Karen O’Connor prepared her horses for the Fair Hill CCI a bit differently than usual this year. She didn’t ride them.
But this tactic paid off surprisingly well with a big lead after dressage in the CCI*** aboard Mandiba. O’Connor scored 39.6 on a cold, wet Friday afternoon in Elkton, Md., Oct. 16, to go to the top of the leaderboard over Thursday’s leader, John Williams with Sweepea Dean (42.6), and Mara Dean aboard Nicki Henley (43.6).
A broken scapula and three broken ribs from a motorbike accident at the Five Points Horse Trials (N.C.) in early September has kept O’Connor earthbound for much of the past five weeks.
Fortunately, she has a strong team behind her, and her husband David kept Mandiba going, while Phillip Dutton competed him. Assistant trainer Lauren Kieffer pitched in as well, riding Allstar, whom Karen rode to 12th place after dressage in the two-star at Fair Hill.
“When you’ve been with a horse for a long time you tend not to notice some of the things that might need work. It’s been nice for me to be more of a student for awhile,” said Karen.
She was able to get back in the tack on the 10-year-old Thoroughbred at the beginning of October.
“It’s been a while since I’ve sat in this position, so I’m kind of excited,” said Karen of her winning dressage test. However, she explained that at this point in “Doodle’s” career, she’s most focused on building his confidence after refusals at the 2008 Olympic Games and a fall at the Burghley CCI**** (England) this fall.
Williams and Dean agreed that a blue ribbon wasn’t their highest priority for the weekend.
“I had been trying to sell him since I wasn’t competing,” said Williams of Sweepea Dean. “Not too many people were interested in looking at him because he hadn’t done anything lately.”
Williams, who keeps a busy schedule designing and building cross-country courses around the United States, said that Sweepea Dean wasn’t getting the attention he deserved. “I feel like I’ve let him down a little bit,” he confessed.
Fortunately, the 10-year-old Thoroughbred cross is laid back and tries hard, according to Williams. So the chill temperatures and electric atmosphere weren’t a challenge for him.
“I wish it was a little colder and windier,” said Williams with a laugh. He thought the course would hold up well in most places to the rain that’s been steadily falling for the past two days, but he won’t aim to make time.
“This horse is rather green. I didn’t come here trying to light the world on fire. I expected to canter around not too quickly tomorrow anyway, so maybe this will slow everyone down to where I was going to be anyway,” he joked.
Dean and Nicki Henley are on the rebound from an injury in 2007 at the Pan American Games, so making time on cross-country won’t be on Dean’s agenda either.
“I came to get a qualifying score,” she said. “It’s just great to be riding him. He’s such a special horse. He’s not supposed to be back here at all. I’m just appreciative for whatever he does.”
Howard Splashes To The Top
By the time Rebecca Howard stepped into the ring, the last to go in the 73-horse two-star field, there was nary a spectator in sight. The 40-degree temperatures and rain had driven everyone but the judges to seek shelter.
However, Howard used the quiet to her advantage and put in a stellar test aboard Roquefort to take the lead over Leslie Law, who led off the division on Thursday with Hugo Fast, and Kieffer with Ultra Tim.
“My horse was really good. It was a long day, waiting until the very end,” said Howard. “He got a bit nervous in the beginning, but he got better throughout the test.”
Howard has been riding the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood for more than a year, but this is their first CCI** together.
“On the cross-country, I still feel like I’m just getting to know him,” she said. “Being the very last horse in the two-star, I’m obviously going to be on the watch quite a bit and be very careful about the ground I’m riding over.”
Kieffer’s partnership with Ultra Tim is another fairly new one, as the 10-year-old Thoroughbred was a rescue case just a year ago. His owner Abigail Gille bought him for $700.
“I’m really pleased with him. He’s pretty green,” said Kieffer. He started the year at training level, and she hadn’t intended to do a two-star with him quite so soon.
“He just kind of kept clocking around. He’s a really genuine cross-country horse,” she said.
Cross-country strikes off at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow with the two-star.
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