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June 7, 2012

Road To The Olympics: Clark Montgomery, Part 2

Rolex Kentucky didn't go quite the way Clark Montgomery hoped, but he's hoping a good go in the Bromont CIC*** with Loughan Glen will offset that for the selectors. Photo by Sara Lieser.

In this series, the Chronicle follows seven riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in London in 2012.

A few months ago when I first checked in with the Chronicle on my “Road to the Olympics” I sure hoped I would be writing this next article from a little different position than that in which I’m currently finding myself.

That said, although my week at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** didn’t end up exactly as I’d planned or hoped, Loughan Glen and I are one competition older and wiser and already ready to tackle the next task at hand.

My preparation for Rolex Kentucky went just as planned for the most part. We went up to The Fork Farm, in Norwood, N.C., to do the advanced horse trials on April 7-8. There, Glen was a little on the muscle for the dressage for the first time ever.

I knew then that his fitness was really kicking in, and although I paid the price with a dressage score of 30.3, I was happy to know that all of the trotting and gallops were finally getting us somewhere. He jumped clean with just .4 time faults on cross-country and finished with a clean show jumping to place sixth.

He came out of that weekend in great form, so all that was left were two gallops and the long trek to the Kentucky Horse Park.

A Great Start

As with anyone who has ever shipped horses, we were thrilled to arrive in Kentucky after a thoroughly boring and uneventful 14-hour drive.

On Tuesday of the week of Rolex Kentucky, April 24-29, my wife, Jess, and I joined Buck Davidson and Michael Pollard for a Professional Riders Organization-sponsored visit to the Lexington Children’s Hospital.

There, we met patients and their families and got to hand out tons of great Rolex Kentucky gear. It was an awesome way for me to start such an important week in my career—talk about gaining some true perspective on life and what’s really important.

The week seemed to drag by slowly, but Friday finally came, and it was time to get the show on the road with our dressage test. I’ve been working on Glen’s true connection being stronger, and it continues to be a work in progress. But overall I was really pleased with his test for a horse his age.

He’s one of those truly special guys who actually thrives on the big atmosphere of a huge stadium. He trotted down the ramp into that massive ring all on his own and just seemed to grow under me by a hand or two as if to say, “Look at me; I’ve made it to the big time.”

He loves an audience, and thankfully the audience loves him too. There was a roar from the crowd after my final halt, and instead of spooking or acting silly, Glen just walked quietly out of the ring on a long rein as if to say, “What else did you expect?” We were headed into cross-country in third place after scoring a 43.2.

Not Quite There

Having only been to Rolex Kentucky once before—in 2005—I think I’d imagined the cross-country track being nearly impossible, but to my pleasant surprise I found it overall to be quite fair.

To me, the size of the fences from start to finish is the biggest difference between the three-star level and a four-star, and once they stuff all of the brush in the fences, they do look nothing short of huge.

The technical questions were fair; the only combination that I was concerned about was the coffin at fence 9ABC. This combination started with a vertical set of rails (set on frangible pins that, if hit and displaced, would result in 21 penalties). Then, we had to take one steep stride downhill to jump a ditch, followed by three going strides back uphill to a narrow triple brush.

During the morning session, it seemed like some riders were coming quite softly to the vertical at 9A in an effort to not break the pins, and some either had a stop at the first or at the ditch. I decided to take my chances and ride as though the pins weren’t even there. He hit the fence as he jumped, and the pins broke, dropping the rail.

I was really pleased with how Glen felt once I got out on the course. He was jumping super—if perhaps a little too big—but that was expected given his experience level. He found the questions easily answerable and didn’t begin to tire until after the Normandy bank around the 9½-minute mark.

Then, I came down the hill to the double of brushes at fences 26 and 27, just three from home, and steadied him as planned. His stride at that point was flatter than I expected, so I got in close to the first brush.

The distance in the line was three strides on an angle, and because he was so close to the first, he drifted a bit left, and the three strides became 3½. When he went to shuffle his feet again and take off, his left hind foot stepped off into the ditch. With nothing to push off from, he just sat down, and I popped off.

Just roughly 35 seconds from home, it was over in an instant.

My immediate reaction was to hop to my feet and make sure Glen was OK. In his effort to jump, he’d gotten his right front leg hung up on the fence for a second. We freed him easily, and I took the tack off to give him some room to catch his breath.

He was checked over nose to tail by the excellent veterinary staff at the event; they didn’t even find a scratch on him. So, once we got back to the barns, we gave him a bubble bath and let him relax in his stall.

By Saturday evening he was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed out grazing on the bluegrass. He trotted up sound and was pretty pleased with himself, so things were already back to normal.

To Fight Another Day

Had we completed the cross-country, I might have appealed the 21 penalties we were given for breaking the frangible pin at fence 9A. Although Glen did have the rail down, I had several people tell me that the pin may well have been weakened by several of the horses that went prior to me and hit the jump without breaking it.

On the day, several people I trust advised me that I would have had a very good case to have the penalties taken away just as Andrew Hoy did. [Hoy and Rutherglen also were given 21 penalties for breaking the frangible pins at 9A, but Hoy appealed the penalty, and they were removed from their final score.]

I understand the need for safety in our sport, and if they are willing to look at situations on a case-by-case basis and assess whether you would have potentially fallen without the breakaway pin, then I suppose that it’s probably the direction eventing is headed in.

Though we were eliminated, I have no reason to believe that Glen wouldn’t have jumped his usual workmanlike clear show jumping round on Sunday, but not having the chance to see is ultimately the beauty of competition. The sport of eventing is certainly a tough one, but because of that it makes the triumphs greater than anything else.

The U.S. team selectors have asked that Glen go on to compete in the CIC*** at Bromont (Quebec). After that, they plan to name their short list for the team for the London Olympic Games.

Though he’s just 9 years old, I have nothing but respect for him and complete confidence that he will be an enormously successful horse in due time.

The Chronicle will be on the scene in Bromont, Quebec, to bring you all the information, results and photos from the event.

Fast Facts About Clark Montgomery

Age: 31

Hometown:  Montgomery was based out of Carl Bouckaert’s Chattahoochee Hills Farm (Ga.) for the past two years, but he does not have a current permanent base. “I still have a horse for Mr. Bouckaert and enjoy a great relationship with him. My opportunities have opened up, and he has kindly let me follow them,” Montgomery said.

Horse: Loughan Glen, 9-year-old, 17-hand, bay Irish Sport Horse gelding (Limerick—Tattymacall Mustard, Cut The Mustard), owned by Bill and Holly Becker and Kathryn Kraft.

“Glen” in a word? “He’s HUNGRY! He’s always hungry. He’s a sweet, kind horse, and he always wants attention and love and treats. But mostly the treats,” Montgomery said.

2011 & 2012 Results

  • 1st – 2011 Bromont CCI*** (Quebec)
  • 1st – 2011 advanced, Pine Top Spring Advanced Horse Trials (Ga.)
  • 1st – 2011 advanced, Poplar Place Farm March Horse Trials (Ga.) 
  • 1st – 2011 advanced, Millbrook Horse Trials (N.Y.)
  • 3rd – 2011 CIC*** The Fork (N.C.)
  • 5th – 2011 Blenheim CCI*** (England) 
  • 1st – 2012 advanced, Southern Pines Horse Trials II (N.C.)
  • 1st – 2012 intermediate, Ocala Horse Properties Winter II Horse Trials (Fla.)

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "Clark Montgomery's Road To The Olympics Has Taken Some Unexpected Turns" ran in the May 21, 2012, issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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