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Alice Fox-Pitt Talks Event Rider Masters Series

The one and only Alice Fox-Pitt. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

The one and only Alice Fox-Pitt. Photo by Nico Morgan Photography.

William Fox-Pitt is of course a household name, and while Alice Fox-Pitt may be familiar to some as his wife, and to others as Channel 4 Racing Presenter Alice Plunkett, perhaps not as many realise just quite how phenomenal she is in her own right. Still the only woman to have ridden round Badminton and over the Grand National course at Aintree, Alice combines her television career with four young children, an active role in William’s career and as if she didn’t have enough on her plate already, she is an integral part of the team launching the Event Rider Masters series this year.

To come up with something this big and this brilliant is typical of Alice. Despite managing more in a day than many of us could juggle in a month, she remains one of the smartest, funniest and downright lovliest people you’ll ever meet. Her generosity is enormous — with her time, her humour, her expertise, and the sport is so lucky to be benefiting from all of the above by dint of this new project the Event Rider Masters series.

The Event Rider Masters has been an idea in the making for some years, but started to become real last March when owner Jeremy Skinner, an ex-City lawyer, asked Alice to a meeting with one of Mark Todd’s owners and ex-JP Morgan Director Di Brunsden. “We absolutely hit it off. She is an incredible woman and I’ve never met anyone like her. She’s incredibly structured and incredibly professional, and I just don’t think eventing has ever had the engagement of someone like that, someone who’s really systematic in their approach, who’s really crossing all their T’s and dotting the I’s.”

Di, in turn, brought American Terry Miller on board, a lawyer previously involved with sponsorship for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and currently working with the Invictus Games. Alice attests their help has already been invaluable and priceless. Although they are all volunteering she imagines, “Since we started they’ve probably done in the region of half a million pounds worth of work for us.”

Event Rider Masters Promo – Set Your Heart on Fire from Event Rider Masters on Vimeo.

The team, along with Bruce Haskell from the Eventing Riders Association (ERA), has been successful in bringing Chis and Lisa Stone on board. “They are the business brains behind this and have been absolutely extraordinary; they are passionate about the sport and they understand the sport obviously because they own Chilli Morning and support several riders and horses. But it’s their business acumen that’s really got them involved in this. To have two people involved with the business experience they have, this isn’t them patting us on the head, this is them saying this is a venture that we believe has commercial legs and we want to be a part of it.”

The first phase of the series is now complete. “The key was to set up a structure that worked for riders, venues, owners and fans alike. We wanted to set up a fail-safe system where the sport could benefit from the marketing and the media rights in a way that it hasn’t ever before. Racing UK is a vehicle by which the racecourses can market their media rights and then get a percentage of the profit from those rights. This was something I thought we could bring across to eventing. We set up a not-for-profit company called Eventing Live that agreed with British Eventing and the competition venues to market their media rights on their behalf for a period of three years, and if nothing came of it they would be handed back and they would carry on as before.”

“So with Di and Terry and everyone’s expertise we put together a package where we linked up six fantastic CIC3* and looked at a format of competition that would work for television. Bearing in mind the precarious position of Eventing in the Olympics we felt it was very important to stay true to the core sport and prove beyond all reasonable doubt that there is an audience, a global audience, for Eventing. We have huge confidence in the sport and we wanted to make sure that that was at the core of it. Support from the FEI was key to making this all happen.”

The Event Rider Masters will start in May at The Dodson & Horrell Chatsworth International Horse Trials, continue in June at The Equi-Trek Bramham International Horse Trials, head to The St James’s Place Barbury International Horse Trials in July, The Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park and Blair Castle Equi-Trek International Horse Trials in August, and culminates at The Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials in September; the prize money is already in place, £50,000 for each event, and another £50,000 for the series leading riders.

“We’re a start-up, there’s no guarantee this is going to work. I think it is. We have a fantastic team in place. The venues are iconic venues and have been so brilliant. We all know our sport is brilliant, we just need to showcase it. All the organisers are so great, they have really worked hard to make this a reality, and what they’ve understood is that their individual events are great, but together they are absolutely fantastic, and that’s the difference from a brand point of view. If you can get regional or global exposure by linking up events, then you become a whole lot sexier.”

Diam Byrne of Equiratings who will be providing statistical analysis and commentary for Event Rider Masters Series Photo By Samantha Clark

Diam Byrne of EquiRatings will be providing statistical analysis and commentary for the Event Rider Masters series. Photo By Samantha Clark.

Each competition will be limited to the top 36 riders according to FEI rankings at the ballot date, with a maximum of four additional special entries. The dressage on the first day will be seeded like pure dressage to music and drawn in order of the average of your last five runs. The show-jumping will take place during the morning of the second day, the cross country after a break during the afternoon. Both will run in reverse order of merit to make it easy to understand and exciting. The aim is to enhance the viewing for both the spectators on site, and viewers at home. Expect to see split screen times, new technology and reactive data.

EquiRatings have been very supportive of the project, and Alice confirms that co-founder Diarm Byrne will be contributing his fantastic statistical analysis to the commentary team to keep it interesting. Guest riders will also join the commentary team alongside Alice to provide a good variety of voices and nations. It’s got to be entertaining and meaningful, as well as good fun. “We want you in the U.S. to be able to watch your heroes in the UK and know that at least once a month in the U.S. you can log in and get great live eventing action in your home. What I hope is that the whole approach brings a value to the whole sport that hasn’t been seen before.”

If you bear in mind that upon entering the Event Rider Masters series the riders are essentially signing a media contract, this will be live streaming unlike anything we’ve been used to seeing, and it’s ridiculously exciting to contemplate it’s actually going to happen. “For the first time ever the television is a priority, so the riders know that when they enter they are allowing the TV access all areas, whether it be to themselves, their team, their owners, their lorry….whatever we feel best shows the sport. The riders have been really up for that and they really get it. We’re looking at all the different ways of show-casing that, whether it be through social media or through the live streaming.”

“I feel very strongly that television networks have always handed out the line that equestrianism doesn’t get the viewing figures. Yet we did a pilot last year with a very low budget but we got over a hundred thousand viewers and the live scoring was logged into in 82 different countries. What we’re doing, hopefully, by live streaming across all six events and collecting viewing data is proving that we have a commercial value. With a good product and good marketing we can drive viewing figures right up. We know that as a sport we have a very active social media community and we need to use that in a more effective way. When we did a study of other sport’s social media, our numbers are on a par with rugby players, which means that we have very strong marketing tools to work with.” (William for example has over 60,000 Twitter followers and over 50,000 Facebook fans.)

For riders that are less technologically savvy ERM will help develop their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and promote the Event Rider Masters series and the riders in a mutually beneficial relationship “so that we as a community have a dynamic social media profile.”

Event Rider Masters Promo – Are You Ready? from Event Rider Masters on Vimeo.

The idea is that the series will be live streamed through the Event Rider Masters website but there are also meetings underway with mainstream broadcasters about looking at whether ERM stream live through their platforms as well. They have obviously already spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on development into the technology to make them really friendly for iPhones and tablet. “We all know now that the way people are watching television is changing; whereas historically streaming has always been a low-grade not very exciting product, now it’s potentially very interesting because people watch television so much more through their phones or tablets, or have the internet via their smart TVs, so streaming is something that is viable to watch.”

2016 is something of a trial period and it’s hoped to expand the Series pan-regionally and globally. “We would absolutely love to come to the States, and there have been many confidential conversations about how we bring in events from around the world because that is key. The FEI are hugely supportive and one of the things they’re very keen on is that it’s not a British based series, that it be international and we are too. We are very focused on it being an international series. We have to look at the schedule and look at how best to bring in the US. We’ve also talked to U.S. riders about keeping a couple of three-star horses in the UK, or staying over an extra week after Badminton or Burghley to do the Chatsworth and Blenheim legs.”

The events are structured so that it’s completely viable to contest them all on the same horse, or target one or two at the Series. “If you’re targeting the Event Rider Masters you’re not going to be abusing your horse doing an advanced one day event every three or four weeks, you’re really not, even if you go quick. I am absolutely confident there is no horse welfare issue here. That’s why it’s key that the show jumping is big — that it’s the individual phases that tests the horses, not going flat out round a cross country course, or any faster than you would do normally.”

William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning en route to winning Bramham 2014 Photo by Samantha Clark

William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning en route to winning Bramham 2014. Photo by Samantha Clark.

With Sir Mark Todd describing Event Rider Masters as “the most positive development of the sport in modern times” and Paul Tapner telling the Eventing Radio Show he’d be earmarking one of his four-star horses especially for the series, it’s clear it’s already a game-changer, and Alice agrees.

“There are always going to be different horses for a CIC3* than there are for Badminton or Burghley, and when you look at William’s stable for example, this is made for something like Oslo. I think the series would certainly suit Oslo and Cool Mountain, and that’s definitely their target and William is really looking forward to that. Chilli Morning will probably do a leg, maybe at Bramham, on his way to trying to get selected for Rio. There are always going to be the specialists that you want for the Badminton’s and Burghley’s but if it helps the horse market, if it helps encourage young riders, if it helps us all have good fun at the events…..”

As many of the top riders continue competing well into their 40s and 50s, bringing their kids along to events with them is a fact of life, and not always an easy one as Alice will attest, but one that the series hopes to alleviate. “We’re looking at teaming up with a fantastic company who do really great outdoor based activities for kids ages 6-14. We’re looking at den building, orienteering, treasure hunts etc. Riders will be able to leave their children with a really dynamic team who’ll make sure they have a good time and engage them with what’s going on. Hopefully corporate hospitality will also benefit from it as well as their kids will play together with riders’ kids and then watch those parents competing, bringing another whole level of engagement.

“Historically we haven’t supported that side of it very well in eventing and I think it’s very important. Getting the kids to engage with where they are and allowing the venues to show off what they have — for example Chatsworth has a farm park with a huge sandpit, which I’ve spent a lot of time in (!), Blenheim has a butterfly garden — there’s so many wonderful things that we can take advantage of for our kids, and they can learn about where they are and hopefully it will make eventing a bit more enjoyable.”

