Olympic eventer Doug Payne isn’t one for constraining himself to the three-day world. The North Carolina-based rider regularly sharpens his eventers’ skills in jumper and dressage shows, and for a while now he’s been quietly building toward Grand Prix at home with one of his advanced horses, Starr Witness.
Nicknamed the “Ginja Ninja,” the 12-year-old mare’s flair for the sandbox was on full display Friday during the first day of the $50,000 Grand-Prix Eventing at Bruce’s Field in Aiken, South Carolina, as she put herself squarely in the lead with a dressage test that earned a score of 19.9—nearly 4 penalty points better than her nearest competition.
The dressage lead was large enough to absorb the one rail they had in show jumping, after the horses in second through fifth places all added penalties as well, and send them into Saturday’s cross-country day in the lead.
Sitting close on his heels going into Saturday’s cross-country phase, scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, is Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp on Miks Master C, less than a point behind him on a score of 24.6, and Boyd Martin on Fedarman B, who jumped double-clear Friday to move from sixth place to third with 25.6 penalties.
Twenty-nine horses will move forward to the eventing showcase’s final phase—the condensed, spectator-friendly cross-country—after several withdrew after show jumping and three more faced compulsory retirement after lowering five rails in the show jumping phase.
Watch Payne’s winning dressage with Starr Witness, a Dutch Warmblood (Chello III VDL—Carmen, Veneur) he co-owns with Laurie McRee and Catherine Winter, courtesy of Horse & Country: