Elkton, Maryland—Oct. 18
Six years ago Mara DePuy was nearly ready to give up upper-level eventing. She’d had a couple of horses that weren’t the right fit and had lost confidence.
But all that changed when Congo Brazzaville C came into the barn as a 6-year-old. DePuy took her time with him as they moved up the levels together, and they’ve spent the last three seasons polishing their performance at the advanced level.
DePuy is known for her prowess on the flat, and she didn’t disappoint today, scoring a 28.6 to take over the lead in the CCI4*-L at the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International.
“We both know each other pretty well,” said DePuy, Round Hill, Virginia. “We’re just starting to get better. It takes awhile. He’s a horse that’s brought me back to the top level. I thought I was ready to give up at the top level, and Congo is a pretty special horse and pretty fun to ride, so we’re going to keep going.”
DePuy has been working hard with the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve—Mexico M, Highline) on the flat since a lackluster test at their first Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L this spring led to her withdrawing.
“It was not such a good test—a little distracted and a few extra movements, so we’ve been working really hard on his throughness and focus. I was thrilled with how he dealt with the atmosphere today,” she said. “Congo’s definitely humbled me as far as I’m supposed to be good on the flat. He’s been a little challenging. I used to never get nervous on the flat, and I definitely have been at the upper levels with him. I’ve worked really hard this year, so I’m just happy it’s paying off. I could not be happier with how he dealt with everything. He was totally with me the whole time.”
Training with British rider James Burtwell has helped the pair turn a corner. “I’ve been lucky enough I’ve ridden with some great people, and after Kentucky I just needed a restart,” she said. “Congo totally caught me out. I thought I had him, and I didn’t. I needed to go back in and solidify some of the basics, which sounds silly, but it’s really important. James didn’t know me from anywhere and was real straightforward and strong—‘Don’t be stupid; you need to get your horse on the bit and get him more correct. You’re riding five-star, but he’s not through.’ James has helped a ton. I owe the test today to him.”
Watch DePuy’s test via USEF Network.
Congo completed the four-star at Fair Hill last year and in 2017, and tomorrow DePuy’s hoping to shave off the double-digit time penalties they picked up on cross-country in those runs.
“It should be great for Congo and I,” she said. “You have to give [course designer Derek di Grazia] a lot of credit. He is a genius, and I think one of the best course designers in the world. He makes all of us riders think and go home and practice and work harder and get better at his courses. He teaches us something at every event, and I love the fact that hopefully the horses gain a ton of confidence. We’re up for the challenge.
“If you’ve seen [Congo] jump, he’s an amazing jumper and gives you a ton of confidence,” she continued. “He’s kind of like my best friend. He’s like a Labrador in the barn. I wake up every morning wanting to ride him and enjoy riding him no matter what we’re doing. I had a few not-very-great horses for me at the upper levels and lost a bit of confidence and just wasn’t enjoying it, and Congo has definitely made it fun again—and competitive.”
Alexa Gartenberg took over the top spot in the CCI3*-L with Louis M, a 14-year-old Rheinlander gelding (Lissabon 29—Angelique M, Abanos), scoring a 25.9.
Louis M spent most of his career with German rider Pia Münker and the last three years with Cornelia Dorr at advanced. Gartenberg bought him this time last year to help her get experience at the three-star level.
Gartenberg’s a sophomore at the nearby University of Delaware studying business. “This is my first three-star long, so I’m really happy to have him showing me,” she said. “He was perfect today. He comes out every day in a suit and tie ready to work, so he’s really taught me the proper way of riding dressage and how to ask for a proper half pass and shoulder-in.”
Gartenberg trains with Matt and Cecily Brown in nearby Pennsylvania. “They’re like my second parents. I love them so much,” she said. “They’ve really taught me about true horsemanship. Obviously they’re amazing coaches on the horses, but they really treat animals differently than any other people I’ve seen. They’ve taught me how to be a true horseman, and the horses are basically other people.”
She’s hoping for an educational experience tomorrow over di Grazia’s track. “There’s no other horse I’d rather be on to do my first three-star long with. He’s safe and fun, and I’m so excited,” she said. “He’s like, ‘I got this, just show me where I’m going.’ ”