July 27—The Plains, Va.
The standings were shuffled on the final day of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games Prep Trials at Great Meadow, as the Land Rover Eventing Team put on a show for fans over chef d’equipe David O’Connor’s cross-country course in their final run before heading to France.
Time was a factor, but every rider had their own individual plan. Phillip Dutton and his alternate mount Mighty Nice topped the final standings, and he wasn’t playing around when he set out.
“He does get a little wound up, so I set out with the idea of not trying to fight with him too much and hopefully he would back off the jumps,” he said. “It was a good round for him. He’s a phenomenal horse and I’m excited for his future.”
Dutton added 1.2 time penalties to become the second fastest round of the day. Buck Davidson jumped up the leader board to second place with Ballynoecastle RM, picking up just .4 time penalties.
“Reggie sort of does what Reggie does,” said Davidson of his longtime partner. “We went to the World Games four years ago and sort of didn’t have the preparation that we always do for these things, so it made it a big deal for me to run him hard in the events getting ready. So I think he’s ready and we’ll see how we get on in France.”
Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot put in a solid ride to round out the top three.
All of the riders were thrilled with how the weekend played out.
“This is by far the best one we’ve had,” said Kim Severson, who’s a veteran of multiple championships and a former U.S. selector. “The final outings are generally not as smooth as this one was, but I think David did a great job of giving us enough to jump without feeling like it was too much. I was very pleased. If I was still a selector, I’d be very pleased with today.”
Dutton agreed. “These have been difficult because when you set out, you’re not trying to win—you’re just trying to give your horse a good ride,” he said. “Sometimes on cross-country, being a little tentative is not ideal, so some of the times, these don’t go that well. But the jumps were big enough that you had to ride at them and I think everyone was really pleased with the footing. Fortunately we had rain last night. Everyone wants our horses really fit before we get to France, so it was a great chance to have a proper gallop.”
O’Connor was also pleased with how the weekend turned out. He designed a cross-country track to mimic questions that might be asked by World Games’ course designer Pierre Michelet.
“The cross-country had a great crowd today,” he said. “The questions were stuff that everybody is going to need to practice—do I have to do a half circle because we’re going to see something like that in Normandy? A lot of the exercises were set on three strides because [Pierre Michelet] uses three strides a lot, so they did three to an angle, three to a corner—that type of thing. I think the horses and riders we have here have the total ability to answer any question someone will put in front of them.”
O’Connor was also pleasantly surprised at the turnout.
“We wanted dressage in a place that had atmosphere,” he said. “The eight or nine hundred people that showed up when I was expecting 25 was pretty exciting. It produced an atmosphere that I thought was very beneficial for us because we don’t get to practice at that type of environment. Last night was just something—having 5,000 people there watching show jumping.”
O’Connor is optimistic about the team’s chance in Normandy and about the future of Great Meadow as a team training ground. The ability to irrigate the footing at any time, even in the hot and dry summer months, will serve team riders well in the future.
“That’s a huge, huge benefit for the riders to be able to feel that they’re preparing their horses,” he said. “The point is about them. We all get to watch it and enjoy it, but the point is about them feeling that they can do stuff and can go somewhere where they can put everything on the line and not leave anything on the table.”
For full results, click here.