Friday, Apr. 12, 2024

Hollnagel Conquers At Otter Creek

The Wisconsin-based trainer takes the CIC** title with her first advanced-level prospect.

In their partnership thus far, Harlan’s Flight has never failed to surpass Chrissy Hollnagel’s expectations. The plain, chestnut gelding was initially just a sweet-natured resale prospect, but five years later, he and the Wisconsin-based trainer are now a confirmed partnership.

And with a win at the Otter Creek CIC** in Wheeler, Wis., May 16-18, they moved one step closer to their advanced-level goal.
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The Wisconsin-based trainer takes the CIC** title with her first advanced-level prospect.

In their partnership thus far, Harlan’s Flight has never failed to surpass Chrissy Hollnagel’s expectations. The plain, chestnut gelding was initially just a sweet-natured resale prospect, but five years later, he and the Wisconsin-based trainer are now a confirmed partnership.

And with a win at the Otter Creek CIC** in Wheeler, Wis., May 16-18, they moved one step closer to their advanced-level goal.

Hollnagel, 30, has worked as a trainer at Willow Run Stables in Mequon, Wis., just north of Milwaukee, for the past six years. The facility is the former home base of Jonathan and Jennifer Holling. Hollnagel’s father, the former director of operations at the Keeneland-run Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, Ky., found Harlan’s Flight (Houston—Baby On The Way) as an unraced 6-year-old.

“We used to call him ‘The Golden Retriever’ around the barn, because he was just such a nice sweet horse,” Hollnagel explained.

She initially thought “Harley” would make a good Pony Club mount or lower-level amateur horse, but gradually she began to view him in a different light.

“I knew he was sweet, but I wasn’t sure he was going to make an upper level horse,” she said. “But every day he got better—he would be just a little bit better than the day before.”

A novice-level clinic with renowned eventing trainer Jim Wofford cemented Hollnagel and Harley’s partnership several years ago.

“He was the one who told me to keep him,” Hollnagel recalled. “Jimmy told me that if I ever wanted to sell him, I should call him collect. I’ll never forget that. That’s when I knew I had a really talented horse.”

Early this spring, Hollnagel went south to North Carolina to train with Will Faudree for three weeks, which she said helped her gain the confidence to strive for more with Harley. The pair won a preliminary division at Southern Pines (N.C.) in March, then an intermediate division at River Glen (Tenn.) in April. She’s aiming for the Fair Hill CCI** (Md.) this fall and may do an advanced horse trial before then.

“He really is proving to me that he can do more than any horse I’ve had in the past,” Hollnagel said of Harley. “He just tries his hardest every day. He just doesn’t have those bad days where you wonder if they really want to be out there. I’m hoping this is my first advanced horse.”

Tied for second after dressage at Otter Creek, Hollnagel was slightly disappointed with her score of 60.3, but Harley’s relaxation in the ring was a consolation.

“He’s not the fanciest mover, but he’s so steady,” she said. “This horse just goes out and proves to me that he belongs at this level.”

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Although Otter Creek is a familiar event for Hollnagel, she said the new course looked tough, and she was slightly concerned about being the first rider out of the box. But Harley cruised around easily, collecting just 8.8 time faults.

Only three riders in the CIC** finished the weekend; two retired on cross-country and one was eliminated, and another withdrew before show jumping.

“The sunken road caused a lot of trouble, from what I understand,” Hollnagel said. “It was a narrow table, one stride to the drop in and then two strides up and out, and it was a bounce out. They made the sunken road significantly harder than horse trials in the past, and there were more corners on the course, but the cross-country was amazing.

“Otter Creek started out as kind of a small, backyard event, but they’re doing a great job and really trying to make it into a destination event, even though they don’t have the entries just yet,” she continued. “[Course designer] John Williams made some changes that definitely made it a two-star course. People are being very hard on the course designers, and we need to give them credit when they make improvements.”

