Ocala, Fla.—Feb. 27
Marilyn Little really gets the best of both worlds with her competitive career—the 2015 Pan American gold medalist in three-day eventing took the top call in the $35,000 Live Oak CSI*** 1.50-meter grand prix with Corona 93.
Little is certainly no stranger to show jumping success—she spent years racking up accolades in that ring before switching to three-day eventing as her main sport. She never stopped show jumping, however. She just scaled it down a bit.
But this winter, Little is back in the grand prix ring in a big way. A third place finish in the $216,000 Ariat Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) on Feb. 7, a top call in a welcome stakes class at HITS Ocala, and now, a blue ribbon in the Live Oak International Grand Prix.
“I have a lovely group of horses, but they’re all relatively new to me. They’ve been in my stable, some of them for several years, but I’ve only started competing them in January ,” Little said. “We’re feeling our way along. This weekend was our first time being able to ride them in this much of a crazy, electric atmosphere.”
That’s no exaggeration to the state of the crowd at the Live Oak International—people were packed into every nook and cranny around the ring that would gain them a view of the class, groaning at rails and cheering loudly for clear efforts through the more cheallenging obstacles like the triple combination.
The crowd was so densely packed on one side of the ring, some of the riders who elected to show their mounts the wall of people before their round got more then they bargained for—lots of crowhopping, bucking and shying. Little’s other ride, the stallion Clear Water, gave a hearty little crowhop up at the crowd before she kicked him on.
On both Clear Water and Corona 93, Little says she wasn’t really trying to lay down the fastest trip, just a solid effort, and that proved plenty good enough for first when speedy Adam Prudent pulled a rail, knocking his three-second-faster timed effort to a four-fault third place finish.
“I’m just getting to know them, so we’ll turn up the volume a little bit as the season goes on,” Little said. “They’re responding beautifully so far, and I’m so lucky to have them. I’d love to say I know exactly what the summer will hold, but I don’t—one month at a time. Next week the horses are resting, and then we’ll probably go down to Wellington after that and hopefully step into some [five-star CSIs] and do our best.”
That accounts for Little’s time in the show jumping ring, but what about her eventing preparations? After all, the 2015 Pan American gold medalist should probably have the Rio Olympic Games on her radar, right?
“It does seem a bit funny, because this is an Olympic year, and I have a very, very special horse to be possibly for the [eventing] in Rio,” Little said of her recently re-vamped show jumping focus. “Everyone hates to say the ‘O’ word,” Little laughed. “RF Demeter is a wonderful horse, she has a wonderful group of owners behind her, and I’m trying to take a little bit of the pressure off of her.
“It’s easy to get wrapped up in things coming down to a competition such as Rio,” Little continued. “Focusing a little bit more on the show jumping and getting back into that, which felt like it was time, it takes a little bit of the heat off of her and allows her to really prepare and train for it in the best way that’s tailored to her needs.”
Second place in the grand prix went to Emily Short and Coco II, one of the young rider’s biggest finishes in the grand prix ring to date.
“I don’t really have that much mileage on him myself, but he’s a really experienced horse,” Short said of Coco II. “He’s bringing me along to jump bigger classes. I think we’re finally clicking.”