Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

Chambers Capitalizes In His Inaugural Advanced At Pine Top

He and longtime partner Rolling Stone II make a statement at their much-anticipated move-up event.

It’s not often that a protégé beats out two of his mentors and a bevy of other Olympic and World Championship athletes in his first advanced-level event, but 20-year-old Nate Chambers made it happen at the Pine Top Advanced Horse Trials, Feb. 29-March 2.
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He and longtime partner Rolling Stone II make a statement at their much-anticipated move-up event.

It’s not often that a protégé beats out two of his mentors and a bevy of other Olympic and World Championship athletes in his first advanced-level event, but 20-year-old Nate Chambers made it happen at the Pine Top Advanced Horse Trials, Feb. 29-March 2.

Riding Rolling Stone II, his partner of eight years, the young rider topped the advanced, test A, division 1, in Thomson, Ga.

Chambers and “Rollie,” a 12-year-old, black Hessen gelding (Rubin Star N–Jessica), won the open intermediate division at the American Eventing Championships (Ill.) last fall, but the rider still felt they had a long way to go before their advanced debut this spring. Pine Top saw the pair undeniably reaping the rewards of a winter of hard work under Phillip Dutton, Mara Dean, Amy Tryon and Joe Fargis.

“I wanted it to be a good experience the whole weekend,” said Chambers, of Vienna, Va. “I went on the advice of Mara and Phillip, who said this would be a good place to move him up, and I’ve been cramming lessons with them pretty much every day I wasn’t doing conditioning work. In the past two weeks I’ve probably had 10 lessons.”

Dean’s flatwork expertise was evident in Chambers’ dressage score of 35.4, which tied for fourth place with one of Tryon’s mounts. After being named to the USEF Developing Rider List in December, Chambers was among a group of up-and-coming riders who trained with Tryon in Aiken, S.C., this spring. In addition, he traveled to Wellington, Fla., in early January for a two-week stint with show jumping guru Fargis.

“Amy had me work primarily on staying lighter on his back and making sure I engage his hind end through the turns,” Chambers said. “And Joe’s fantastic. I can really feel a difference, not only in
my own jumping, but in the way Rollie is jumping. They were both great experiences.”

To see more photos from the Pine Top Advanced Horse Trials, click here.

In the show jumping on Friday afternoon at Pine Top, Chambers and Rollie proved their progress with a double-clear round, remaining tied for fourth. And though he’d never considered winning his first advanced event, Chambers said the possibility crossed his mind on Sunday morning before cross-country.

Several skinny, angled combinations within the first half of John Williams’ course tripped up more experienced riders, but there was nothing remiss about Chambers’ ride.

“He’s very rateable on course, and putting him in a show jump canter isn’t something I have to worry about,” Chambers said of the gelding, who runs all three phases in a French link snaffle. “I wasn’t pushing him like I would at a three-day, but I didn’t want to go slow. I knew that if I felt like I had to back off, that was OK. I thought he might feel a little bit different and notice the jumps were a bit bigger, but I never had that feeling with him on course.”

The pair galloped through the finish just 5 seconds late, and Chambers gave a jubilant fist pump, unaware that the round he’d just finished would be the second-fastest in the division and ultimately move him into first place.

One To Watch

It’s been an entire year since young rider Jennie Brannigan and her 7-year-old gelding Cooper have come away from an event without a blue ribbon, and at Pine Top they added one more to their collection after finishing with the best score in all four intermediate divisions, on their dressage mark of 28.3.


Their victory in the young rider division by a margin of more than 8 points was the 11th in a row for the pair since they finished
second at a training level event in their home state of California last March.

“He was by far the best he’s ever been,” Brannigan, 20, stated. “He’s obviously new at intermediate, but he felt really great from the beginning. Now he feels confident. He wasn’t frantic in the start box; actually I walked out of the box. All over the course, he was just like, ‘O.K., got it!’ ”

Brannigan was named to the USEF Developing Rider List this spring after moving the gray Dutch Warmblood (Corland–Praciana) up to intermediate in November. Training with developing rider coach Amy Tryon in Aiken, S.C., this February gave her a new perspective on her future goals.

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“Honestly, it’s not about winning,” she said. “He’s just going to run intermediate and get experience. I don’t care if he wins 20 events, he’s not going to move up this year.

“Amy talked to me a lot about the way I was riding him,” Brannigan continued, explaining that she’s still striving for self-improvement. “She said, ‘Obviously this is prodigy horse and will be able to take you everywhere you want in your riding, but you need to fix this, this, this and this.’ I’m green at the advanced level. I’d like to get better, especially on the flat, so that when Cooper moves up I won’t make young rider mistakes.”

Brannigan, who currently trains with Mike Winter in Newnan, Ga., also finished third with her advanced mount, Kozmo, in test A, division 2, and third in junior/young rider open preliminary with Mona Munos’ Plain Jane. She plans to continue campaigning all three horses on the East Coast this spring and summer but would like to return to California at some point as well.

“I want to go back to the [North American Junior and Young Rider Championships (Colo.)], just because I had such a good time there last year,” she said. “I want to go and represent California. But if I do go out West, I will for sure come back. Amy [a native of Washington] basically said, ’You have to come out to the East Coast and see how you’re doing comparatively with everyone else.’ ”

In the short term, Brannigan plans to run Cooper in the CIC** at Red Hills (Fla.) in mid-March and is aiming Kozmo for the CIC*** at the same venue, followed by the May CCI*** at Jersey Fresh (N.J.).

