Devon, Pa.—May 28
“Delighted” would be an understatement when it came to describing Sara Kozumplik Murphy’s reaction to winning the first ever $50,000 Devon Arena Eventing competition. Murphy’s smile was wide as could be after both her rounds at the Devon Horse Show’s new class, which saw eventers take to the Dixon Oval and the Gold Ring in a unique two-round competition.
“I was really excited when I heard this was being offered for a variety of reasons,” Murphy said after claiming the win aboard Rubens d’Ysieux.
“I have a really cool horse, which you guys got to see today. He’s extremely careful and he’s a good cross-country horse and been trained really well. I got to start riding him in September and he’s so careful and he’s so smart. He’s so happy, and he’s just a really wicked horse, so I was just excited about that. I was also excited about the opportunity to come to atmosphere and pressure and practice that. I think there are very few opportunities that we have to do that in this sport in this country.”
The class certainly had atmosphere, as a healthy crowd packed the stands even despite a steady rain throughout the evening. They cheered local favorites and got quite into the spirit of things. Round 1 kicked off at about 7:30 p.m., and 23 horses took to the ring to jump 25 jumps—15 portable cross-country jumps and 10 show jumps. The course started in the Dixon Oval, then went into the Gold Ring, and finished up with another loop in the Dixon Oval.
There were a handful of run-outs at the corner jump set in the center of the Dixon Oval, but most of the faults in Round 1 came from rails at the show jumps. Riders were given 5 faults for a rail and 10 for a refusal.
The majority of the problems came at the last fence, a square, narrow white show jump oxer set off a long diagonal approach and facing into the trophy stand at the end of the ring. The front rail there came down quite a bit, and Capt. Mark Phillips, who designed the course, said he learned a trick from Kelvin Bywater, who is designing Devon’s jumper courses. Not only were the rails just 8′ long, which makes them lighter and easier to knock down, but also he set a brush box between the two rails on the ground, behind the front rail.
“With the brush behind it just sucks you into the front rail a little bit,” Phillip said. “That’s a grand prix trick I learned. It was also the last fence after a long gallop and they had been jumping a lot of fences before that. In the grand prix world they call that a careful fence—you have to take your time to that jump.”
Then, the top 12 from Round 1 returned for a jump-off, which was just in the Dixon Oval and had 15 jumping efforts. The final oxer was the same, and fell multiple times again.
The majority of the cross-country fences were at two-star height (1.15-meter) but not at maximum width. Phillips said only one table in Round 1 in the Gold Ring was at two-star width. The show jumps were set at 1.15-meter in Round 1 and 1.20-meter in Round 2. Phillips also noted that he made sure the first three jumps in each round were show jumps, so nervous horses didn’t make mistakes over solid jumps.
Murphy and Rubens d’Ysieux, a 12-year-old Selle Francais gelding who evented to the CCI*** level with Mikka Kuchta last year and has had good ribbons at CIC***s with Murphy this year, was more than 4 seconds faster in the jump-off round than second-placed Jennie Brannigan, who rode her four-star veteran Cambalda.
“I looked at the clock [around the last turn] and knew I wasn’t going to beat her time so I wanted to be second,” Brannigan said. “I knew I was at 75 [seconds] two strides out [to the last jump] and I also watched the first six people who I respect go mach 10 down to the last jump and have it down. I just figured if they got good spots and still hit it, I should be cautious. Plus he’s careful but he’s 15.”
Brannigan, who is local to the area as she’s based in Coatesville, Pa., has been to Devon to watch both the Devon Horse Show and Dressage At Devon, but hadn’t imagined showing there. “Since I moved to Pennsylvania Devon has kind of been an illustrious thing,” she said. “It’s just very cool to be able to compete here myself.”
Brannigan also appreciated the venue as a place to showcase the talents of Cambalda, a horse with extensive three- and four-star three-day mileage. “I don’t really want to sell him, and I’ve been trying to find a place for him to be a useful horse and to have a great career and not just aiming him at four-stars. I think that for me, between [the Wellington Eventing Showcase (Fla.)] and this, it’s just really exciting,” she said.
Brannigan and Cambalda actually just won the CIC** at the Virginia Horse Trials the day before Devon, which was a bit unintended on Brannigan’s part. She said that when she agreed to do the class at Devon, she didn’t realize it was the same weekend. “While I don’t want to run him crazy hard, I was a little bit on the fence about doing it,” she said. “But he pulled up great [on Saturday] and was totally fine and went around and jumped great today. For me this was really a cool weekend for him and I think for [Cambalda’s owners] the Gardners. He’s just a horse I love and I’m just so happy that I get to ride him and keep him in my barn.”
Another Devon local, Erika Nesler, was thrilled to take third place behind the two four-star veterans in the class with a clean jump-off round on Right Above It just fractions of a second slower than Brannigan’s. Nesler, who just started riding at the two-star level last year, has attended Devon as a spectator and worked in the press room at the show in the past.
“I’m somewhat speechless to be sitting next to these two ladies!” she said. “I can’t remember the first Devon that I came to, having the Ferris wheel ride and then years after was working the press box. I was the one going down collecting all the hunter riders and jumper riders and bringing them up to the press. I never thought in a million years that I’d have the chance to sit on this side of the table!
“’Carter,’ that horse is amazing. I actually owe a lot to Jennie, she actually started him as a youngster and we’ve had him for about 2½ years. What he’s done for my riding, it’s unreal. It feels great, and he was spot on tonight doing it. I know him really well—I know if I kick and point he’s going to go. We did [the Fair Hill CCI** (Md.)] last year, my first year in intermediate, his first year. I figured why not come here, get some more mileage under the pressure. I can’t say enough, his owners Doug and Cindy Howe have supported me for eight years. My parents were here tonight, and it was just special. It was very cool to two years ago think I wasn’t going to be past a preliminary rider, to be sitting here now thinking ‘Bring it on!’ ”
To see all of the Chronicle’s coverage from the Devon Horse Show, click here. And make sure to read the June 19 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse for more in-depth coverage from Devon.