The crowd was on the edge of their seats at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina, on May 5 as Leslie Burr-Howard and Donna Speciale took to the Tryon Stadium as the final combination in the jump-off round of the $70,000 Tryon Resort Grand Prix CSI. The duo leapt to a fast, first-placed finish to revive the highly anticipated “Saturday Night Lights” competition and mark the first FEI show jumping victory of the 2018 season.
A total of 45 combinations took to the arena to contest the Richard Jeffery-designed course, with only eight returning to take their turn around the jump-off. The field saw a battle until the very end, with Howard and the 2008 Dutch Warmblood mare (Cavalier x Concorde) securing the fastest time as the last pair on course for the evening, stopping the timers in 42.16 seconds.
Howard and the mare, owned by Laure Sudreau-Rippe and Peter Howard, rode to the top of the leaderboard just two-tenths of a second ahead of O’Shea. Despite the speed, Howard noted that she didn’t necessarily have one particular spot in the jump-off that shaved off time, and she credited the mare for her overall quickness.
“I showed her very sparingly in Florida because I’m breaking her into the 1.60-meter level,” said Howard. “I didn’t do a lot with her because I consider her to still be young. She’s ultra-careful, ultra-fast. We have a lot coming up in the summer, so I went for an easy Florida with good results before coming here. We will go to Lexington next week, then a month off, then off to [Spruce Meadows in] Calgary.”
Howard complimented the facility at TIEC and the atmosphere as a whole. “They’re doing an amazing job with the facility,” she said. “I have to say tonight the footing was lovely. They’ve done a great job. It’s a great atmosphere here, and they’re turning this into a world-class venue very quickly, probably faster than they thought they would be!”
The Absorbine FEI Groom’s Award was presented to Amy Spink, who is the groom of Donna Speciale. The award recognizes the hard work, dedication and commitment of FEI grooms to their horses.