May 12th, 2013 -- The equine veterans ruled at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event this weekend, taking the titles in all four sections of the competition at the Horse Park of New Jersey. But their riders were a mix of the up-and-coming athletes who are the future of the sport, and those with well-earned team experience.
Change is gradual; sometimes you don't see it coming, then you wake up and there it is. But anyone who watched the event in horse-friendly Monmouth County had a chance to glimpse where things are going.
Veronica's permanent rider is now Lauren Kieffer, 24, who came up through the ranks of the O'Connor Event Team, and took over the ride from Olympic multi-medalist Karen O'Connor after she broke her back in a fall with the mare last year. Lauren led through all three phases to win the CIC 2-star on a score of 55.3 penalties, adding 8 time penalties cross-country in a division where only one person made the optimum time and dropping a rail in show jumping. She still had a nice margin over Sharon White's ride, Don Sheffield (57.9).
Lauren is grateful to the Broussard family, which owns Veronica, for giving her the ride.
"It was very generous of the Broussards to take a chance on a new rider. It speaks worlds to their dedication to the sport that they're willing to give it to a younger rider rather than one of the top riders who ride for them already," she commented.
Boyd Martin handed over Remington XXV to 23-year-old Caitlin Silliman for what was supposed to be the first leg of the? 17-year-old horse's? retirement, but he never looked better as he, too, led through all the phases of his division, the CCI 2-star and finished on his dressage score of 41 penalties, the best of any horse in the entire event.
"The more I learn about him, the better I'm able to ride him," said Caitlin, noting that Boyd, her boss, has been "a huge help." But she observed that Remington has learned something too; he's thinking more on his own than he used to with Boyd's professional ride.
Also leading throughout the CIC 3-star competition (do you sense a trend here?) Will Faudree's ride, Andromaque, finished on 51.1 penalties, adding only four time penalties cross-country as he prepped the mare for a trip with the U.S. contingent going to Saumur, France, this month.
"She's a star. I've always believed in that horse. She came here this weekend in preparation for Saumur and I wanted her solid in all three phases," said Will. He noted that her dressage performance was a wake-up call; "I won here on a score of 51, which is really exciting, but I know in France, 51 probably won't get me in the top 20, so we've got to up our game."
The hardest-fought division was the CCI 3-star, where Buck Davidson had no margin for error after cross-country on the 8-year-old D.A. Adirmo, who faced the biggest test of his short career on the course designed by John Williams, who has held that job for the entire history of Jersey Fresh. He was one of only two double-clears on that route; the other was that fiercely competitive pair, Canada's Jessica Phoenix and Exponential. Buck had 51.5 penalties to lead after cross-country, Jessica had 52.7. It's interesting to note that Jessica was the busiest rider at Jersey Fresh with five mounts, and I have to say she looked none the worse for wear after her final trip as she accepted a Mother's Day chocolate ice cream cone from her 3-year-old son, Jacob.
I chatted with Debbie Adams, D.A. Adirmo's owner, before the show jumping. Debbie came up with the idea for Jersey Fresh 11 years ago, and was so excited about how her Dutchbred horse was doing.
The winner of the dressage phase, Californian Mackenna Shea's horse, Landioso, had dropped to third with time penalties after cross-country. But disappointingly, he didn't make it through the horse inspection this morning. Mackenna, who had to settle for the sportsmanship award, a clock, rather than a ribbon, said the problem was a shoeing issue, and as soon as Landioso was reshod, he was sound. That's eventing.
With Courtney Cooper and Who's a Star on 63.9 penalties rather far back in third place, it was obvious that Sally Ike's course would be the decider between the top two.
Jessica had a rail at the eighth of 12 fences, a black-and- white oxer.
"I was thinking, `Oh, I sat on him' and apologized to her horse: `I'm sorry, I won't do that again.' " Then "we went around to the last line, and he was awesome."
She had given Buck some breathing room, but she didn't watch him go.
