Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2024

McEvoy Makes Her Mark At Ocala CCI**

Sometimes you just have a competition where everything comes together.

India McEvoy spent the past year ironing out the wrinklesas she got to know Jumbo’s Jake. But she put all the pieces together at the Ocala CCI** (Fla.) to achieve her best ride yet and win.

McEvoy certainly didn’t go into the two-star, held Nov. 14-18, expecting victory. “It’s his first three-day, and I’m pretty green,” she said modestly.
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Sometimes you just have a competition where everything comes together.

India McEvoy spent the past year ironing out the wrinklesas she got to know Jumbo’s Jake. But she put all the pieces together at the Ocala CCI** (Fla.) to achieve her best ride yet and win.

McEvoy certainly didn’t go into the two-star, held Nov. 14-18, expecting victory. “It’s his first three-day, and I’m pretty green,” she said modestly.

But any inexperience was difficult to spot, since the 23-year-old kept her cool to jump clean and finish on her dressage score ahead of several Olympians. A single rail would have moved her down to fourth place.

“He’s a super careful jumper,” said McEvoy. “The more forward you ride him, the better he jumps. He’s a spooky horse, which makes him careful.”

But she didn’t rely on “Jake’s” show jumping talent alone to earn their clear round.

“I watched Bruce [Davidson] on his first horse, I watched Leslie [Law], I watched Buck [Davidson]—all those guys are very accurate, and they’re very good riders. I tried to copy them,” she said.

McEvoy moved from California to attend the University of Delaware, and she graduated last June. She’d been riding with Bruce Davidson while attending college and just moved to Ocala to work for him.

“When you live the life I live and meet the people I meet, you meet one in 20 that’s the real exception,” said Davidson. “She’s a great all-American girl. She’s intelligent, attractive, a hard worker. It makes you really want to get to know her parents.”

“Both Buck and Bruce are phenomenal help,” said McEvoy.

McEvoy bought Jake, 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse (by Jumbo), through Liza Horan slightly more than a year ago, and he’d only done one preliminary event at the time. Alexandra Tatham had competed him for owner Kathy Culpin.

McEvoy didn’t have immediate success with Jake, however. While they did well at preliminary, when she tried to move up to intermediate their first two outings resulted in eliminations.

After returning to preliminary for a few events, though, the pair was more prepared when they moved up again.

“He’s slow and careful. He’s totally different from my other horse,” said McEvoy. Her only other upper-level experience came as a young rider aboard Seamus II.

In fact, McEvoy had never made time at an intermediate event with Jake before. “He’s not fast enough,” said McEvoy. But she did all of her conditioning in the hills of Pennsylvania, so Jake was quite fit for the flat, Florida course.

McEvoy started the event in fourth place after dressage, but when the top two had trouble on cross-country, and the third-placed rider didn’t start, it opened the door for Jake and McEvoy to step up.

Eleanor Brennan and Mister Barnabus Will Be Missed

Double tragedy struck the Florida Horse Park on Nov. 17 when Eleanor Brennan and her horse, Mister Barnabus, died from a fall at the second-to-last fence on the two-star course.

Brennan had been clear up until that point. Her horse hit the table while attempting to jump and flipped over, landing on top of her. He died instantly from a broken neck, and Brennan died a few hours later at the hospital.

The fence, No. 25, was a plain, brown maximum-sized table, and it was subsequently taken off the course.

“If you have a serious fall at a fence, if you can take it off the course, even if there’s
nothing wrong with the fence, psychologically it’s best for the riders if you can do it,” said technical delegate Trish Gilbert.

The 21-year-old young rider spent the past three years in Great Britain and completed the Badminton CCI**** (England) in 2005 at the age of 18.

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She had dual citizenship and had just returned to the United States this year to start a riding and training business. She was training out of Linda Wachtmeister’s Plain Dealing Farm in Scottsville, Va.

“Lucia [Wachtmeister’s daughter] and Eleanor grew up together in the same Pony Club,” said Wachtmeister. “She’d just come
to the farm two weeks ago. We were really excited. She was an extremely joyful person. It was really fun to have her on the farm. I just want her to be remembered because of her incredible passion. She was one of the youngest to ride at Badminton. I’m going to miss her terribly.”

The flags flew at half-mast outside the show jumping arena on Sunday morning, and Brennan was honored with a memorial service. More than a hundred people attended, bowing their heads in silence in remembrance of Brennan.

Tom Warriner, chairman of the Florida Horse Park, read a short tribute submitted by Brennan’s mother, Christine.

‘’God gives humans the gift of choice,’’ read Warriner. ‘’The sport was her lifelong passion. Eleanor embodied the sport of eventing. We honor her commitment and spirit she passed on in pursuit of her dreams.’’

“I was hoping he’d go around fine,” said McEvoy. “I went the long way in three places. I wanted to play it safe.”

Bruce said, “She’s a very competitive young lady, but she’s quite green and the horse is too. She went late enough in the day that I could give her my experience. She was out there watching and knew just what to expect.”

McEvoy said this was the best Jake has ever gone for her, so she wasn’t feeling pressured to move up soon.

