September 17, 2017—If ever there were a perfect venue for a horse show while summer stands on the brink of autumn, it’s Old Salem Farm. Located in lovely, leafy Westchester County, N.Y., the picturesque site with its expansive grass arena is the right location for a test of horse and rider that involves endurance, technical issues, speed and being able to negotiate terrain that asks some questions of its own.
The turf covers what course designer Alan Wade called, “a tricky enough field.”
He explained, “There’s a lot of slopes and undulations, and the grass is very fragile at times.” Alan noted that in order to keep the footing at its optimum, a fresh track was required for each round and jump-off, which is why the five riders from the field of 39 who made the tiebreaker in the featured Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping New York were able walk the shortened route after the first round.
Usually, riders walk their jump-off plan when they scout the course before the first round. But the fences had to be moved from their original position, because as Alan explained, “We wanted a fresh track for every round and every jump-off.” He thanked his crew and assistants, noting they stepped up to handle the extra work.
Old Salem always draws a festive crowd. The VIP tent was full of people at tables set with china and glassware (no paper plates or plastic cups here). After all, when sushi, turkey, roast beef, barley eggplant salad, grilled peaches and many other delights are being served, you don’t stint.
Those who brought their own picnics added color to the hill next to the arena, and these fans were really into the competition. They were knowledgeable, too. Westchester is horse country. The perfect weather, warm but not too hot, added to the delightful atmosphere at a show beautifully run by Michael Morrissey.
The riders who turned out for the competition during the week of the American Gold Cup 4-star included Andre Thieme, winner of the HITS Million last week; the irrepressible Margie Goldstein Engle, who didn’t let a knee brace bother her; Brianne Goutal, the 2013 winner and McLain Ward, who has never won the trophy and would like his name engraved on it—especially since his father, Barney Ward, won it in 1986 on Sedac.
The Gold Cup has a storied history, with winners including such legends as Rodney Jenkins and Idle Dice (three times), Melanie Smith and Calypso (twice) and Michael Matz and Jet Run (twice). The first Gold Cup was held in 1970, and the trophy has traveled around a bit. I remember going to see it in the 1970s at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. It also has been in Florida and Ohio, but it looks as if Old Salem is its perfect home, and the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping New York is the perfect finale to the show.
McLain and Brianne were among those who made the jump-off, along with Devin Ryan, Mario Deslauriers and Hardin Towell. Brianne had a rail in the jump-off with Nice de Prissey, a 16-year-old stallion whose power is impressive. Things went worse for Mario, who suffered a hard fall (but was okay) when the promising 8-year-old mare, Bardolina, stopped at the third fence, then ran around the ring until she was cornered.
Devin, an unknown to many in the crowd, executed incredibly neat turns with a well-planned ride on Eddie Blue, another 8-year-old on the rise.
He conceded, “I was probably the least experienced of all those riders in the jump-off. I’ve been watching them all season and trying to learn from them. I just went out there today and rode my plan. Eddie is a great horse.
“I’ve had him since he was 4 years old and I’ve known since he was 5 years old that he would be able to jump all the big classes. It was great to be on a horse that I brought along and be at the top of the field with great athletes behind me,” commented Devin, who got Eddie in the Netherlands when the horse was “cheeky,” but he brought him along patiently.
With McLain coming after him, Devin’s fault-free mark of 37.75 seconds looked to be in danger. McLain, the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping finals winner, is a master at beating his rivals’ time. But his ride on HH Callas was tempered by his experience with the mare earlier this month in the Hampton Classic Grand Prix.
There, he recalled, “I tried to go a bit too fast,” and he paid for it with a rail down, winding up third then on the mare he has ridden since February.
“I was a little bit aware of that during the (Old Salem) jump-off,” said McLain, who tried to make up for a bit of caution with a gallop through the finish markers, but it didn’t work. He looked up and saw the clock: 38.34 seconds. A win was not to be.
“Devin is a very fast rider. He’s always going forward and the horse has a very big stride,” said McLain, who told me a few years back when he won the Devon Grand Prix and Devin was third that he was a promising rider.
“I knew I couldn’t do the same numbers (as Devin), so to be frank I knew it had to be a very good round to win. In hindsight, you see an inch here or an inch there, but you also risk having a jump down. I did the best round I thought I could and he (Devin) was a little better today. That’s the sport, and hopefully I can get this one (the trophy) before I retire. I have been trying to win this class for a long time and I’ve been second a lot, but it eludes me.”
(Look for a video interview with McLain about Callas tomorrow at www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman.)
Last to go in the class, Hardin wasn’t on his game, winding up third in clocking of 39.51 seconds.
“I was disappointed with myself,” he said, looking understandably glum.
“My horse jumped very well and I should have taken more of a shot. I was too slow, and if I didn’t have the rail I still would have been too slow. It wasn’t my horse’s fault; I just wasn’t on it from the start.”
Devin and I talked about the biggest win of his career. Click below to watch the video interview.
McLain wants to go to the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping finals to defend the title he won in Omaha last spring. Devin would like to be part of it also, and has the advantage of riding another good horse, Cooper.
His next stop is the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Washington in October, but likely it won’t be Eddie who is competing in that one.
“The World Cup Finals are indoors and this horse has no experience indoors,” noted Devin.
“I am going to take him to Washington and Kentucky (the National Horse Show) as a second horse just to get his feet wet indoors and see how he does and how he reacts to that atmosphere. If he reacts great at Washington, which is a much smaller ring, we might use him in Kentucky” for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Lexington.
“We just have to see.”
Get the full results of Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping New York at Longines Timing.
For more about the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping New York, go to www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman, or check out Practical Horseman on Instagram.
Be sure to come back next weekend for more postcards about great horse sport.