May 10, 2015 -- It was the perfect scenario for a lot of people at the Horse Park of New Jersey this afternoon, when Buck Davidson savored a victory at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event on Ballynoe Castle RM. What better Mother's Day present could he give to his biggest fan, Carol Davidson?
For the horse's owners, Cassie and Carl Segal, it was a particularly joyful occasion, as they were on hand to watch. Carl, who was ill this winter, wasn't able to get out to see his horse for quite a while.
Jersey Fresh presenting sponsor Dr. Brendan Furlong, a former U.S. team veterinarian who knows the horse well, got a fond pat on the head from Buck as he lined up for a special photo to remember the occasion.
And Kathleen Murray, the longtime groom of Reggie, as the Irishbred gelding is known, had a moment all her own when she rode him into the ring (check out the photo at facebook.com/practicalhorseman), startling the in-the-know spectators who were expecting to see Buck. She won the groom's award--what else, a box of grooming supplies, though as announcer Brian O'Connor noted, a better prize might be a trip to the Bahamas.
After Kathleen got down and Buck mounted up, he took the mandatory gallop around the ring while Reggie led the way for his first-ever CCI victory. It was a bit startling when Buck revealed that the 3-star triumph was Reggie's initial blue ribbon in a CCI. This is a horse who has won CICs (they have a shorter cross-country course than a CCI; I just wish we could get rid of those confusing initials. How fan-unfriendly are they?) He's placed as high as third at the 4-star Rolex Kentucky event, where Buck was national 4-star champion last year, and been on two World Equestrian Games teams.
But this was the missing piece of the puzzle and at age 15, it was time Reggie put it in place.
"I'm glad we could pull it off," said Buck. "It's an honor every time to take him for a ride."
Let's face it, the clock is ticking for Reggie at his age, so it was wonderful to see him win wire-to-wire, finishing on his dressage score of 41.6 penalties. He did cut it close, though, rubbing several fences on the show jumping course set by Sally Ike. On paper he had a tiny amount of breathing room, after Meadowbrook's Scarlett -- who had been just 0.4 penalties behind him with Lauren Kieffer doing the riding -- toppled a rail at the first element of the fence 9A-B combination.
Buck, however, wasn't even aware he had that margin, but he wouldn't have thought about it in any case, he pointed out.
"If you start to think, `Oh well, I can have a rail,' that can turn into two, quick," he pointed out.
Buck’s mother has watched her son become one of the most successful riders on the circuit, so I knew she would have an interesting perspective on his success and asked her about how he came along.
I am always asking Buck why Reggie is so special to him, but I thought it would be nice for you to hear it from the horse's mouth, in a manner of speaking, so listen to this video to have Buck explain it to you.
Today's trip to the winner's circle was the second for Buck at the show. He won the CIC 2-star yesterday with Copper Beech, owned by the Segals and Sherry and Randy Martin. Sean, as the horse is called, is heading for the Tattersalls, Ireland 3-star this month. The July Pan American Games may also be in his future, though Buck would prefer to point him to the Olympics next year and instead go to the Pan Ams with Carlevo, 11th in the CCI 2-star with two fences down earlier in the day.
He also has put Reggie at the disposal of selectors, in case they want an experienced horse for the 2-star competition, where the U.S. is trying to qualify for the Olympics.
The selectors have lots of work to do in picking the team. Jersey Fresh was the last selection trial, so Pan Am-eligible entries underwent lots of scrutiny.
Scarlett is among the candidates, and Lauren found no fault with her for her knockdown today.
"She's such a good jumper and is really very, very careful. She doesn't have rails often, so I'm sure I somehow made a mistake, because it wouldn't have been her fault," Lauren commented.
Despite the 4 faults, "I'm still thrilled with her," she said, conceding that "it makes it a little easier that Reggie jumped clean," so the knockdown didn't affect her placing.
"For her first 3-star and being an 8-year-old she couldn't have gone in and been much better."
Lauren also had the winner of the CIC 3-star, Landmark's Monte Carlo, so Jersey was quite a good outing for her, too.
Another Pan Am prime contender is 2-star CCI winner Cyrano, finishing on his dressage score of 36.9 penalties. Ridden by Michael Pollard, the horse was in the Olympics with his father-in-law, Carl Bouckaert, and had been idle for awhile before Michael brought the 14-year-old Zangersheide gelding back. Cyrano's experience and that of his rider, like Buck, a Pan Am medalist, may stand him in good stead during the selection process.
"You have a ton of options with him," said Michael, noting the fact that the horse is game and he's a quiet rider makes for a good combination -- provided Cyrano is managed properly.
"He's a little bit quirky...but I haven't had many top horses that weren't a little bit strange, so you have to deal with that and that's what makes it fun," said Michael, explaining that in the barn, "if you move too quickly, he's gone."
I found Sally's course for the 2-star interesting, especially the bending line from an oxer to the final fence. While the top 10 in the 2-star all were fault-free on her route, don't think it was too easy. It was quite appropriate for horses who had just gone over hill and dale on the cross country; as Sally pointed out, they're not specialist show jumpers.
To see all the Jersey Fresh scores, go to evententries.com and click on Jersey Fresh under the category "live results".
Brendan's decision to donate $25,000 to Jersey Fresh on behalf of his veterinary practice was the inspiration for a massive improvement in the event.
Watch this video to see what he thought of this year's edition, with new features such as a VIP tent right in the arena, and several cross-country jumps in the ring for easy viewing, a la the Fair Hill International in October.
Jersey Fresh almost wasn't part of the PRO (Professional Riders Organization) tour this year, but Brendan's vote of confidence put it back on the map. Max Corcoran, who you'll remember as a longtime member of the O'Connor Event Team, was on hand representing PRO at the event. I asked her what she thought. You can hear the answer by clicking on this video.
The only down side of the weekend was the injury to Canadian Pan American Games gold medalist Jessica Phoenix. When her horse, Exultation, chested a hanging log obstacle in the CCI 2-star yesterday, the two suffered a rotational fall, but luckily they didn't land in a heap together. Jessica has broken ribs, a broken clavicle and a broken sacrum. She under went surgery yesterday for liver damage, and remains in the hospital. Clayton Fredericks, the Canadian coach, expects her to be in the hospital for at least a week.
When I commiserated that he wouldn't have her for the Pan Am team, he smiled and said it's not wise to count out Jessica. Phoenix is more than her last name. He added, however, that this time, "it's a tough one."
The horse park has a massive campaign under way to replace its footing with a more modern surface. When that is done, hopefully it can attract more major competitions such as Jersey Fresh, which is its flagship.
There were many kudos for the cross-country course, laid out by John Williams. I call him Jersey Fresh's course designer for life, since he has been in that job for the event's 13-year run. John, who works with course builder Morgan Rowsell and saw 36 new fences go into place, said a major restructuring of the course was long overdue and was able to use new ground that improved the flow of the route.
I'm from New Jersey, so I want to see the horse park prosper, and efforts certainly paid off this weekend.
When I asked assistant technical delegate Kristof Goeminne of Belgium what he thought of the event, he replied, "awesome."
Okay, now I'm off the eventing cycle and back to hunters and jumpers later this month, when I'll be sending my postcard from the venerable Devon Horse Show. Look for it May 29, and in the meantime, go to facebook.com/practicalhorseman for more photos from Jersey Fresh.