“You never think you’re going to win,” she said. “Everything went well, all three phases. The horse went great and felt great. He’ll have some time off, a vacation. Then we’ll start up again next season.”

An All-Around Fancy Horse

The Davidsons must have prepared well, because Bruce finished second to McEvoy aboard Cruise Lion, placed seventh with Rouge, and his son Buck finished fourth with May I Tell Ya.

“Cruise” is by Cruising out of a full sister to Bruce’s Badminton CCI**** (England) winner Eagle Lion. Patricia Nicholson bred him, and he was imported from Ireland as a weanling.

“He’s full of life, just like Eagle. Lots of humor, lots of enthusiasm. He loves to jump,” said Bruce.

Like McEvoy, Bruce finished on his dressage score. “Cruise is a really fancy horse,” he said. “He’s a beautiful mover. He could be a show jumper, a show hunter or a dressage horse. He likes to gallop. He’s just a lovely horse. Lucky me.”

Bruce hopes to move the 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse up to advanced this spring and will aim for a three-star.

While he was thrilled with the immaculate footing for the dressage and show jumping, Bruce was concerned about the effect of the hard ground on his horses, especially following an extremely dry year in Unionville, Pa., where he resides for most of the year.

“It wasn’t an easy year. The ground and the events leading up to it were terrible,” he said. “You have horses that have been around too many courses already on bad ground and have suffered from having to train on hard ground. Maybe that’s where experience helps me. There has to be some advantage to age.”

Corner Concern

Bruce also wondered why there were five corners on the two-star track.

“There were too many corners, way too many corners,” he said. “I thought that in many cases the driving obstacles hindered the question that was being asked. It wasn’t my favorite course.”

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The tragic accident and subsequent death of Eleanor Brennan and her horse (see sidebar) certainly caused riders and officials alike to take a hard look at Capt. Mark Phillips’ course that saw 19 horses out of  37 finish without jumping penalties.

But riders agreed that if anything, the course might have been too easy. “It was a strong galloping course. It would have been a little bit of a soft two-star,” said Peter Green, who finished 19th with Evening Shade.

“Any preliminary horse could have jumped around if you went around the corner at [fence] 5 and the
driving hazard,” agreed Buck, a rider representative.

Because the cross-country course shares land with a combined driving course, sometimes the cross-country jumps were placed near, or even in, the marathon obstacles.

Darren Chiacchia lauded the management at the Florida Horse Park for how much the turf has improved.
“When you start a site from scratch there’s so much involved,” he said. “The best course designers have taken part in the construction of the course. I think a few of the riders would like to see more changes. It was very similar to the two-star in the spring.

“When you’ve got terrain, it demands the riders spend more time rebalancing,” he continued. “Perhaps, and I stress perhaps, on a flatter piece of ground we’ve got to pay attention to that.”

But rider representative and third-placed finisher Leslie Law had few complaints about anything on course.
“There were a lot of corner jumps,” he conceded. “But the whole point behind that, from a course designer’s standpoint, is to create a result through a safe course. It allows the course designer to see how well the rider had done in the training. All they produce is glance-offs.”

Law spoke of the personal responsibility of the riders to know their horses before heading out on cross-country.

“I personally took one long option because it was appropriate with that horse,” he said. “You have to assess what’s happening when you’re out there. It might be different from what you would like—it might be
better. At the end of the day I had 2 time faults. It was better to go the long way than pick up the 20 [for a stop].”



She Chased Her Way To The Top

Taylor George won’t be riding at training level for much longer, but she was determined to try a long-format three-day with Menlo Castle before bidding the level goodbye.

“I had to do the steeplechase,” said the 17-year-old from Lafayette, La. “I really wanted to win. I’m hoping to do preliminary at the next show.”

So she signed up for the training level three-day “half-star” at the Florida Horse Park. And the experience of the ‘chase turned out to have a positive influence for cross-country.

“You’ve got to get him going, or he won’t jump the first jump,” explained George. “I told my friends to be there before steeplechase to remind me to ride hard to the first jump. He loved the steeplechase. He was more forward for cross-country because he already had a rhythm.”

George said the course was fair but not too easy. She was surprised to find herself sitting third after dressage.

“I didn’t think I had a good dressage test at all,” she said. “I have trouble in geometry. I tend to make amoebas. I could hide my flaws from the [judge] at C, but the one at M nailed me.”

But it was her show jumping round that made the difference in the end. George jumped clear while first-placed Melissa Moore caught two rails with Noble Dunlavin and Lizzie Snow and Pop Star took down one.

“I was worried about the show jumping,” admitted George. “It was make or break. But he went clean. He was a good boy.”

George is a high school senior and trains with Hilda Donahue. She left Menlo Castle with Donahue this fall and flew down to Orlando, Fla., to ride the 11-year-old Irish Thoroughbred on the weekends. But she’ll take him home with her for the next month.

“I’m so excited to bring him back,” said George. “I have our whole schedule worked out.”

The pair has already completed one preliminary event, and George is making the CCI* in Ocala her goal next spring.

Sara Lieser

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