Lexington, Ky.—April 27
British rider Tom McEwen may be making his first appearance at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L, but he’s not wasting any time. He and JL Dublin jumped to the top of the leaderboard after this afternoon’s dressage, scoring a 22.6.
McEwen paired up with JL Dublin at the end of last summer, taking over the ride from Nicola Wilson, who suffered a life-changing accident at the Badminton Horse Trials (England) last year.
“He was phenomenal,” said McEwen, 31. “It’s all thanks to Nicola’s amazing training and the partnership they’ve had. I’m very lucky to take the reins on him, and he’s such an amazing picture to watch anyway, so to go and pull off a test [well] and still have a few things to polish up on is very exciting.
“He’s beautiful [to ride],” he added. “He’s got a lovely flow to him. As you can see, everything’s very fluid.”
Owners Deidre Johnston and Jo and James Lambert paired “Dubs” with McEwen. The pair competed at the Boekelo CCIO4* (the Netherlands) last fall, finishing second on the same score as the winner. McEwen said it wasn’t too hard to take over the ride on the horse who, with Wilson, won individual gold at the 2021 European Championship (Switzerland), thanks to keeping the same training program.
McEwen and the 12-year-old Holsteiner (Diarado—Zarinna, Cantano) edged out second-ranked Tamie Smith and Mai Baum, who earned a 24.2.
“The whole test was a highlight,” said Smith. “I think it was one of his best tests to date. We’ve been working on getting him stronger and more for self-carriage, and he answered all the questions super. I really couldn’t have asked him to be better. I maybe had a couple little tiny mistakes—maybe two or three little, tiny mistakes. I was very pleased.”
See Smith talk about her test:
Smith counted on her long tenure with her partner for team silver at last year’s FEI World Championship (Italy) to get her competitive score. She’s also has been putting in lots of extra work in the sandbox with trainer Johann Hinnemann, even competing at Prix St. Georges at pure dressage shows.
“I think with any horse as time goes on you hope to develop a very good, trusting partnership,” she said. “The quality has always been very much there; his confidence and strength for both of us has grown. The best way to describe it is a hand in a glove. We think for each other. I think something, he does it. I look somewhere, he goes. He’s just so with me, if that makes sense. You always hope—that’s the end goal, and it’s been like that the last few years.”
Smith stayed near home in Murrieta, California, the first part of this year, unlike the last two years when she’s come East for the spring season.
“Part of the reason I stayed home is because it’s a Pan American Games year. On Olympic and World Championship years I have to be east to compete head-to-head; it’s not necessarily to get a different venue. The venues we have in California are unique and up to standard and prepare the horses great. We have quite a few really high atmosphere jumper shows and dressage shows that are in our area. I access those more because the eventing doesn’t have quite as much atmosphere that you would see [here].”
Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z slotted into third after Day 1 of dressage. Though Deniro Z spooked hard at the video camera at C after their first halt, they went on to put in a fluid test that earned a mark of 29.0.
“Obviously it wasn’t our very best test today,” said Halliday-Sharp, who splits her time between Ocala, Florida, and Lexington, Kentucky. “De Niro decided something was terrifying with the camera on the first centerline, which genuinely he’s never done that in my entire time with him, but there we are. It just shows they’re individuals, and they can still do cheeky things.”
All three riders are looking forward to Saturday’s cross-country test and riding over Derek DiGrazia’s course.
“I think it looks amazing to be honest,” said McEwen. “Derek’s got to be one of the best course designers in the world, and I’ve been lucky enough to ride around a couple of his courses. For me it’s all about getting into a good flow and building on your round. He rewards you for good riding and being in the flow. Take one too many chances, and I’m sure there will be a little error.”
Smith echoed McEwen’s sentiments.
“My plan is a double clear,” she said. “It’s Derek, so we’re happy about that, but he always has something up his sleeve that nobody really knows until they’re out there. It’s a five-star, and I’m just [trying to] get through the flags. I have a great horse, and I just plan to go double clear and stay in the saddle.”
Cooley Nutcracker Gets Off To A Great Start At The Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S
In this morning’s Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S, Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Nutcracker started their weekend by putting in a personal best—a score of 24.5—to go into the lead after Day 1 of dressage.
Smith slotted into second with Solaguayre California, with Collen Loach and Vermont sitting third.
Halliday-Sharp began riding “Bali,” a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Tolant R—Ballyshan Cleopatra, Cobra), last April. They hit the ground running, winning on their dressage score at the Rebecca Farm CCI3*-L (Montana) last July then following that up with a win at the Bromont CCI3*-S (Quebec). She owns the horse in partnership with Deborah Halliday and Ocala Horse Properties.
“Cooley Nutcracker is a younger horse—he’s just a 9-year-old,” she said. “I was completely thrilled with him today. It was the best test he’s ever done in the biggest atmosphere he’s probably ever seen. He’s a very sensitive horse. He’s quite quirky and very, very sharp, so it’s taken a little bit of time to get him really comfortable in the ring and make sure he’s really with me. Today all the pieces came together, and he really fought for me the whole way. I was completely thrilled with him. He still needs a bit of strength, which will come with time, but I felt like today was a snapshot of what he’s capable of, and the future is very exciting.”
Smith and Solaguayre California earned a mark of 27.6. “I thought the half-pass work and trot work was quite good,” she said. “I think her half-passes were quite elegant, very uphill and correct. She hasn’t always been able to push from and have the hind end strength to be able to do that, but she really did it.”
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