'Like Having a Catch Ride in the Olympics'

Sarah Willeman finds a horse at the last minute for the cK Equitation Championship class at the Hampton Classic.
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Sarah Willeman finds a horse at the last minute for the cK Equitation Championship class at the Hampton Classic.

Bridgehampton, NY, August 31, 2001--As we approach the final weekend of the Hampton Classic, the major classes of the horse show have already begun. Yesterday and today, for the jumpers, were filled mostly with qualifier classes for the weekend events. Yesterday, the first round of the cK equitation championship went on the Grand Prix field, and today, both the show jumping derby and the grand prix had their opening rounds.

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As usual, the courses were exceptionally beautiful and quite tough. The cK equitation class did not begin until late in the day, when the shadows were beginning to show on the field, adding to the intimidating appearance of the course. That class always seems to come down to the reality that you need a special horse, and you need to know your horse. I ended up with a catch ride, an S & L horse that came over from Europe four days ago. It was quite a nice horse; it jumped the naturals well, but I just needed one more day to get to know it a bit (I only found out about the horse about five hours before the class started!). I had a couple of mistakes that knocked me out of contention for the second round. But that was fine; really it was a roll of the dice to walk in on a strange horse in that class.

Tim Grubb, one of the judges of the cK, commented today when I talked to him, "You'd never even seen the horse before and you tried to ride it in that class? That's like having a catch ride at the Olympic Games!"

Well, I think that's a slight exaggeration, but still, all things considered, I was happy just to have had the chance to do the class and to ride a horse that handled the natural jumps well.

Today's action was extremely exciting, with the Junior-Amateur jumping derby in the morning and the World Cup qualifier in the afternoon. The derby course was big and imposing, and it included the bank, the double liverpool combination, the dry ditch, and the open water. Run in the faults-converted speed format, the class determined the top 30 entries that will advance to Sunday's final round. Although quite a few competitors had trouble with the difficult course, I also saw many beautiful rounds ridden by both juniors and amateurs; the field looks quite strong for Sunday.

It was not my best day with Lapeti in the derby; we had two rather unlucky rails and a foot in the water, so we did not make it to Sunday. Instead, we'll jump in the classic tomorrow morning. Despite our 12 faults, she jumped beautifully overall, so I was happy with her. As happens to everyone time and again in this game, it just wasn't our day.

In the afternoon, the World Cup class went with 68 entries. The course, again, was quite big-as big as any I've seen, and it included some very technical questions. Among the elements that caused the most difficulty were a big oxer over the dry ditch, a light front rail at the first element of a double, a spooky hedge jump, a very wide oxer late on course, and a tall and extremely tight verticle-to-verticle combination. The time allowed was snug enough that it caught a few people also.

Going fifth in the order, I had a bit of a rushed warm-up, with Missy running between the ring and the warm-up area to watch the first few riders on course and help me to finalize the plan for my ride. Hurricane jumped very well in the warm-up area, and I'm getting to know his ride now, so I felt good walking into the ring. Nona Garson had jumped clear a few rounds before me, and Hurricane and I posted the second clear round of the class. McLain Ward went clear soon afterward, and there were two more clear rounds fairly early in the order, but the jump-off field held at five for the remainder of the class. Out of the five of us--Nona, McLain on two horses, and Laura Kraut--I finished second with a clear jump-off, slightly slower than McLain's winning ride.

After my first round, I was taken off to a TV interview with the local station, during which time nobody could find me-Missy kept calling for me on the radio, and my mother, who was especially excited, started asking our barn manager if she thought I was alright. So basically, it was an afternoon of excitement in our camp. I still can't get over how much I love my horse; this afternoon was the best I've ever felt him go. As I was saying to some friends earlier, I wish there were some way we could really tell the horses just how much we appreciate them (other than lots of patting and the many carrots that Hurricane of course receives!)

Along with my grooms, Rebekah and Sue, I finished the day by watching the groom's class and going to the Fiesta Day exhibitor party in the Grand Prix tent. The groom's class was a great event, with lots of rowdy cheering and an aura of casual fun, despite the significant prize money--$300 for the winner. The grooms were judged on the turnout of their horses and on their riding ability in an informal flat class.

This morning seems like a long time ago by now, and I'm trying to resist the temptation of watching the rest of today's Grand Prix on TV; I need my rest for tomorrow morning's class. I'll log in Sunday with another report!