Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 8
Even though she spends a large amount of time in Wellington, Florida, competing her string of show jumpers against some of the best riders in the world, Marilyn Little can still find herself feeling star struck.
As she warmed up for her dressage test today at the $50,000 MARS Eventing Showcase with RF Scandalous, Little couldn’t help but glance over to the international ring at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival to see some of the country’s top dressage riders warming up.
So she sat a little taller and headed into the ring, scoring a 19.4 to take the lead ahead of Boyd Martin on Long Island T (26.6) and Selena O’Hanlon on Foxwood High (27.4).
“There’s not many places where you get to come and watch [high level dressage] just before. Just a mental note—that’s how you’re supposed to look. Give it your best shot!” she said with a laugh. “It is a wonderful opportunity to be here and be in this environment.”
The showcase is making a return to Wellington after last running in 2017.
“It comes at a little bit of a funny time of year,” said Little. “As it works its way into people’s programs I think we as riders are going to be able to use it better and better to our advantage, and I hope it stays because it can really be a game changer for our program.”
Little’s last outing with “Kitty,” a 15-year-old Oldenburg mare (Carry Gold—Richardia, Lario) owned by Phoebe and Michael Manders and Jacqueline Mars, was the Ocala Jockey Club International CCI4*-S (Florida), which they won.
“She was so with me from start to finish,” said Little. “She’s just a super natural horse that way. She had a year off in 2019 and came back at Ocala and was very fresh. Today it’s like she picked up where she left off. Not many horses would have a break and come back better versions of themselves.”
Martin’s last time at the showcase with Long Island T, a 14-year-old Oldenburg-Thoroughbred gelding (Ludwig von Bayern—Highlight, Heraldik) owned by the Long Island T Syndicate, ended with him being eliminated for refusals in show jumping, but since then the pair have clicked, most recently winning the advanced division at the USEA American Eventing Championships (Kentucky).
“I just had a look at the show jumps. I hope they’re running some fancy show jumping class before us, because it looks ginormous out there,” he said with a laugh. “But ‘Ludwig’ has come a long, long way since then. If I get past the third fence this time we’ve made incredible improvement! He’s a great little horse. But we’ve still got a mission ahead of us. The cross-country looks twisty and tight and fast and furious, so we’ll go not completely for broke, but try to be competitive. You don’t want to wreck them here. It’s a long season.”
Martin is also excited to be in Wellington to get lessons from show jumper Peter Wylde, jump his horses at the Winter Equestrian Festival and spend time watching the best in other disciplines.
“It’s very inspiring watching them, especially my favorite rider Steffen Peters,” he said. “Tonight there’s probably a list of 10 jumping riders that I’d always like to emulate, so it’s very motivating and inspiring. It’s just awesome to be a part of here.”
Martin, a three-time winner of the showcase, admitted his horses aren’t in top form yet, so he likely won’t go for broke over Mark Phillips’ course tomorrow, but the opportunity to compete in the showcase is good practice.
“It doesn’t really make or break [their season.] That five-star B test, it’s very unusual to run through it until you’re at [Land Rover] Kentucky,” he said. “When you’re at Kentucky you’re sort of going through it and surprised at this movement and that movement, and you leave the ring thinking, ‘Damn, I wish I knew my horse was going to do that there, or that was a weak part of my test.’ Making the horses do it here is a great thing because it gets you familiar with the test. They’re probably not quite ready to do their best test yet—mine aren’t. But it lets you know exactly how much improving or work you need to keep doing.”
Show jumping will start on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and will be followed by cross-country at 1:30 p.m.
Full results can be found here.