Alice still enjoys her day job as Channel 4 Racing’s presenter enormously, and a recent bonus, she assures me, saw her cleaning stalls for a change. “It’s been such fun because I’m a huge fan of a lovely horse called Cue Card who’s running in the Cheltenham Gold Cup today. I had the huge privilege of being allowed to do a feature on being his groom. So I went and mucked him out and brushed him and played ponies with Cue Card! I didn’t ride him but I rode out next to him.”

Back home at Wood Lane Stables in Dorset the Fox-Pitt Eventing Team looks better than ever. “William’s in really good form. He’s just been absolutely incredible in his recovery. He’s got an amazing team of horses — five four-star winners in his stable this year (Cool Mountain, Parklane Hawk, Bay My Hero, Chilli Morning and Oslo). Between them they’ve won 13 three-day events and I don’t think there’s ever been that calibre of a team in one place before, it’s just amazing. They’re all 14, 15 and 16 years old but they’re all looking great, and it’s just such a privilege to have those five boys, obviously alongside the rest of his team, but particularly those five together. He feels lucky to have these wonderful boys who are really helping his recovery. They know each other so well, it’s really lovely to watch them, they’re really helping William with getting back to his brilliant self.”

“I completely believe in William and I completely believe that when he decides to compete again it will be on his terms, and he will only do it if he’s absolutely at his best. He is only interested in being the best. He won’t compromise for his horses, for his owners or for himself so I feel very confident. He’s the master and he’s the maestro, but he’s also so sensible and he’s not going to take a chance or a risk, so I’m absolutely confident that he’ll be good.”

William and Chloe Fox-Pitt at Badminton 2015 Photo by Samantha Clark

William and Chloe Fox-Pitt at Badminton 2015. Photo by Samantha Clark.

We look forward to seeing William back at his best, he is the best, and we can’t wait for the start of the Event Rider Masters series in May. What can you do if you want to help? “Talk about it, tweet about it, if you want to be involved in some way and think you can contribute: get in touch with Hannah Vowles ([email protected]). Get horses ready for it, come along to some events, come and see what’s going on. Let’s just get involved, let’s really push it and let’s hope that the venues benefit, the owners benefit, the riders benefit.”

Many, many thanks to Alice for sparing some of her precious time to chat, and wishing her the best of luck this season, and also to Cue Card in the Gold Cup!

Cheering on Team Brazil at Red Hills

Marcelo Tosi, Henrique Pinheiro and Marcio Calvalho Jorge: Brazil in Florida. Photo by Samantha Clark. Marcelo Tosi, Henrique Pinheiro and Marcio Calvalho Jorge: Brazil in Florida. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Don’t be alarmed if you’re at Red Hills Horse Trials this weekend, or in the general Ocala area during these next few weeks and see three rather handsome men in breeches wandering around together, but do be prepared to fall a tiny bit in love. Chances are you’ve bumped into Marcelo Tosi, Marcio Calvalho Jorge and Henrique Pinheiro, who are spending a month here in the USA while their horses complete quarantine requirements before heading to England to train with Mark Todd in preparation for the Olympics later this summer.

After spending seven days in Miami, Marcio’s three horses and one each for Marcelo and Enrique are now spending a month based at Liz Halliday-Sharp’s Horsepower Equestrian in Ocala. They each have a horse in the CIC2* here at Red Hills. After dressage under they occupied 5th (Marcelo Toss and Briefing DB Z) , 9th (Marcio Calvalho Jorge and Lissy Mac Wayer) and 24th (Henrique Pinheiro and Land Quenotte do Feroleto) places in a large division. In the cross country phase Marcio and Marcelo jumped clear with time, but Henrique was not so lucky and suffered a dunking when Land Quenotte do Feroleto crumpled on landing into the first water at Fence 8.

All three riders have previously spent considerable amounts of time in the UK training and competing before, anything from two to 10 years, but it’s the first competition in the USA for all of them, and they all have high praise for Ocala in general and Red Hills in particular. “It’s amazing. There are so many horses, a lot of horse farms, it’s an amazing place,” Marcio said. “The ground is very good for horses. It’s naturally sandy; the oaks are very beautiful.”

Henrique Piniero and Land Quenotte do Feroleto Photo By Samantha Clark

Henrique Piniero and Land Quenotte do Feroleto. Photo By Samantha Clark.

Marcio is riding his Pan American Games mare here, Lissy Mac Wayer, who he competed at three-star level in England at Chatsworth and Bramham, and at two or three three-stars in Brazil. “She can be a little bit difficult because she’s hot, she wants to go in the cross country, but I think this is good. For dressage she is a little bit hot but if you work well she can relax; she doesn’t like noise. In the dressage here she was relaxed.” Indeed, they turned in a lovely test, but for one rider error at the end when Marcio momentarily forgot the medium canter at the end of the test.

Marico shared that Mark Todd had advised him to not work Lissy on the flat the morning of his test as is his habit, but instead to take her for a hack and a quiet gallop in the cross country warm-up area, and this statregy seemed to work well.

The Brazilians are in almost constant contact with Mark while they’re here, and even when they were back at home last year in Brazil, Mark made the trip five times to train them there. To Henrique, that’s the real advantage to being in England as opposed to staying at home — having daily access to their coach, as well as the competition and the footing.

Marcelo Tosi and Briefing DB Z Photo By Samantha Clark

Marcelo Tosi and Briefing DB Z. Photo By Samantha Clark.

Leaving horses behind to concentrate on just one, both Marcelo and Henrique acknowledge it’s tough to stay sharp. “I think it’s quite hard for us to have just one horse to compete for five, six months. I think we lose a bit of condition. You go for something better and you lose something, but we’ll try to ride some horses in England, or do some fitness work, and we’ll have to try and compensate,” and they’re all making other sacrifices to try and make the team too.

Marcelo returned home to Brazil after 10 years abroad in Europe and England, only to now be returning to train with Mark in the hopes of a spot on the team for Rio. Henrique is leaving horses behind in Brazil to make the journey back to England with his one mare, Land Quenotte Do Feroleto, and if he doesn’t make it he says he’ll consider staying in England for Burghley or some other competitions, but otherwise he’ll be heading back home again. The horses have to complete the seven days strict quarantine (in Miami) and then 25 days in the U.S., “so we’re using the nice weather here, the nice competitions to improve the horses and train as well.”

Marcio Calvalho Jorge and Lissy Mac Wayer. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Marcio Calvalho Jorge and Lissy Mac Wayer. Photo by Jenni Autry.

They’ve got to be feeling pretty clever as competitions in England are currently being abandoned due to severe rainfall, and it’s cold and gloomy at this time of year. Not much incentive to get family to visit, which is hardly lost on Marcio who’s left a wife and two children behind in Brazil. “My two girls and my wife, maybe they can come, it’s very hard, I miss them.”

What’s obvious though, when you see them, is their team rapport and camaraderie, and hopefully this will see them through the rest of the infamously wet spring season in England, and fingers crossed all the way to Rio. “We have known each other and been friends for a long time, we’ve ridden together since we were kids. We are close, and it’s good because we can be there for one another and know when to tease each other if the pressure is on, or know when to back away if one is grumpy, it’s good we are here for each other.”

As much as they say they appreciate the friendliness and welcome they’ve been given in the USA and love eventing here, we’re just as happy to have them and would love to see them return. Many thanks to Marcelo, Marcio and Henrique for stopping to chat, and wishing them the very best of luck for the rest of the year! Go Brazilian Eventing!

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Red Hills Cross Country Course Preview + Mike Etherington-Smith Analysis

Photo by Shems Hamilton Photo by Shems Hamilton

Never one to rest on his laurels, when we bump into Mike Etherington-Smith on course at Red Hills Horse Trials, he’s already finalising plans for next year’s cross country in his head. Today horses will set off on his course here for the first time and he says he’s still learning about the land, and getting to know the layout but that he’s already much more comfortable.

“This being my first year on this course it’s taken me a bit of time to get to know it, but now that I’m more familiar I’ve got 90% of it sorted for next year and it’s just a case of maybe fine tuning it. It’s a relatively straight-forward three star; there’s been a huge amount of work done on the footing and that will be the primary ambition for next year: to continue upgrading the footing, and at the same time make a few changes, I’ve got a few things up my sleeve [naughty grin]. I’ll run the same direction in 2017, with a view to turning it around and going the other way in 2018, so a work in progress. This is step one in my mind of a three step process. I’ve been here a few times just to get familiar with the place and we’ve placed a few new tracks and paths through here to try and improve the flow.”

Photo by Shems Hamilton

Photo by Shems Hamilton

“From here on in I’ll need less visits because I can do a lot just talking with Tyson (Rementer, course builder) and with Jane (Barron, Co-Organizer). I’ll come back and I’ll pop in because I’m in and out of the States quite a lot (Ocala, Great Meadows, Plantation…) I can remember sites quite well luckily, and it’s a package — you do a lot of thinking as well as the time spent on the ground, chewing things over, and you try and come up with a balance and a package, it’s not just a series of fences randomly dumped on grass. That’s what takes the time. It’s coming up with something that has a good feel, a good flow, a good balance, and that just takes a little bit of thinking time, and then you can get into the look of the fences.

“That’s where I am at the moment, finalising what fences I’m going to put where for next year, how I’m going to change the questions a little bit. I have two little things to resolve. I’m not entirely comfortable with the finish of the course at the moment, it needs to be better but everyone’s done a fantastic job to date this far, and I’m learning also that grass management in this part of the world is nothing like grass management in the UK! I was aware of that obviously but it takes longer to get grass established here than it does in other parts of the United States, so it’s a work in progress.”

