Ringside Chat: Dorr's Year Of Education Leads To Fairy-Tale Five-Star Debut At Burghley

Sep 8, 2022 - 8:01 AM

In her year overseas, U.S. eventer Cornelia Dorr has been quietly racking up good results with Daytona Beach 8 even as she’s been dedicating her time to her education.

Based with Australian five-star rider Kevin McNab in Surrey, England, Dorr, 24, brought three horses overseas: her advanced partner “Daytona,” as well as young horses DHI Qyaracolle Z, a  6-year-old Zangersheide mare; and By-The-Sea, an 8-year-old Holsteiner gelding.

Dorr made her five-star debut at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in Stamford, England, last week. On Sept. 4, despite a 50th-place dressage score, she moved up the standings on the strength of a clear, fast cross-country round and one of only six double-clear show jumping rounds in the CCI5*-L to finish in 10th—the top-placed U.S. rider.

Originally from Massachusetts, Dorr is a five-time North American Youth Championship medalist who worked for Sharon White for six years before branching out on her own. She’s normally based in Cabot, Arkansas, and Ocala, Florida, with her fiancé, fellow eventer Jacob Fletcher.

We caught up with Dorr after her big finish at Burghley to find out about Daytona, a 12-year-old Oldenburg mare (Duke Of Hearts—Sandance, Santander H), and what it’s been like to immerse herself in the European horse scene.

Cornelia Dorr and Daytona Beach 8 at Burghley. Libby Law Photography Photo

COTH: Tell me about Daytona Beach 8.

Dorr: I was riding with Sharon White at the time. I spent six years with her. Through Dirk Schrade in Germany, she found Daytona. [Former German world champion Sandra Auffarth developed the mare and competed her through the three-star level.] It just sort of fell into place. Dirk was like, “I think this is Cornelia’s horse.” I flew over and only tried Daytona and came home with her.

She’s a really sensitive, smart mare. I wouldn’t say she’s easy by any stretch of the word. She’s taken a lot of work over the last four-plus years, but we have a really great partnership.

She’s really sweet in the barn and easy on the ground. She’s not mare-ish at all.

I had a mare half-sibling of Sir Patico, my first advanced horse, but Daytona is my first upper-level competition mare, and I’m definitely on the dark side now. I’m a mare person.

Why did you choose Burghley for your first five-star, and what were your expectations going in?

I’ve been over here training with Kevin for the year, and my first lesson I had with him on Daytona, he said, “There’s an argument for Burghley here. This is a Burghley horse, and you maybe get a Burghley horse once in a lifetime.”

He’s always felt very strongly, assuming everything went well in our prep, that it would be a good one for us to do. I was like, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll see.” Then we got closer, and then I’d entered it, and we were there.

The flatwork is very hard for her emotionally. We were there for Saturday. I was going to ride cross-country no matter what her dressage score was. With her result, it hugely exceeded what I’d hoped we’d go and do.

[Dressage] is not hard for her. She’s the most athletic horse ever. She’s beautiful, but it’s just a lot of pressure—the environment and the energy. She just gets tense.

Our test [which scored 39.0] was a personal best. I couldn’t have asked her to be better than she was. She tried really hard to stay with me and listen to me. She actually got better the longer she was in there, which is a really great thing. I was thrilled.

What were your first impressions when you walked it?

I’d never been there to watch. But Kevin’s ridden around it, his assistant rider Bella [English] has ridden around it. I had loads of advice. I knew what to expect; I just hadn’t seen it firsthand.

I’ve ridden around a lot of [Derek di Grazia’s courses] in the U.S., so I sort of had an idea what he would set, and I knew he would try to keep the essence of Burghley, so it was pretty up to par for what I was expecting: big and bold and forward distances. I wasn’t too surprised.

How did your round go?

We did all the straight routes. It was pretty near close to perfect, I’d say. The course was really intense until 8AB. I knew once we made it past there, you could sort of take a deep breath, then the course changed gears a little bit and it opened up a bit more. I definitely took a breath once I was through Fence 8.

You had one of six clear rounds in show jumping. How did it feel to accomplish that and finish your first five-star?

It was really amazing. She’s a really good show jumper. If you look at her record she’s had very few rails. I was really confident in her and I  going into show jumping. I knew she would try really hard. She’s a really careful mare. I just wanted to be able to do her justice in there.

[The completion] has given me a lot of confidence, for sure.

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Cornelia Dorr has been partnered with Daytona Beach 8 for four years. Lindsay Berreth Photo

Why did you decide to go to England this year?

My whole professional career I’ve been planning to do this at some point. It wasn’t one thing specifically, but one day I just woke up and was like, yep, I’m going to go do it now.

Anyone that’s watched Kevin ride, he’s as beautiful a rider as it gets, and he is equally as good of a trainer. My fiancé Jacob spent a year and half with Kevin back in 2014-2015. I bought [6-year-old Zangersheide mare] DHI Qyaracolle Z though him. I’ve known him for a few years now, and I was comfortable with his program, and I knew he do the best job for my horses and I.

Everything he does is so methodical, and it’s calm, and everything’s for the benefit of the horse. His biggest thing is he trains the horses to read the fences, so the horses and you are both reading the fences, so it’s the safest possible training system for eventing in my opinion because the horse is making decisions, and you’re making decisions, and you’re both switched on and active in the cross-country riding.

You gotten the chance to compete in Switzerland and Ireland, and you were selected for the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team to compete at the FEI Nations Cup at Houghton Hall (England), where you finished 15th individually and earned team silver in a huge class. What was that like?

I do think I was in the right place at the right time for the Nations Cup at Houghton. I think that was a really big thing for me. Even if that was the biggest accomplishment competition-wise that I’d done all year, I would have been thrilled with it.

How long are you staying in England?

I have some younger horses with some destination events planned for them later in the fall, so we’ll stay through until November.

I have a 6-year-old, DHI Qyaracolle Z, who will hopefully be going to Le Lion [France] and an 8-year-old, By-The-Sea.

What’s a typical day like for you?

It’s a fairly quiet day with [my groom] Claire [Ertel] and I and three horses. We help Kevin ride a bit. My focus this year was my training, so that’s what we’ve done.

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