“After walking the course I really thought it would be a good move-up for him,” Chambers said. “After today we decided to go ahead and do the CIC*** at The Fork [N.C.] in April, but we’ll just wait and see about a CCI*** later this spring. I got him when he was 4, and we’ve just been doing this one step at a time. We’ll keep doing it that way.”

Dobbin Does It Again

Corinne Ashton rarely has to waste much time scanning for Dobbin’s name on the leaderboard at events, as it’s usually right on top, and Pine Top was no exception. With a dressage score of 27.3, the experienced amateur and her 13-year-old, Thoroughbred gelding started in their familiar lead position in the advanced, test C, division and never left it for the duration of the event.

Ashton and Dobbin (Lyphelius–Deal Debbie Deal), who have also sought dressage guidance from Dean recently, scored two 10s in their test on Friday morning, one on a medium trot and the other on their walk.

“They very kindly kept announcing it all weekend,” Ashton said, laughing. “You don’t often get a 10, let alone two. But we also got a 2 because I forgot to do the canter half-pass. I’ve been giving Mara credit for the 10s, but I also blamed her for the 2.”

A flawless show jumping round and the only double-clear cross-country performance in their division added little drama to the pair’s victory. They finished nearly 15 points ahead of second-placed rider Boyd Martin with Neville Bardos.

“He’s just a dream out there,” Ashton said simply. “A couple of years ago it worried him because I was pulling him. He was saying, ‘If you leave me alone I’ll jump, but if you try to tell me what to do, I won’t, because you don’t know what you’re talking about, you crazy old bag!’ But now he’s loving it. My heels never touched his side, and his feet never touch a fence.”

Ashton, of Princeton, Mass., is a mother of two, and this is the first year she’s been able to move south for more than two weeks to train. Homeschooling her 12-year-old daughter has allowed her to stay in Aiken through February and March.

Because Dobbin is such a consistent performer, Ashton doesn’t push him at home.

“I allow him to live outside because it makes him happy,” she said. “He only jumps once a week at most; instead we do a lot of cavaletti work. They don’t tend to be on straight lines and are laid out like a skipping exercise every few strides. You get enough forward momentum, but you’re not wearing them out because they’re not jumping.

“I like to jolly him along,” she added. “He has a little white pony he likes to bite. He likes to have a bit of live flesh between his teeth.”

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Last year Ashton and Dobbin placed ninth at the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) and won three advanced horse trials, including the American Eventing Championship, and two advanced/intermediate competitions. This spring the rider plans to hit the CIC***s at Red Hills (Fla.) and The Fork and will try for the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, which Dobbin had to skip last year after coming off the trailer with a muscle strain on the way to the event.

“He’s sound as a bell now,” Ashton said. “You’d think he’d be headed to Hong Kong, but they don’t seem to want him.”

The pair has not been named to this year’s USEF Winter Training Lists, so instead of aiming for the Olympics, Ashton is considering returning to her native Great Britain for the fall CCI**** at Burghley.

“I really don’t care what everyone else thinks,” she said. “He’s not ready to be done yet, and neither am I. We’re having too good a time.”

A Hollywood Ending

While Ashton led wire-to-wire, Kelly Sult’s performance with Hollywood in the advanced, test A, division 2 ended with a dynamic, come-from-behind win.

“I had no idea until the girl next to me came back and congratulated me,” said the 21-year-old rider from Erie, Pa. “I was like, ‘On what?’ And she said, ‘You won!’ ”

Sult and her 15-year-old Thoroughbred (Mighty Adversary–True Knight) made a name for themselves after placing eighth at the Fair Hill CCI*** last fall, progressing up to advanced with only the help of her father and several good training manuals. This winter has been her first spent in Florida, where she is now a working student for Jonathan Holling.

“Usually my season doesn’t start until the beginning of June, and that was just little hometown horse trials,” Sult said, laughing. “Now my dad and sister are at home in the cold taking care of my other horses. They got stuck doing the shoveling.”

At Pine Top, Sult finished in the middle of the 26-horse field after the dressage but was thrilled with “Reggie’s” mark of 37.9. The former race horse, whom Sult began eventing when she was just 14,
has been known to express his distaste for flatwork.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a better, more relaxed test with him,” Sult said. “I was actually able to ride him and not be worried that he was going to have a few extra movements! Jon has helped me keep him relaxed and ride through the movements and use my horse’s body, which was very nice to actually feel.”

With a fault-free show jumping round, the pair moved into eighth place going into cross-country, where they finished just 4 seconds over the time. When the seven horses placed before them racked up significant penalties, Sult and Reggie clinched their first advanced win.

“My horse has a very big stride, but as soon as he sees something that requires setting up he comes right back to you,” Sult said. “He was right on point and listening. He’s quick through combinations, and he loves going through water now. When I first got him he wanted nothing to do with water and turned around and ran away from it.

“I really wasn’t worried about what place I was or the score. I just wanted to have a confident go,” she continued. “We’re going to Red Hills and The Fork next, and if everything seems to go well and come into place, then Rolex is a possibility. As long as we’re on top of our game.”  

Kat Netzler

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