The Plains, Va.—Aug. 21
This year’s MARS Great Meadow International CCI4*-S is one of the most competitive events in the United States in recent memory, with 68 of the country’s top horses and riders battling for the win.
The field is stacked with Olympic horses and riders, five-star pairs, Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI4*-L winners, short format specialists and old campaigners, setting up a competition where every point counts and creating an exciting atmosphere, despite the lack of spectators and fans due to COVID-19 protocols.
After two days of dressage, the scores are tight, with the top 20 all scoring under 30 from judges Valerie Vizcarrondo and Peter Gray.
Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous will maintain their lead heading into tomorrow’s show jumping on 21.8, but Will Coleman and Off The Record, winner of this event in 2018, are as close as they possibly can be in second place on 21.9. Kim Severson and her veteran partner Cooley Cross Border are close behind in third on 22.1
As the first four-star to run since the COVID-19 shutdown, every combination has a different goal for the weekend, and Coleman, Gordonsville, Virginia, is thinking he might try to be competitive come Sunday if “Timmy” is still in a good position after show jumping.
“Sometimes he doesn’t feel quite as good as he can look. He came out today, and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a good day or a bad day,” he admitted. “He was pretty stiff warming up, but he’s always been a horse that savors competition and getting into the arena, and he really delivered a steady test. I was very pleased. My wife [Katie Coleman] and my whole team have been working really hard on this horse, and it was nice to see some fruits for all of their labors.”
Will said the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse (VDL Arkansas—Drumagoland Bay, Ard Ohio) had been out for part of last season, and the gelding “loves to go for it,” but with just one run before this event, he’ll make a plan after he walks the cross-country course.
“He’s still building back up into the form he was in, maybe a little better than the form he had in 2019. We’ve got the big picture in mind, but we love Great Meadow, and we’d certainly like to give it a crack if we’re in the hunt,” he said.
Will’s been keeping busy training at home during the pandemic, but he’s excited to get back out competing again.
“On the one hand, you do miss going to the competitions because it helps your training and being able to test out what you’re working on and seeing how you actually perform when the pressure’s on,” he said. “It’s been hard not to have that from a training standpoint, but on the other hand, it’s just been nice to be home with my family and our horses and continue working on ways to get better and focusing what we can focus on during times when you can’t compete. It’s been nice, but I am glad to be back out, and I think all of us have been hankering for these events to run again.”
It’s been more than a year since Cooley Cross Border competed internationally with Kim Severson, and he made a splash during his return today.
The 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Diamond Roller—Whos Diaz, Osilvis) incurred an injury after completing the Pau CCI5*-L (France) in October 2018, and took a year to come back. He was in full work by last November, and was able to sneak in an open intermediate win at Chattahoochee Hills in February before the COVID-19 shutdown.
He had an easy run around the advanced/intermediate at Virginia Horse Trials in July in preparation for this weekend.
“He’s learned a lot in the last year and a half,” said Severson. “He’s solidified a lot of things, in particular his flying changes. He could be a bit stronger in his medium trot, that’s always been his weakest thing. We’re still working on that.”
Before his Pau completion, “Crossy” had overcome some confidence issues on cross-country, and Severson’s pleased that he feels as good as he did before his injury.
“All the things I was trying to work on and getting him to do before Pau, he was really honestly quite tired by then after he had been going for such a long time trying to get to the [FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina)] and then another month and a half after Worlds,” she said. “He’s able to do the things he was learning but struggling to do previously. He’s been really good.”
Severson’s still got show jumping to come before thinking about the cross-country, but Crossy’s shown her he’s ready.
“He was especially happy going back to the trailers by the cross-country courses,” she said. “He doesn’t get like that. He’s not one of those horses that gets worked up by other horses, and he was very excited.
“I think the course looks fantastic,” she added. “It’s a relatively straightforward course, but I think that’s appreciated with what’s going on. For him because he hasn’t done a lot, it looks pretty great. Of course the ground is perfect. We’re going to show jump tomorrow and see how that goes and proceed from there.”
To watch the livestream visit https://horseandcountry.tv/en-us/.