Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024

Dierks Builds Momentum At Maui Jim

Somerset is on his game with three strong phases in the CIC***.

Patience and training really do pay off, and Sara Dierks proved it at the Maui Jim CIC*** by putting together all the pieces to win with Somerset II at the Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Ill., July 10-13.

Although she’s known for some time that the 11-year-old, English-bred Thoroughbred had talent to spare, it’s taken time to bring his training up to match his ability.
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Somerset is on his game with three strong phases in the CIC***.

Patience and training really do pay off, and Sara Dierks proved it at the Maui Jim CIC*** by putting together all the pieces to win with Somerset II at the Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Ill., July 10-13.

Although she’s known for some time that the 11-year-old, English-bred Thoroughbred had talent to spare, it’s taken time to bring his training up to match his ability.

Dierks started riding “Somer” in 2005 and achieved good finishes with him from the start. She took over the ride from Chris Desino when Desino decided that he preferred show jumping to eventing. Dierks placed fourth at the Radnor CCI** (Pa.) that fall and thought she was on track for a three-star.

However, a fall at the 2006 Blenheim CCI*** (England) caused her to delay her plans.

“I got excited about having a talented horse,” said Dierks. “The horse tried his heart out for me, but he didn’t have the education. When I fell at that water jump at Blenheim, I got up and thought, ‘I will never rush a horse again.’ I will never make that mistake again. I learned my lesson.”

So Dierks has been carefully bringing Somer along ever since, and this year her hard work started to pay off, with a fourth-placed finish at the Jersey Fresh CCI*** (N.J.) and now with the Maui Jim win in an Adequan/USEA Gold Cup class. Dierks is aiming Somer toward the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) in October.

Dierks chose Maui Jim as Somer’s first event back after the three-day because of the excellent footing in the dressage and show jumping arenas. “It’s always an event with fantastic organization, but in the past few years they’ve made so many improvements to the cross-country course because of having the American Eventing Championships there,” said Dierks.

Somer demonstrated that all three of his phases have gotten better. “Since his flatwork has improved steadily, then my preparation time for the fences is a bit shorter because I can get the balanced canter I need faster,” said Dierks. “Not only do I have a horse that is very rideable, but I also have a horse with a huge stride. It makes him quite fast.

“Before, I had go quite slowly into the fence to make sure I was going to have all his body parts in the right
place,” Dierks continued. “He’s learned compression this year, so I don’t have to creep into the combinations, because he’s able to land and rock back and be good. Now I feel like I can go in between the fences.”

Dierks lay in third after dressage behind Allison Springer on Arthur, and moved up to second place with the fastest cross-country round of the division. She moved up again when Somer jumped double clear in show jumping, while Arthur had two down to take second.

That double-clear show jumping round made Dierks especially happy.

“Before, he didn’t show jump clear at all. As of this year, he has been jumping clear rounds because of the strength in his dressage work and the work I’ve done on his jumping style,” she said.

The win meant more to Dierks, 29, because it was also a win for her longtime owner and supporter Edy Rameika. Rameika bought half of the horse from Desino, and she also owns Dierks’ Overlook Farm in Berryville, Va.

“She’s unbelievable,” said Dierks. “If you were going to go home and dream up what your perfect sponsor would be, she is what you would get.”

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As a young rider, Dierks won team and individual gold at the 2000 North American Young Riders Championship. She went on to compete at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, the Burghley CCI**** (England) and the Badminton CCI**** (England) aboard As You Like It, an off-the-track Thoroughbred she’d ridden in Pony Club.

But Dierks had taken a three-year break from competing in four-stars after “Augie” retired.

“I’m kind of glad that I had a bit of a break and didn’t get this horse right after Augie,” she said. “Buck [Davidson] always said that we all have horses that take us someplace we’re not supposed to be. That’s what that horse was. He was an amazing horse. I knew at the time that I was just getting experience jumping around the biggest tracks in the world, and I was getting the chance to do that on a very safe jumping horse. I knew I wasn’t quite good enough to be at all competitive.

“I’m glad I had three years after that to work with Vaughn Jefferis and with Sally O’Connor as well, so I could beat myself into getting better and better,” she added. “I’m a totally different rider than I was then, and Somer is a totally different horse. He’s a huge talent. The timing feels right.”

