A resilient Bruce Davidson hopped up after a stinging fall from a young horse on the preliminary cross-country course at Poplar Place, March 23-25, in Hamilton, Ga. He later tacked up Jam for their advanced trip but was glad only a few bumps and bruises lingered from his earlier mishap and was even happier to win advanced, division 1, with his two-time U.S. Eventing Association Mare of the Year.
“I was very lucky because the [preliminary] horse did come over, which is the worst kind of fall, but he landed next to me instead of on me,” Davidson recalled, counting his lucky stars. “It was just one of those things, and we both walked away OK so I was very lucky.”
But Jam showed her true talent in every phase, which was especially redeeming after last year’s disheartening dressage score at Rolex Kentucky, where Davidson withdrew her. Davidson considered it an indication of where Jam stood and used most of last season and this winter to polish up her dressage.
“She’s improved a lot. She just wasn’t competitive enough last year so that’s been our emphasis,” Davidson explained. They took the unenviable first ride in the division at Poplar but set off with a respectable score of 35.4, in third place.
Saturday’s cross-country competition was anything but routine after Ralph Hill’s accident (see sidebar). Davidson recalled chatting with Hill in the warm-up ring just before Hill and Reprint galloped out of the start box. But riders had an hour to wait while the course was held to attend to Hill.
Jam got to relax with his groom under the shade of a tree while Davidson recharged with a power nap. When competition resumed, Jam and Davidson stoked up again and set off over the course.
Jam seemed to love the swift pace and was “right on the money” over the span of Tremaine Cooper’s course. They became one of only six combinations in all three advanced divisions to finish faultlessly and headed for Sunday’s show jumping knowing a clean trip would secure victory.
Like their cross-country tour, Jam and Davidson were again one of only six pairs to pull off a perfect show jumping round. Davidson said he didn’t doubt Jam or her ability on that particular course, nor did he think twice about falling short of the target time most riders missed.
“She turns easily, and she’s not one you have to hold off the fence,” Davidson said. “She’s usually a pretty clean jumper.”
With a victory under his belt, Davidson’s next move with Jam is Rolex Kentucky. “This was a good run for her before Kentucky,” he said, feeling ready. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
Winsome Adante also jumped back to the top in the advanced, FEI*** test division, to Kim Severson’s delight.
All three phases at Poplar Place made for a tight skirmish between Severson and Emilee Libby, who rode her slated Rolex mount, Cahir. After dressage, Libby had the upper hand by a slim 2.9 faults. But by Saturday night, the standings had switched.
Severson and Winsome Adante’s cross-country effort kept their record spotless while Libby and Cahir lost 5.2 faults to the clock. But with Libby still in striking distance, every fence counted in the show jumping.
Severson trekked first and dropped one rail, leaving Libby the win if she managed a clean round. But Cahir “kind of slowed down a little bit halfway through,” Libby said. “He always jumps well, but here he kind of felt a little slow.”
They pulled a rail that left a 2.3-fault gap between red and blue ribbons. With that, Severson and her Olympic silver-medal partner and three-time Rolex Kentucky winner maintained their strong hold over the division for the win.
While Severson and “Dan” can claim three Rolex Kentucky titles, Libby, 19, will be making her first four-star start there this spring. She started riding her 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse at preliminary in 2001.
After last year’s inspiring season culminated with the top young rider award at the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) and the USEA Young Rider of the Year honors for Libby, the question begged to be answered: “Everyone was asking me, ‘Are you going to do it? Are you going to Rolex?’ At that point I still didn’t know if I was ready. But Buck [Davidson] told me he thought I could do it,” said Libby.
She’s been cramming in as many lessons as possible with David O’Connor and Buck Davidson to prepare for this career pinnacle. But when she’s actually standing in the Rolex starting box, “It’ll be all mental for me,” she explained. “I know I can do it, and I know he can do it.
“I haven’t been there before, not even to watch,” she admitted. “I’ve only seen it on videos so those jumps are going to look enormous to me. But I don’t know what I need to be nervous about. We’re both ready. As long as we both put our minds to it, we can do it.”
Round And Round They Go
Penny Rowland’s weekend at Poplar only reiterated the fact that she’s still on the right track after her ex-Mennonite carthorse, Roundabout, won advanced, division 2. Her Pan Am Games prospect, Windswept, placed third in the FEI*** division, and Rowland hopes Canadian selectors are paying attention.
But behind her subtle air of confidence, Rowland didn’t expect victory for Roundabout at the beginning of the weekend. “He didn’t do so well in dressage,” she said. “He knew we were at an event and got a little strong.”
Their 42.9-fault dressage score didn’t finish atop the standings—more like 13th. But Roundabout’s trusty cross-country forte provided just the trick they needed to climb back up the ranks.
“He is an absolute cross-country machine—he just loves it,” Rowland said of the 14-year-old Canadian Sport Horse. “He scares the hell out of most people, but I just love him!” True to form, he cleared the course 7 seconds ahead of the clock.
