“It’s good to have my friend back,” Kim Severson said sincerely after winning the CIC***-W at The Fork, April 5-8, in Norwood, N.C. Winsome Adante seems to have bounced back from the glitches encountered earlier this season and delivered sound proof that he’s ready for his first trip to Badminton (England) in May.
“The beginning of the year was kind of a wake-up call, and hopefully that’s all it was,” Severson said of “Dan’s” run-outs at narrow fences at Pine Top (Ga.) early this spring. Since then, working on corners and angles took top priority in their training sessions with U.S. eventing team coach Capt. Mark Phillips to get Dan back on track.
Still, Severson admitted to some subtle second-guessing of her Olympic silver medalist and three-time Rolex Kentucky CCI**** winner. “When you run into a problem it’s kind of hard to get it out of your head. Maybe I didn’t doubt him so much, but I won’t take him for granted,” she said.
Dan’s cross-country trip at The Fork looked as strong as ever. They exploded out of the start box first of the 36 entries and posted a double-clear round. Only four other combinations could match their faultless run.
“He was definitely good this weekend. Pine Top was Pine Top, and he was better at Poplar [Ga.] but still not where I wanted him to be,” Severson explained. They won the advanced division at Poplar Place on their dressage score two weeks earlier.
She continued, “He was even better again here, but I did with him what I felt comfortable doing and what I knew he could do, which was going on a big, scopey stride to a big, scopey jump. There’s still a little bit more to work toward, and hopefully he can be even better, but he’s right on track.”
Severson accelerated to the top right from the start of the competition, with judges Jo Young and Wayne Quarles awarding the pair a score of 40.3.
Jonathan Holling and Lion King II matched Severson’s dressage score, but they reached the cross-country finish line 7 seconds late for 2.8 time faults and lost one place to Severson.
Sunday’s show jumping also played a decisive role in the final placings. Though Holling and Lion King II had proven their show jumping forte in March by winning the CIC***-W at Red Hills (Fla.), it was not their day at The Fork. Two rails dropped the pair to sixth.
Will Faudree and Antigua took the opportunity to leave every rail in its cups and advance to second place. They had trotted into the show jumping tied for fifth with Jan Byyny and Waterfront, having already ascended from 10th after dressage with a clear cross-country run.
“The show jumping course was big. But the thing I really like about Mark Donovan’s courses is that they reward good riding,” Faudree said. “If you went in there and kept a good rhythm and all your distances were good, the jumps were pretty inviting.”
While Byyny and Waterfront only incurred 4 time faults on Saturday they jumped clear on Sunday to remain tied with Faudree and Antigua at 48.4. But Faudree’s faultless cross-country trip gave him the edge over Byyny, who took third.
To Rolex And Beyond
The Fork offered Faudree and Antigua a constructive run before heading to Rolex Kentucky. “He feels like he’s in really good form, and I hope I can repeat this performance at Rolex,” Faudree said. “He’s an older horse, but he still feels like the first day I got on him.”
Faudree and the Australian Thoroughbred have shared a six-year partnership that started with the help of Phillip Dutton. “I remember sitting in Phillip’s kitchen, and we were on the phone with my mom and dad. My mom said to Phillip, ‘Do you think Will will be able to ride this horse?’ Phillip said, ‘A monkey could ride this horse so Will’s got half a chance,’ ” Faudree remembered laughing.
Even at 18 years, Antigua shows no desire to hit the brakes, Faudree said. If anything, his 2006 World Equestrian Games partner wants to gallop on.
“When I walk in to the barn in the morning, he’s the first horse looking to be ridden. It’s just been a fairy tale to be a part of his career. I would love to go to the Olympics on him,” he said. “He’ll be 19 next year so I don’t know if he’d be very high on [the selectors’] list, but you never know.”
Faudree will certainly let “Brad” keep running after Rolex Kentucky through the fall horse trials as long as he’s willing. “[I’ll] bring him out again next year and see how he feels. But I will not try to pull a rabbit out of a hat to get him anywhere he doesn’t want to go. This horse owes me nothing,” he said.
