Syracuse, N.Y., November 2, 2007 -- The Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournment is quite a concept, and that's a whole lot more than a horse show. Education is blended with the excitement of competition, a nice combo for real horse lovers who want to learn everything they can about riding, training and care.
Last night we experienced the excitement part, two top-flight jumper classes that practically generated sparks. What do I mean by top flight? We had a bunch of international riders, including two Whitakers from Britain and two Raymakers from the Netherlands, as well as our entire 2004 gold medal Olympic team.
The winner of the first class, the $15,000 Pasmore Stables Horseman's Cup, was, appropriately Beezie Madden. Her husband, John, is the founder of the show; she lives in nearby Cazenovia and she has a huge local fan base.
So her supporters (everyone in the building) were thrilled when she and Authentic, winner of last summer's prestigious Aachen grand prix, romped to victory in a seven-horse jump-off. Her time of 26.72 seconds was just enough to beat McLain Ward and the exciting Phillipa, clocked in at 27.53.
I asked Beezie how she did it, and here's what she told me.
That class really revved up the crowd, which then got into the exhilaration of a faster-and-faster speed class, the $5,000 Atlas Fence Challenge.
The guy who's won more grand prix than anyone else this year, Kent Farrington, added to his total with Nerina. The gray mare is giving his number one mount, Up Chiqui, a break, so he can be saved for Saturday night's World Cup class.
McLain had to settle for second again, this time with Quo Vadis. He had gone sixth of 31 starters, and his time of 44.69 seconds was one everyone shot at--and missed--until Kent came into the ring. I should remind you at this point that Kent won the Medal finals as a junior, which is inspirational for the kids competing in the Maclay finals here tomorrow and looking beyond it to their future with horses.
Going 26th, Kent knew what he had to do to beat McLain, and he executed it perfectly on the winner of the winner of the grand prix at the Capital Challenge earlier this fall, racing through the finish line in 43.27. That's an edge of more than a second, which sounds close but is pretty darn decisive--especially when going up against a speedball like McLain.
I asked Kent about his strategy.
The jumping is held in a hockey rink (covered with great footing, of course!) at the War Memorial Auditorium. Next door in the Oncenter, where riders warm up, there's lots more going on. You can buy a saddle or feed, jewelry, herbal supplements and books. Attendees are encouraged to watch as the competitors get ready for their classes or exercise their mounts. There are also constant clinics. Speakers today include George Morris, who will give equitation pointers (I'll bet the smart Maclay riders pay attention to that one since George is one of the judges for the finals), Dr. Tracy Turner on saddle-fitting and "Anatomy in Motion" with Susan Harris and Peggy Brown, all about the visible rider and horse. To celebrate its 30th anniversary this month, EQUUS magazine is presenting the series of free clinics, and also provided Wednesday night's special ultra-lesson.
Called "Raising the Bar the Madden Way," Wednesday's clinic featured Frank Madden, Beezie's brother-in-law, demonstrating his teaching methods with comments by Beezie. She was one of the riders for the session, aboard Onlight. Big-time equitation veteran Sloane Coles, aboard Streetwise, and Brittany Hurst with Billy the Kid also participated, giving Frank three levels of experience with which to work.
Obviously, a postcard isn't the place to go into great detail about Frank's methods. I'll be doing that in an upcoming issue of Practical Horseman magazine. So I thought I'd just pass along a few tips I picked up listening to him:
- Under-bit your horse in a lesson, because you'll have a chance to repeat things there, the way you can't in the show ring.
- The most important concept in riding is having the horse move forward; the foundation of good equitation is impulsion. (Yes, I know you've heard this before, but a reminder every now and then is important.)
- What makes the horse supple is not what you do with your hands, it's what you do with your legs.
- Practice the shoulder in on the quarter-line, rather than on the rail, where the horse can cheat.
- It's important to keep mixing things up when you ride; don't drill.
- Do the same thing in both directions, but if you have a horse with a stiff side, concentrate more on that.
- A steady hand does not mean a stiff hand.
Spectators were eating up this clinic. Frank progressed the lesson from a multi-faceted warm-up on the flat (including shoulder-in, half-pass and counter-canter) to cantering over poles on the ground, then onto a "fan" series of three cross-rails along a curve with three strides between them, all before incorporating little jumps in the equation.
John Madden explained to me the reason for the clinic, and I found it interesting, demonstrating the show's commitment to riders in the region.
After the riders dismounted, John invited the spectators down to the ring to ask questions, and they eagerly complied. Their enthusiasm was welcomed by Frank, who appreciated the warm reception.
Beezie, of course, was mobbed by autograph seekers. The most unusual one was sixth-grader Anna Smith of nearby Marcellus, N.Y., who I noticed was attired in a slightly worn scarlet jacket with a U.S. team patch that was a little too large for her. Funny, I had never seen her riding in the Olympics...
She told me she wrote a report for school on Beezie and sent it to the Olympian. In return, she received the jacket.
"It must have been a good report," smiled Beezie, who was meeting Anna in person for the first time and autographed the jacket, to the young lady's delight.
Beezie, too, was gratified by the response to the clinic.
Be sure to check back Saturday night, when we'll have a bulletin about the winner of the ASPCA Maclay hunt seat equitation championship, and Monday morning, when we'll wrap up the show, including the $75,000 World Cup grand prix and the unique Animal Planet Sporthorse Cup. See you then!
Visit veteran equestrian journalist Nancy Jaffer's postcard page to relive all of the action at some of the world's top equestrian events.