Lexington, Ky.—April 22
This year’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event is unique, with no spectators allowed (except a few dozen clever cardboard cutouts). Even so, the atmosphere in the Rolex Stadium can be intense, and with the addition of a CCI4*-S division to this year’s competition, several riders brought their up and coming young horses out for a chance to gain experience at the county’s biggest three-day stage.
At the end of the first day of dressage, three pairs are tied for the lead: Tamie Smith and Danito, Doug Payne and Starr Witness, and Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Moonshine each scored 28.1 from judges Mark Weissbecker and Helen Brettell.
While Smith’s 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Dancier—Wie Musik) was one of the more experienced horses in the field of 45, Halliday-Sharp and Payne’s horses are newer to the level.
Smith, who’s from California, has been on the East Coast for a couple of months as part of her Kentucky preparation.
She brought EnVogue for the four-star as well, plus Mai Baum for the five-star.
“Danito is actually a bit of a misfit,” she said. “Before I got him, he was a little bit naughty and kind of difficult and just couldn’t really find his way with the right rider. We clicked in right away.”
“Other than our first event together—which he wheeled around coming out of the startbox—it’s just been a match made in heaven,” she said. “He’s such a trier. He’s quirky. He was very quirky today. I’m pretty sure somebody has a picture of him with his head straight up in the air in the warmup. He was really fresh and kind of naughty, but you just have to compromise with him. You’ve got to be firm, but you can’t get after him or get mad at home or he freaks out. I went into that test today not really being able to ride him, so I was disappointed after my ride because he can produce a better test than he did today, but it’s just what it is. He’s such a cool horse, and I really love him.”
Payne was thrilled with his mare “Gin” today, especially considering she was a bit amped up in the warmup.
“[She] stepped into the arena and was absolutely excellent. Probably her best test yet,” he said of the Dutch Warmblood mare (Chello III VDL—Carmen). “She’s still pretty new to the whole situation. She’s 10 this year. She did get the opportunity to go the Pan Ams [Peru, in 2019] but that was two years after she started eventing, so I still feel like we’re just getting there where she’s really aware of what’s happening and each aspect and what we’re looking for in each phase. Sometimes it’s a challenge because she can be a little green about things, but she’s a super genuine horse, crazy talented, and in the barn she’s just always looking for another biscuit. She’s hungry as anything. Big mama needs to eat!”
Halliday-Sharp’s 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Cobra—Kilpatrick Duchess) is still “pretty green” at the level, having just moved up this season.
“I’m really pleased with him,” she said. “This is a huge amount of atmosphere for a young horse. He can be a little bit hot; he’s a very blood horse, but he tries really hard. I was thrilled with his trot work; he got a little tense in the walk and canter, and that’s a work in progress, but he tried really hard for me, and he’s going to be a real proper superstar.”
She’s had him since he was 5.
“He’s a real sweetie in the barn, and he’s always got his head tipped to the side begging for cookies,” she said. “He’s a horse we have to manage a bit at a show because he just needs a lot of work and settling, but I feel like we got it pretty right today, especially considering how cold it is and how much this is for a young horse to see.”
Payne said the empty stadium isn’t so much a problem for him, as he gets in a zone when he’s in the ring.
“At this stage, we’ve been lucky enough to be here a fair bit. It doesn’t feel all that much different, but I honestly feel bad for the first-timers because certainly walking down the chute for into the arena the very first time you see it, it’s almost overwhelming, and on cross-country I feel like there’s a wave of sound following you, and unfortunately that’s not going to be there for them this year,” he said. “But after having been a couple of times, you start to focus more on the task at hand, and I think the background, at least in my experience, tends to blend away. So in the ring itself as we’re doing the test, I wouldn’t have thought there was any difference at all.”
Smith was also appreciative of the chance to bring her string to Kentucky.
“It’s a huge opportunity to be able to get these four-star horses in this environment and in this atmosphere. It’s priceless really,” she said.
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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.