For Sarah Hansel, winning the advanced, test A, division at the Fair Hill International Horse Trials, April 20-22 in Elkton, Md., was icing on the cake.
“I’m in heaven,” she said of riding The Quiet Man, an 11-year-old Irish import by Cavalier. “I couldn’t ask for a better horse to go around cross-country on. He’s one of those horses just born to make you happy. Even when he’s bad, he’s good.”
But “Mikey” was as good as he could be at Fair Hill, as they jumped to a clean cross-country round and the fastest advanced time of the day for the victory.
“It was a good three-star prep [course]. It tested accuracy and boldness. The questions were a lot harder than you expected when you got to them,” Hansel said. She’s got Mikey aimed for the Jersey Fresh CCI*** (N.J.) in May.
But Fair Hill is infamously hilly—far different from many of the flat early-season courses in USEA Area III—and she wondered whether that might have affected the way the course rode. “The jumps were beautiful, so maybe it’s just the terrain they were unused to,” she said.
So, Hansel has some homework to do this spring. “We’re going home and galloping hills,” she said.
And while she took home the blue ribbon, Hansel, of Aiken, S.C., didn’t think the weekend marked her horse’s best performance. “He wasn’t as focused as he could’ve been,” she said. Their dressage score of 40 might have hinted at that, but their double clear show jumping round—the only one in the division—certainly didn’t indicate that Mikey was off his game.
Nonetheless, considering he was sidelined by an injury for a year and then eased back into competition with a year at intermediate, she’s just thrilled to have her longtime partner back.
Canadian Young Rider Kelly List arrived with three very specific goals: to perform a better, more confident dressage test; to jump another clear cross-country round; and to beat her one-rail curse with a clean show jumping trip.
She left with the first blue ribbon of her relatively young advanced-level career.
List, of Bracebridge, Ont., and Minstral, her 8-year-old Canadian Thoroughbred, were the only pair of the nine in their division to jump clean all weekend—a feat that lifted them to victory in the advanced, FEI test A, division after placing seventh in dressage.
List acknowledged that dressage is the toughest phase for her and Danny, and said she was pleased with the improvements they made in ring, where they scored a 62.6 on the FEI three-star test A.
“Dressage is my weakest phase. I haven’t really had a horse who gives me that correct feeling before,” she said.
List’s trainer, Bonnie Mosser, whom she has ridden with for the past two years, has helped her tremendously in developing that feeling with Danny, she said, and the work paid off in the ring, where she was able to push for a more forward test.
And while others scored better—Mara Dean and Nicki Henley won the dressage with a 43.2, besting their closest competition by 10 points—none jumped as well as Danny.
Three horses withdrew before cross-country, one retired on course and three others had jumping problems.
List said she went slowly because the footing was a bit soft. The course itself, which she called “very technical but not huge,” presented no problems for Danny, who is proving himself to be a solid advanced cross-country horse.
Only List and Stephanie Boyer on Macloud jumped clean, but List collected fewer time penalties, vaulting her from seventh place to first.
Her double-clear show jumping round, “that was a big accomplishment because usually we have a rail,” she said, made sure they stayed there.
The victory was a pleasant surprise for List, who still can’t quite believe she and Danny are going advanced, given that they’ve been together only two years and he’d only done a couple of preliminary events when she purchased him.
“I had no idea we’d be going advanced this early in our relationship, but Bonnie said go for it,” she said with a smile.
List is aiming Minstral for the Jersey Fresh CCI***. The goal there? A dressage score in the 50s.
In the CIC**, Phillip Dutton turned in one of his signature fast cross-country rounds—the only double-clear of the division—aboard student Cayla Kitayama’s Felix, a 10-year-old, Irish Thoroughbred, to win.
Kitayama, who bought Felix from Julie Richards, has done most of his riding and training herself, bringing the flashy, flaxen-maned chestnut up to the intermediate level late last year. But the pair had trouble at their most recent event, so she elected to hand the reins over to Dutton for the weekend.
“Phillip wanted to give him an overall assessment, to make sure he’s a good fit for me and to give him a good, confident run,” Kitayama said, acknowledging it was a little odd not to be in the saddle herself. “I’ve
never had someone else ride my horse in competition. I was very pleased that Phillip had a lot of positive things to say about him.”
At their last event, Kitayama and Felix were sharing the lead going into the final phase when they were forced to stop on cross-country for a long hold. The wait upset Felix enough that, soon after they were allowed to restart, Kitayama elected to retire.
“He’s a little bit fragile in his head,” she said. “If you can just get him to stop and think, though, he’s magical.”
Riding Felix at Fair Hill gave Dutton a chance to feel for himself how the horse reacted in competition and better assess whether he was a good match for Kitayama.
“He’s a little bit quirky, but he’s a talented horse, and Cayla’s a talented rider,” Dutton said. “It’s going to work out.”
Kitayama plans to spend the spring continuing to confirm her partnership with Felix at the intermediate level and aim for a two-star in the fall.