June 23, 2014--It was an electrifying final day of competition today at the Lamplight Equestrian Center as the Showplace Spring Spectacular Series wrapped up with the $40,000 Weathertech Grand Prix. It came down to a two-horse jump-off, but Kelsey Thatcher and Athena rode to the win, leading the week's final victory gallop.
Alan Wade built a technical track for the final day of competition, and with the nation's top riders ready to vie for the lion's share of the earnings; he designed a course that would be both tricky and testing. With a time allowed of 79 seconds, riders were pushed through the course, with many falling victim to the clock and meticulously placed obstacles.
Out of a starting field of 29, only four were able to navigate the course without rails. Kyle Dewar and Gomez Van De Withoeve were the first to clear the course, but they crossed the timers with three time faults on the board. Dorothy Douglas and S & L Elite, owned by S & L Farms, duplicated his efforts, riding to the faster of the three-time fault rounds in 81.701 seconds. It seemed as though Wade had designed an impossible track, until Laura Linback of Mundelein, IL, cleared the course with HH Dauphin. Thatcher entered the ring only three rounds later to duplicate Linback's clear effort, promising a jump-off.
"It felt great to clear the course! I was thrilled," Linback smiled. "When I walked the course, I thought it was quite stout, and definitely a test. The time allowed was really tight, which forced you into situations that you didn't want to be in. I thought it was a fantastic course though. Honestly, I would prefer none clean or one or two clean instead of eight or nine-I hate when they under build. Alan did a terrific job with the final grand prix of the series."
Linback said of HH Dauphin, "He is fantastic, and he is probably the nicest horse that I have ever owned, and I have had a lot of nice horses. He is a real trier. He is very sensitive. It takes a lot of maturity and poise on my part, and I feel as though we have created a beautiful relationship together."
The fences were raised, and several obstacles removed as Linback and Thatcher entered into a battle of the best. Tested over eight obstacles, including the triple bar to the double-combination that entrapped so many during the first round, they went head on in a race against the clock.
Thatcher stated, "I am never one to worry about how many went clear, I am very much in my own head. When it was just Laura and I, I was only concerned about Athena and me out there. I just wanted to lay it down."
Linback returned first to take on the short course, but 12 faults would leave the door open for Thatcher to make her move. She rode a picture perfect course, until jumping the final fence in 50.553 seconds. Although the rail fell, with only four faults on the course, she would take the win.
"I wanted to improve on last week, because I left out one stride to the opening jump, and then it all went to pieces," Thatcher remarked. "After I found number one, I just wanted to canter around and jump some jumps. It was the quietest I had ever ridden her."
Thatcher recently graduated from college, and will start student teaching in the fall at an elementary school in Athens, GA. She is contemplating the continuance of her education with a Master's degree at the University of Miami in Florida, and then pursuing the opportunity to work with the Peace Corps for 27 months. Until that time comes, Thatcher has her equestrian dreams to pursue.
"Ideally I want to go to World Cup Finals, and make it on to a Nations Cup Finals Team," Thatcher explained. "I have four horses that could jump the 1.60m, I have the time, the backing and that's where I see it all going. I have always envisioned wearing the red jacket for the United States. If I come back after Peace Corps I won't have this amazing string of horses."
The team that she speaks of is none other than Alex Jayne, Maggie Jayne and Haylie Jayne-Rolfe of Our Day Farm, along with her fantastic groom, Donaldo Castro. "I am the one in the ring getting the credit, but the truth is that I could not do it without them."