Watching the preliminary dressage, you may have blinked and missed him. He probably looked like any other bay horse popping over the show jumping track, and he treated the cross-country like the jumps were speed bumps.
But that plain bay Lynn Symansky was riding this weekend at the Mars Great Meadow International was none other than Donner, also know as “The Deer,” her longtime five-star partner.
The 18-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Gorky Park—Smart Jane, Smarten) has taken Symansky around the biggest five-stars in the world, and they’ve represented the United States at the 2011 Pan American Games (Mexico), the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France) and most recently, their last competition at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina)—nearly three years ago.
“Brought out a vintage deer today,” Symansky said with a smile. “He’s been ticking away for awhile. He has absolutely nothing to prove to me or anyone for the rest of his life, and it seemed a little silly to bring him out last year just to bring him out.”
In fact, Donner was recovering from an injury after WEG and for most of 2019. Then, when Symansky was deciding on a schedule for 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In the fall, she underwent surgery to repair injuries to her hip, back and shoulder, so she’s taken her time getting back in the saddle this year.
“He’s a hard horse to put somebody else on, so I sent him down to Florida early [last year] to be with his favorite person in the world, Kendyl Tracy, who was his longtime groom,” Symansky said. “He went down before I did because I was still rehabbing. She got him started back up again. There’s no one else in the world that I would trust to do that job because he’s a particular type of horse to manage. She did an awesome job this winter of legging him back up.”
Symansky said she had no agenda for Donner, and by the time she was feeling 100 percent, the ground got hard, so she waited a bit longer.
Donner’s longtime vet, Dr. Susan Johns, encouraged Symansky to find the right time this year to bring him out after he’d been looking and feeling good, and she chose Great Meadow because of the proximity to her base in Middleburg, Virginia, and because recent rains had softened the Virginia summer ground.
“I’ve been kind of dragging my feet on taking him back out because he’s done so much over the years, but he’s been at home and ticking away and working this whole time. A lot of people think he’s been retired out in the field,” she said.
They scored a 26.5 in dressage to sit third in their preliminary division, led the division after show jumping, then finished eighth with some time faults on cross-country. Tracy and Donner’s groom of two years, Abigail Fulmer, were there to cheer him on.
“He was really confused in the dressage test,” Symansky said with a laugh. “I can’t even remember the last time he’s done a prelim test. He knows the tricks so well, so every time he goes up the centerline, he immediately wants to go in to shoulder-in or half-pass. I was laughing. It’s really nice to just be back on your old partner and be out there and show everyone how well he looks. He’s a warhorse. He’s been going for so long and didn’t ever really have a break in his career. That’s something you have to be mindful of when you’re trying to bring them back. Everybody looked really confused trying to figure out what horse I was on today!”
Symansky didn’t ride for the win on cross-country, and she’s still deciding what will be next for her long-time partner. Either way, she said he gets to have fun and have a job, which is what he loves.
“It’s too hard to make plans and goals for a horse that’s done that much in his career,” she said. “It’s just really nice to take him back out on his own turf and somewhere where he’s been so competitive in the past. It’s a great venue.”
As for her other horses, she’s shown less this year than she has in the past due to her recovery and some small setbacks, but she’s aiming RF Cool Play for the Maryland 5 Star this fall.
“Sometimes with horses it seems like you have everything going, and then little tiny things come up, and all of a sudden you’re quite quiet for a while, but it’s nice because I’ve been busy on other fronts,” she said. “It’s just been the year of COVID and small niggling things that everybody’s coming back from.”
CCI4*-S Down To The Wire
In the division Donner typically would have competed in, the feature CCI4*-S, Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Singapore took the win after dressage and show jumping leaders Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous fell at the first water jump. “Kitty” was taken off course in a trailer, but both she and Little were up quickly and walking after their fall.
Fernhill Singapore, a 12-year-old KWPN gelding (Singapore—Riedellia) owned by Ann Jones, Tom Tierney and David Vos, added 3.2 time penalties cross-country, but it was enough to best the field.
Dutton has produced Singapore since he was a 4-year-old. They won the CCI3*-S at Fair Hill (Maryland) last summer and made their five-star debut at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event earlier this year, but this is Singapore’s first four-star win.
“I’ve got nobody else to blame except myself because I’ve had him since he was a 4-year-old,” Dutton told the U.S. Eventing Association after his win. “He’s been a slow developer, but I’ve always got in the back of my mind that he’s got plenty of movement and plenty of jump – he wouldn’t be the fastest horse that I’ve ever had. Today our conditions were good, and I was in a competitive position, so I thought, ‘Now’s the time to really work and try to pull the trigger on him and make him go quick.’ I was impressed with him today.”
Dutton is aiming Singapore at the inaugural Maryland 5 Star this fall.
“He’s probably 17 hands and very leggy. He has a very short attention span, but is a very careful jumper and a good jumper,” he said. “He hasn’t been that straightforward to train, but hopefully, we started to get to the places now where it can be pretty enjoyable and fruitful. He’s done the one five-star Kentucky, and I didn’t try to go too quick there. I think by Fair Hill time he should be ready to be really competitive.”
Will Coleman finished second in the CCI4*-S aboard Off The Record. Coleman is headed to Germany with “Timmy” as a member of the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team for the CHIO Aachen CCIO4*-S, to be held Sept. 15-19.
Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus, named as reserves for Aachen, finished third in the CCI4*-S, while she also took the fourth spot with Landmark’s Monte Carlo.
Click here for full results.