Thursday, Apr. 18, 2024

Holling Is King At Red Hills


Winning the Red Hills CIC***-W, March 9-11 in Tallahassee, Fla., accomplished several things for Jonathan Holling.
   
First of all, it made life a little easier at home, by giving his wife, Jennifer Holling, the BMW she’d sacrificed in order to purchase his winning mount, Lion King II. At least for awhile, that is, since the winner receives use of a BMW for one year.
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Winning the Red Hills CIC***-W, March 9-11 in Tallahassee, Fla., accomplished several things for Jonathan Holling.
   
First of all, it made life a little easier at home, by giving his wife, Jennifer Holling, the BMW she’d sacrificed in order to purchase his winning mount, Lion King II. At least for awhile, that is, since the winner receives use of a BMW for one year.

“We had money set aside to buy a car and a horse,” recalled Jonathan, 30, of Ocala, Fla. “I said, ‘How much do you want that BMW? I found a horse, and we can’t afford both.’ ”

That was seven years ago, when Lion King was an unproven 6-year-old. Last year, Jonathan came close to giving Jennifer that car when he finished second in the CIC***-W to Phillip Dutton.

“[Winning the car] was something I was hoping could happen,” he admitted. Dutton, who won use of the car last year, told Jonathan he would get to go on the website and pick out which model he wanted, and Jonathan said that would be Jennifer’s choice. “I know it will be blue and tan,” he said with a laugh, referring to the colors at their Willow Run Farm.

But aside from the car, Jonathan also found the victory satisfying because he won with a clear show jumping round, moving up from third when Dutton and Tru Luck knocked one rail and overnight leader Darren Chiacchia pulled two on Windfall II. That clean round proved a point, since he’d lost the title at the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) last fall by pulling three rails and dropping to seventh place.

“This was redemption [for Fair Hill],” he said.

But he still didn’t think he’d had a perfect round. “We came out, and, to me, I didn’t feel like we were quite clicking. We were a little lucky on a few fences,” he said modestly.

Still, Holling’s round appeared nearly flawless, as “Simba” hardly touched a rail. “It was not fun watching Darren have rails down,” added Holling. “He’s a good friend; we go to the gym together every day, and to win that way was not fun. It was tough to watch, not that I didn’t smile a little bit.”

Chiacchia, who winters in Ocala, said he couldn’t fault Windfall, who won the class in 2004 and finished third this year. “It just goes that way,” he said. “He jumped well; he went well. Sometimes you rattle them and they don’t go anywhere, and sometimes they do. He tried his heart out. We just had a little bad luck.”

Most importantly for Jonathan, winning a major CIC title gives Simba the credit the Hollings have always known he deserves. “It’s exciting for me that he gets to win it,” said Jonathan of his fancy chestnut gelding. “We’ve had a long relationship, and it means a lot to me for the horse. He was nervous and tense early in his career, but he’s a hard-working horse, and he never complains. I’ve had several advanced horses, but he’s my first big-time horse and legitimate superstar, and that means a lot to me.”

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Beating Dutton and Chiacchia—the only two riders to have won the Red Hills feature class since its inception in 2003—also gave the win extra value. Tru Luck finished second, and The Foreman, who’s won the past two years with Dutton, had to sit out  this year with a popped splint but is slated to contest the CIC***-W at The Fork (N.C.) a month later.

“Phillip and Darren are the best in the sport, and to come out on top meant a lot,” he said. “You challenge yourself by the competition you surround yourself with, and to win a competition like this made me believe I can do it, and maybe do it again.”

Big Questions

The World Cup qualifying division didn’t attract as many horses as in past years (last year there were 45 starters, as compared to 21 starters this year), possibly because there won’t be a World Cup Final in 2007, since it will be held in the spring of 2008. Jonathan’s second place last year qualified him for the 2006 final, and he competed in Malmö, Sweden, finishing 16th.

But Capt. Mark Phillips’ CIC***-W course was as challenging as ever, possibly even more difficult with a few new questions, including a long downhill run to a bounce into water at fence 15AB, Apalachee Bay, and a new corner combination right in the middle of the main spectator area at fence 19AB, the Ultimate BMW. The action attracted more than 23,000 spectators on cross-country day alone.

