Olympic veteran battled Olympic rookie in an exciting race for the top check in the $200,000 Gene Mische American Invitational on April 6 in Tampa, Fla. In the end, experience won out as McLain Ward sped through the timers the fastest aboard Sagamore Farm’s Rothchild, beating out his 2012 Olympic teammate 18-year-old Reed Kessler on Mika.
New Zealand’s Sharn Wordley and Derly Chin de Muze were the third-placed finishers for the evening, taking the honors with only 1 time fault added to their first round effort.
Watch Ward's first round, courtesy of Shownet.
The two-horse jump-off was the smallest field in the event’s 41-year history, and Ward, a two-time winner already, held the distinct advantage of letting Kessler set the pace. Kessler focused on laying down a clean round over Steve Stephens’ short track, but her time of 43.37 seconds would prove too conservative, as Ward followed up with a neat 42.10.
“She never makes it easy,” Ward joked. “Reed put a good pressure round on Rothchild. I had to be on the ball. It worked out our way. I’m sure she’ll win this class many times, and she’ll be doing it long after I’ve hung it up.”
Ward elaborated, “I think she rode a very smart round, but it wasn’t all out. It’s a difficult enough jump-off, with a difficult double. If she went and had 4 faults it was really making it a lot easier for me, so I think she thought be neat and quick and put enough pressure that maybe I make a mistake. Rothchild’s a fast horse, and I think they probably knew the time I could get but had to jump a clear round, and that's where they squeezed us. Luckily my horse came through beautifully.”
Kessler had nothing but praise for her horse who often stands in the shadow of Olympic stablemate, Cylana. “They’re totally different. She’s like the coolest customer ever, and he’s a little more of like my special little boy that I’ve had for four years,” she said. “We have a really close partnership. He started out pretty nervous when I first got him, so we’re really close like that.”
While many of the hunter and jumper riders were packing their bags to head north after the end of the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla., the dressage competitors faced off for one of their biggest competitions of the season, the Adequan Global Dressage Festival CDI*****.
Steffen Peters came all the way from California to top the Grand Prix class on April 5 aboard up-and-coming talent Legolas, but it was Denmark’s Lars Petersen who finished on top in the $84,000 Grand Prix freestyle aboard Mariett thanks to his spot on performance and high degree of difficulty.
Check out Lisa Slade’s coverage to learn what Ashley Holzer’s Olympic mount Breaking Dawn has been up to since London and learn what made Mikala Gundersen cry after her Grand Prix Special win  with My Lady.
In eventing, The Fork featured the final weekend of preparation for many riders aiming for the United States’ only four-star event, Rolex Kentucky. Riders gathered in Norwood, N.C., to test their horses’ training and fitness. Lynn Symansky topped a 56-horse field despite a broken hand with her Pan American Games partner Donner.
Watch Eventing Nation's video interview with Symansky after the show.
Read Lindsay Berreth’s coverage to find out how Symansky kept Donner going while she was out of the tack and why Buck Davidson wasn’t thrilled with the new course, despite his third-placed finish. Bonus information: Marilyn Little discusses the new FEI qualifications  and how they've affected her new partnership with Karen O'Connor's Olympic mount, Mr. Medicott.
Get full results on EventEntries.com. 
Brunello returned to his winning ways with Liza Boyd at the Camden Spring Classic in Camden, S.C., for the $15,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, narrowly beating out Jennifer Alfano on Miss Lucy and Timber Ridge, who finished second and third respectively.
In Katy, Texas, it was Tammy Provost who did the double, winning the $20,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby with Alliy Moyer's Carlson and placing second with Moyer's Safari.
Get full results from both from HorseShowsOnline.com.