A Confidence Building Run

Leslie Law competed against Dierks in the three-star at Jersey Fresh with Fleeceworks Mystere du Val, but he decided to step down a notch in their first run back, and so they took home the win, wire-to-wire, in the CIC** at Maui Jim.

“I thought it would be good to give him a couple of runs that would be slightly easier and confidence-building,” said Law. “It’s what I’ve done most of my career with horses. After a three-day I give them something a little bit easier. He’ll have another open intermediate run and then move back up to advanced.”

Law started competing Beatrice and Guy Rey-Herme’s 8-year-old Selle Français (Veloce de Favi—Inedite du Val) in January. Previously, Stuart Black rode the horse.

The pair had been leading the dressage at Jersey Fresh, but a cross-country run-out dropped them down the placings.

“He handled Jersey quite well. He had the one little mishap, but considering his age, and how much he’s done, he’s still on a big learning curve,” said Law. “The little ups and downs are the progression of a young horse stepping up to the advanced level.”

Law, Bluemont, Va., waxed enthusiastic about the future of “Bean.”

“He always does extremely well in the dressage. The horse did feel good on the cross-country. He’s a scopey jumper. It’s becoming more and more consistent,” he said. “It was a good intermediate, a middle of the road intermediate. It had the technical questions that we’re going to see these days. There was a narrow triple brush, curving line to a table, curving line back to another triple brush. That was a good intermediate test.”

Law, 43, also raved about the good ground. Consistent rain in the Midwest combined with a storm before cross-country made the going very good.

“They put a great event on. On cross-country you get a bit of atmosphere, and you get people there. It’s good
experience for horses. It’s very well-run,” he said.

Law plans to take Bean to Millbrook (N.Y.) and Richland Park (Mich.) before the Fair Hill CCI***.

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A First To Remember

Big names like Law and Bruce Davidson left Michelle Mueller feeling slightly star-struck, but the 44-year-old from Port Perry, Ont., had no trouble keeping up. She won her first advanced horse trials ever with Amistad, an 8-year-old Thoroughbred-Belgian Draft cross (Ascot Knight—Sleigh Bells).

“I thought I’d give it a try. I didn’t expect this. It was quite awesome,” said Mueller.

Mueller started her career as a dressage rider, but then she caught the three-day bug and has spent the past 12 years eventing with coaching from Ian Roberts. She steadily brought Julie Pring’s Amistad up through the levels.

Although the numbers show the win, they don’t quite tell the story of the comedy of errors that plagued Mueller throughout the event.

“I need to learn to read my tests better,” admitted Mueller. “I’m so used to trotting up centerline, that I didn’t canter. I just read that I needed to halt at I. I need to pay attention when I move up a level. That was a blooper. It knocked two marks off my score.”

Mueller, who often leads after dressage, then faced a further handicap before cross-country.

“My horse had a late start out of the start box,” she said. “He gets a little apprehensive and has anxiety. I didn’t hit my watch on time because my horse was acting up. My husband yelled that I had 15 seconds, and the next thing I knew it was 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. I wasn’t even there yet.”

Despite the slow start, Mueller blazed around the course to record the second-fastest time in the advanced division. “He’s 17 hands, so he’s got a very big stride. He covers ground easily,” she said.

Fewer than 2 penalties separated Mueller and Davidson heading into show jumping, and that left Mueller quite worried, since show jumping is normally her weakest phase.

“Robin Walker walked the course with me. He said, ‘Don’t cut any corners and get in and get it done. Better to have time penalties than a rail.’ I was going to cut one corner and changed my mind part way through the ride. I think the horse wondered what the heck I was doing. He left them up and jumped fabulous,” said Mueller. “When the announcer said I’d had a double-clear round, I couldn’t believe I’d done it. Chalk it up to a little bit of luck, and my horse went fabulous.”

Mueller hopes to compete in her next advanced horse trials at Richland Park, but she hasn’t thought too far beyond that.

“We need a little more experience. My horse is very good, but I’d like for him to see more, and I’d like to see more,” she said. “I don’t want to rush into anything. I’ve got the time. If all works out well, maybe I’ll end up doing the Bromont CCI*** [Que.] next year.”

Sara Lieser

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