May 11, 2014 -- Being rather rotund apparently is not a bad thing if you're an event horse. William Fox-Pitt won Rolex Kentucky last month on Bay My Hero, a gelding he described as "tubby." And today, Buck Davidson took the featured 3-star CCI at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event aboard a rather plump Copper Beech, an Irishbred redhead that he simply calls "fat."
Buck had a fault-free trip over Sally Ike's influential show jumping course on Sean (Copper Beech's nickname) to move up from second place in the division, as Phillip Dutton dropped a rail with Fernhill Fugitive to lose his lead from cross-country with 51.4 penalties, to 50.8 for the victor.
But it came out almost even at the Horse Park of New Jersey in Allentown, as Phillip's mount wound up tied for second with Buck's other horse, The Apprentice, and Phillip got the nod for second place because he was closer to the optimum time on cross-country.
The trophy was a nice mother's day present for Buck's mom, Carol Davidson, who was on the verge of proud tears when the Star-Spangled Banner was played for her son's achievement.
The weekend started out well for Buck when he found his lucky red and yellow socks that had gone missing (we've had photos of him wearing them at past events). He was concerned about show jumping during his warm-up today, but has gotten tips from U.S. eventing show jumping coach Silvio Mazzoni that have really helped him and obviously were an important factor in his success. That and the fat horse.
Phillip never likes to lose, but he was looking at the positive side, which is Fernhill Fugitive's progress, rather than what color ribbon the horse was wearing, as he assessed the slow-maturing gelding's progress over the past year.
In the CCI 2-star, Emily Beshear went wire-to-wire to win with Shame on the Moon, despite having two rails down in show jumping. Actually, she could have had even one more, because her score of 51.9 penalties gave her breathing room over Melissa Miller and High Finance, who moved up from fifth despite a rail and ended on 56 penalties.
Shame on the Moon is mostly thoroughbred with a little Trakehner thrown in, and likely is related to Abdullah, the horse Conrad Homfeld rode to show jumping team golds and individual silvers in the 1984 Olympics and 1986 World Championships. She's a bit of a diva at times, Emily said, but she was thrilled that the mare did everything she asked on cross-country to finish that phase on her dressage score of 43.9.
When she got the mare, Emily said in January, "Let's go win Jersey with her," but winning wasn't foremost in Emily mind this afternoon.
"She can get a little bit nervous in the ring," explained Emily, "so my main goal was to stay relaxed and just support her. I knew I had a little bit of wiggle room, and honestly, I just felt like if today was her day, it would come out okay. But I knew if I over-rode I could risk her getting tense and jumping a little bit erratic. At the end of the day, I got a little bit lucky, but that's part of the game."
Melissa had quite a tale to tell about her horse, an off-the-track thoroughbred who was "a tough ride" that bolted with her twice in an indoor when she tried him out eight years ago. (The big clue to his personality was his Jockey Club name, What a Rebel, which got changed to put a more positive spin on things.)
But, she noted, "he's come a long way and he's a pretty cool horse."
Melissa, a 25-year old professional from Cincinnati, trains with Bruce Davidson (Buck's father) when she's in Ocala during the winters, but the rest of her time, she's on her own.
Her chestnut nearly died three years ago from Potomac Horse Fever and laminitis, and was close to being put down several times. He fought back, however, and has come through other issues as well. After the dressage, he seemed iffy with mild colic. Melissa and her mother slept with him Thursday night. He was better after that, so Melissa figured he would tell her if he could go cross-country or not.
"He wanted to run," she said, and finished the course with no jumping or time penalties.
The CIC 2- and 3-stars wrapped up on Saturday. National 4-star champion Lauren Kieffer, the highest-finishing American at Rolex Kentucky, had just 0.40 time penalties cross-country on Meadowbrook's Scarlett to nearly finish on her winning dressage score, ending up with 47.10 penalties and a good margin over Sarah Cousins, who accumulated 52.4 penalties on Ideal Contini.
In the 3-star, Doug Payne put in the winning dressage score of 42 penalties on Crown Talisman. Since Jersey was a warm-up for the Saumur, France 3-star later this month, he took it easy on cross-country and got 10 time faults there, but was still far ahead of runner-up Erin Sylvester on No Boundaries (60.6).
You'll remember Doug's great success with Running Order, the horse he brought from nowhere to the 4-star level, only to have him sold out from under him to someone who bought the Irishbred for William Fox-Pitt. William, it turns out, didn't get along with Running Order, and suggested he go back to Doug. He was, however, sent on to Harry Meade, who finished third at Badminton today on Wild Lone, making a comeback from an accident six months ago in which he dislocated and broke both elbows.
Good on Harry for doing so well, but as I said to Doug, you never know; the horse may come back yet.
Speaking of recoveries, Boyd Martin was back in the saddle after breaking his right leg earlier this year. He was third in dressage and fifth after show jumping in the CIC 3-star on his London Olympic mount, Otis Barbotiere, but he declined to run cross-country as he wants to heal a bit more. Here's what he had to say about his situation.
Another of the horses he usually rides, Shamwari 4, finished third in the CIC 3-star with Phillip aboard. He also rode Boyd's Trading Aces at Rolex Kentucky. Phillip is always there for Boyd; it's a remarkable friendship.
Jersey Fresh had a different schedule this year with its CICs, and it's one of which I'm not very fond.
The CIC cross-country is shorter than the CCI cross-country, and many riders like it because the format enables them to give a horse a good run between CCIs. But the FEI wants cross-country run after show jumping, which Jersey did this year for the first time. I find it very confusing to figure out where horses stand, since I'm not good at math or one to look incessantly at my calculator.
When show jumping is last, you know exactly how many rails a rider can afford. But with the time penalties that are common on cross-country, plus the fact that it is often hard to hear the announcer mention refusals and falls, it's tough to keep track.
And more important, wasn't the traditional concept of eventing, which developed from the military, to see how a horse could bounce back. be fit and handle stadium jumping after a demanding trip cross-country?
"Yes," said Olympic and world championships multi-medalist Jimmy Wofford, one of the eventing authorities I respect most. He was at Jersey Fresh doing some coaching and signing his new book, so I asked him what he thinks of the CIC with cross-country last.
The all-important post-cross-country veterinary exam, held on the morning of show jumping at a CCI, is missing at a CIC.
"Once you change that format, you have lost all of those safeguards," Jimmy commented.
"These horses will be judged, the vets will be looking after them, but there's not much you can do at the end of the cross-country...it's going to be very hard to eliminate a horse, even though the horseman might know that that rider went too fast and burned his horse up."
There were a lot of falls, retirements and eliminations at Jersey Fresh. I don't think John Williams' course was too tough, but the terrain is a challenge (there's one really steep hill) and a corner jump in the Jersey Shore water obstacle didn't ride well for everyone.
Lillian Heard was still in the hospital today after breaking her collarbone in a fall from FYI at the top of that hill, and Lynn Symansky sustained muscle bruising after a fall in the water at that tricky corner with her experienced Donner. It was a double shame, because as a result of her injury, she could not ride Osborne 9, second in the CCI 2-star, after he finished cross-country in second place.
There are more Jersey Fresh photos up at www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman and www.facebook.com/equisearch; why not take a look? My next stop is Devon at the end of the month, so I'll be sending you a postcard from there.