October 18, 2009 -- A stormy weekend at the Dansko Fair Hill International cleared today, and the international competition picture for American eventing brightened as well. I saw several good prospects for the home team at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Former Australian Boyd Martin won his first CCI as a U.S. citizen, and the Star-Spangled Banner was music to his ears as they played it for him and his feisty mount, Neville Bardos, during the awards ceremony. We're lucky to have Boyd on our side now.
The CCI is the most arduous format at the upper levels of the sport, and it was even more so here at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Area yesterday, when cross-country was run in mud, mud and more mud after several very damp days.
Boyd and his ex-racehorse were the only ones to make the 9-minute optimum time in the rain. There were dozens of dropouts in both the 2-star and the 3-star rated sections before cross-country even began, and understandably so.
Olympic veteran John Williams was second after dressage in the 3-star with Sweepea Dean, but he felt it wasn't right to take a relatively green horse around the rugged route in a downpour and have him get discouraged.
Explaining why he decided not to ride yesterday, John said, "Hearing it start to rain again at 4:15 in the morning and then it rained steadily, and seeing the footing get progressively worse, I thought, `Why would anybody want to run in these conditions?'"
I put it another way for myself, "Why would anyone want to go out and take photos in this kind of weather?" I didn't have an answer to that, but I went out and slogged around anyway, looking as if I'd been mud wrestling when I was finished. It was okay; everyone else who ventured out looked the same, so I was in good company.
Still, the ground wasn't as bad as it could have been elsewhere, where the grass isn't rooted as deeply. As Fair Hill co-chair Trish Gilbert noted, "We're very fortunate being able to have this piece of property with this old turf. It makes a huge difference."
Organizers and officials put their heads together as they delayed the cross-country start time and worked on figuring out what to do, eliminating fences and shorting the courses designed by Derek DiGrazia. I spoke with technical delegate Jonathan Clissold about what they faced in the process.
There is no other fall 3-star in the U.S., which meant it was important for many of the riders at that level to finish so they could qualify for Rolex Kentucky in the spring and perhaps have a shot at the World Equestrian Games. Others, however, felt they didn't want to ride a course that wasn't "the full experience," as Bonnie Mosser put it.
Bruce Davidson, that veteran of veterans, told me why he withdrew his horses and how he felt about the changes.
On the other side of the coin, many felt that the conditions raised the level of the revised course to make it a true 3-star. There were several good ones who didn't get around. Nicki Henley, third after dressage with Mara Dean, ran out at a narrow brush that was the second part of the Chesapeake Water, so she called it a day. Tiana Coudray of California quit near the end of the course with Ringwood Magister after having two refusals. But 32 of the 35 who finished had no jumping penalties, though as I noted before, only Boyd was time-fault-free, so that tells you something about the nature of the test.
Boyd rose from 16th to be the overnight leader with 51 penalties going into today's stadium jumping over a demanding course designed by Sally Ike, the U.S. Equestrian Federation's manger of show jumping. The dressage winner, Karen O'Connor with Mandiba was tied with Boyd's mentor, another former Aussie, Phillip Dutton, on 55.2 penalties. Boyd had a rail in hand, but he says he doesn't think about those things, since he's only interested in the big picture rather than statistics.