“The middle of the course had more flow, from fence 7 to the coffin, hammock and first water,” said Jonathan. “It was more gallopy and open. But the BMW corners were a big challenge, and I was concerned about Tarzans Corners [fence 22AB-23AB]—that’s a pretty severe angle. But both horses locked on, got there in five strides, and there was never any doubt they were going to jump it.”

Jonathan’s other ride, Direct Merger, finished seventh. “Both horses stepped up a notch this weekend and showed me they’re big-time horses,” he said.

He hopes to compete both of them at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** and hopefully qualify for the Pan American Games this  summer. “The one thing I haven’t been able to achieve yet is to get on a team,” he said. “If that doesn’t happen, we’ll probably go to Burghley [CCI**** (England)].”

Jonathan has been put on the U.S. Equestrian Team’s training list, and he’s benefited from working with Capt. Phillips and Laura Kraut, as well as his regular coach, David O’Connor.

First Time’s A Charm

While Holling was celebrating his biggest win, Kate Luce was enjoying her first time riding in a three-star with a victory of her own.

In only her third start at the advanced level, Luce wasn’t expecting to be leading the CIC*** victory gallop on Sunday afternoon. “I always thought it would be great to win, but you never think you’re going to come out and win your first three-star,” she said. “I was shocked!”

The 19-year-old from Mobile, Ala., won on Fox In Flight, an 18-year-old Irish Thorough-bred previously campaigned at the advanced level by David O’Brien and then Will Coleman. Luce has been riding him for nearly two years and is thrilled to have the opportunity.

“I have complete confidence in my horse,” she said. “I wanted to be on game myself, but I knew my horse would do everything. He was perfect.”

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A sophomore at Auburn University (Ala.), Luce attends classes Tuesdays through Thursdays, then heads to Ocala, Fla., where her horses live with her trainer, Chiacchia. She rides through Monday, then heads back to school on Monday nights.

“I couldn’t have done it without my coach,” said Luce, who also finished 16th in the CIC** aboard Tia Lusso. “I’m lucky to have such nice horses and supportive parents. My parents [Greg and Susan Luce] have been to every horse show.”

Luce hopes to compete Fox In Flight at the Jersey Fresh CCI*** (N.J.) in May. “It’s been such a great experience having him,” she said. “He’s taught me so much. He’ll go to Jersey Fresh if he holds up, and when he retires he’ll go live in Alabama, hang out and be fat. It’s going to be sad, though [when he retires], because he loves it.”

Work In Progress

Amy Tryon proved her new partnership with Rebecca and Jerome Broussard’s Le Samurai is getting stronger and stronger with a win in the advanced class. Tryon started riding the Holsteiner-Thoroughbred gelding last summer and finished fifth at the 2006 Blenheim CCI*** (England).

“Every horse trial you learn something new about what you’re sitting on,” said Tryon. “This is his first real competition back [since Blenheim], and I’m thrilled with him.”

While “Sparky” has never been an easy ride, Tryon said he’s getting better. “It’s a work in progress,” she said with a laugh. “The main thing is just getting him to be relaxed, jump in a rhythm and be happy.”

She didn’t even wear a watch cross-country, as her plan is to start the season slow and go a little quicker at each event. “He is strong between the jumps, but as you turn to the fence, he can be spooky and drop behind my leg, so it’s a matter of timing and learning when I need to close my leg,” said Tryon, who said Sparky is a different kind of “strong” than her 2006 World Equestrian Games bronze medalist, Poggio (who didn’t compete at Red Hills).

“Poggio needs very little leg,” she said with a laugh. “I rarely use spurs or carry a whip with him.”

If Tryon continues to forge better communication with Sparky, she’ll compete him at Kentucky this spring. “It’s very much one day at a time,” she said. “I’m very lucky that Becky and Jerome have been so generous in allowing me to ride him, and they are very much of the mindset that this is a horse for the future. If the communication isn’t where it needs to be, we won’t go to Kentucky. We don’t want to do anything to the detriment of his confidence.

“He’s the most athletic horse I’ve ever sat on. But you have to have that going your way,” she added with a laugh.

Meanwhile, Tryon plans to compete Poggio at the Luhmuhlen CCI**** (Germany) this summer. He developed a splint on the outside of a hind leg after coming out of quarantine on his trip home from the WEG last summer. “His conditioning schedule is about six weeks behind everyone else, so I decided to give him an easy spring,” she said.

Beth Rasin

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