Hurricane Charley, which ravaged the Southeast, also made an impact at the Millbrook Horse Trials, which was cut from three days to two. Upon hearing that the remnants of the hurricane were expected to hit the Millbrook, N.Y., area on the last day of the event, held at Coole Park Farm, Aug. 13-14, organizers opted to run the show jumping phase on Saturday after cross-country. However, the decision was made after most riders had completed the cross-country course and did not expect to be show jumping a few hours later.
The change of schedule wasn’t a problem for Bruce Davidson Jr., who breezed through advanced, division 1, with Private Treaty. The 8-year-old, bay Thoroughbred gelding (by Cavalier Royale) won the dressage (33.04) and never looked back.
Davidson finished sixth in the same division with Otto, and he also took second place in advanced, division 2, with Idalgo and won open preliminary, division 2, with May I Tell Ya; he was third in that same division with Percy.
Aboard Idalgo, Davidson finished just 1.1 points behind Corinne Ashton on Dobbin. Although Idalgo, a Selle Franç¡©s gelding, had been tied for first after dressage, 8 cross-country time penalties relegated him to third place after that phase.
“Idalgo was one of the last to go [cross-country], and I went very slowly with him around the back side. He’s only 8, and I didn’t want to hurt him. But that was our second place right there–cantering around the back side. If I had been two seconds faster he would have won. But you know what? My horse is young and he’s still sound. He came off cross-country and jumped a clean round. I’m very happy with him,” Davidson said.
When Davidson took to the show jumping course with Private Treaty, an 8-year-old, Irish-bred gelding also known as “Calvin,” he knew the time was tight. But a clear, fast round moved him into second place.
“What saved me was the inside turn to fence 7. I decided to cut it, and I could see why nobody else did. I came off of an eight-meter circle before the oxer and I came out of the corner on the completely wrong stride. I had to do a quick change and he was so good about it. He jumped way above it. It was a risk, but I had nothing to lose,” Davidson said. “If I had a rail down, I would finish in second place. But if I had gone around the jump and had 2 time faults, I still would have been second.”
In the end, the heavy rains predicted on the final day never arrived. The worst of the rains came on Friday, but it seemed to have little impact on the cross-country footing.
Karen O’Connor, who took second in advanced, division 1, with Joker’s Wild, was quite impressed with the ground throughout the course.
“The cross-country footing was amazing. I haven’t been to Millbrook since I can’t remember when because I’m always over in Europe this time of year, but they’ve done tremendous work on the ground,” she said. “All that torrential rain we had yesterday it just soaked it up like a sponge.”
Organizers moved the show jumping to a ring across the road with drier footing. Competitors pitched in to take down the dressage ring and pack it away before unloading the jumps and setting them up.
The change in rings made the course a bit more confining, but that was balanced out by a “softer” course, said Roger Haller, technical delegate. “For example, we didn’t push the spreads out to their maximum.”
With a stable full of talented horses, it’s no surprise that Davidson was so frequently in the ribbons. It’s a different story, however, for Ashton, who rode away with the win in advanced, division 2, riding her one and only horse–Dobbin.
“He’s my boy. I’ve had him since he was 3 and he does everything he’s supposed to do, most of the time. I only have the one horse. He’s it,” Ashton said.
Ashton, however, has developed a strategy to help her compete against multi-horse colleagues. “I spent a lot of time watching. All these big boys have three or four horses to ride so they get several tries through the course. I’ve only got the one so I need to watch others. That’s how I get to see how the course goes,” she said.
She learned that the time was tight and horses were tired. “I knew I had to just keep going. I had to keep the engine revved and I had to help him out and make the turns tight. Karen O’Connor helped me and told me that I had to get the turns,” she said.
Ashton, who lives in Princeton, Mass., was born in Britain but has lived in the United States for 17 years. She “grew up on the back of a horse,” was in Pony Club and has evented most of her life. She is the mother of two girls, ages 9 and 12, who are now in Pony Club. Her husband, however, is a non-horse person.
“He likes to golf and swim and play tennis–recreational things that don’t take as much money as horses,” Ashton said.
She bought Dobbin, a 10-year-old Thoroughbred, as a resale project but quickly changed her mind. “He was brilliant from the moment I got on him,” she said.
“I’m not under any illusions that I’m some great rider. I got lucky and this is a chance of a lifetime. But it’s difficult taking care of my children and trying to train at this level. It takes time, and on my weekends I often have family things that I must do.”
Ashton would love to have another event horse, but time–and the money–are factors. “My husband doesn’t want to spend all our money on horses, although I don’t know why. The girls and I are trying to persuade him otherwise, but it’s not working. Considering that he’s not a horse person and my training takes so much time and money, he’s very supportive,” she said.
Ashton paid $2,500 for Dobbin, and she now gets lots of offers from people wanting to buy him. But she’s not selling. “I’m not stupid,” she said. “I’ll never have another like him. He’s my buddy. He only knows me, and he does this for me.”