Combination 11ABC—a large log leading to a pair of corners on a bending four strides—caused several problems during the day, but not for Rowland. Another notable triple combination [15ABC] boasted a log bounce off a bank before riders collected their horses down a hill to face a small ditch topped with a large Easter egg. Roundabout “smoked through” both, said Rowland. Windswept exercised a little more caution throughout the course, but it only cost 5.6 time faults.
After Roundabout’s invigorating trip, Rowland’s outlook fired up for Sunday’s show jumping. “I was feeling pretty good because he’s a very good jumper,” said Rowland. Still, one unexpected rail hit the dirt. “I was kind of surprised that he had that rail. I did not expect to win after that.”
She almost didn’t. But the numbers didn’t lie, and they added up in Rowland’s favor. She and Roundabout galloped from Friday’s 13th place to Sunday’s top rank, just scraping by Bonnie Mosser and Close The Deal by the critical 0.1 faults they lost from finishing 1 second overdue in show jumping.
As for Windswept, “He’s going very well this year, and we’re very happy. We’ve worked on show jumping tons, and it’s paying off now—with both of them actually,” said Rowland of her training sessions with Canadian eventing clinician David O’Connor. “And I couldn’t do without the support of my owner, Don J. Good, and sponsor Shawn Madere,” she added smiling.
Making The Leap
There was no shame in finishing second behind Bruce Davidson and Jam for Rebecca Huy, 22, and Hot Night, especially for their second go at advanced together. For Huy, this career zenith has been a long time coming, belated by a somewhat rocky restart after a head injury in 2003.
Huy’s 10-year eventing career hit a wall four years ago after falling from Hot Night at what was supposed to be their last preliminary ride before graduating to intermediate. “It was kind of a freak accident. He didn’t see the bank jumping out of the water so he ran into it and I flipped,” Huy remembered. “I have a six-photo sequence of me landing head first and tumbling.”
After being rescued by helicopter herself, she could sympathize with Hill’s accident, especially since she trained with him for seven years. In a strange and unfortunate coincidence, “I was the one who got held on course right after Ralph fell,” she said. “And it was hard because all the adrenaline is kind of gone after an hour.”
When competition resumed, “I warmed [Hot Night] back up in the warm-up, but I was only allowed to jump two fences—one training and one prelim,” she explained. “And since I had to start back up in the middle of the advanced course it was hard to get him galloping and excited again.”
During Huy’s recovery year, Hill kept her 11-year-old, Australian-Canadian Thoroughbred going. “For the first seven years of my career, Ralph taught me everything,” Huy said reverently.
She finally returned to the tack in February 2005 at Rocking Horse (Fla.) and let no remnants of the injury inhibit her aspirations. But they weren’t out of the woods yet. At her second intermediate outing, another freak fall set them back.
“We were having a gorgeous round. But when he jumped into the water, his knees buckled and he fell. That was my second event back from the head injury,” Huy said, laughing at the absurdity. “Neither of us were injured, but I was mad. I came out of the water cussing!”
But that seemed to be the last glitch for Huy and “Montana.” They’ve since reestablished a sturdy confidence and achieved her goal of competing advanced. But it may be short and sweet for now.
After graduating from the University of Florida, Huy found a job as a therapeutic riding program barn manager. Having convenient stabling for Montana and the opportunity to practice her dressage as part of the job, she discovered her passion and is now pursuing a master’s degree in speech therapy and certification as a therapeutic riding instructor.
“This is kind of my last push [in eventing] because once I start grad school I have no idea how much time I’ll have,” Huy said. “I still plan on keeping Montana, and I would like to keep working with Kyle [Carter] to keep him fit. But I really just wanted to get to advanced before this point.”
Rolex Without Ralph?
For the first time since its inception, Rolex will run without Ralph Hill on course. He’s competed there every year since 1978 but on Saturday, March 24, he sustained serious injuries after Reprint fell at a corner jump through the 11ABC combination on the advanced cross-country course. Reprint returned to his stable uninjured.
Competition halted for an hour while emergency crews attended to Hill and a Life Flight helicopter flew in to transport him to the Columbus Regional Medical Center. He arrived at the hos-pital still unconscious and with multiple fractures, including a compound fracture of his femur.
The combination was composed of a large log followed by two corners on a bending four strides. It was removed after Hill’s accident.
“Ralph has been a character in all of our lives, and we all wish him well and a speedy recovery. Our thoughts and prayers are with him,” Bruce Davidson said. “This will be the first Rolex without him, and we’ll really miss him being there.”
“It was just one of those freak things that nobody wants to have happen,” said Rebecca Huy. “A lot of people know him and like him, and we all hope he gets better soon.”
As of March 27, Hill’s condition was stable and he was recovering from two successful surgeries to repair his fractured wrist, femur and humerus. Doctors have said his prognosis for a full recovery is good and expect he will eventu-ally be able return to the saddle.
Laura Vandervliet also sustained serious but non-life threatening injuries after falling at the advanced first water complex [4 and 5AB]. She was transported to Columbus Regional Medical Center by ambulance and treated for injuries including a fractured shoulder, foot and ankle. She is also expected to fully recover.
Joshua A. Walker