Hollnagel also credited her win to a healthy helping of luck, as overnight leaders Jamie Price and Maximus pulled two rails in show jumping, while she and Harley dropped just one to finish on a score of 73.1.

“[Price’s] horse actually looked like he was jumping better than mine,” she admitted. “Show jumping is not our strongest phase. I was actually quite pleased with only one rail. He rubbed probably 50 percent of the rails, it just happened that we left them up. There’s definitely some room for improvement when those jumps get bigger.”

Hollnagel also took third place in the CIC* with Sangiovese, an off-the-track, Thoroughbred mare owned by her student Gail Eder.

It was Missouri young rider Callie Judy who took control in the CIC*, however, pulling a one-two finish. The 15-year-old won the division aboard Irish Odyssey and took second with Call On Me.

In 2006, Judy won a team gold medal at the North American Young Riders Championships, the junior/young rider division of the American Eventing Championships at the preliminary level, and finished off the year as the USEA Junior Preliminary Rider of the Year, all with her mount Kilkenny Castle. An injury last spring put him out of commission, however, so Judy has been focusing on “Oddy” and “Ollie” in the meantime.

Though both mounts are relatively new to Judy, the partnerships are already solidifying. She imported Oddy, an 8-year-old, Irish Sport Horse mare, last July, but they’ve already completed two CCI*s together, and they won a preliminary division at The Fork (N.C.) this spring.

After her coach Darren Chiacchia was injured in March, Judy began training with Leslie Law in Ocala, Fla. Now that she’s moved back to her home in Columbia, Mo., for the summer, though, she’s on her own at Midwest events. Law’s tutelage has still been helping them gain the edge in the dressage, however.

“We worked really intensely on the flatwork and getting my horses to move more freely, and that’s helped me immensely with my mare,” she said. “We do a lot of 20-meter circle work, leg yielding in and out on the circle, working to un-kink her and make sure she’s moving straight.”

Judy and Oddy (Master Imp–Ryehill Queen) led the CIC* division at Otter Creek from the beginning, scoring a 49.6 in the dressage.

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“In the warm-up, I was actually a little bit concerned because she was getting a little hot on me, and I thought, ‘Oh great. This is going to be an explosive dressage test,’ ” Judy said. “I thought she gave an average test, but she knows how to flaunt. She knows how to be a showy little horse.”

The pair added a mere .8 time faults to their score with a clean round on cross-country, which Judy attributed to the impending thunderstorm that threatened to break mid-ride.

“It made me go faster,” she said, laughing. “I was just like, ‘Run, Oddy, Run! We’ve got to get out of this!’ ”

Judy said both the CIC* cross-country and show jumping courses were technical enough to keep her on her toes. There were several narrow fences on cross-country, and she acknowledged that she’d never done a full sunken road or bounce steps with these two mounts. The show jumping also required tight turns and accuracy, with a skinny fence as well.

Oddy made easy work of the course, however, putting in a double-clear performance to finish on 50.4 penalties.

“She amazes me every time we jump because she’s little,” Judy said of the 16-hand mare. “I usually ride 17.2-hand horses.”

With just one preliminary event together under their belts, Judy and her second mount, Call On Me, were relatively untested as a pair.

“I just got him at the beginning of May, so I was shocked at how well we did with a brand new partnership,” Judy said of the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Faram–Zoblera).

Formerly campaigned at the intermediate level by another of Law’s students, Ashley Dalton, Ollie was the perfect fit for Judy when she told her coach she was looking for an experienced horse.

Judy and Ollie were tied for second after dressage, and the gray gelding jumped around the CIC* course with just 2 time faults. One rail in show jumping didn’t keep them from taking home the red ribbon, with a final score of 60.6.

Next up for Judy will be the Colorado Horse Park CCI**, then a trip to Virginia for more training with Law. While Oddy is already qualified, Judy also hopes Ollie will be a possibility for the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, to be held back in Colorado, this summer.

Kat Netzler

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