Saturday, Sep. 23, 2023

A Connemara Cross And A Gentle Giant Blaze The Way On A Tricky Cross-Country Day At Kentucky



Lexington, Ky.—April 27

Picture this—you’re fourth on the start list for cross-country day at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Up first are Caroline Martin, Buck Davidson and Liz Halliday-Sharp—all three of them five-star veterans sitting on fit and ready horses. Then you hear over the loudspeaker that Martin has fallen off. A few minutes later, Davidson has a run out at the Head of the Lake before falling late on course, just like Martin. Halliday-Sharp goes out just before you and falls at fence 3.

Now it’s your turn to head out on course. Bit nervous? Allie Sacksen was positively shaking, but she kicked on out of the start box with her Connemara-Thoroughbred cross Sparrow’s Nio to turn in the first clear jumping round of the day.

“First Caroline, then Buck, then Liz—I thought oh my, what am I doing today,” Sacksen said after swinging off Nio and gave him a big hug in the vet box and was crying with happiness. “That was such an amazing ride, that horse, I can’t even put it into words.”


Allie Sacksen was in tears over how happy she was with long time partner Sparrow’s Nio after turning in the first clear jumping round of the day. Ann Glavan Photo

Sacksen has been riding the 16-year-old gelding for the past nine years. They did their Pony Club levels together and Sacksen has produced him from novice to the five-star level, and this is their third Land Rover Kentucky together.


“I woke up in a cold sweat at 3:30 this morning and thought why am I doing this to myself?—this is supposed to be fun,” Sacksen continued. “But then a gentleman at the riders’ meeting on Wednesday talked about putting everything else out of your head and just focus on your horse, and that’s what I did out there.”

All told Derek Di Grazia’s course proved trying for riders throughout the day—six pairs didn’t make it around and four withdrew, though there were no major injuries to any horses or riders. Davidson caught the worst of it suffering a broken collarbone forcing him to withdraw his other two horses in the field.


Allie Sacksen and Sparrow’s Nio. Lindsay Berreth Photo

“I knew that I had to ride the entire course; I could not stop riding, and I rode the entire course, and it never let up,” Sacksen said. “After the triple bar, the wide table turning right to the brushes, he got there on the half stride and bellied it, but I totally did like a Pony Club yank and kick, and he was just so dead on. I’m just speechless; he was wonderful.”

Following right on Sacksen’s heels in the fifth start position was Sara Gumbiner on Polaris. Gumbiner was on course at the same time as Sacksen, so she had similar trepidation after hearing how the first few rides had gone.

“Oh my gosh that is the scariest thing; you really start to second guess yourself, and I mean I walked this course six times,” Gumbiner said. “You have your plan, and then the first three riders bomb out and you start thinking maybe I need to do the option, but I know my horse, and I knew where the trip up was, and I knew it was going to fine no matter where I got him, and he was.”



Sara Gumbiner and Polaris. Lindsay Berreth Photo

Gumbiner has produced “Larry” up the levels since he was 5, and the pair made their five-star debut at last year’s Land Rover Kentucky.

“I think it was tougher than last year; it was so much more technical,” Gumbiner said. “He took care of me a couple times out there. If I saw something and put my leg on, and he thought it wasn’t there he just sort of backed off and did it. He’s amazing.”

Our full report on the rest of the action on cross-country day at Land Rover Kentucky will be up shortly.

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We’re on site at the Kentucky Horse Park to bring you all the info and photos you need to know from the biggest event of the year. Check back all weekend at and be sure to pick up the May 20 print edition of the Chronicle for much more.

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