There is something about the Southern Pines Horse Trials that makes my body tingle. The grass, the perfectly manicured rolling land, the budding trees, the massive and phenomenally decorated jumps, and show jumping on Marc Donovan's grass course. It's just bliss in horse format.
I had a grand time spectating and catching up with friends after a few tough weeks of doctoring some very broken CANTER horses. My amazing fiancé was kind enough to take over the reins at the farm while I scooted the five miles down the road to the lovely Carolina Horse Park for three days. This was a phenomenal gesture in and of itself as farm chores were a bit of a Herculean effort due to the 16 residents we had temporarily residing on the farm. EEK! CANTER horses were packed into every corner of the farm for a fabulous showcase we held last week, and they were thankfully all behaving perfectly and being entertained by Nigel the donkey, donkey concierge to the stars.
Dressage day at the Pines was HOT. I think it hit more than 80 degrees, and there were show coats draped everywhere on the rail during warm-up. I caught an hour or so in the advanced and intermediate ring and saw the lovely Courageous Comet, who put in a lovely test. Three sentences about dressage, I think it's enough, don't you? Onto the good stuff!
Cross-country day was off the fo-shizzle! The beautiful Tremaine Cooper-designed course was big and gallopey, with some technical questions that made me think "Really? Really?" more than once. I parked myself at the big water for the entire day and sat amazed at the intermediate horses coming through the toughest in-and-out I've ever seen. Two offset houses on such an angle that you had approximately a 12" line to ride it perfectly. Most horses went the direct route, while others awkwardly took the option and s-curved through the elements, jumping them head on. There were some major problems at the first water, the duck pond, which had a maximum effort into the water. Boyd and Phillip both had falls along with many others until the jump was pulled off the course. It seemed like the horses were making a major effort over the jump, then misjudging the landing and stumbling. Thankfully everybody was OK, but they were definitely a bit wet!
Advanced cross-country was a bit hairy. After one clear round through the big water, rider after rider had problems. It was a tough question with a log drop into the water, up the island, one stride to a skinny drop and two strides to the up bank bounce to a skinny. Horses were losing impulsion off the island and not getting their balance back for the up bank, resulting in some scary looking falls. Thankfully again, no major injuries to horses or riders. There were some beautiful rides through the water, and my favorites were all ex-racers (of course!). Comet looked like he was out for a leisurely stroll, Anthony Patch was quite game, Leyland made short work of it, and Coal Creek was beautiful under rider Lizzie Snow in their first advanced.
Show jumping was set in the beautiful derby field under ominous skies that held storms at bay for all but the last few riders. It was great fun seeing some familiar faces, all prepping for their run at Rolex Kentucky and/or the Olympics. Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville, Will Faudree's Andromaque and Pawlow, Boyd's Neville Bardos, and of course Courageous Comet, who is clearly the spectator favorite. After he completed his beautiful show jumping round, a massive round of applause erupted, and the beautiful gelding just ate it up and did his freakish trot out of the ring. Chills up and down, what a great horse, and how great to see them back out!
If you've never been to the landmark event at the Carolina Horse Park, put it on your calendar for next year. It truly is magical and phenomenally spectator friendly! OK, enough blabbering, now for the pictures!
Allie Conrad is executive director of CANTER Mid Atlantic, which provides retiring Thoroughbred racehorses with opportunities for new careers. Allie founded the organization in 1999 at Charles Town Racetrack (W.V.) after purchasing her beloved Thoroughbred Phinny, who had more than 60 starts at Charles Town, at the infamous New Holland Auction in Pennsylvania. A resident of Southern Pines, N.C., Allie also works full time as a project manager for a Washington, D.C., consulting firm. You can learn more about CANTER Mid Atlantic on their website, www.canterusa.org/midatlantic.