Saturday, Apr. 13, 2024

Cavanaugh Captures Morven Park CCI* Win

This young rider and her homebred pony cross beat out tough competition.

When Molly Cavanaugh first saw Moonlight Rock N’ Roll, she had no idea the cute, furry foal would partner her to a three-day win. Seven years later, that homebred Connemara cross led the junior division of the Morven Park CCI* from wire-to-wire in Leesburg, Va., Oct. 3-5.



This young rider and her homebred pony cross beat out tough competition.

When Molly Cavanaugh first saw Moonlight Rock N’ Roll, she had no idea the cute, furry foal would partner her to a three-day win. Seven years later, that homebred Connemara cross led the junior division of the Morven Park CCI* from wire-to-wire in Leesburg, Va., Oct. 3-5.

Cavanaugh didn’t breed “Rocco” to be an event horse. She foxhunted as a child and decided on a whim to breed her foxhunter, a Thoroughbred-Percheron mare named Cool Virginia Breeze, to a local Connemara stallion, Greystone Ian McVai, who also foxhunted and always showed impeccable manners in the hunt field.

“I was going for a hunt horse, but I stopped foxhunting by the time we broke him. We just ended up with a great horse,” said Cavanaugh, 17.

Cavanaugh, North Garden, Va., started riding with Emily Beshear when she was 11, and Beshear introduced her to
eventing. Beshear also guided her through the breaking and training process with Rocco.

“We’d always bought young horses for my sister and me to ride, but I’d never broken one or been the first one on his back,” said Cavanaugh. “It was an eye-opener. We spent all summer not getting on him. By the time we did get on him, he was comfortable with everything and already knew some of the aids.”

Cavanaugh took Rocco to his first beginner novice event and moved him up the levels over the years. When he
was 5, she rode him in the Waredaca training level three-day (Md.), but an enlarged digital tendon meant he
couldn’t finish.

“He hyperextended his leg,” said Cavanaugh. “I had hoped to move up to prelim, but that put everything on hold for a little while.”

Rocco returned to competition the following year and did his first few preliminary events as a 6-year-old.

Cavanaugh hoped to qualify for the North American Junior And Young Rider Championship this year with her other horse, Doctor Prosper, but a stone bruise forced her to retire at the Virginia CCI* this spring. So she headed to Morven with two three-days attempted and none completed. She also had the additional concern that Rocco, now 7, might injure himself again in the traditional format CCI.

“I was on high alert the whole time,” said Cavanaugh. “His breeding means it’s not as easy to make it all the way through. I got him more fit than he needed to be in the hopes that he wouldn’t hurt himself. My vet, Jeff Beshear, was there. He helped make sure everything went smoothly.”

Cavanaugh started the event with a bang, winning the dressage with the lowest score of either CCI division (46.1).

“When my dressage score came out I was freaking out,” said Cavanaugh. “I said, ‘I don’t care. I could have a stop tomorrow.’ I couldn’t believe he beat all these horses. I was so proud of him.”

But Cavanaugh didn’t have a stop and said that the added pressure of being in first place kept her focused. “It put an extra edge on my riding, knowing that anything I did could make or break the weekend.”


Cavanaugh was surprised by the length of Tremaine Cooper’s 4,070-meter cross-country course.

“I thought that if you rode effectively in the beginning, the first half of the course would make or break you,” she said. “If you had a good, solid ride through the first couple of questions, then the horses figured that out and trusted you for the rest of the course. Rocco went right through some of the harder questions at the end. He felt so much more mature and could kind of take care of it himself. I thought it rode beautifully.”

He’s Back With Another Winner

Phillip Dutton hasn’t spent much time in the United States over the past few months between the Olympic Games and the Burghley CCI**** (England), but as soon as he returned, he took up his familiar spot at the top of the standings.

He showed three horses in the Morven Park advanced division and won with Loose ‘N Cool, a 9-year-old Australian Stock Horse that Dutton and his wife Evie imported six years ago.

“He did sheep and cattle work. They were chasing wild pigs off of him at one point,” said Phillip.

Evie brought “Goose” up to preliminary, and then Phillip took over the ride. “We usually sell them on, but Nina Gardner offered to buy him and keep him with us, which was very generous,” said Phillip. “He’s been a bit of a slow project horse, but he’s starting to come into his own now.”

