Karen O’Connor swept into the lead this afternoon as she rode Mandiba to a score of 43.7 with beautiful flying changes and a solid, rhythmic performance. She bumped the morning’s leader, Becky Holder and Courageous Comet, to second, while Phillip Dutton grabbed third aboard his second ride of the day, The Foreman.
“He’s had a very good season this winter in dressage, more confirmed than he’s ever been,” said O’Connor of her 2008 Olympic Games partner owned by Joan Goswell. “I feel confident going down the centerline now on him. This is the first time that it’s been in this kind of atmosphere under the pressures that a top competition brings, so I was over the moon with how calm he was, how relaxed he was. He was swinging in his back and connected.
“Sometimes I think I made a few technical errors—the first shoulder-in didn’t have enough angle and just little details like that that could have gotten the score a little better,” she added. “But he’s such an elegant horse and has got such try in him, and I’m really excited.”
She credited the many people who’ve helped her with her dressage over the years, including Betsy Steiner and Capt. Mark Phillips. “I’ve got a secret weapon back home; I’m married to him,” she said, referring to her husband, 2000 individual eventing Olympic gold medalist David O’Connor. “With his commitments [as U.S. Equestrian Federation president] he is away a lot, and when he comes back, he has a fresh eye on my horse.”
While Holder may be in second place now, she’s already won one Rolex watch this weekend, last night at a cocktail party for competitors.
“We were running late and made multiple stops on our way to the party,” said Holder. “My husband insisted we stop to get the card to put into the kitty for the draw. When we stopped, he ran into stable area (my groom had bought me highheeled shoes I couldn’t walk in), then we got to the party, and he disappeared to get hors d’oeuvres [while they were about to draw names]. Then they drew my name, and I couldn’t believe it. He said if I get another one, he gets that one.”
“Comet” started off his test looking a bit spooky, but he soon settled, and his scores went up significantly as soon as he started the canter work.
Holder would have liked to change a few things about her test, but she’s looking forward, not back. “Now my sights are set on cross-country, just taking it one jump at a time,” she said. “I hope to give my horse a good ride and fair go around the course.”
Dutton was enjoying the ride on Ann Jones’ The Foreman, who placed second here in 2005 but has had splint surgery since then and a few minor complications. “He hasn’t been in a big arena in four or five years, so I’m happy with him,” said Dutton. “He’s one of best horses I’ve ever had, so you do whatever you can. He shines at these big events. It’s a bonus to have him here. I’m enjoying it and hope to have a few more to come.”