Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville scored a big win in the CIC*** at the Plantation Field Horse Trials on Sept. 19-22 in Unionville, Pa., but it’s the horses that didn’t complete the course that made the most news.
After the first 28 horses jumped through the water complex at 15ABC, there were seven falls at the jump, five of which happened upon landing in the water off the drop at the A element. The combination consisted of a ramped brush drop into the water, three or four strides to a keyhole in the water, then three strides up a slope out of the water to a skinny on the grass.
Officials examined the complex and decided to remove the A and B elements of the question and adjust the optimum time. The remaining 17 horses completed the course minus 15A and B; since the CIC format runs horses in reverse order of standing, the top-placed horses didn’t have to jump them.
“I was with the [course designer] Tremaine Cooper, and we called the president of the ground jury down to the fence and discussed all the options and came to the decision to remove element A. It was not possible to jump element B from the new route into the water so that was removed only for that reason,” said Alec Lochore, the technical delegate of the CIC divisions.
“The decision was made when there were several unexplained falls in the water at element A. Two of the seven falls at fence 15 occurred at elements B and C, but it was those at A that were the concern. I observed all but the first fall at A and came to the decision to stop the course to assess the situation,” Lochore continued.
The issues started early in the order, as the second to go, Fernhill Fugitive left a leg on the C element, a skinny brush table on the grass beyond the water, and Phillip Dutton came off over his shoulder.
Two riders later, Caitlin Silliman and Catch A Star, an experienced pair who completed the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** this spring, had a seemingly good jump in, but fell on landing from the A element, a 6’ drop into the water over a ramped brush jump.
Watch Silliman's fall here...
The trouble continued as Courtney Cooper and Who’s A Star, Maggie Deatrick and Divine Comedy, Caitlin Romeo and Spirit Of The Outback, and Selena O’Hanlon and Bellaney Rock all suffered falls upon landing from the drop. Lillian Heard and Share Option landed from the drop, and Heard tried to pull left to the option but ultimately fell. Click on the photo gallery to see a series of O'Hanlon's fall.
Just 24 hours before, 17 horses had jumped the same track through the water complex in the advanced division with no falls. “I have discussed with a few people, and whilst there is no obvious reason—sometimes there is no definable reason—I think that it must have been a combination of the light and the fact that the water was very still,” said Lochore. “These two elements combined possibly meant the horses were not reading the fence and/or landing. What I can say with total confidence is that there was no hole—the surface was walked and raked after every fall and was consistent each time.”
“By and large, I liked the way the [whole] track worked,” said course designer Tremaine Cooper. “Some people were saying [the water jump] was the terrain or that there was a hole, but I was in the water jump half a dozen times, and it was totally solid on the base. I think there were a couple of falls where, for instance, the horse would go in, and the rider would become unseated. It was a good 6-foot drop. I think sometimes that was underestimated.
“I don’t ever like to see that outcome from a fence, but one of the reasons we kept going was because [the falls] were for all different reasons,” he continued. Tremaine and event officials had to act fast, and they considered all reasons for the falls, but it in the end, they couldn’t pinpoint one reason.
“I also heard [a theory] that it was because of the rain, [but] the water hadn’t overflowed, so the depth was exactly the same," said Tremaine. "It was barely up to the ankles of my boots, and legally it could have been quite a bit deeper, but on purpose, we had it quite shallow. The footing was nice coming in for both [divisions], so the rain [on Saturday night] really didn’t have anything to do with it. They were similar days weather-wise. That night it poured, and there was patchy sun, but it’s not like there was a big glare one day and not the other.”
Event organizer Denis Glaccum, who also designed the advanced course and chose to use fence 15ABC as Tremaine had designed for that division, said that on Monday, Sept. 23, they drained the water complex and couldn’t find a hole.
He agreed that all of the horses fell for different reasons. “I think the riders rode it differently. I’ve been [dealing] with courses in one form or fashion for half my life, and as a designer, you will sometimes have a fence that will ride well in the morning and ride terrible in the afternoon, and yet you can’t blame the sun,” he said. “There are times you really don’t ever know why they cause a problem.
“I think it’s valuable to bring out one of the shortcomings of the Federation Equéstré Internationale-mandated CIC format,” continued Glaccum. “It’s not random sport. It’s the variable that has come up. If everybody went in the order of go and didn’t go in reverse order, it’s pure luck. This is not random sport.”
“It’s part of the sport sometimes,” said Tremaine. “You try to have a full team of experts, and I think the rider representative program is good to try to catch things that are problems, but I think sometimes there’s nothing that you can pinpoint as a reason, and you act accordingly the day of the competition and adjust accordingly.”
Deatrick, who was competing in her first CIC*** aboard Divine Comedy, thought she had a nice jump in when her horse fell on landing.
“First of all, it absolutely felt, at the time, as if ‘Dante’s’ feet got stuck on landing,” she explained. “I was fantastically thrilled with my ride in, to the point where about three-quarters of the way down the drop I was thinking 'We've got this.’ ”
Deatrick admitted she was convinced of the fact that Dante didn’t find substantial support from the footing on landing until she watched a slow-motion video of her ride at the water jump. “I thought perhaps that the 100-plus CIC** and CIC*** horses running the track perpendicular to the CIC*** track had perhaps created drifts [in the footing under the water]," she said.
“However, upon seeing the video, I realize that he and [Catch A Star] did the exact same thing, which is over-rotate with their front legs in the last 6 inches before landing, so that their landing gear was behind the center of gravity of the shoulder. Basically, the front legs tried to land straight up and down, but the trajectory of the shoulders and body was out forward," she continued.
See a video of Deatrick's fall...
In the end, Deatrick is unsure of why her horse over-rotated with his front legs.
“Perhaps it was the clouds, or the sun, or the forward ride combined with the rampy element, or even the crowds,” she said. “Maybe it was all of those factors. I do wonder why Dante did that there, and if he had been the only one, I certainly would have said it was due to him being relatively green at this level. However, when horses like [Catch A Star,] who is hardly green or inexperienced at the three-star level at this point and certainly is used to crowds and large drops into water, do the same thing, along with possibly numerous others, I am unsure as to whether it is something we should worry about obsessively.”
Riders who incurred jumping penalties at 15AB had those penalties erased after officials removed the combination from the course, so instead of showing “mandatory retirement” for the fall, they have just “retired” in the final scores. “Once a fence is removed from the competition, all faults from that fence are removed, as effectively the fence never existed,” said Lochore. “So an elimination would become a retirement if it occurred at the aforementioned fence. In addition, the time for those who had already completed was altered. I watched three videos of people jumping from fence 14 to 15C and was then able to make an accurate alteration to the times.”
Watch Selena O'Hanlon's foot-perfect ride through the water complex on A First Romance before it was removed....