Lexington, Ky.—April 24
It was a proper, tough five-star cross-country course for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, and because it’s an Olympic year, it was fair to have such a test. I don’t mind seeing riders popping off—that’s part of the sport—but watching seven horses fall in the five-star was too many.
At the Head of the Lake, I walked the little bank to the house out of the water and thought it was questionable. I think the distances should be clear, and coming out of the water, that two strides was just a bit too open: It wasn’t a really good three strides and it wasn’t a really good two. I only saw a couple horses put a nice two strides there, and if only a rare horse or rider can do that, then you’re not actually designing a course for the competition, you’re designing a course for one or two types of horses.
To me, some of the jumps were set where you needed more than just rideability, you needed that 1-in-20 horse, but then what do you do with the rest of the field? I’m not suggesting dumbing down the course, I’m saying use striding that makes sense for the general population.
People will say, “Look at how the Europeans handled it!” because they handled it beautifully. They came in lightly run; they rode exceptionally well, as you’d expect them to. They had some striding issues, too, but they got it done. But appreciate that theirs are the 1-in-20 horses because they don’t bring over the rest. If you brought the whole European contingent over, you’d likely have the same ratio of issues we saw, but this weekend, they already had selected their 1-in-20 horses.
When I walked the course, I thought there were going to be a few falls at the log-to-log at the end [26ABC, the Mighty Moguls], which there were. I do think course designer Derek di Grazia was really fair in his presentation of that question. All you had to do was not panic and make sure your horse got to the right stride by the line you took, so problems there were a rider-responsibility issue.
He did give the five-star horses enough gallop stuff to do to regain their confidence between the combinations. I didn’t see horses in the five-star finish demoralized. In the four-star, unfortunately, they were demoralized—that was readily apparent—but in the five-star, I do believe the horses are going to come away from this feeling good, and I commend Derek on that.
I feel so bad for Boyd Martin. The groan that went up when he had the fall on Tsetserleg! It stabbed me in the heart for several reasons. He deserves a good run, and with the ride he was giving that horse, I was wanting it for Boyd so badly, and I was wanting it for America to finish today in that top placing. When people say they want to be a top rider, you need to look at Boyd because he keeps showing up. He’s an example of toughness. He fell off his first horse, Long Island T, and he goes out on On Cue, a first-time five-star horse, and gives her a masterful ride. He could’ve taken it a little bit easy because he had a fall earlier, and the horse was green to the level, but he didn’t. At all. He went out and tried to give it 100 percent. Then he went out on Tsetserleg and tried to go for the full performance. That’s what people should emulate. Not because he had the perfect round, but because, in spite of all those compromised things, he’s still out there giving it everything he’s got.
Tamie Smith absolutely rose to the day. She went out and absolutely showed how much she wants it. She was riding beautifully, and it’s really unfortunate she nailed the frangible pin at Fence 24A. It was all on Mai Baum’s back end, so I don’t think he would’ve fallen if it hadn’t been there, but it was legitimately coming down. She sat well; she rode the course well. With exception of 24A, I thought she was answering the questions exactly how she should have. She didn’t have to dig herself out of anything. I was really impressed with her riding at a difficult position in a difficult place, and I thought she did an excellent job.
Liz Halliday-Sharp just rode so well on Deniro Z. I was thrilled watching that go. She’s been coming into that place all spring, and she certainly showed how good she is. It’s unfortunate the dressage didn’t happen the way it usually does. Sometimes when that happens, and the dressage is disappointing, people then don’t ride that well on cross-country. Not Liz. She’s a total professional in the moment, and America should definitely be thankful to have her because she can now be someone you can depend on.
The horses that finished looking good, the horsemanship is there. Take Lauren Nicholson: Paramount Importance was a little tired at the end, but no one could ride a horse that was a little tired any better than she rode that horse. She absolutely did the right amount to keep him over his feet, giving him the distances that made it work. That’s hard to do. And Vermiculus looked quite good. I think the partnership on both horses transcends talent; partnerships make this really work.
Jonelle Price is someone aspiring riders should look up to for what she can do out there. It’s much different than Lauren Nicholson, but she just has the desire and drive. You could see that she would will a horse over a fence; it’s incredible to watch. She’s going to go and try for the time.
I just about changed my prediction on the Who Dat before the competition to Ema Klugman, and she would’ve been the right one. She got really aggressive and just rode strong to her fences. I was really impressed with her and how she finished the course. I thought that was a really good finish, especially for a rookie.
The Chronicle of the Horse will be on-site all week for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event bringing you reports from each round of competition, beautiful photos and stories from the competitors. Follow along with all of our coverage here, and be sure to read our May 17 Kentucky Results issue for more in-depth coverage and analysis of the event.