Photo by Shems Hamilton

Photo by Shems Hamilton

“I had a bit of a break because I got fed up with all the traveling and I’m not going to get myself into that position again so I limit the amount of courses that I’ll do, and I don’t travel quite such a stupid amount as I used to. You’ve got to stay fresh as well, and I get a lot of fun in finding opportunities for younger designers. If they can pick my brains and I can share some thoughts with them and they take one thing away then that’s good, and I enjoy that. I don’t have any outrageous ambitions, I’ve been there done that, so first and foremost it’s fun. People overcomplicate it, it’s very simple.”

The jumps, as usual, are beautifully built and presented, and not having been to Red Hills since the course switched from the other side of the park, it’s a completely different feel. The tracks encourage more galloping, and on a hot, sunny day like yesterday (sorry to everyone reading in UK, and up in the cold, cloudy North, it’s been completely heavenly here!) the gorgeous oak trees covered in spanish moss offer welcome shade and some cool.

Thanks to EN’s good friends at CrossCountry App and Red Hills photographer Shems Hamilton, we have photos of every fence on the CIC3* course with commentary from course builder Tyson Rementer. View in full screen mode to scroll through all the fences. You can also click here to view them on CrossCountry App’s website. Keep scrolling below to see a full photo gallery of the CIC2* designed by David O’Connor.

Today is going to be a busy and exciting day — the competition is full of depth and quality, and we’re hopeful for another good day weather-wise. Cross country starts at 8 a.m. with the CIC2* and runs all day, and the CIC3* show jump starting at 11 a.m., and then go cross country later in the afternoon. Many thanks to Mike Etherington-Smith for stopping to chat with EN!

Go Red Hills, and thank you for reading.

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Derek Di Grazia Gives Sneak Peek of Rolex Course

Derek Di Grazia and Mick Costello working on the 2016 Rolex Kentucky XC course together at the Kentucky Horse Park Photo by Samantha Clark

Derek Di Grazia and Mick Costello working on the 2016 Rolex Kentucky cross country course together at the Kentucky Horse Park. Photo by Samantha Clark.

We’ve had two warm, sunny days in a row here in Lexington, it feels like spring, and it feels like the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is right around the corner! Cross country course designer Derek Di Grazia is in town on a flying visit to check on progress with course builder Mick Costello and kindly took a couple of minutes to chat.

Notoriously secretive about his courses, it’s hard to ignore the brand new water complex any longer which will be in the Tailgate/Land Rover Experience Field between the Giant Fallen Log and the Sunken Road. However, this doesn’t mean, Derek admitted, that any other water jumps are being forfeited in its place, and he agreed that it would be hard, for example, to get rid of a “legacy” jump like the Head of the Lake, or even the Quarry — they’re still here for 2016!

The new water complex for Rolex Kentucky 2016 at Kentucky Horse Park. Photo By Samantha Clark.

The new water complex for Rolex Kentucky 2016 at Kentucky Horse Park. Photo By Samantha Clark.

Derek has the Rolex Kentucky course set in his mind some nine months or so before the event takes place; such is the character of a course designer that he must then feel secure and confident enough about it to ignore all doubts, all outside influences and pressures and stay true to his vision, something Derek tells me he has no problem with usually.

“The big thing is finding the right track, and then once you have that, the jumps sort of fall into place, especially here because there are so many different features. Once I have the course, which is usually by the end of the summer, I don’t necessarily change it; maybe a little thing here and there but not really anything major, and that’s just how it is.”

“The only thing that affects me is if they change the rules mid-stream which does sometimes happen because typically all the FEI’s rule changes take place at the end of the year after I’ve already made my course, and then Rolex Kentucky is the first CCI4* of the year, so sometimes those things happen. Otherwise, usually we do the course and that’s what it is.”

For example, he insists that this year being an Olympic Trial made no difference to his thought process, and that a four-star should be a four-star regardless, and when I asked him if he’d considered then running a separate Olympic division alongside Rolex Kentucky he wasn’t particularly keen.

“It’s not my call. To me, there are plenty of good horse trials where they can do those things. I like having the four-star be the four-star, so you don’t dilute it by having another competition, and you have to think of the spectators — how many horses can you really enjoy watching in a day, quite honestly?”

A new jump for Rolex Kentucky 2016 Photo by Samantha Clark

A new jump for Rolex Kentucky 2016. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Although Derek is far too diplomatic to name a favourite, fantasy horse that he’d choose to ride around his own course — “I really couldn’t pick one, there are so many good horses right now” — he will select a type.

“Horses definitely have to have blood to run here, especially when it gets wet, but I think just in eventing on the whole you have to have a horse that has blood. There are so many factors now; the horses are being asked to so many different things and being asked to do them at a higher level so it’s definitely taking a hybrid of a horse but I think you can’t leave out the fact that they have to be able to gallop and jump. I think people thought it changed away from the thoroughbred type but it never really did.”

“I think once they actually got out and were doing the courses that we’re doing then everyone realised that they still needed the horses that had blood in them. You have so many warmblood types that don’t have quite enough blood, and that little bit can make a big difference at four-star level; at three-star you might get by with it, and at two-star you’ll definitely get by with it.”

Congratulations to Derek and Bea who will become grandparents later this summer — can we expect to see him sitting on the porch, rocking his new grand-baby, reflecting on the good ol’ days and taking a back seat? Hell no! “I have to stay pretty busy otherwise I get quite bored!” And neither did he think it would soften him as far as his course building was concerned!

Many thanks to Derek and Mick for their time, and looking forward to a fantastic Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Catching Up with Rio Olympic Hopeful Clark Montgomery

Jess Montgomery, George the Jumper and Clark Montgomery

Jess Montgomery, George the jumper and Clark Montgomery. Photo by Samantha Clark.

It’s easy to forget two things about England when you don’t live there all the time, and I’m reminded of both as I drive towards Clark and Jess Montgomery’s barn — just how wet, damp and cold it can be when it rains and rains and rains constantly, and just how beautiful the countryside is all around you.

These are things Clark Montgomery and his wife Jess are pretty well assimilated to by now as they begin their fourth year based in England, and although it’s doubtless been a hard road, the fruits of their labour are obvious and couldn’t have ripened at a better time with Clark having the best year of his professional life so far in 2015 on Loughan Glen, winning the Blenheim CCI3*, Belton CIC3*, Somerford Park CIC2* and finishing 6th at Luhmühlen CIC4*.

Coming into the 2016 season Glen has been named the Chronicle of the Horse’s 2015 Eventing Horse of the Year, EquiRating’s 2015 Horse of the Year, and is rated number one on Eventing Nation’s 2016 Rio Olympic Power Rankings. How does this make Clark feel? “It feels fantastic that 2015 was that successful, and it gives me confidence that if I can just hold that form coming into this year that we can go to the Olympics and not just go to the Olympics but actually be competitive at the Olympic Games.”

Team Montgomery are based in a brand new, purpose-built ‘American style’ barn at Aston Farm near Gatcombe and have access to an indoor arena, outdoor school, fantastic hacking and a 7-furlong all weather gallop. Clark has a string of nine horses to compete this year. His support team includes Sally Robertson and Karen Hughes, who take the best care of them in the world, along with working student/rider Bella Lee who started this year. On the other side of the stables is Christina Hendrickson from Colorado, here training with Clark. There are also two other clients who have a dressage horse, an eventer and a young horse in training.

Clark Montgomery and eight of his nine horse string at his home base in England. The barn was purpose-built for the Montgomery team at Aston Farm near Gatcombe and boasts the use of an indoor and outdoor arena, fantastic hacking, as well as being close to several gallops, and in the heart of eventing country.

Clark Montgomery and eight of his nine horse string at his home base in England. The barn was purpose-built for the Montgomery team at Aston Farm near Gatcombe and boasts the use of an indoor and outdoor arena, fantastic hacking, as well as being close to several gallops, and in the heart of eventing country. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Universe, or Buzz is back in business and the hope is that he’ll be competing again by the end of the summer. “I don’t really know if we’ll actually aim him for a CCI this year, we’ll just have to see how his fitness comes along.” Next door to him is his half brother Scooby Do, show name: Fast and Furious, 5 years old and the spitting image of his illustrious relative. “He’ll start doing some little competitions here and there, mainly show-jumping but maybe an event by the end of the year.”

An eye-catching grey joined the string at the end of the year, “We bought a 7-year-old that’s been a pure show-jumper. He’s a really, really fancy horse owned by Linda Gunderson in California. We have really high hopes for him. I think he could be a horse that could be highly competitive worldwide as he comes along.” Also new to the team is two-star horse Ziggy, or Spezific One: “The (Event Rider Master) series would be great for him as he’s quite flashy on the flat and he’s quite big so potentially he may not be best suited to the long CCI4* but he should be fantastic for the series.”

Wyoming “is a super 7-year-old German-bred horse that I have been producing over the last couple of years. He is on the market to sell and is going to be a really competitive horse for someone.” George “is a 5-year-old phenomenal jumper prospect that I’m having a lot of fun producing,” and  Tango, “a 5-year-old that Libby Agnew, Charlotte Agnew’s mum, bred and is a little bit big for Charlotte. We have him in training and she wants us to bring him along.” Lastly, “I also have Culino, a 6-year-old. He’s so fancy he could do either career but we’re thinking more show jumping.” That makes up the string.

Jess Montgomery and Universe who will, touch wood, be back in action by late summer this year.

Jess Montgomery and Universe who will, touch wood, be back in action by late summer this year. Photo by Samantha Clark.

“We make the diary up the night before with the schedule for the horses. We’ll get the stable finished by 9 a.m. usually at the latest. Bella then cracks on with the horses that are on her list, and I do the same on mine. The weather now has finally started getting good enough now that we’re going over to the outdoor arenas, and we’ve gone to practice show jumping and cross country schooling on the all weather. Hopefully by the end of the month we can get back out on the grass to school before we start competing.”

Loughan Glen, naturally though, follows a slightly different plan as Clark tries to navigate the best path towards Olympic selection for him.

“He hasn’t had much downtime since Blenheim because we wanted him to maintain a level of fitness and not get too soft. Throughout the winter I was doing more dressage training until the first of the year. Starting January I stopped doing that and started hacking on the hills. At this point he’s working on the hills three times a week, mostly by himself because he can be a bit funny in company.”

