When it comes to awards, Kelly Prather and Ballinakill Glory are a bit like those people who have everything and are therefore impossible to buy for come Christmastime. What exciting new prize can you give a horse and rider who, in their seven years competing together, have already piled up a small mountain of checks, ribbons, trophies and blankets?
After Prather and “Pippa” scored their third consecutive wire-to-wire win at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell, Mont., on July 23-26, U.S. Equestrian Federation officials decided the best answer to that question would be an exceptional gift—a trip to Eastern Europe.
While she was delighted to win the Rebecca Farm CIC***-W for the second time in three years, Prather hadn’t seriously considered attending the HSBC FEI World Cup Eventing Final in Strzegom, Poland, at the end of August.
But on the Friday of The Event At Rebecca Farm, U.S. eventing legend Jack Le Goff passed away in France (see Aug. 7, p. 89), and the USEF immediately established a memorial travel grant in his honor (p. 82). Unbeknownst to Prather, even during the awards ceremony, she was to be the first recipient.
“They actually announced that they were going to be giving it to someone as we were walking the show jumping course, and I stopped and listened and thought it was amazing, but I didn’t really think much of the idea that I would get it,” said Prather, Bodega, Calif. “Afterwards, Mr. Broussard said, ‘Are you looking forward to going to Europe?’ And I said, ‘Oh, yeah, I guess. One day!’ I didn’t even know what he was talking about until after the competition was over.”
The 25-year-old had been looking forward to heading east for the third consecutive year to train with Bruce Davidson and compete at the Fair Hill CCI (Md.) this fall, but she quickly scuttled those plans when she was offered her first chance to represent the United States in foreign competition.
“I never would have thought it possible to go, and then the grant was suddenly there,” she said. “I’m thrilled. It’s been a crazy whirlwind. Ever since we left the show, it’s been planning flights for people and the horse and hotels and all the vet stuff and all the shots and everything.”
The hubbub has been daunting, but Prather knows one thing for sure: she’s absolutely confident in the partner she’ll be taking to Poland. She found Pippa, a 10-year-old Irish mare, as an untested 3-year-old while working in Ireland as a teenager. Andrea and James Pfeiffer, who have been Prather’s coach and farrier, respectively, since her childhood, offered to buy the bay mare (Mark Twain—Ballinakill Poppy) sight unseen.
“It’s going to be amazing to have this experience with her,” Prather said. “I think it’s going to be that much easier, because we’ve done everything together from the bottom to the top. I know her so well. I can tell when her coat’s turning a little bit of a different shade. I can tell when she’s walking a little different. I know every inch of her. And all of our work is paying off, and I’m just thrilled to give her the experience to go abroad and to represent the country.”
More Oomph Than Expected
Prather and Pippa moved up to the advanced level in 2007 and won the Rebecca Farm CIC***-W that summer. Last year they scored another victory in Montana, but it was in the CCI* division. Exacerbated boot rubs on the mare’s legs and mutual confidence issues had set them back for a season, but they went on to win the Fair Hill CCI** last fall, and they’re back on track this year with plenty of career left in front of them.
“I think I’ve really figured out how to keep her at her happiest to perform her best,” Prather said. “I showed up at Rebecca Farm, and she had been feeling amazing.”
Prather and Pippa won several third level dressage classes in Pebble Beach, Calif., before heading to Montana, so they were fully prepared to top the CIC***-W dressage (45.6).
“Sometimes she gets in there and just waits a little for me, and she keeps a little in reserve,” Prather said. “But I think I’ve figured out the warm-up timing, so she really had the most energy and strength in those few minutes in the ring. She did a lot of movements stronger, with a bit more oomph, than I expected, so there are a few points that need to be ironed out a little bit. But I enjoyed every minute of it, and now I’ll learn to ride it a little bit better.”
No one made the time cross-country, but Prather posted the second-fastest round of the day, adding 9.6 faults to her dressage score. The rider attributed her speedy round to her new fitness routine, which is modeled after Davidson’s.
“She went out of the box stronger than I’ve ever felt her,” Prather said. “Normally, she’s a horse that you need to kick all the time—she’s an Irish mare, so she’d rather lope around than gallop around. So I actually loved going out of the box and having to take a hold on the reins and say, ‘Hey, wait for me a little bit!’ ”
Pippa’s FEI division wins at Rebecca for the past three years are a testament to her love for the courses.
“She’s a very big and bold jumper, and sometimes when courses are twisty and turny the stride lengths tend to be a little short, and it punishes her just a little bit for jumping so well,” Prather said. “But [at Rebecca] all the distances and combinations were really nicely presented to the horse to jump well. She had so much left in her and was still jumping brilliantly at the end. She jumped an oxer toward the end on the backstretch like a show jumper, so big up over it.”
Pippa wasn’t lacking any energy on Sunday, either, giving Prather “every opportunity to ride her around for a clean round.” They scored the only double-clear in their division to finish on a mark of 55.2.
“Now it’s just a matter of getting to Poland and getting home safe,” Prather said.
• Robyn Fisher, Topanga, Calif., topped the 11-horse field in the CCI** division with her veteran Holsteiner mare, Lady Calido. The pair won from start to finish on their dressage score of 48.5.
With two CCI* victories at Galway Downs (Calif.) and a CCI** win at Twin Rivers (Calif.) under their belt, this was their first blue at Rebecca Farm. Of the six FEI-sanctioned events they’ve contested together, they’ve won all but one—their first CIC*, at Rebecca in 2005, in which they placed second.
• Heather Morris headed home to Lewisville, Texas, with a winner and a runner-up in her trailer. She led the advanced victory gallop aboard Lynne Partridge’s First Mark, an 11-year-old Thoroughbred out of Jill Henneberg’s 1996 Olympic Games mount, Nirvana II.
“Jill won a breeding to Ispiritu when Nirvana was the highest-placed mare at Rolex [Kentucky] one year, and First Mark was her first baby,” Morris said. “Jill absolutely loves him. She and Lynne keep in constant contact, and Jill was texting me all weekend in Montana, because she was able to watch the scores as they were going up online.”
Morris and First Mark finished on 57.5 in what was just the horse’s second advanced outing. Morris also scored a red ribbon in the CCI** with Allison Freeman’s Slate River.
• No one could catch Amy Tryon and CCI* first-timer Jude’s Law on the leaderboard, despite the one rail they lowered in show jumping on Sunday. Andrew and Beth Temkin campaigned the 8-year-old Irish gelding, owned by Hilary Bates, extensively at the lower levels over the past few years, and Tryon, Duvall, Wash., rode him straight into the lead in the CCI* dressage at Rebecca Farm and never looked back. They finished on a mark of 46.1.