a few distance problems out there, and we also made it very delicate, so it took a lot of riding,” said Ellis, who’d expected five to seven clear rounds.
He was also surprised at which parts of the course caused problems. “I thought the double of verticals [10AB] to the oxer at 11 would be the real problem spot. It had a very short distance and then either a long four or a short five [strides] running toward the in-gate as well. I didn’t think the double of oxers would cause as many problems as they did,” he added.
A tight time allowed only added to the difficulty. A total of 28 of the 59 starters couldn’t make it home within the time allowed.
Little Big Man, ridden by Laura Chapot, was one of seven horses who managed only a single knockdown. As the fastest of the four-faulters with a time of 79.48 seconds, Chapot claimed third place.
“The course was both sizable and technical, and it asked different kinds of questions throughout,” said Chapot, who faulted at fence 9B.
“We just happened to be the fastest of the four-faulters because my horse is usually very fast anyway,” said Chapot. “There was really no place to make up time in the course.”
Despite the knockdown, Chapot was pleased with the 11-year-old, Dutch Warmblood gelding’s performance. The pair has placed in the top six in the first three grand prix events of the WEF circuit.
In the $60,000 Wellington Cup on Feb. 5, they placed second and were sixth in the $50,000 Farr XTN Grand Prix of Palm Beach on Jan. 29.
“We have a very good relationship. I’ve had him for so long, and he’s grown up in our system, so we’ve learned a lot about each other,” said Chapot, who receives help from her mother Mary Chapot and father, Frank Chapot, the former chef d’equipe of the U.S. Show Jumping team.
The vast majority of the training regimen with Little Big Man involves flatwork. In fact, between the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in October and the beginning of the Winter Equestrian Festival in January, Chapot didn’t jump him at all.
Barely Time To Breathe
Almost halfway through the list of competitors, Chapot led the pack, and the chance of a jump-off was looking slim until Prince and Marlou blazed a trail just under the time allowed.
“It was one of my more hectic rounds. It was just one thing after another. There was never the opportunity to gallop for 20 strides and catch your breath,” said Prince, who has been competing in grand prix events since she was 19.
“I felt that despite the difficulty of the course, the mare rode great in the first round and was listening really well. When I pulled up and was actually clear at the end, it took me a long time before I could even breathe. I was so winded. I can’t imagine how my horse felt. I was really working out there,” she added.
Only one trip after Prince, Farrington and Madison promised spectators a jump-off.
Proud of his mount, a 10-year-old, Dutch-bred mare owned by Alexa Weeks, Farrington said, “Madison felt great. The round felt maybe a little scrappy, a little rough–but that was more because of the course. There was never a break. The lines were either short or long, and there was a lot of twisting and turning, so it was hard for that course to feel like a smooth go.”
Just three days before the grand prix, Farrington and Madison made their first appearance of the season. On Feb. 9, the duo competed in the $25,000 WEF Challenge Cup. After an early rail, Farrington decided to make the course a training round.
“After the first rail, I let her go around and get a few rubs to prepare her for Sunday,” said Farrington, who finished Thursday’s class with 16 faults.
Sunday’s $60,000 Kilkenny/ICH Internationale Cup was also the first grand prix event for Marlou since the fall indoor shows. Despite the break, Prince thought that the horse was on top of her game.
“She just needed rest after indoors and before the [World Equestrian Games] trials coming up,” said Prince of the 12-year-old, Dutch Warmblood mare. “I wasn’t worried about starting her back on such a challenging course. She’s proven before that she can walk in and do it after having time off.”
In the jump-off, Prince had to compete first, and she opted to gallop down the first line in seven strides rather than eight to a double combination. Unfortunately, Marlou stumbled when she landed after the first fence, costing the pair time and momentum.
“The footing was pretty chopped up, and after stumbling, I had to run down the line and we were there in seven but were running to get there. She just didn’t see how she could negotiate a double going that fast,” explained Prince about Marlou’s refusal at fence 2A in the jump-off. “She normally doesn’t stop; she always tries her heart out for me.”
With the pressure to go fast having subsided, Farrington and Madison jumped the second round fault-free in a time of 57.42 seconds and took home their first grand prix win of the season.