“At the first of the year he started galloping once a week on the gallop. Now he’s galloping twice a week on the all-weather gallop. We’ve noticed with Glenn that he likes the longer (7 furlong) flatter gallop mainly working on his speed. Other naturally fast horses may want the slower, higher incline gallops which you can easily find around here as well. It’s another bonus about being in this area because you have the mixture — depending on the type of horse you can find what they need.”

“We are going to do CICs to prepare him for the Games, no CCIs. I’m aiming to do three CICs by the time they make the selection for the team at the end of  June, so the plan is for him to run at a couple of national shows, one in March, one in early April just to get back in the groove of things, and then we’ll go to Belton. I need to be competitive at at least one or two of those to prove that he’s back in form but I certainly don’t feel that I need to be competitive in the sense of going for time on cross country at all three.”

“With variable weather and footing conditions it’s still up in the air a bit. With that said if the footing is good, if the track is good, and if he is feeling super then I may try to be competitive just so we keep the competitiveness up between the two of us leading up to the Games. There are a few different options — the ones I’m thinking about right now are Belton, Houghton and Hopetoun, they just seem to fit well in the calendar, and then alternatives are Chatsworth and Bramham potentially. It’s just nice to know that we have those five competitions to pick from depending on all the variables that can come into play in preparation and competition.”

Dream Team: Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Dream Team: Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen. Photo by Samantha Clark.

It’s hard to believe that Clark and Glen can ace the dressage at Belton, Badminton and Blenheim etc etc whilst rarely schooling at home, it sounds too good to be true, and although Clark admits how frustrating that might seem to others he maintains it’s a system that works for Glen and one he intends to stick to this spring.

“At Luhmühlen four-star the entire focus was on his fitness so there were a couple of mistakes in his dressage, but he still scored a 37! For Blenheim the only thing different I did was two weeks out we went to a local dressage venue and we prepped the test a couple of times. That seemed to make the difference in him going in there and having him much softer and no mistakes.”

“At this point he’s old enough — he knows his job, he knows the movements so I don’t have to drill him. The less I drill him the happier he is. It gives me the time to focus on his fitness which we know has always been a bit more of his issue, and that’s paid off in aces. I know that two weeks out I can prep the test a little and make sure he’s soft and on my aids. At this point I’m confident that he’ll go in and earn a good mark so why would I change things now? I specifically try to not overtrain any of my horses but he’s the only horse that I’ve ever had like this. It’s a pretty phenomenal trait to have!”

“I have good people on the ground around me at home between Sally (Robertson) and Jess, and I really take their opinion seriously in what they see and think needs to be done. I video myself a lot in training and watch that. I’ve always found that if I get consistent training I tend to overthink it, so I do a better job just sticking to myself and training my own way. David (O’Connor) and I have a great relationship because I’ve known him and trained with him for so long, so the times that he pops over and gives me a little tune up seem to be key.”

At the beginning of this year Jess has taken a slight backseat at the yard after the birth of their daughter Vivian in December, although she’s still an integral part of the management of the entire operation, and still the most glamorous wife, and now mother, on the British Eventing circuit!

“Clark and I communicate every day all day about the horses — he calls from time to time when he’s on one, or in between so I kind of talk to him mid-morning, and then about noon when he eats his lunch, and then also obviously when he gets home from work — we make a plan for the week, and day to day. I don’t really feel out of the loop because of that, but it’s funny to not be there, and only be at the barn a few days a week because I’m so used to seeing all the horses so much more than that, but I do still feel a part of it.”

“Having my mom here to help me with Vivi allows me to do anything that I feel is important without a second thought. I’m lucky enough to have someone that both Clark and I trust, Vivi is really happy with Mom so I can walk out the door and not have those pangs of ‘is this what should I be doing?’”

Jess and Vivi Montgomery Photo by Samantha Clark

Jess and Vivi Montgomery. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Vivi’s arrival has changed her parents’ perspective too. Jess realises, “When we first got to England we thought we would be here for 10 years plus and continue to compete, but once I was pregnant we started to think about how we wanted to raise our daughter, and in the course of a lot of conversations, sometimes five minutes long, sometimes five hours long, it became clear to us that it was really important that Vivian know that she is American and be raised with that sense of where she’s from.”

Clark concurs, “Jess and I are American and it’s important to us that Vivian is raised knowing this. I really enjoy being in England and the Brits, I absolutely love them all to death, but I want her to know her culture and where we’ve come from. Family is a huge part of it too.”

“Fortunately Jess’ mom gets to spend quite a bit of time here and is helping us care for Vivi which is tremendous, but the rest of the family just don’t have the chance to come over much and it makes me a bit sad that they don’t see her and get to be a part of her growing up. So absolutely if we were able to spend more months each year at home in the States, especially once Vivi gets a little older, it would mean a tremendous amount to me.”

“For us to stay over here full time we need more support. We’ve recently gained a little bit of support but we still need more. That along with the winters being such a dead time in England means it makes sense for us to try and find a way for us to make a base in Florida for the winters.”

“Whether we take the entire string to the U.S., and then come back over here to England for the summers or leave the big string in England and just take a few horses to Florida in the winter, I don’t know in which direction we’re going to go yet with that, but I’ve started to put some feelers out to see if there’s a student maybe that would want us to come and base with them in Florida, and potentially then they could come back with us for the summers in England.”

“With these new series that are happening now like the Event Rider Masters, it actually offers enough prize money to help pay for the expenses which has always been the problem with flying back and forth — the chances of winning any money at a CCI are so slim that it is hard to justify. This year we have at least five competitions where you have a chance of winning serious money, and since they are all CIC competitions, not CCIs, you could do them on the same horse.”

“The plan is for more of these large purse competitions in the future which encourages a summer tour and that’s really exciting.  There’s no way that I can’t not come to England for the summers, I don’t want to lose the competitive edge that I’ve gained from being here. It would be fantastic if we could figure out a way to come back and forth a little more instead of just being here all the time.”

Clark can see the new Event Rider Masters Series and the Shearwater Insurance Tri-Star GrandSlam (£50,000 to the winner of three out of five designated CIC3* events) being a real game-changer for the sport.

“I don’t know why people wouldn’t start shopping for horses specifically for these series — they’re only CICs so you don’t necessarily need to have all the thoroughbred in the world. Obviously they’re still going to have to be good cross country horses but they won’t need the stamina for a longer CCI. It may end up changing your mind on what you want to do even if you have a CCI horse. If it’s quite a competitive horse in a CIC as well then you have a chance of making a lot more money by going to a series than you do by going to a single CCI.”

“That’s definitely something I’m thinking about right now — I’m trying to build up a string of Advanced horses so that I can still get to the Series and have a horse for the Championships. It’s disappointing this year that I don’t have another horse for the Masters while Glen does his preparation schedule for the Olympics.”

Hopefully that disappointment will be forgotten come the Olympic Games this summer. Many thanks to Clark and Jess for taking the time to chat, and wishing them the best of luck as they prepare for a busy spring season in England. Stay warm, stay dry, Go Glen and Go Eventing!

Catching Up With Laine Ashker in Kentucky

Laine Ashker and Anthony Patch. Photo by Samantha Clark. Laine Ashker and Anthony Patch. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Last weekend Kentucky was digging out from under record amounts of snow, but fast forward seven days and we’re basking in temps in the mid-60s and enjoying glorious sunshine. Could it be a mere coincidence of timing that both the gorgeous weather and the tour de force that is Laine Ashker both arrived at exactly the same time?

Laine flew straight up from competing in the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington and spent the weekend in LaGrange, Kentucky teaching a clinic, much to our delight. Bringing her trademark enthusiasm, sense of humour and of course solid horsemanship coupled with useful and imaginative exercises, the weekend was a huge success.

Melissa Trelfa and Luna. Photo by Karen Taylor

Melissa Trelfa and Luna at Laine’s clinic. Photo by Karen Taylor.

Melissa Trelfa, an equine and human massage therapist and body worker organised the clinic and hosted 16 riders, 11 of whom were repeat customers with Laine.

“I want to have her here four times a year. I have ridden with Lainey several times. I brought her to a clinic at our farm in July of 2015 and I fell in love with Lainey’s positive teaching style and ability to make complex or technical riding techniques very simple to understand. I love how she can really assess each horse and rider and really connect with them. She is incredibly caring and very passionate about her students,” Melissa said.

“I rode with her here in July 2015 and then I travelled to her farm in Virginia in August 2015, then she came back here in October 2015 and December 2015 and this weekend. I am very blessed to be able to learn from one of the best! So my interest is continuing the relationship with Lainey teaching at our farm. I really enjoy having a clinician willing to come out every few months so we can continue the learning process. She always remembers the horses and students, and it is a way for us to have her coach us even though we live in Kentucky.”

Julia Becker and Grace pose with Laine Ashker at a recent clinic in LaGrange, Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Melissa Trelfa

Julia Becker and Grace pose with Laine Ashker at a recent clinic in LaGrange, Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Melissa Trelfa.

Full of energy, Laine made a real difference to riders’ confidence, positions and the way they rode their courses. Working on both the details and the big picture, all the riders I saw made improvements even in that short time, and the instructions Laine gave them were simple and common sense that they could apply when working on their own at home. After each session Laine answered questions relating to the specific exercises they’d done, or about various bits or pieces of tack riders might be contemplating, or about their horses or riding in general.

Although completely down to earth and one of the warmest, friendliest riders on the circuit, there’s also no denying that Laine brings a little bit of rock star glamour to the scene, she just can’t help it — several of the riders in the clinic were sporting sparkling belts or accessories, and I know I saw them on Laine Ashker first!

Molly Laird and DC riding with Laine Ashker in a recent clinic near LaGrange, Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Melissa Trelfa

Molly Laird and DC riding with Laine Ashker in a recent clinic near LaGrange, Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Melissa Trelfa.

There’s a reason she has several trillion followers on social media — Laine leads by example and she’s a total natural, and the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance couldn’t have picked a better Ambassador, although they may have found her equal in her mother.

