Raeford, N.C.—March 26
The cross-country time at the Cloud 11-Gavilan North LLC Carolina International is always hard to get, but when Will Coleman headed out today on Dondante, he didn’t even look at his watch until the penultimate fence.
Dondante is huge at almost 18 hands, but along with a big step, such a big body can be hard to contain, and that was on Coleman’s mind as he galloped around in his prep run for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.
The pair had been sitting in second place all weekend behind Tamie Smith on Mai Baum, but when Smith chose to withdraw in favor of a full final prep run before the Badminton Horse Trials at The Fork (North Carolina) in two weeks, the win was wide open for Coleman. He said he relies on feel more than watch-checking to gauge his pace on course, and he and “Al” came in 12 seconds under the optimum time of 6 minutes, 37 seconds, to win on a final score of 27.4. Coleman became a two-time winner of the division after topping it last year with Off The Record.
“He’s a really big horse, and the big ones like that aren’t always the easiest to go quick on, particularly a course like this—you’re in and out of the woods, but you’re in a competitive position, and I thought, now’s the time, let’s see what we can do, and he kind of rose to the challenge,” he said of the 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Pacino—Muckno Clover, Euro Clover) owned by Team Rebecca LLC. “At times it felt like he was a little surprised by how quick we were going to a degree; it was just the kind of course where things came up pretty quick, and the horses had to think on their feet in a couple of places, and thankfully he did that.”
Ian Stark’s course produced two other double-clear rounds:Will Faudree on both of his horses, Pfun, who finished third, and Mama’s Magic Way, who jumped from a tie for 21st after show jumping to ninth.
Twenty-two of 26 starters completed the course. Smith fell from Solaguayre California at fence 18a after two refusals earlier on course and chose not to ride Elliot V. Dani Sussman and Jos Bravio both fell at the fence 10a. Alina Patterson and Flashback were technically eliminated after incurring three refusals on course, and Jules Ennis and Cooley O both fell at fence 12a . Only two pairs had jumping penalties.
Coleman, Gordonsville, Virginia, was happy that Stark’s course was challenging but fair as a five-star prep.
Watch Coleman’s ride via Horse & Country TV and USEA.
“I thought it was brilliant,” he said. “I think he’s been great for the sport all around the world. He’s kind of made cross-country riding what it should be, and I think for the horses that are aiming at five-star, or eventually aiming at five-star, they’ve got a real taste of it today without it being five-star. It was big and challenging, but you had opportunities to recover, and I think anytime you have big jumps into water and then something coming up in a few steps where you’ve got to think on your feet, that’s sort of what five-star is—that ability to react. I think he does a great job helping us prepare for things like that.”
Doug Payne was one of the busiest riders in the division, with four horses. He finished two in the top 10, taking second with Starr Witness and fifth with previous Carolina CCI4*-S winner and Tokyo Olympic Games mount Vandiver.
“She was amazing,” he said of “Gin,” an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Chello III VDL—Carmen, Veneur) that he owns with Laurie McRee and Catherine Winter. “I think because she was a failed show hunter—she didn’t do her first event until she was 7—in the end it’s kind of hard because she never really had a base of fitness, and a lot of the others did, so it’s taken a bit of time, but she was as good as she’s ever been gallop-wise, and she still finished really strong. It’s exciting. In the past I wouldn’t have been able to sustain that pace the entire way, but I probably could have gone a little faster.”
Gin is headed to the Tryon CCI4*-L (North Carolina) in May after runs at The Fork CCI4*-S and the Kentucky CCI4*-S.
“She’s super genuine,” he said. “They all were very good, and nobody put a foot wrong. I can’t say enough—the footing was perfect, the best it’s been by a long shot. The course felt more open and galloping than years past, and the horses all came off it better than they left. I think Ian has a great, intuitive feel for how horses could read something or how they’re going to see it. There’s always options, and I think it’s a very fair design for the horses. The good ones are going to do well.”