Monday, Apr. 15, 2024

Fergusson Is First At Inaugural MCTA CIC***


It was fitting that the win in the first Maryland Combined Training Association CIC*** division should go to a first-timer, and 24-year-old Lisa Marie Fergusson was more than happy to accept. The Langley, B.C., native claimed her maiden three-star victory aboard her own Uni Griffon at only their third outing at the level, May 4-6 at Shawan Downs in Cockeysville, Md.
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It was fitting that the win in the first Maryland Combined Training Association CIC*** division should go to a first-timer, and 24-year-old Lisa Marie Fergusson was more than happy to accept. The Langley, B.C., native claimed her maiden three-star victory aboard her own Uni Griffon at only their third outing at the level, May 4-6 at Shawan Downs in Cockeysville, Md.

“He’s probably the most amazing horse I’ve ever sat on,” said Fergusson of her 8-year-old, Welsh Cob-Thoroughbred gelding, whom she has owned quite literally since he was a baby. Fergusson purchased him at the tender age of 2 days old and began working with him as soon as he was weaned, training him all the way up the levels herself. “I’ve had a lot of great help on the ground,” she added.

Earlier this spring, the pair finished seventh in the CIC***-W at Galway Downs (Calif.) and fourth in the advanced at Twin Rivers (Calif.) before making the trek across the country to The Plains, Va., where she currently trains with David O’Connor. Because of his work as course designer at MCTA, O’Connor was unable to coach her over the weekend, so Clark Mont-gomery and Karen O’Connor stepped in.

“I was thrilled with his dressage,” Fergusson said of her horse’s second-placed score of 50.3. She wasn’t quite so pleased with her own performance, however. “He was brilliant. I went off course twice!

“Between Clark and Karen, they whipped me into shape,” she said of her dressage post-game wrap-up. And the “whipping” did the trick, as the pair collected only 1 time penalty in the show jumping later on Friday, despite Fergusson’s low confidence in her jumping performances of late. “I’ve been having trouble with my stadium. It’s a good thing you take care of me,” she added happily, giving her partner a pat.

Their clean jumping score moved them into first place going into Saturday’s cross-country, but one of Fergusson’s coaches was close on her heels. “It’s nerve-wracking having Karen 3.3 points behind me,” she said of O’Connor and her mount Allstar. “You know she’s not going to make it easy on you.”

But despite having to ride last in the reverse order of placing, Fergusson exhibited grace under pressure as she handled the complex coffin at 6ABC with aplomb and managed to stick in the tack after a close call upon landing down the hill from fence 20, the Roadside Rails. The pair galloped home safely and logged the fastest clear round in the division, adding 9.6 time penalties to finish on a score of 60.9.

“My horse handled it really well,” she said. “I rode terribly today, and he was just there for me.”

Like most of the competitors at MCTA, Fergusson is aiming for the Jersey Fresh CCI*** (N.J.) in June. Her obvious bond with Uni Griffon has allowed the pair to leap up the levels in an impressively short time. In fact, Fergusson said she earned her A Pony Club rating aboard him just two days after he had turned 5.

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She now keeps the gelding, her sole mount, at Montgomery’s barn on the O’Connor farm. This arrangement allows her to spend plenty of time with the horse. “I’ve actually been living in a camper in Sally O’Connor’s driveway,” she explained with a smile.

“My dad just turned 60 and is working full time for me to be able to do this,” she continued, reiterating her gratefulness for the opportunities the cross-continental move has provided. “I’m the poster child for starving Canadians with no money and a super horse!”

Another modest member of the Canadian contingent took the blue in the advanced division. Jessica Ruppel, of Collingwood, Ont., claimed her second advanced victory this spring aboard Naughty By Nature, a 15-hand, mixed-breed gelding. The horse, who Ruppel believes is part Appaloosa, Morgan and Arabian, is instantly rec-ognizable on the show grounds with his spotted posterior.

“They were small divisions,” Ruppel said humbly of her wins this season, the first of which came at Pine Top (Ga.) in March. But considering the fact that Ruppel travels back and forth between Ontario and the Lower 48 each time she competes, her success even in “small divisions” is hard earned.

“We’ve been going back and forth because my work is there,” explained Ruppel, who rides, trains and teaches full time in Ontario.

The constant travel doesn’t seem to upset Naughty By Nature, who put in a dressage test on Friday that Ruppel felt was the best he’d performed all year. Although they were in seventh out of eight horses after the first phase, she was quite content with their score of 38.3. “I tried not to pressure him, and he was really obedient,” she said. “I was really happy.”

The pair added 4 jumping and 1 time penalty to their score in the show jumping, but they moved up into second place as the other horses had similar difficulties. Still, Ruppel said her horse wasn’t quite himself. “He felt like he really was over-jumping everything,” she said, “but I still really had to kick a lot to make the distances.”

A smart change in studs put the horse back on form and gave the pair a stellar cross-country go the following day. “He just whizzed around,” Ruppel recounted proudly. “I didn’t find a single fence he was sticky at this time. This was our last run before Jersey [Fresh], so I just let him go.”

While no one pushed for time, Ruppel’s clear round was the fastest in the division, and with 10 time penalties, they finished on a score of 53.3.

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“We’ve declared for the Canadian Team for the Pan Ams [Brazil],” she said.

She genially noted that although her small horse has performed impressively this spring, she doesn’t expect to beat out other experienced Canadian partnerships for a spot this year. “We still need to qualify at Jersey Fresh, but we’ve declared! Really, the plan is to go home for the summer and chill out.”

Cross-Country Complications
The inaugural CIC*** division at this year’s MCTA Horse Trials gave course designer David O’Connor a chance to modify last year’s notoriously difficult advanced cross-country track. Chock full of narrow fences and difficult bending lines, the advanced course at the 2006 event caused more than a few riders to withdraw from the competition. Of the 36 horses running at the advanced level in 2006, 14 withdrew before the start of cross-country; of those who chose to tackle the course, five retired.

“I think that the organizers do a fantastic job and that they are really trying to have a great event,” said Buck Davidson, who rode King Billy to a clear but slow cross-country round and a seventh-placed finish in this year’s three-star. “They understand that it didn’t come off well last year, and they really want it to work. They’ve done a fantastic job of building [the course] to get to where they want it to get, they just still need some tweaking.”

In view of last year’s controversy, this year’s course was modified but still asked many of the same difficult questions as the previous one, with many technical combinations and related distances. And although this year’s pack of riders were more game to give it a try, several still experienced their fair share of difficulties. Mike Winter retired after a fall with the first of his horses and had a stop with the second; Sharon White had two refusals aboard The King’s Spirit, and O’Connor’s own wife, Karen, took an unexpected dip in the second water complex, after which she retired.

“Accuracy questions, I think, are great questions, but they eventually get everyone riding backwards,” said Davidson, citing the need for more straightforward galloping fences. “I said it to David, that to me there was no height and width to the jumps—they were all skinnies. If they just add width to the jumps and add a few galloping questions, it will be an unbelievable course.

“So many events are losing competitors because they haven’t made the commitment to wanting to get better,” Davidson continued. “We don’t have to go places that are not great. [But] MCTA has certainly made the commitment to get better. They seem to be really trying. We’re all just trying to get better at whatever we do.”

Kat Netzler

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