If you ask Laine where she finds her inspiration she’ll tell you without hesitation she draws strength from her family, and especially her mother, Valerie. Valerie has long been a staunch supporter of the OTTB and has sourced some outstanding horses both for Laine and many other eventers, and this year embarks on the adventure of a lifetime on her own OTTB, Primativo.

Laine kindly took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to chat about her own plans for this year, how she adjusts from the glitz and glam of Wellington to teaching here in Kentucky (!), being a Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Ambassador, and a little more about her mother’s big trip.

You can find out more about Valerie’s adventure via her website here.

Many thanks to Laine for her time and to the 12:30 Sunday session for being so patient and waiting while we talked. Laine will be back in Kentucky the first weekend of March for a repeat clinic, and then fingers crossed for another appearance at Rolex at the end of April.

Wishing Laine and Anthony Patch, and the rest of the #LAE team a safe and successful spring season and looking forward to catching up with them again soon. #goAlgo and Go Eventing!

Clark Montgomery Takes Blenheim CCI3* Title, Four Americans in Top 12

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen. Photo by Samantha Clark. Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Clark Montgomery led the USA to a banner weekend at the Blenheim Palace CCI3* International Horse Trials. Finishing on his dressage score at the top of a huge and stellar leaderboard on his mother in law Katherine Kraft’s, and Holly and William Becker’s Loughan Glen he was almost ten points clear of his nearest rival, Chris Burton in second on Nobilis 18.

Kitty King was the best of the Brits in 3rd place on the hugely exciting young horse Ceylor LAN, and Gemma Tattersall 4th on the grey Quicklook V.

 

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Glen will now get a well-deserved holiday, although as Clark mentioned he won’t go completely out to grass and get fat. Clark said he’ll talk to Team Coach David O’Connor and see what the U.S. Selectors would like him to do with Glen next as to what they plan with Glen over the winter and next spring; one would think, and he hopes that this win would be enough to impress them but as he ruefully acknowledged, “You never know what they’re thinking!”

lauren

Tim Price dropped an expensive rail in the show-jumping to fall from 3rd place after to cross country to eventual 5th, and Lauren Kieffer rose to 6th place with her clear round on Veronica, and she also takes home the prize for the Best Placed First-Timer at Blenheim.

Veronica still looked feisty this afternoon, she never makes it look easy but I imagine that’s why she’s so good; I overheard Lauren explaining to one of the English journalists who asked if she was a good traveler that she’s a mare who knows how to look after herself!

emily beshear

Emily Beshear was right behind Lauren in 7th place and also jumped clear; Shame on the Moon knocked the second jump pretty hard and  rattled a few others but they all stayed in the cups — that’s right, counting Will Coleman’s clear on Obos O’Reilly too that’s four clear rounds show-jumping today, four US riders in the top 12 at Blenheim out of 101 starters and three in the top eight!

Both Clark and Will finished on their dressage scores, and Lauren added just 0.4 time fault XC for that one second over time.

will coleman

Will Coleman was the first of the U.S. riders to jump this afternoon and Obos O’Reilly looked like he had springs in his shoes, giving the fences feet to spare, and almost hanging over them a little too long. It’s interesting to watch all the different styles and techniques of horses, and riders on the Sunday when the horses are a little tired and the riders are under pressure and Will is a rider who deals with it incredibly well.

Will Coleman and Obos O'Reilly. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Will Coleman and Obos O’Reilly. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Needless to say it’s been a fantastic weekend for the USA — we have certainly made the rest of the world sit up and take notice. Congratulations to the USEF, to David O’Connor, especially to Joanie Morris who, it’s been pointed out to me so many times, should have, depending on who you speak to, a halo, a tiara, a medal, all of the above… someone at least buy her a drink! Huge Well Done to the riders, you made it happen! And to your horses, and to everyone who loves and looks after them, well done and thank you too.  Wishing all the U.S. based horses and riders, and of course families and supporters a safe journey home, I think it was a fun trip for everyone — Blenheim certainly knows how to put on a good show — thank you to all the volunteers and organisers who made it so.

Thank you for making Eventing Nation part of your Blenheim experience, we’ll put more pictures up on our Facebook page and Twitter later tonight but for now another huge congratulations to the U.S. team at Blenheim, and as Clark said, let’s ride this wave for as long as we can! Go the U.S. Eventing!

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Lauren Kieffer and Landmark’s Monte Carlo Finish 16th in Blenheim CIC3*

Lauren Kieffer and Landmark's Monte Carlo. Photo by Samantha Clark. Lauren Kieffer and Landmark's Monte Carlo. Photo by Samantha Clark.

While Lauren Kieffer waits to show jump Veronica in the Blenheim Palace CCI3* this afternoon, currently lying in 7th place in that division, she’s already finished the CIC3* on Landmarks Monte Carlo in 16th place on a final score of 56.3 after going clear on cross country with 5.6 time  penalties this morning.

After a nice dressage test and just one rail down in the show jumping Lauren was the first rider out on course on ‘Patrick’ this morning and told me she was delighted with him, not only today, but with the way he’s matured since he’s come over to England about six weeks ago.

“I was thrilled with him; the big goal with him coming over to Europe was to get him in a lot of atmosphere because any mistake he’s ever made has been because he’s always been staring at the tents or the crowds or whatever else so the last two days I’ve just been tickled with him. Last night’s show jumping was like his worst nightmare come true with so much atmosphere, and he was perfect.

Lauren Kieffer and Landmark's Monte Carlo. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Lauren Kieffer and Landmark’s Monte Carlo. Photo by Samantha Clark.

“I couldn’t have been happier with him; he jumped really well and wasn’t worried about the atmosphere at all and again today with bigger crowds and the roping, and coming down the steep hill to the water and the tents — a month, six weeks ago he would have been staring straight at it, but today he was totally focussed. Coming to the last water into the trade fair, again a month, six weeks ago, that’s something he would have been staring at.”

“I think it’s paying off, hopefully, touch wood! Every event we’eve been to has had crowds and atmosphere and flags and I think now he’s getting used to it. He’s an awesome cross country horse, all his mistakes have just been because he’s been staring at stuff in the background, and he’s only 9 and he only moved up this spring so I couldn’t be happier with him. It’s a stiff track and he’s up against tough competition; he was lying 11th after show jumping, and I don’t know what will happen today. We went pretty quick but there’s always someone who’ll go quicker over here, but I couldn’t be happier with the way he’s been going!”

Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Lauren elected not to run Vermiculus (‘Bug’) cross country after a bit of a naughty dressage test and one rail and three time faults show jumping. Vermiculus is a full brother to Lauren’s former four-star ride Snooze Alarm and although he’s quite a cheeky handful at the moment, she thinks his arrogance will be what makes him extra special because he’s not afraid of anything!

Being just an 8 year old and having had a couple of tough runs back to back at Great Meadows (“pretty much his first Advanced”) before he left the USA and then Wellington Advanced (“properly big”) on arriving in England, Lauren told me she decided to give Blenheim’s testing track a miss this afternoon.

Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus. Photo by Samantha Clark.

“He’s qualified for Boekelo and he would have jumped around fine today, but he’s entered for the Intermediate at South of England next weekend, and I more just wanted to make sure he goes to Boekelo on a confident run; this is riding tough enough. It rode tough enough on my four-star horse yesterday, and it rode tough enough on Patrick today, he jumped round beautifully, but it’s hard enough and I just want to make sure he goes to Boekelo on good form. We don’t have a lot of time between now and then, but he’s going to be a super star because he’s only eight, and I just want to do the right thing by him and produce him correctly.”

The top 31 horses in the CCI3* division will start to jump at 3pm GB time. We’ll be back with those results and more as soon as possible after it wraps up. Stay with us Eventing Nation! Go The Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials!

Blenheim: WebsiteRide Times & Live ScoresEN’s Coverage,TwitterInstagram@samanthalclark

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Leader Clark Montgomery and All U.S. Horses Pass Blenheim Final Horse Inspection

Overnight leaders Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen. Photo by Samantha Clark. Overnight leaders Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen. Photo by Samantha Clark.

The final horse inspection at Blenheim was moved up to 7:30 am Sunday morning which I was unaware of until I arrived this morning, luckily fairly early, but not quite early enough to catch Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night. As I was scuttling down to the Stabling area, I heard it announced that she was accepted — yay, but was annoyed not to see her outfit in person as she has previewed it for me on Wednesday but decided not to wear it in the rain, and I’m sure she looked stunning.

Running in reverse order so that the show jumping can start as early as possible, we had a number of withdrawals before the trot-up started. Lying fifth overnight, German Eventing tweeted that Andrew Hoy’s Cheeky Calimbo had lost both front shoes and would not be presenting, and indeed he did not present. Likewise the following riders did not present their mounts: Louisa Lockwood and Avocado, Sam Griffiths and Isle Valley, Harry Dzenis and Above Board, Ibby Macpherson and Ballingowan Diamond, Tom Grant and Cloncolma Lad, and Sophie Beaty and Pink Gin.

Niklas Bschorer and Win and Love and Beanie Sturgis with Lebowski were both sent to the holding box and then not accepted upon re-inspection. Paul Sims and Calador and Lissa Green with Malin Head Clover were sent to the holding box and passed upon being re-presented.

All our American combinations looked terrific and passed without a second glance. Show jumping has started already, and CIC3* cross country will be taking place in between the lower placed division and the top session, which starts at 3 pm GB time. Buckle in Eventing Nation! Go Clark and our U.S. riders at Blenheim Palace!

Blenheim: WebsiteRide Times & Live ScoresEN’s CoverageTwitterInstagram@samanthalclark

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen Lead U.S. Charge at Blenheim

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen jump into the lead Blenheim Palace CCI3* Photo by Samantha Clark. Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen jump into the lead Blenheim Palace CCI3* Photo by Samantha Clark.

It was a great day for the USA at Blenheim Palace today — we finish the second phase in the lead thanks to dressage leader Clark Montgomery’s blazing clear across country 10 seconds inside the time on Loughan Glen, and nipping on his heels we have Lauren Kieffer in 8th place, clear with just 0.8 time, one second over after a heroic save in the arena.