He used up his advantage at the first element of the yellow-and-white triple combination, dropping a rail at the oxer. And three fences later, it was over, as he had another knockdown at the next-to-last obstacle.
That was it, he finished second on 59.5 penalties, ahead of Courtney, who had one of only two double-clears in the division.
Analyzing what went wrong, Buck said, "when he hit the 'in' of the triple, it sort of startled him. I landed short coming out of the triple and thought, 'I better add' (a stride). If I had gone, he would have had a back rail. Obviously I shouldn't have done that."
Buck noted that the horse is young and when asked what A.D. Adirmo had learned, he replied. "Everything. He was trying, he's still green. I'm very excited with the finish. He's a nice horse for the future."
"In this sport, it's so humbling, all I want is for everyone to have a good weekend. At the end of the day, when you win, you want to win because you've been at your best. You don't want to win from other people's rails. I feel for Buck,, it's unfortunate. He had a great weekend on that horse."
Jessica--who was on her country's silver medal team with Exponential at the 2010 World Equestrian Games--was especially thrilled, because ironically with all that mileage, it was her first 3-star win.
And she was merely following orders from new Canadian coach Clayton Fredericks.
He had advised her to withdraw from the Rolex Kentucky 4-star last month after her dressage test wasn't up to snuff.
"This horse does not need to prove himself in his jumping phases. He just needs to go out and be competitive. Let's go to Jersey and win it,"? he told her.
So she did.
Jersey is a very different event from high-profile Rolex, just as the compact Horse Park of New Jersey is completely different from the expansive Kentucky Horse Park. That figures; Kentucky is all about the horse industry; New Jersey is not, even though the horse is the state animal, for what that's worth.
Jersey Fresh is an amazing volunteer operation that goes above and beyond with a shoestring budget. Everyone makes a big effort, and riders love the hospitality. The event has improved in recent years. There was a feeling that this edition was the best ever.
It drew a nice crowd for tailgating around the "Jersey Shore" water complex yesterday, despite the omnipresent threat of rain, which graciously held off until the competition was finished. The eventing gods have been kind this spring; the same thing happened at Rolex.
John, the cross-country designer, called his layout, "a notch more difficult this year, but it's also a better course. We're finding ways to utilize the property better so the course can be more open, galloping and flowing." He noted that with the one-fall rule for elimination and only three refusals on course allowed, the competitors don't get out of sequence as they used to when they remounted and caused delays, or kept going with refusal after refusal. Therefore, they don't get in each others way as they often did in the old days, making it difficult for the course to cross itself, as it does now. Therefore, the course "can exist on a smaller piece of property," John pointed out.
I spoke with Morgan Rowsell, the course builder, for his viewpoint.
Jersey Fresh was the source of a big improvement, breakaway flags that fall when a horse hits them, rather than breaking and injuring the animals. Last year, one of Will Coleman's horses was impaled by a broken flag and suffered a serious injury. Dr. Scott Palmer, the veterinarian who pulled the horse through, called then-U.S. Equestrian Federation President David O'Connor's (now the U.S. eventing coach) attention to the situation and suggested flexible poles should be used. They were at all the narrow jumps on course at Jersey Fresh.
Here's how Scott explained the situation.
It was good to catch up with Karen O'Connor and hear about her recovery. While she's back jumping, she has yet to compete; when she will do that, and what she will do, is still up in the air. Meanwhile, she's worried about Mr. Medicott, her 2012 Olympic horse. Marilyn Little is riding him while he's being syndicated, but not all the shares have been sold.
Also on the injured list is Boyd, who had ankle surgery after Rolex Kentucky and was sporting a big bandage. He's getting it off tomorrow, and soon will be doing dressage, he said. When he'll be eventing again he couldn't say, but I'll bet it will be soon.
I'm switching gears at the end of the month and going to the Devon Horse Show, one of my favorites. Look for my postcard May 31. In the meantime, check out facebook.com/equisearch and facebook.com/practicalhorseman for more photos from Jersey Fresh.