Phillip said that Goose isn’t that fast, but he doesn’t get strong on cross-country and has an even rhythm. “I didn’t try to go too quick on him at Morven. I was trying to give him a good fitness run,” he said.

Goose accrued 10 time faults on cross-country, which put him into second place before show jumping, and a clear round moved him into first after leader Kim Severson and Tipperary Liadhnan had three rails.

Phillip said he chose Morven Park as his last run before the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) because of the cross-country course. “It’s an ideal last preparation before Fair Hill,” he said. “I like that course because it’s a forward riding course. The Leaf Pit is something the riders always dread, but it seems to go down OK with the horses. I’m glad we only have to do it once a year.”

Phillip also rode Kristin Schmolze’s Castle Jordan, who finished fourth. Schmolze suffered a broken collarbone, so Phillip agreed to give her horses a few runs. His third horse in the advanced, Kheops Du Quesnay, is a new ride for Phillip. The Selle Français gelding competed through advanced with Debbie Adams, and now Phillip hopes to run him at Fair Hill this year along with Goose and Acorn Hill Farm’s Bailey Wick.

Rocco came out feeling fresh for show jumping, and Cavanaugh had a rail in-hand. None of the juniors managed a clear round, but Rocco’s one rail still put him more than 10 points ahead of second-placed finisher Arden Wildasin and Jos Ambition.

“I was so proud of him and how far he’s come,” said Cavanaugh. “I couldn’t believe that I produced this horse that just won this big thing.”

A high school senior, Cavanaugh will give Rocco some time off and look forward to contesting her first intermediate next spring.


A Quick Study

While Lillian Heard hasn’t known Share Option since the day he was born, she can take credit for most of the training that put her in the top spot in the open CCI*.

Heard, 22, bought the 6-year-old Irish Thoroughbred in England 11⁄2 years ago. “He had basically been broke for a month when I saw him,” she said. “He jumped little jumps, but that was it. We brought him over, and he was a really quick learner, really simple and smart.”

Heard, Hamilton, Va., works for Jan Byyny as a rider and barn manager. “Jan’s helped me out big time,” said Heard. “She’s the one who helped me find this horse. I also take flat lessons with Silva Martin.”

Share Option ran his first preliminary in February at Pine Top (Ga.) and hasn’t looked back since. He came into Morven off a win two weeks before in the Plantation Field CIC* (Pa.).

“He’s the kind of horse that, as long as I’m telling him what to do, he’s going to do it. He trusts me completely, so he’ll just jump anything I ask him to,” said Heard. “It’s a lot of responsibility, but out here on the cross-country I wasn’t right 100 percent of the time. It was really nice that he would figure it out for me.”

Heard finished in fifth place after dressage (53.2), but she was a bit worried about the length of the course and making the time on cross-country and in the steeplechase. 

“I was nervous about steeplechase. I practiced the speed in a field with markers, and when I practiced, I didn’t get it done in the right amount of time,” said Heard. “I knew I was really going to have to go for it. I came out of the start box, and I don’t know how he knew, but he was raring to go. He slowed down for the first two jumps, but I told him to keep going, and he figured it out by the third jump.

“It’s his first long format, and I didn’t know how he would handle it, but he felt great,” she continued. “Galloping around on the backstretch [on cross-country], I was glad to realize that I still had tons of horse left underneath me.”

Heard came into show jumping in third place, and she did have one rail down. But when second-placed Siobhain O’Connor took eight rails with Mizar and leader Lindsay Pearce had two down aboard Tangle Top, Heard moved to the top placing.

“The rail that we had was definitely me,” said Heard. “He was almost jumping me out of the tack, so I had to put it together so I could be more stable with my position. He’s very careful.”

Heard graduated from the University of Virginia this spring with a double major in English and politics, but she plans to continue her riding career for now.

“I’m going to give Share Option a good bit of time off to be a 6-year-old for a bit,” she said. “I have Frederick’s Finest. He’s back in work after an injury. And I have my Anything But Ordinary horse. They’ll be up and running in the spring. They’re both going intermediate. It’s a time in my life where I don’t know what I’m going to do, but my plan is to ride. I’ll definitely stay with Jan. I owe this win to her. She’s helped me out so much with my riding and my horses.” 




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