Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2024

Detail Specialist Broadens His Horizons At Hagyard Midsouth CCI*

Melissa Miller takes a Quarter Horse to new heights in Kentucky.

It takes a versatile horse to go from competing at the Quarter Horse Congress to winning the Hagyard Midsouth CCI*, but Detail Specialist is one versatile horse.

An 11-year-old Appendix Quarter Horse, “Deacon” not only won his first CCI* but also topped the USEF National One-Star Eventing Championship in the long-format event, held, Oct. 16-19 in Lexington, Ky.

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Melissa Miller takes a Quarter Horse to new heights in Kentucky.

It takes a versatile horse to go from competing at the Quarter Horse Congress to winning the Hagyard Midsouth CCI*, but Detail Specialist is one versatile horse.

An 11-year-old Appendix Quarter Horse, “Deacon” not only won his first CCI* but also topped the USEF National One-Star Eventing Championship in the long-format event, held, Oct. 16-19 in Lexington, Ky.

“I was really happy with him,” said Melissa Miller, who owns and rides Deacon. “He came out and he felt great the whole cross-country round. I never really felt him getting tired. I was a little worried about that because it was a really long course, but he came into show jumping warm-up bucking like he was ready to go.”

Although Miller describes Deacon as a natural dressage horse who enjoys everything he does, she admits he loves cross-country and makes her love it even more. “He had never done steeplechase, and it took him till about fence 4 to really understand it. Up to that point he was jumping really big. He took off really long to the first two and then got it and was in a rhythm and was jumping them in stride like steeplechase is supposed to be. He’s not the kind of horse to brush through fences so I didn’t quite know what he was going to do.”

Miller, of Hamilton, Ohio, bought Deacon in June 2007. She had worked with him as a sale horse for six months and thoroughly enjoyed him, so when she had to put her horse down Miller decided Deacon was the one for her. Before finding Miller, Deacon had been successful in the Quarter Horse world, competing in hunter under saddle, English pleasure and Western pleasure.

Learning The Ropes

At the time Miller purchased Deacon, the pair had two novice-level events under their belt. Before that, Deacon had never seen a dressage arena and was terrified of water. “I train with Cathy Wieschhoff in the winter in Florida, and we got him over his water phase. He’s just been great ever since then,” Miller said.

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Deacon placed 10th in the novice horse division at the 2007 American Eventing Championships (Ill.), then he and Miller were in the ribbons at three training-level events before moving up to preliminary in February. They’ve
earned top ribbons throughout the year, including wins at Rocking Horse (Fla.), Poplar Place March (Ga.), and the Kentucky Classique CIC*.

Miller spends three months in Florida each winter and is a working student for Wieschhoff. The Miami University (Ohio) business management major hopes to own and run her own barn one day. Until then she continues to manage the career of her equine superstar who seems to enjoy the eventing realm more than the Quarter Horse circuit.

“I think he’s overcome a lot,” Miller said. “He has a personality now. He used to not have one. When I first got him he was terrified of people. He was really head-shy. He didn’t like big men around a lot. Now he loves everybody.”

There was never a choice to be made as far as whether to run Deacon in the long format or the short format. “I did steeplechase for the first time back in 2004 with [Scotchfelder’s Fancy] on a training three-day, and I really like it,” she said. “Then the following year I did the long format here with that horse. That’s the reason I did this event. I wanted to still support it while it was still around.”

Miller considers herself lucky to be able to condition Deacon on the 110-acre combined driving farm just around the corner from her. “I’ve been able to go over there once or twice a week and do all of my trot and gallop sets,” she said. “The footing is perfect. If it wasn’t for that it would have been a lot harder. Just having those rolling hills and good footing made a huge difference.”

Miller will head to Florida for the winter and hopefully move up to intermediate next year with Deacon. The 2005 North American Junior and Young Rider Championships one-star team bronze medalist and 2006 team silver medalist is aiming for the NAJYRC two-star next year.

Call Me Ollie Debuts

The 14-hour trailer ride from Minnesota to Kentucky was well worth the trip for Becky Holder and Call Me Ollie, who took home top honors in the CCI* without steeplechase. There was no stopping Holder and Ollie as they led from start to finish. The 8-year-old Holsteiner-Thoroughbred is owned by Faye Woolf, who also owned Holder’s 2000 Sydney Olympic Games alternate horse, Highland Hogan.

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Holder began riding Ollie almost two years ago when he came to her as a lightly broke late 6-year-old. This was Ollie’s first one-star and his first trip to the Kentucky Horse Park.

“The first time is always fun,” she said. “He handled the atmosphere really well. I thought it was a great first three-day for him to do, because it has a lot of atmosphere, but it’s very friendly competition. It’s meant for the ones kind of starting out to give him a good leg-up on it.”

Their goal for the weekend was to go home with a stellar dressage, jump a safe cross-country at a pace that Ollie was comfortable with and have a clean round show jumping that Holder hoped would be a little more “orthodox” than some of their rounds—all of which they accomplished. “He is big and has a lot of ambition,” she said. “We’re still working on equal control of his legs. He gives more than 150 percent and just tries so hard.”

Holder opted for the short format this time around because of where Ollie is in his training but said they will try their hand at the long format when Ollie is ready. “He’s a little bit on the gifted program already so the long format seemed a bit of a push. I wanted to make sure that I still had enough strength and jump at the end of the course and kind of get to know him a little bit more,” Holder said. “I set out at a pretty conservative pace and just let him kind of jump out of that. He seemed to settle in and got better and better.”

Holder maintained her lead even with 4.4 time penalties on cross-country.

“I was very lucky that it was a generously wheeled course, and he had such a great lead after dressage that I could afford to stay on a little slower gallop,” she said. “He just needs time to develop and get stronger, and then I think the steeplechase is going to help him. He’s got plenty of forward energy. Learning how to jump out of stride and gallop along—we’re just getting to that.”

Coming in second was Holder’s student, veterinarian Ann Bower with her horse Rejuvenate, who Holder has been competing at intermediate. “Nate” and Holder won the AECs in September, and she will be moving him up to advanced next year. Holder’s long-time groom Aubrey Dunkerton was also on hand for the weekend with her own Can’t Fire Me, finishing a respectable sixth.

“We’ve got a happy trailer going back,” said Holder.

Jeannie Blancq Putney

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