Two inside the top ten, two more inside the top twenty — Emily Beshear was impressive, coming home with just 3.2 time to lie 11th, and Will Coleman and Obos O’Reilly blazing around one second faster than Clark to be 19th! Definitely one of the standout rounds was Elisa Wallace’s on Simply Priceless, even though they added  7.6 time to their dressage score.

Liz Halliday-Sharp suffered a tack malfunction which left her with compromised steering and control leading to a drive-by at fence 17b, and Jen McFall sensibly decided to retire High Times when things got a bit sticky after the second water crossing, but Team Coach David O’Connor confirmed that on the whole it’s been a great day for the USA.

“It was a very good day, we had five clear rounds which was good so I’m very pleased with that; those guys rode great, they were aggressive, they looked the part, they handled the different situations they were in; it was a huge, huge step. It was fantastic for Clark and a beautiful round, the horse looked great and looked great pulling up, and so far they’ve all looked good pulling up so it’s a day we’ll take!”

Team Coach David O'Connor has 'skin in the game' today, literally - not content with just being team coach he decided to be team blacksmith too, and was changing Simply Priceless' shoes this morning when he pulled back....!  For modesty's sake you can't see the rip all the way down the inside of his trousers too, but he insists it's just a few scrapes and cuts!

Team Coach David O’Connor has ‘skin in the game’ today, literally — not content with just being team coach he decided to be team blacksmith too, and was changing Simply Priceless’ shoes this morning when he pulled back…! For modesty’s sake you can’t see the rip all the way down the inside of his trousers too, but he insists it’s just a few scrapes and cuts!

How significant is Blenheim with an eye towards next year? “From a morale point of view, they were players in the game. The Pan Am Games going well, then Burghley going well, then coming here and hopefully it will go well in the next 24 hours, so it gets everybody’s tails up and shows them it’s doable, or that we can win this, and I think that it’s a mind set that we’ve been looking for for a while. The riding is getting better. Clearly the riding is at a good level, and so now it’s the competitive edge and that mindset that it’s in our capability to win this thing.”

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen zoom into the lead at Blenheim Palace CCI3*

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen zoom into the lead at Blenheim Palace CCI3*

Clark now has more than two fences in hand over second-placed Australian Chris Burton on Nobilis, who moved up from 7th after dressage with his clear round inside the time, and touch wood, Loughan Glen is usually a very good jumper on the third day and looked phenomenal finishing and pulling up.

After the gap from Clark to Chris, the scores are tightly packed — with just a rail separating Chris Burton in second, Tim Price in 3rd, William Fox-Pitt in 4th, Andrew Hoy in 5th, Kitty King in 6th and Gemma Tattersall in 7th. The first four of those names are all four-star winners, that’s the kind of competition Clark is winning right now! From the 98 starters today, there were 13 clear rounds inside the time, 79 clear rounds and 88 completions.

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Lauren Kieffer lies in 8th after a copybook round on the tough little mare Veronica, but for one sticky moment in the arena. I’m an unashamed, huge Lauren Kieffer (and Veronica!) fan, and they looked fabulous today, and she’s such a fabulous ambassador for U.S. eventing.

I watched her sign autographs after her round and talk to the foreign press. (I didn’t see them in the arena but I did see pictures courtesy of Uptown Eventing’s Facebook page, holy clinging like a monkey, Lauren! Click here and keep clicking through to see the photo sequence.) What more can we say except we look forward to watching them do great things in the future.

Emily Beshear and Shame on the Moon Photo By Samantha Clark

Emily Beshear and Shame on the Moon Photo By Samantha Clark

 

Likewise for Emily Beshear and her lovely grey mare Shame On The Moon who made the course look easy, and it’s hard to believe she’s only a 9 year old. Emily confirmed that after the way she romped around today, clear with just 3.2 time faults, she’s definitely thinking about Rolex for her next spring. Not only does Emily have the most conspicuous team of supporters — we love it! — clad in purple caps and attire, but she also has the best alternate groom, her son Nicholas, and vet, her husband Jeff.

Will Coleman looked to be cruising round on Obos O’Reilly but actually come home with a very quick time, a testament to how easy the horse found it and how effortless Will makes everything look — oh that we should all have that talent! Will was held before Fence 9 while they fixed a frangible pin, curiously only the second time it’s ever happened to him and a first for his horse, but luckily it didn’t affect them adversely.

Will is lying just inside the top 20 in 19th place, and although Obos O’Reilly is a good jumper, Will is also well aware that he doesn’t appreciate a lot of atmosphere, so he’s hoping he’ll be able to cope in the main arena tomorrow. When he finished, Will couldn’t praise his horse enough: “He has a heart, as big as the palace over there,” he gestured, although Elisa Wallace later one-upped him, describing her horse’s heart as big as England! How much do eventers love their horses?!

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless Photo by Samantha Clark

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless Photo by Samantha Clark

Elisa Wallace fulflled all the promise she’s shown this year and then some, piloting Simply Priceless to a beautiful clear round, and she wants more! Far from being happy with her roun — which of course she was really, and she was delighted with her horse — like a true competitor she was already analysing her ride and kicking herself for things she could have done better when I caught up with her — what an exciting young rider.  Elisa and Simply Priceless will show jump in 32nd place tomorrow.

Liz Halliday Sharp and Fernhill by Night. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Liz Halliday Sharp and Fernhill by Night. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Liz Halliday-Sharp completed with a stop at the second narrow ‘Member’s Badge’ at 17, after struggling to steer and turn due to slippery gloves and reins — not what you want cross country, especially on a big, strong horse. The encouraging news for her is that ‘Blackie’ jumped all the difficult questions despite his rider being slightly hampered, and that she really feels she’s beginning to get the measure of him mentally and physically.  The bad news is obviously she was gutted to have that happen, but as Jon Pitts explained, it’s now a matter of perspective and moving forward.

Jen McFall and High Times. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Jen McFall and High Times. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Today was not to be for Jen McFall and High Times, and she sensibly decided to call it a day when things began to unravel halfway round the course. As she described it, they started out well, but an awkward jump at the second water crossing, the JCB water splash at 13A/B, may have dented High Times’ confidence.

“He felt good, he was running well, he felt fit and the hills didn’t seem to be bothering him, but he jumped up and over and he ended up getting three inside the two to the water. He really ballooned over that into the water, but then we jumped out well. Then he really misread that open rail with the bunny in it at the top of the hill; I came with a good distance and thought I was going and he stopped, and then when I re-presented he actually bounced it. He thought it was a step-rail, and I think he really scared himself with that misreading.

“Then down the hill was the ditch and house, and he really jumped that badly, and I just thought it’s not his day today. He’s fine; I just felt like he was scaring himself, so I thought we’ll just relax,and come back again and do it some other time!”  Jen and High Times go to Amsterdam on Monday and fly back to the States on Tuesday; we wish them safe travels and look forward to seeing them back out and on form again.

Kate Chadderton and VS McCuan Civil Liberty. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Kate Chadderton and VS McCuan Civil Liberty. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Kate Chadderton jumped round clear with 12.4 time on her gutsy little Thoroughbred VS McCuan Civil Liberty and looked to get stronger and better the further she got. I imagine Kate’s surprised quite a few people by getting here, by getting round, and by her great attitude, good riding and general all-round pleasant personality! Hopefully the trip will pay dividends in all sorts of ways and will have been worth the huge gamble — she’s a brave girl, and we should take our hats off to her!

As the numbers attest, the course rode really well today; we did have perfect going — once the fog lifted the sun came out and it was a completely perfect English autumn day.  Faults were pretty evenly spread out, although perhaps the JCB water splash at 13 was the most influential. We had large crowds who are still here watching the CIC3* horses show jump as it’s beginning to get dark!

Lauren jumped two four-fault rounds on her horses Landmark Monte Carlo and Vermiculus. Landmark Monte Carlo had the 3rd down and Vermiculus the 8th plus a few time faults, but they both looked good and very at home in the big arena. We’ll post pictures on our Facebook page later.

Congratulations to all our riders today, and to all their grooms, families and supporters who’ve worked so hard today and for so long to get here. We couldn’t be prouder. Thank you to all the volunteers, jump judges, organisers, everyone who put in such a long day today, and every cross country day, and dressage day and show jumping day. It’s easy to say thank you at big events when it all goes right, but harder to remember every day at unaffiliated shows, in horrible weather, when you’re running late, or when things are going wrong — so thank you today and every day! From all of us!

We have another long, long day tomorrow, so thank you for bearing with us in advance, and let’s hope the U.S. horses pick up their toes and keep the rails in the cups, and that Lauren can add another two Blenheim clear cross country notches to her C4 belt! Thank YOU for making Eventing Nation part of you weekend; it’s not over yet! Go Clark Montgomery at the Blenheim Palace International Three Day Event!

Blenheim: WebsiteRide Times & Live ScoresEN’s CoverageTwitterInstagram@samanthalclark

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Clark Montgomery Wins Blenheim Dressage, Emily Beshear Lands in Top 15

Emily Beshear and Shame on the Moon. Photo by Samantha Clark. Emily Beshear and Shame on the Moon. Photo by Samantha Clark.

As we come to the end of a marathon two days of dressage — 101 horses — America  has a lot to be proud of in this phase at this competition. All seven horses and riders put in good performances, and of course we can claim the leader as our own, Clark Montgomery on Loughan Glen.

Emily Beshear and Shame On The Moon were the penultimate pair to go into the arena and also delivered — some lovely trot work, just a stumble behind in the extension, beautiful changes in the canter, and just when I was thinking ‘Delta’ had one of the nicest walks we’ve seen yet she started jogging which was a real shame, and a complete surprise to Emily who said afterwards she never jogs, and that it wasn’t even due to nerves but more down to laziness!