His younger advanced horse, Don’t Dali, missed out on The Fork after throwing a shoe at Poplar Place two weeks earlier and developing an abscess that has since healed. But the 11-year-old Thoroughbred is qualified for the Jersey Fresh CCI*** (N.J.) or the Blenheim CCI*** (England).
Mr. McWhinny also earned some brownie points at The Fork, finishing fourth for Faudree in his first year at intermediate. “I’m really excited about him as well. Were going to spend some time improving his dressage,” Faudree said.
Severson is also developing stars for the future, including the 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse she’s been riding for 11⁄2 years named Tipperary Liadhnan. They finished second in the CIC***. She found her way aboard this initially difficult 18-hand, gray gelding by way of owner Elizabeth Anne Wachtmeister.
When Severson took over the ride, his straightforward cross-country was a delight, but his show jumping fell a bit flat. Since then, he’s stepped up quickly and is scheduled to run at the Jersey Fresh CCI.
The Little Pony That Could
There was another world-class competitor nipping at Tipperary Liadhnan’s heels all weekend at The Fork, and he stood nearly four hands shorter. Theodore O’Connor and Karen O’Connor stood tall after earning the much-deserved CIC*** blue ribbon. O’Connor described the event as “Teddy’s” best yet.
In the end, it all came down to one rail. “I really believe that [Tipperary Liadhnan] is the nicest horse, and he probably gave that rail to Teddy,” Severson said with a laugh. “He’s the kind of guy that would do that for you.”
“Of course I was hoping Kim would jump clear because we’re pals, and we’ll probably be sharing drinks tonight,” O’Connor said with friendly sarcasm. “But she’d already won a class!”
After watching Teddy’s faultless show jumping trip with great delight, Teddy’s owner and breeder, P. Wynn Norman, held her breath throughout Severson’s ride, which was the last of the division.
“She couldn’t have taken the first rail so I could relax!” Norman said laughing. “This has been a long time coming. He’s been knocking on the door, and this is his first big win.”
Norman, of Sportponies Unlimited in Clayton, N.C., bred and broke the 11-year-old Thoroughbred cross herself, then sought professional riders to help bring the power-packing pony along. “I got feedback from the very start, and each rider said he had talent,” she said.
Norman asked O’Connor to take over the ride 18 months ago and couldn’t be happier watching her in the saddle. “He and Karen are such a great partnership, and I think he’ll do great at Rolex,” Norman said. “I don’t know how he’ll handle the atmosphere in dressage because he can be a little firecracker, but I think he can handle the course. He just seems to take it all so easily.”
Norman is hoping her horse might be considered for the Hong Kong Olympics in 2008. “That’s why we formed a syndicate,” Norman added of the newly established Theodore O’Connor Syndication, or “The Teddy Group.”
O’Connor’s been focusing closely on Teddy’s steady improvement, especially on the flat. “He’s been a work in progress for a lot of different reasons,” she said. “When I first started riding him he was a very hot horse and very nervous so I wanted to work on giving him enough foundation and education so he would relax and not just use his power to be explosive.”
She looked to his canter to build strength and improve collection for the counter canter and flying changes. Dressage judges rewarded Teddy for his relaxation and accuracy at The Fork with a 49.7.
“It was the best yet! He got into the 40s, which I was ecstatic about,” O’Connor said. But in contrast to his larger, longer-legged counterparts, “We don’t have a medium or extended trot,” she admitted frankly. “Those will come; they’re just not there yet. That’s the final step.”
But the ease with which Teddy completed his cross-country inspired plenty of confidence for O’Connor in anticipation for Rolex Kentucky.
“I guess it just goes to show that size is relative,” Norman said smiling. “Sport ponies really can keep up with the big boys.”
Dutch Twist Suffers Fatal Fall
Dutch Twist, an 11-year-old, bay gelding ridden by Lindsay Pearce and owned by Patricia Pearce, suffered a fatal fall at The Fork Horse Trials while negotiating fence 3, a portable fence called The Stone-Fenced Table, on the open intermediate course.
The competition paused for 45 minutes on Saturday morning, and spectators parted to make way for the state-of-the-art horse ambulance and on-staff veterinarians who responded immediately to the incident.
Pearce was not seriously injured, and no other accidents occurred at that fence.