Fair Hill, Md., October 19, 2008 -- There was plenty of suspense at the Dansko Fair Hill International Three-Day Event, and while it wasn't a good weekend for the leaders in the standings, the spectators certainly found a lot to keep them interested.
Both the 2-star test, making its debut at this venue, and the 3-star championship had come-from-behind victors, courtesy of today's stadium jumping test.
Amy Tryon was startled to find herself accepting the prestigious Fair Hill bronze trophy as the winner of the 3-star, coming from sixth place on Coal Creek after cross-country to take the title with one of only five-double clear rounds in show jumping.
Although he is just an 8-year-old, Coal Creek easily cleared the demanding route designed by Sally Ike.
Because Amy also was jumping another horse, Leyland, third after cross-country, she rode Coal Creek 12th from the end of the order, which gave her some breathing room. But the black thoroughbred gelding didn't give breathing room to anyone else, setting up a challenge for the horses yet to jump with his 51-penalty total.
The bogey turned out to be the last fence, a liverpool bending away from the rail, which followed a triple combination. It put an end to the chances of Will Coleman, who was standing second on Twizzle, just 0.7 penalties behind Corinne Ashton and Dobbin, who topped the rankings following cross-country.
Will's error there meant he dropped to third on 51.9 penalties, so when Corinne trotted into the ring on her chestnut thoroughbred partner of 10 years, the drama of the situation wasn't lost on the crowd. Would she be able to beat the course and stay on top?
Corinne's score at that moment was 47.2, which meant she was 0.2 penalties short of having the breathing room of a rail in hand.
Unfortunately, she needed it. Down came a pole at the liverpool, making her total 51.2. Close, but no Fair Hill bronze.
That last fence spoiled a fairy tale finish for a rider who has called Fair Hill "my nemesis" over the years.
Suddenly, Amy--who had dropped from third to seventh with Leyland after a disastrous round--found herself the unexpected winner on her other mount.
Corinne handled her disappointment at being the runner-up admirably, but was kicking herself for taking what turned out to be too direct a line to the liverpool.
"It's going to be a long ride home as I relive my approach to that last fence," said the Massachusetts resident, a native of Great Britain who has lived in this country for years. Although she recently turned professional, the mother of two doesn't consider herself a real pro at this level, compared to some of the people against whom she was competing, such as last year's winner, Olympic veteran Phillip Dutton, who had trouble with five fences on Bailey Wick and plummeted from fourth to 10th as a result.
Adding insult to injury, poor Corinne lost another blue ribbon very quickly. She was named as the top adult amateur rider and received the honors center stage, but the mistake was rectified fast and moments later, the award was presented to 22-year-old Cayla Kitayama, who finished ninth on Esker Riada and also won the national under-25 title.
Cayla was all smiles at her improved status. Last year, she did well cross-country, only to fall off in show jumping. Understandably, she was delighted to finish as well as she did.
Oh, but at least Corinne, who works for Dover Saddlery and trains horses and riders, did get the owner/rider award.
I ran into Sally Ike after the division wrapped up and asked how she felt about the course she had laid out that had wreaked havoc in the standings.
Although she doesn't have his type of credentials, Corinne did incredibly well compared to 2004 Olympic individual gold medalist Leslie Law. The native of Britain, now based in the U.S., led after dressage on Fleeceworks Mystere du Val, but was eliminated on cross-country. His other mount, Evening Shade, tired on course and was pulled up. He didn't even get to show jump in the 3-star.
Whoops, I haven't mentioned the 2-star. Molly Rosin won the dressage and stayed on top for cross-country with a Hungarian warmblood, the flaxen-tailed chestnut, Havarah's Charly. She had one of 15 double-clears over Derek DiGrazia's course.
Right behind her was the Irishbred mare Ballinakill Glory, Kelly Prather's ride, who had accumulated just 46.6 penalties to Charly's 46.2 at that point.
There were nine double-clears in that division's stadium jumping, but Charly's wasn't one of them. He dropped a rail at the fifth fence, an oxer, to finish on 50.2 penalties and wind up fourth. Kelly was one of the double-clears, so she found herself with a championship ribbon on her bridle.
The loss was quite a blow for Molly, a Californian who now lives in nearby Elkton, but she blamed herself.
"This is our first CCI 2 star, and I think we did a great job," she said, as she was preparing to go in and accept a white ribbon instead of a blue one.
Charly, she said, "was stellar every single moment and he was stellar there (the fifth fence); I just brought him to a bad distance," she sighed.
Kelly, who came all the way from California to compete here, had something to prove. Last year, she retired at fence 18 in the 3-star. She did the 2-star as a confidence-boosting plan, and it worked.
"It means a ton to win the first 2-star at Fair Hill," she said. "My horse jumped fabulous and I couldn't be more happy with the way she performed all weekend. She felt amazing."
"The cross-country course was brilliant. There were plenty of challenging questions. I think the horses came off the course with a great taste in their mouth," Kelly continued.
Her mare, she noted, finished "with her ears pricked forward. I'd like to come back here again, hopefully to run the 3-star."
With the demise of Radnor, that longtime Pennsylvania fixture, Fair Hill--which celebrated its 20th anniversary--has neatly filled the need for an autumn 2-star.
I wondered how Derek felt about having the 2-star (which replaced driving) as part of the program here.
Over the course of four days, Fair Hill attracted 14,200 spectators, but it deserves more. I've never understood why people think they have to go to New England to see the display of autumn leaves; the backdrop here at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area rivals anything you'd view in Vermont.
This is such a relaxed event in a semi-rural area. Although the fall 2- and 3-star championships are at stake, it's a key competition that doesn't reek of self-importance. And the people, whether they're volunteers or folks spectating from the area, are friendly too.
I'll end this postcard on a light note. I knew there had to be a story behind the name Dobbin (which is to horses as Spot is to dogs), so I asked Corinne about it. I was right; this is cute.
That's it from here. I'll be sending you a postcard next Sunday from the Washington International Horse Show. It's celebrating its 50th anniversary in high style. Maybe you should think about going. If you can't, well, that's what my postcards are for.