March 22—Raeford, N.C.
Looking at the start list for today’s cross-country, you may not have bet on Marilyn Little and RF Demeter to take the win in the CIC***.
Sure, they’ve just come home from competing in Europe last year, finishing their third four-star in the top 20 at Pau (France), but “Demi” hasn’t been out competing this season, and they were sitting in fifth place after dressage and show jumping.
But time was a big factor on Hugh Lochore’s cross-country track, and Little and Demi turned in one of two double-clears to jump up the leader board and clinch the win. Little also turned in the next fastest round on RF Smoke On The Water, who finished in eighth place.
“Coming into this event, having not had one since Pau, I didn’t really know how it was going to go,” said Little. “Last year, getting to be in Europe and having tons of runs with her really nailed down a lot of things on the cross-country that I was struggling with a year and a half ago. Last summer was huge for her. She’s fine-tuned her style, and she knows what she’s doing. She’s a real professional when she leaves the start box.”
Demi returned to the U.S. last winter, but she had to spend two months in quarantine when she fell ill and thus lost some weight and training time.
“A lot of horses can get let down and pull their shoes in the winter and go out in the field, but she spent it in quarantine,” said Little. “It was hard on her. She lost weight. She hasn’t seen a dressage saddle until a few weeks ago. A lot of hacks out and getting her happy again.”
Little, who’s based in Wellington, Fla., during the winter months for her jumper business, took Demi galloping at Palm Beach Downs, a private turf training track she got permission to use, to start getting her fit after she was out of quarantine and feeling better.
“Otherwise, we’re just galloping on all-weather footing which is totally flat,” Little explained. “I’m lucky she gets fit pretty easily. For preparing for Rolex, I’m definitely going to have to find more hills and start putting more miles on the trailer to get to those hills.”
Little’s win was made a little more special because she did her first advanced event at the Carolina Horse Park in 2011, just a year after diving head first into eventing from the show jumping world.
“The last time I was here, the show jumping was in the sand ring, and it was wonderful to see it on the grass,” she said. “Marc [Donovan] did a beautiful job. I thought Hugh Lochore’s course was wonderful in that it allowed, at this point in the year, for you to make decisions based on your horse. You can go left to the corner, you can go right. You can add. It didn’t back you into a corner anywhere. At this point in March, it’s nice to see that with the greener horses coming up and with the advanced horses that you can back off or take the more aggressive route depending on where they are in their career. I planned to start with both horses as if I was going to make the time. Demi felt fast, but solid.”
Buck Davidson had four rides in the CIC***, and in the end, it was his longtime partner Ballynoecastle RM, or “Reggie,” who brought him closest to the win.
The pair finished second by adding 2.4 time penalties to their score, moving them up from a tie for 10th after dressage.
“He’s so good, he knows his job, he totally looked after me,” said Davidson. “At fence 5 [the Fox Lake Trellis Turn,] I completely butchered it all up. I was on the wrong stride, and he went to stop, and I slapped him on the shoulder, and he jumped on top of the house and back onto the other side, so that was sort of the one moment.”
Davidson was pleased when the FEI vets told him Reggie had the best heart rate and temperature of the day after cross-country.
“He’s been on a little bit of a different program then he normally has,” he said. “Last year, he’s been the soundest horse I’ve ever had, and he laid down in the stall and somehow came out with a bone bruise in his stifle, so he missed Aachen [Germany] and he could have come back, but he wasn’t going to go to [the Fair Hill CCI***] and he’s done a million CICs, so I just gave him time off, and he came back the beginning of November. Then he did an event and got pneumonia, so he missed two or three weeks, then I got him back a few weeks ago and went slow in the intermediate at Red Hills [Fla.]”
Michael Pollard, who was leading the three-star, added 8.8 time penalties to drop to third, but he was pleased with how Ballingowan Pizazz went. He had a fall from his first ride, Mensa, at the A element of fence 18, the Aires Marine Pine Line, but he was up on his feet, albeit a little sore.
“ ‘Mango’ was great today,” he said. “I was a bit disappointed to fall off on [Mensa] because he was going really well and is a little bit more experienced. It was one of those things. I hit the ground and got back up. I was hurting a bit to be honest. It was good to get back on Mango and have him go around. In general, I wish I’d gone a little bit faster here or there, but I think it’s just a matter of finding the right bit set-up. Right now I waste time setting up. He’s really quick to the jumps and turns well; I just need to be able to gallop to the jumps more before I have to set him up.”
Of 40 pairs to start (Kim Severson withdrew Fernhill Fearless, Holly Payne withdrew Never Outfoxed and Will Faudree withdrew Pawlow due to a possible bruise from twisting a shoe in the show jumping), only Little on Demi and Tim Bourke on Luckaun Quality finished under the time.
Kimberly Kojima and High Time were eliminated for three refusals on course, and Sharon White picked up a run-out on Rafferty’s Rules at the B element, a corner, of the Zoe’s Bank Complex, and Davidson had a run out with Petite Flower at fence 18AB.
A Hometown Win
Southern Pines-based Ariel Grald topped the CIC** with LBF O’Leagh’s Image. “My mare was on her game from the start,” she said. “She’s quite bold and really likes to go attack the courses on cross-country. That’s something we’ve been working on, just smoothing everything out and keeping her settled and keeping my head in the center. She went out listening right from the start.”
Grald was thrilled to win the hometown event she’s been coming to since high school. “It’s really fun to compete here,” she said. “This year as the Carolina International, it’s a whole different ballgame. It’s the best I’ve ever seen the Park look.”
Grald has been benefitting from being talent-spotted onto the Eventing 25 list, which allows her to attend special training sessions with U.S. Eventing Chef D’Equipe David O’Connor.
“I tend to have the same problems in the dressage [as on cross-country,]” she said. “She gets a little strong and enthusiastic, but I had a lot of opportunities this spring in the Eventing 25 training sessions and have had some really fabulous help from David O’Connor, so I think we’re on the right track to keeping her relaxed. In the show jumping, she’s so careful that I just have to keep the rhythm, keep the relaxation, not let her get too ahead of herself.”
Back In Business
Will Faudree also picked up a hometown win aboard Riesling De Buissy in the CIC* when leaders Peter Barry and Long Island T added 9.6 time penalties on cross-country.
“P-Nut” is making his return to competition after a freak injury to the bottom of his tendon sheath was diagnosed after he finished second in the Jersey Fresh CCI** (N.J.) last May.
“P-Nut was a star,” said Faudree. “I’m so glad he’s back. He came out like he ran Jersey Fresh last weekend. He’s an experienced horse, but you never know when they’ve had almost a year away from competing. It’s always fun to win. It’s really exciting to win at home. There’s so much camaraderie in this sport and so much love for the game.”
Faudree had to hold back P-Nut on cross-country as the 17.2-hand gelding ate up the ground between fences with his huge stride.
“With the injury he had, we expect a full recovery. I’m going to see what he tells me,” said Faudree. “He’s ready to go back to intermediate, but I want to see what the leg is telling me and be cautious of that, because I think that horse could win a lot of medals for this country. It’s going to be managing him.”
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