Thursday, Apr. 18, 2024

Fenney Is Fastest In Roanoke

The veteran grand prix rider outraces a former junior star for the win aboard S&L Willie.

One more stride might have made all the difference for Tracy Fenney in the $50,000 Grand Prix of Roanoke.

Fenny opted to ride the distance between a vertical-to-vertical combination and the next oxer on Linda Allen’s course in five strides rather than the four that most riders chose.
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The veteran grand prix rider outraces a former junior star for the win aboard S&L Willie.

One more stride might have made all the difference for Tracy Fenney in the $50,000 Grand Prix of Roanoke.

Fenny opted to ride the distance between a vertical-to-vertical combination and the next oxer on Linda Allen’s course in five strides rather than the four that most riders chose.

The strategy paid off by giving S&L Willie plenty of time to see the upcoming oxer and the confidence to jump it cleanly. “She went for wide and smooth,” said Fenney’s husband, Mike McCormick. “If you’re smooth, it generally means you’re good at what you’re doing whether you’re a downhill skier or riding the bulls in a rodeo.”

Despite the extra stride, Fenney and S&L Willie came home more than 3 seconds faster than Hillary Simpson (nee Schlusemeyer) on Stedet’s Leroy in the feature class of the Roanoke Valley Horse Show, June 23-28 in Roanoke, Va.

“Tonight, the jumps came up in a big hurry. It didn’t give anyone much time to organize and regroup,” Fenney said.

Fenny was the last to go in the jump-off, knowing Simpson had jumped a clear round on Stedet’s Leroy, owned by DK-USA Sporthorse, Inc.

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Romeo, ridden by Evan Coluccio, 20, had taken down the top rail of the final fence, an airy vertical by the in-gate. This prompted an instantaneous groan of disappointment from the spectators who packed the coliseum. However it was still good enough to best Mary Lisa Leffler on Gerona 92 who also finished with 4 faults, since the long-striding Hanoverian mare was more than a second slower.

This was Fenny’s first trip to Roanoke, and the 43-year-old Texan from Flower Mound was a gracious winner, repeatedly thanking the autograph seekers in the warm-up ring afterwards for coming out to watch the competition.

Fenny and McCormick imported the 15.2-hand, 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood when he was only 5. “He had an arrogance that I liked,” Fenny remembered with a bemused expression.

Her husband is more willing to tell it like it is. “No one in Europe wanted him because he bucked so much,” McCormick recalled. “He almost threw Tracy out into the parking lot when we tried him. We watched him jump just 3 feet and we knew then he was real!”

Under Fenny’s steady hand, S&L Willie has progressed through the levels to become a consistent grand prix winner. “He’s a blast,” Fenney said. “But he’s a very careful horse. Sometimes if I’m not precise, he decides that he won’t participate. I like that about him because I want him to be careful and not to be nervous about what he’s doing. He forces me to do it right.”

Simpson, 29, of Southern Pines, N.C., returned to the show ring little more than a year ago after a six-year sabbatical from horses. The former Hillary Schlusemeyer had a successful career as a junior and collegiate rider.

She and husband, William Simpson, operated their own gourmet food retail business before she chose to return to riding, this time as a professional. “One day, I just decided I needed to be back on a horse and in the ring,” she said. “I needed a change of pace. The business was something that was just too easy for me to keep doing. I wanted a different challenge.”

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Nine months ago Simpson started riding for Ole Strigel, owner of DK-USA Sporthorse, Inc. She took over the reins of Stedet’s Leroy, a 17-hand, 9-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding, last November. They placed third in the $30,000 Carolina Real Estate Company Grand Prix (S.C.) in May—Roanoke marked only their fourth time out at the grand prix level.

Strigel imported Stedet’s Leroy as a 6-year-old after the horse’s successful start in Europe. “I trust him and he trusts me, and we were ready to go tonight,” Simpson said. “I don’t know why we click so well, but with some horses you just do.” Simpson said she is happy being back in the ring. “I still love food, but I don’t miss the retail end of things,” she said.

Coluccio, of Middleburg, Va., may have been the youngest rider in the grand prix, but he has operated his own business since he was 16. Last November, he put together a syndicate of five owners—including himself—to buy Romeo from Marilyn Little’s Raylyn Farm. Little had started the 10-year-old, 15.1-hand German import at the grand prix level.

“He’s an amazing athlete,” Coluccio said. “It doesn’t matter how big the fence is, he will try and jump it. And he can.”

He described Romeo as being “unique, unlike any other horse I’ve ever experienced. It’s like riding a rocket ship. He just propels through the air. It’s an amazing feeling.”

He believes Romeo has a “huge future ahead of him, so long as I talk to him through the whole round. I have to tell him every step to relax, and his ears twitch and he listens.

“I think that’s why my luck ran out tonight [and I had the rail]. I had to stop talking to him down the final line because he started to pull. I think that’s my problem. I need to do less pulling and more talking!”

Roberta Anderson

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