However, the test was still nice enough overall to score a handy 44. 5 which leaves them in 14th going forward to the cross country tomorrow, and we have a total of four of our seven riders in the top 20, and six in the top 40 of 101 total entries after this phase — pretty nice results so far.

Sandra Auffarth, reigning World Champion and European Team Gold Medalist, lies in second place behind Clark, and Pippa Funnell will go forward to cross country in 3rd place on Jane Toliver’s The Billy Stud bred Billy The Biz.

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Kate Chadderton and VS McCuan Civil Liberty

Kate Chadderton, our adopted Aussie American, was the very last to go today and did a nice job, conjuring the best test possible out of VS Mccuan Civil Liberty. ‘Libby’ as she calls him definitely isn’t the flashest mover, he’s a sweet OTTB who tried his hardest, and you can’t help but be impressed by Kate’s similar attitude, she’s making every minute over here count.

The riders are out walking the course again, and CCI3* cross country starts early tomorrow, 9 a.m., and the CIC3* division will show-jump starting at 4 p.m. I caught up with Lauren Kieffer and had a brief chat about naughty Vermiculus, and she laughed and said he’s going to be a superstar, that he’s been fairly arrogant since doing Wellington a few weeks ago, and that this is not only just his second Advanced, but that he’s also used to living out in a field 24-7! Vermiculus and Landmarks Monte Carlo are, touch wood, headed to Boekelo after this, and Lauren will take the younger horses up to Osberton.

It’s been a long two days of dressage and we’re all looking forward to the next two days with a mixture of nerves, anticipation and excitement. The weather forecast is excellent, and we’ll be bringing you as much news as we can as quickly as we possibly can. Thank you to all the riders, grooms and supporters for being so patient with us, thank you for reading, and go the U.S. at the Blenheim Palace International Three Day Event!

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Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen Put USA on Top of Blenheim CCI3* Leaderboard

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen take command of the Blenheim Palace CCI3* Dressage Phase. Photo by Shannon Brinkman. Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen take command of the Blenheim Palace CCI3* Dressage Phase. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

We all expected great things from Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen and today they didn’t disappoint, turning in their customary beautiful test — forward, up, balanced, pretty much everything you want?….there it is! If you had to be picky, and Clark is nothing if not a perfectionist, Glen looked to get a tiny bit on the forehand on the walk, but otherwise it was a gorgeous test, and the judges rewarded it with a resounding 33.8.

Loughan Glen has blossomed this year, with Clark managing to find the balance of keeping him super fit and yet in the right head space to come out and blow away the competition in the sandbox wherever he is…remember they bested 100 odd of the world’s best at Belton this earlier this year in the spring. It took a little fine tuning last year when they worked on his fitness and lost a few marks in the first phase but this year they haven’t been beaten, and we’re just crossing everything that it continues.

I’ve seen Clark, wife Jess and head girl Karen working at home on the yard and have seen what a tight ship they run and how well they work as a team —  no stone is left unturned from the horse’s general happiness and well-being to its performance, work schedule, turnout and every need catered for; it’s no surprise to see Clark’s name back at the top of the leaderboard, and how nice it is, long may it last!

Elisa Wallace was so impressive this year when she made her four star debut at Rolex, and was equally impressive in the main arena today at Blenheim Palace. Taking her time before she entered to compose herself and her horse, she rode a mature, poised test with just one late change behind marring what was otherwise a very attractive picture.

Although ostensibly she’s here to gain experience, and the jumping phases are Simply Priceless’ strengths, this pair looked like the real deal today and unfortunately once again the score doesn’t really reflect it, a 50.1 is pretty harsh, but the good news is that Elisa has a fantastic attitude and we can look forward to seeing so much more of her to come.

Congratulations to our two U.S. riders today, and the sun shines again! Looking forward to cheering on Emily Beshear later this afternoon, and Kate Chadderton. GO U.S. Eventing!

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Blenheim Mid-Morning Update: Pippa Funnel 2nd in CCI3*, Lauren Kieffer Toughs Out CIC3* Test

Pippa Funnel and Billy The Biz. Photo by Samantha Clark. Pippa Funnel and Billy The Biz. Photo by Samantha Clark.

At the mid-morning break in the second day at Blenheim Palace Pippa Funnell has moved into second place in the CCI3* division on Jane Toliver’s Billy The Biz, a horse bred by Pippa and her husband Will Funnell’s The Billy Stud. Having just watched Pippa on Sandman 7 all weekend at Blair where she was representing Team GBR in the European Champs, and thinking how nice it was to see her on such a classy, bay thoroughbred type again, (after having really enjoyed watching her on Redesigned at Burghley the week before!)

I saw her enter the arena this morning on this eye-catching white horse and thought how well they suited each other, and what a lovely type he is — I suppose the long and short of it is I’m just always happy to see Pippa ride, no matter what she’s sitting on! Billy The Biz is stunning, he popped against the dreary grey, morning, and floated through the test.

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Lauren Kieffer and Vermiculus. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Meanwhile across the park, Lauren Kieffer was having slightly less of an easy time on naughty Vermiculus who threw a minor temper tantrum in the CIC3* arena — during the second canter he put his head up in the air, changed leads, and then refused to continue. Lauren rode with her usual calm and poise, and saved the day, and I’m sure he’ll gain lots of experience on the cross country and show-jumping here. More to come from the CCI3* dressage very shortly where Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen have just taken a commanding lead with a score of 33.8. Go USA!

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Blenheim Palace CCI3* Day 1 Dressage a Wrap with Two Americans in Top 10

Sandra Auffarth and Ispo lead after the first day of dressage at the Blenheim Palace CCI3*. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Sandra Auffarth and Ispo lead after the first day of dressage at the Blenheim Palace CCI3*. Photo by Shannon Brinkman

As we wrap up the first day of dressage at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials it’s been a day of mixed fortunes for the USA. First out for us this morning, Liz Halliday-Sharp made the most of Fernhill By Night’s big movement, making only tiny errors — she is kicking herself for getting a bit stuck on the first turn on the haunches, wondering if perhaps her studs were too big, perhaps she asked for too much in the trot lengthening she told me, he almost struck off to left canter from the walk… but overall it was a consistent test and she is the best of the Americans lying 9th overnight.

Lauren Kieffer did a beautiful test on Veronica and was harshly marked for a score of 46.2. Period. She lies in equal 10th place at this stage.

Jen McFall and Will Coleman’s horses both fell victims to the atmosphere and mistakes marred their tests. High Times rather lived up to his name, a bit to Jen’s surprise as she said he’s been somewhat subdued here up until now, but he jogged in the walk, took the wrong lead in canter, and changed in the first extended canter.

Jen was one of the few riders who said she noticed the music — she was unlucky enough to have some high energy ’80s Gloria Estefan (“Dr. Beat!”) for her test while conversely this morning William Fox Pitt and Cool Mountain for example had a classical rendition of “Greensleeves,” snore — hmmm! (and Will Coleman: Pulp’s “Common People,” Micheal Ryan: Adam Ant’s “Prince Charming” — Seriously….?!)

Will Coleman’s Obos O’Reilly can either be pretty stunning or very naughty, and he found it difficult to keep a lid on his nerves this afternoon, despite Will’s tactful handling — after the first halt he moved off sideways to the right and broke into canter, but then Will managed to get him back on side and salvage the test without any more major errors, just a lot of tension which is a shame as he’s such a nice horse.

Sandra Auffauth will be the overnight leader on Ispo on a score of 37.2, still the only one to score under the 40s. Sandra of course took over the ride after Benjamin Winter’s death at Luhmuhlen last year, and said that it was a difficult and emotional decision but that his mother has come over from Germany to watch her ride this weekend and Ispo is now best friends with Opgun Louvu. Ispo spent the week up at Blair Castle with the German team so that she could ride him, stopping again at the Yorkshire Riding Centre on the way back down to Blenheim; this is her first visit here and she’s very impressed, “It’s a really nice park and beautiful cross country, I think it’s not the last time I’m here!” Sandra and Ispo have won one and been placed in a CIC3* in Germany.

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We have two Americans in the top 10 in a smoking hot field Day 1 at the Blenheim Palace CCI3*, and we have the best damn support team in the world — Joanie Morris, Shannon Kinsley and David O’Connor. Photo by Shannon Brinkman. Enough Said!

We have lots more to look forward to tomorrow, we ‘re hoping for a big test from Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen, and as the judges are familiar with him perhaps they’ll give him really good marks (!).

We’re also looking forward to Lauren’s second test in the CIC3* on Vermiculus (she lies equal 7th in the CIC3* on Landmark’s Monte Carlo), Emily Beshear on Shame on The Moon and our adopted American, Aussie Kate Chadderton.

I caught up with Kate after she’d walked the course and asked her what she thought, “It’s huge! It’s really big, it’s technical enough. I think the water’s massive, (the jump in at 13AB) the A is on a bit of an angle and then it’s quite a decent two strides, and a very tall, very big jump in to water. I think that it will be really good on a scopey horse, mine’s very quick and has plenty of scope but it’s still a tough enough question. The mounds at 9AB is tough enough as well, I think that’s going to require a big, strong jump in and then a very quick right hand turn back to B and I think that’s going to be quite a challenge for my horse because he likes to take on the fences and he’s very, very bold so to get him back enough is going to be a challenge. Both that one and the first water are the big questions for me so far.  Everyone had said it was big, Boyd had said it was really big, so I’m not surprised, I’m definitely very, very respectful. I didn’t expect it to be small, I didn’t come here to jump a small course. He did Bromont which is also big enough but this is another notch up again from that. He jumps a big fence better than a small fence. Fair Hill is comparable definitely but there you go up the hill and back down, here you’re going up for a really long time, and then you’re going up and down and up and down, I think it’s tougher than Fair Hill. The questions are about the same but then with the terrain it makes it all that bit harder.”

Kate, as we know, came here to Blenheim off her own steam, fundraising some of the money to get here, selling one of her horses, and thanks to the generosity of a couple of very kind supporters, and they’re still struggling, and although she admits it’s been tough, she can’t recommend the experience highly enough, “This is definitely, definitely a step up in every respect, just walking around here there are five or six different shows going on that we don’t even know about; it’s a whole other world and I think that anyone who’s serious would really benefit from the experience, for sure.” Wishing Kate the best of luck, she’ll go last of the day tomorrow at 16:37 GB time.

