April 24—Lexington, Ky.
Michael Pollard wasn’t exactly surprised to find himself atop the leaderboard with Mensa G at the end of the first day of dressage at Rolex Kentucky, but that didn’t mean he was any less pleased with the result.
“On the dressage days, you certainly can’t win it, but you can lose it,” said Pollard, whose score of 49.5 put him in first over Will Faudree on Pawlow (49.8) and Doug Payne on Crown Talisman (51.2).
“I just wanted to have a good start, and I think we managed that today,” continued Pollard, Dalton, Ga. “I’m sure tomorrow there will be some great combinations, and I’m probably not likely to stay in the lead, but at least it’s a competitive start.”
Pollard, 33, pointed to his wife, Nathalie, who led dressage at Rolex Kentucky in 2004, as his secret weapon for his competitive test with Mensa, a 16-year-old U.S.-bred Thoroughbred (Colonial Affair—Fire The Secretary, Stop The Music). “I have Nathalie at home telling me that it’s bad all the time, so she keeps it very honest,” he said with a laugh.
“Nathalie and I have worked well together,” he continued. “We do a lot of videoing. Continually trying to show things off. You try to build up and have this be the pinnacle; you want him to go his best here.”
While Nathalie was on hand to coach Michael, their four children stayed home. Michael admitted they probably didn’t even watch their daddy on the USEF Network, and in fact, might not be aware that this was a very important weekend. Axel, Phineas, and twins Sebastian and Sterling are all under 6 years of age.
What’s Faudree’s last thought as he goes into the dressage ring? “Drop my whip!” he said with a smile. “Ernie” has a reputation for being a bit on the lazy side, and he’s completely unaffected by the atmosphere at Rolex Kentucky after his many four-star experiences over the years.
“He always knows when the whip is dropped, so I drop it at the last second possible,” said Faudree, 32, Southern Pines, N.C. “I have to flail around like a Pony Clubber to keep him going. I do a lot of trot-walk-trot-walk-trot transitions to get him really hot and moving off my leg.”
Faudree said going on Thursday morning wasn’t ideal for Ernie because the 15-year-old Irish Thoroughbred (Marcuzzi—B.C. Illusion, Levantos) gets a boost from the larger crowds on Friday afternoon. However, he thought it would be an advantage to go early on cross-country day, when the temperatures would be cooler and the footing less sticky.
“I’ll be really glad to be having mimosas at 11:45 with Doug on Saturday,” he quipped. Why will Payne be having mimosas so early? Because he’s withdrawing “Tali” in favor of running him at the Saumur CCI*** (France) in May thanks to a Land Rover grant.
“This horse, he’s one that’s a little bit more excitable and potentially could be affected by atmosphere,” explained Payne, 32. “There’s no better place in this hemisphere to go and compete and see where we measure up. I know, for sure, he’ll be better for today’s competition.”
But did he have an advantage, knowing that he could really go for broke since he wouldn’t be continuing this weekend?
“No!” said Payne, New Hill, N.C. “If I went in and I had an awful test, it’s even worse. It was absolutely the best thing for the horse, for his future and for mine. I wanted to make the most of it and put as much pressure on myself as I would generally. You don’t want to let that opportunity go by.”
Dressage resumes at 10 a.m. on Friday with Lillian Heard and Share Option first in the ring.