Elkton, Md.—Oct. 14
With near-perfect going, Derek di Grazia’s CCI*** course today at the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International was more a speed test than usual.
Known by riders as more of a 3 ½-star, the course is big, bold and galloping, and the tests don’t let up until the end.
Thirty-six pairs started the course and 28 finished, with only four making the optimum time of 10 minutes.
Colleen Rutledge and her homebred Covert Rights rose to the top when dressage leaders Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High added 1.6 time penalties to slip into second place. Will Coleman and the speedy Tight Lines rocketed up from 13th to third when they finished under the time.
“He gets every gold star I can possibly give him. He saved my butt when I got us into trouble. He was foot-perfect on 90 percent of the course, and the one place I got us into trouble he got us out,” said Rutledge. “I was way too bold coming into the brush to the corner over the ditches [16ab,] and he picked himself up, dove himself through the flags, and I don’t know how he didn’t lose both of us in the process, but he wins every gold star for that. “
Rutledge went early in the order so she didn’t have a lot of time to hear how the course was riding, but she said that was just fine.
“I try really hard not to [listen to reports] for the most part because it makes my head go in a different way. I have to go out and ride my plan rather than somebody else’s plan,” she said. “For the most part I went out and rode my plan. Luckily I know he’s got the experience behind him. He’s already done two four-stars, and we’ve had a bit of a year off. He reads the fences. He’s so much more mature now and so much more experienced now where I could just gallop down and see the stride from six strides away and attack the fences. He didn’t have a point where he was questioning.”
Rutledge and the 11-year-old Thoroughbred/Clydesdale cross gelding have topped the CIC***s at Richland Park (Mich.) and Morven Park (Va.) on their way to Fair Hill this season.
“He’s just the most fun on cross-country because you don’t have to tug, you don’t have to do anything, you point him at the fences and he just rolls with it,” said Rutledge, Frederick, Md. “That being said, that makes him so incredibly fast because I don’t have to worry about slowing down to the fences because he’ll bring himself back. It makes it a blast. That is probably one of the most fun cross-countries I’ve had in a long time.”
O’Hanlon was disappointed in herself for her time penalties, but says that “Woody,” a 14-year-old Canadian Sport Horse gelding owned by John and Judy Rumble, felt amazing.
“Woody was super. My biggest concern was the terrain and his fitness because I live on a flat property, and I have to ship around a lot. We gave him a shave yesterday after he finished his dressage, so he felt fresh and light,” she said.
“The time wasn’t his fault. He’s one of the fastest horses we’ve got. He was on form and full of running right until the end,” she continued. “The easy galloping fences in between where I should have been able to gallop out of stride, my eye wasn’t on. I ended up wasting too much time at straightforward galloping fences. He understands now that when I bring my shoulders up to set up and look. But he’s still a very big horse, and the ongoing problem throughout all three phases is teaching him to speed up his hind legs. As my mother says, you’ve got to teach him to be a cat on a hot tin roof.”
Coleman took a tumble on his first horse, Boris O’Hara, when they both fell at fence 20, the Elk Chapel Crossing. Coleman said the gelding is a new ride for him, and they had a miscommunication at an open corner, but both were fine.
Tight Lines, a 10-year-old French Throughbred gelding owned by The Conair Syndicate, won the CCI** at Fair Hill in 2015, and he’s progressed nicely up the levels for Coleman.
“‘Phish’ was great. He never lacks run or gallop. He’s just an animal out there. Most of the trick is getting him to just be rideable and settle. I thought he did a pretty good job of it here,” said Coleman. “It was a hard course and a proper test. I think it’s a testament to the cross-country riding in this country how well it rode today because I do think it was a difficult three-star. I’ve ridden a lot of three-stars around the world, and I would put Fair Hill at the very top in terms of difficulty. I think we’re building something positive in our country, and I think this event plays a huge part of that. I hope we can continue it.”
Coleman joked about how much Phish means to him.
“I love the horse. One of his owners calls him my firstborn and Charlotte, my daughter, my second,” he said. “He’s a great horse and tries hard. He ran well here last year, and I had a bit of a muff up in the show jumping, so I’m hoping tomorrow I can turn that around. He’s been a much better show jumper this year.”
Coleman’s was the only horse fall in the division, but there were five rider falls. California rider Alexis Helffrich fell from London Town when the horse slipped on a turn before fence 4. Jenny Caras fell from Fernhill Fortitude at fence 22, the Herr’s picnic table.
Michael Walton fell from Woodstock Wallaby at fence 7b, an open oxer, and Jennie Jarnstrom had bad luck when Penelope propped before the first fence and she came off on her feet.
Three-star first timer Whitney Mahloch fell from Military Mind at fence 16, the Persimmon Tree Corner.
Heather Morris was eliminated for refusals at fence 9, the Farm Yard Corners.
For full results click here.
The final horse inspection begins tomorrow at 8 a.m. with the CCI** followed by the CCI***.