He and Becky Holder win their second consecutive Adequan USEA Gold Cup event.
Becky Holder and Courageous Comet have been spending time at home in Minnesota, practicing what they learned as members of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Eventing High Performance list last year.
“Sometimes it’s hard to become secure in knowledge while you are gaining knowledge,” said Holder.
Indeed, it seems that without the stress of travel, both horse and rider have been able to relax, focus and hone their skills.
Holder and “Comet” started out with a phenomenal lead over the rest of the field after a relaxed and accurate dressage test that scored 35.9 in the CIC*** at the Richland Park Horse Trials and Adequan USEA Gold Cup event in Richland, Mich., Aug. 23-26. Just a month earlier, they had won at the Maui Jim CIC*** (Ill.).
They added 3.2 time faults to their score on Mike Etherington-Smith’s cross-country course and had the last rail down in show jumping but still finished 9.9 points ahead of Karen O’Connor and Upstage. Allison Springer and Arthur placed third (65.9).
The win launched Holder to the top of the USEA Adequan Gold Cup Leader Board, which places her in contention for the $6,000 prize that will be awarded at the U.S. Eventing Association Annual Meeting and Convention in Colorado Springs, Colo., in December.
Holder was the 2006 intermediate Gold Cup champion riding the mare Rejuvenate, who won preliminary, division 1, at Richland Park with her owner Ann Bower.
Holder said that it is tempting to head to Poplar Place (Ga.), which is one of only two remaining Gold Cup events this year, to chase points, but she might let the cards fall where they may. The other remaining event is Twin Rivers (Calif.), where Kelly Prather may just earn enough points to catch up to Holder.
“We also placed second at Southern Pines [N.C.], and the Gold Cup helps keep me in the game and motivated after a not very encouraging spring season,” said Holder, who had to retire on course at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****. “I just got the Amerigo saddle that I won last year, so it’s tempting to drive to Georgia! I think it’s a really good program, and I hope the sponsors continue to support it. Richland Park is ‘only’ 11 hours from home, and I also came here the first year that Comet did advanced.”
Holder said she loves Etherington-Smith’s courses. “He does a fabulous job combining technical exercises with bold riding that keeps the horse confident and in the game, and it’s obvious that they did a lot of work on the track. A couple of times on course I went off the track to try to save time, but it wasn’t worth it. I got back on the galloping track because the footing there was so good.”
The CIC dressage took place the same day that hundred-mile-per-hour winds and pelting rains swept through downtown Chicago, then headed straight for Michigan.
Fortunately, the competition had wrapped up by the time the worst storms hit. Richland Park owners Bob and Kay Willmarth called the providers of their temporary stabling and made the important decision to get all of the horses out of the barns and into trailers, then take the roofs off the barns so that the tent material would not rip in the high winds.
“The tent com-pany was fantastic,” said Kay. “After the storm all the riders pitched in and helped. We have pictures of 50 people strapping the tarps back on the barns. It was an incredible effort. Our neighbors really helped out this weekend too. One of the farmers in our area pitched in three loads of gravel and every big loader and mover he had.”
The stabling area became a sea of mud, but with gravel in front of every fence on cross-country the going was a little slow, but safe.
“I felt very safe on course, but I had the biggest studs I own on!” said Holder. “He runs lightly over the ground so I had an advantage that way. I remember Rolex a few years ago when it rained really hard and Bruce [Davidson] cruised around and made us all look like fools, and I had that in the back of my mind.”
O’Connor, who is still riding high after winning team and individual gold medals at the Pan American Games riding the popular 14.1-hand Theodore O’Connor (who she jokingly described as “barefoot and pregnant,” taking a well-deserved rest at home), enjoyed her first time competing at Richland Park.
“I had always heard that Richland Park is a nice event, and now I know that it is,” she said. “I thought, ‘Are you kidding?’ when I woke up and saw the weather, but they answered in trumps. You never know how well an event is run until you see it in adverse conditions, and I have never seen such an effort from the community.”
At 16 years, the 15.2-hand Upstage has had an illustrious career that includes competing at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen.
“Upstage is so funny,” said O’Connor. “He got so excited when we got his tack out. He had a good dressage test, and on cross-country I went as fast as was safe because I wanted to stay in striking distance of Becky.”
O’Connor also rode Allstar, who belongs to Becky Broussard, to finish eighth in the three-star.
“This is still a partnership in the making, and it was tough because I had him warmed up and then there was a 30-minute hold before dressage because the ambulance was not here, so he was bored and flat in the test.”
O’Connor also won and placed second in the advanced horse trials riding Hugh Knows (49.8) and Mandiba (51.3), respectively.
“Hugh Knows, who is owned by Katherine Brunig of Texas, did beautifully,” said O’Connor. “He’s for sale. He’s a big horse for her and a classy horse. This was his first advanced, but he could do Badminton tomorrow.”
Springer Captures Two-Star
Springer had a lot to celebrate in addition to her top-three placing on Arthur, as she also won the CIC** riding her gray gelding Destination Known, who finished on 59.5, adding only cross-country time faults to his dressage score of 51.9.
“He’s a really good jumper, and it’s great practice for me to ride him. I worked with Anne Kursinski in Wellington [Fla.] last winter, and she really liked him and said I’d learn to ride Arthur better with him.”
She plans to take Arthur to the Wellpride American Eventing Championships (Ill.) and the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.).
“Arthur is a gift to sit on,” Springer said. “He’s Irish, by Brandenburg’s Windstar out of an American Thoroughbred mare. He’s grown a ton—he’s about 17 hands—and this is the first year that he’s a little beefier.”
Darren Chiacchia and Tragumna led the two-star after dressage but had 16.8 time faults on cross-country, allowing Canadian Michele Mueller to take the lead.
Two rails down in the final phase cost Mueller the win, and she had to settle for second place. Mueller has won nearly every event she has entered in the past year with Amistad. She plans to compete next at the CIC** in Bromont (Que.) this fall.
Earlier this year Springer located her business at the Steiner family’s Foxlease Farm in Upperville, Va., and she said that having a long-term base has improved her training program.
The Steiners own Continia, a mare that Springer finished third with in preliminary, division 1. Springer has been on the USEF Eventing Developing Riders list and is now on the High Performance list.
“I’ve been riding with Phillip Dutton since last summer, and he came to the lessons with Mark Phillips, so that was really helpful,” she said. “We got to go to the training sessions for the team before the Pan Am Games, and that made such a difference. I also had a couple of lessons with Mara Dean and Stephen Bradley.”
Destination Known, called “Berger” around the barn, is 9 and has few miles, since he was kicked at one of his first events and had most of last year off. Springer planned to take him to Jersey Fresh (N.J.) this spring, but he developed an abscess right before the event.
Springer is a little uncertain about his background. “But he was put on this planet to make me smile,” she said. “He thinks dressage is a pass/fail test, but he’s a fantastic jumper. I’m excited about him. I’ve spent the last two or three years seeking out good instruction, and it’s paying off. I have some nice horses, and it’s coming together now.”