Emily Beshear has a large, purple-attired (Deep Purple Eventing) fan club in attendance here with her at Blenheim so I thought she’d be pretty easy to spot, but I haven’t bumped into her all day, and I was sorry not to catch up with Elisa Wallace either. I hope all the U.S. contingent have fun at the cocktail party tonight, but not TOO much fun, and yes, it IS in the palace, and no, I don’t have an invitation! Thank God for sunshine today, and no more bloody rain.

Thanks to all the riders for chatting to us, to all the grooms who wait so patiently while we do so after long, long preparations already, to all the families and support crew who smile, and hug and…support! And thank you of course for making Eventing Nation part of your day. Keep checking back for more from Blenheim, and Plantation, and also make sure to keep checking Shannon Brinkman’s site as she’s adding stunning shots all the time. Going to find some wine and Go Eventing!

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Lauren Kieffer and Veronica Get Blenheim Dressage Done, Sit in Top 10 Currently

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Samantha Clark. Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Veronica went to work in the Blenheim Palace main arena this afternoon, turning in a lovely test which I was surprised didn’t score better. Her mark of 46.2 currently has her sitting in equal 9th place but there wasn’t much not to like.

Veronica to me is everything you look for in an event horse — in the dressage arena she’s pretty and attractive and can certainly move and point her toes, and Lauren went for it in the extensions, showing big differences and plenty of impulsion, cadence and spring. The whole test was lovely and forward, and correct and accurate, and Veronica is such tough cookie too — what’s not to love?! Many thanks to Lauren for stopping to chat after her test…

Rushing out to catch Jen McFall, and Will Coleman’s test, but gasping after hearing Sandra Auffarth’s score on Ispo. Yes, it was accurate and there were no mistakes, but there wasn’t nearly nine points difference between her and Veronica — I think if we had put a German tail coat on Lauren and GER after her name she’d have broken into the 30s too! Seriously, Sandra’s test was lovely, but so was Lauren’s. Lots more to come from Blenheim including a video chat with Clark Montgomery, both Will and Jen, and Kate Chadderton’s thoughts on the course. Go Blenheim!

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Liz Halliday-Sharp Gets U.S. Off to Good Blenheim CCI3* Start, Currently 5th

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night. Photo by Samantha Clark. Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and her mother’s Fernhill By Night have always been pretty solid in the little white box, but this year they’ve improved even more, finishing 2nd at the Hartpury International and winning the Brightling Park CIC2*. However, you know it’s a competitive division when a former four-star winner Cool Mountain languishes in 3rd place, and will probably drop further by the end of the proceedings when we look at who still has to come so we’re thrilled with their score of 45.9, currently good enough for 5th place.

Liz and ‘Blackie’ did a really nice test — good trot work, good canter, no mistakes, perhaps it lacked some of the flash they sometimes have but as she explained in our interview, he’s an enormous horse to package together, and even more difficult when he’s a little tense.

Liz’s  mother Deborah who owns the horse is back in California and so is following along via social media, Eventing Nation and as many links as possible. Many thanks to Liz for stopping to chat, and wishing them the very best of luck for the rest of the competition — we’ll catch up again soon.

Go the West Coast at Blenheim Palace, and Go Eventing!

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Blenheim CCI3* Cross Country Course Preview

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Where it all begins!

Once again designed by Eric Winter and beautifully built and presented by David Evans and his crew, this year’s Blenheim International CCI3* course asks plenty of questions, and that coupled with an enormous field stacked with quality means the winner, heck the top ten, even twenty, come Sunday night can consider themselves in a very elite group.

The time is always hard to make at Blenheim with its undulations, two long water crossings, and perhaps even more so this year with the course going clockwise, so we can look forward to a real cross country competition on Saturday. U.S. Team Coach David O’Connor says we can also hope to look forward to a strong finish from our U.S. combinations, and he likes the course too.

“The footing is fantastic, even if it rains I think it will be good, and it’s unbelievably beautifully presented, as David Evans’ courses always are. I don’t think it’s the strongest one I’ve ever seen; going this way I think it’s also a little easier — it’s a little harder fitness wise and a little easier course wise, but there’s a lot to jump especially towards the end.”

Of all the CCI3* events in the U.S., David would compare Blenheim to Fair Hill: “It’s the strongest CCI3* that we have because of the terrain and the footing so it feels a lot like that, they have similar qualities. Galway is flatter and the terrain is not as much of an issue there, Jersey is a course that feels very intense whereas this is a big, galloping course. This is a very good group we have here this year; we’re looking to be very competitive here. I think everybody has got experience. I’m looking for a very good weekend.”

You can read a description of the course here and check out our photo gallery below. I’ll be trying to catch up with all our riders in between the dressage to get their thoughts on the course, and perhaps drag them out to walk a couple of fences with us! Thanks for making Eventing Nation a part of your Blenheim experience, we’ll be back with much more — Go the USA at Blenheim Palace, Go Eventing!

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Lauren Kieffer and Landmark’s Monte Carlo Get the U.S. Ball Rolling

Lauren Kieffer and Landmarks Monte Carlo complete their CIC 3* test at Blenheim Palace.  Photo by Samantha Clark.

Lauren Kieffer and Landmarks Monte Carlo complete their CIC 3* test at Blenheim Palace. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Lauren Kieffer and Landmarks Monte Carlo got the U.S. off to a good start at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials on Thursday morning; second to go under sunny skies, gasp, in the CIC3* on Ms Jacqueline Mars’ homebred, Lauren rode her customary cool, accurate test and ‘Patrick’ as he’s known obliged with steady, willing paces and a lovely attitude, not at all put off by the energy, and the action going on all around him.

Not only is there a significant amount of atmosphere here at Blenheim, there’s the Pony Club jumping taking place in an adjacent arena! Immaculately turned out by super groom Shannon Kinsley, ‘Patrick’ is by Irish Sport Horse Formula One, and out of an Australian Thoroughbred Glamour. They scored 46.7, which has them sitting in equal second place currently.

Lauren was kind enough to stop and chat briefly after her test and give us her thoughts on Saturday’s cross country. We’ll have more with her later as well of course after her test on Veronica, and wish her the best of luck.

Thanks for chatting, Lauren, and fingers crossed for a stellar weekend here at Blenheim Palace. Go Kieffer Eventing!

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101 Horses, 7 for USA Pass First CCI3* Horse Inspection at Blenheim

Emily Beshear and Shame on the Moon. Photo by Shannon Brinkman. Emily Beshear and Shame on the Moon. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

As if on cue, about 10 minutes before the First Horse Inspection for marathon CCI3* division here at the Blenheim Palace Horse Trials was due to begin, sure enough the heavens opened and all the torrential rain that was up in Scotland for Blair’s cross-country day came back to revisit us.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill by Night

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill by Night. Photo by Samantha Clark.

101 horses were presented before the Ground Jury, and all were accepted, most without any fuss, but three were sent to the holding box first; they were Katie Barber and Apollos Copywright, Paul Sims and Calador, and Kate Chadderton and VS Mccuan Civil Liberty. Kate must either be feeling like the luckiest girl in the world or the most hard put-upon depending on whether she’s a glass half-full or empty sort of person after scraping in off the wait-list today at literally the very last minute, and now this. Let’s hope her nerves can take the pressure!

Kate Chadderton and VS McCuan Civil Liberty Photo By Samantha Clark

Kate Chadderton and VS McCuan Civil Liberty. Photo By Samantha Clark.

Three horses were asked to trot twice — Kevin McNab’s Dustman, Emily Philp’s Camembert and Patricia Ryan’s Dunrath Eclipse. Alex Peternell’s two horses were probably the naughtiest behaved on the jog strip, whinnying to each other, mini rearing, refusing to stand still and showing us some nice passage and airs above the ground!

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen

Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Most riders and grooms tried to leave the horse’s rugs and rainsheets on until the very last minute, and due to the appalling conditions we weren’t treated to any amazing fashions, but props to Emily Beshear especially, Clark Montgomery, Lauren Kieffer in red, and Lissa Green.

Emily Beshear and Shame on The Moon

Emily Beshear and Shame on The Moon. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Well done to the  Ground Jury, organising comittee and especially volunteers helping ferry riders in and out of the jog strip as quickly as possible in such miserable conditions and completing such an enormous number of competitors in what must be record time.

Will Coleman and Obos O'Reilly

Will Coleman and Obos O’Reilly. Photo by Samantha Clark.

The dressage starts early tomorrow with Nicky Roncoroni doing the test ride for the CCI3* on Watts Burn at 8:10 a.m. GB time and Pippa Funnell kicking off the competition proper at 8:30 a.m. on Mirage D’Elle. We have four U.S. riders to look forward to tomorrow: Liz Halliday-Sharp on Fernhill By Night at 11:45 a.m., Lauren Kieffer and Veronica at 14:30,  Jennifer McFall and High Times at 16:07, and William Coleman and Obos O’Reilly at 16:37.

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Stay tuned for pictures of the CCI3* cross country course, and we’ll put the rest of our trot up pictures on the Eventing Nation Facebook page and do make sure to keep checking Shannon Brinkman’s facebook page also — we’re lucky enough to have her here this weekend and her photos really are something pretty special. We’ll be featuring a few every day on Eventing Nation but keep your eyes out for more.

Shannon Kinsley, Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Shannon Brinkman

Shannon Kinsley, Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

The forecast is for overnight rain and then a nice day tomorrow before more rain overnight again. Hoping everyone at Blenheim dries out, especially poor California native Jen McFall who looked completely out of sorts, and High Times who looked rather nonplussed by all the water falling from the sky but was very good-natured nonetheless! Looking forward to a busy day tomorrow, this division is completely stacked with talent, very, very exciting. Go the USA at Blenheim!

Jen McFall and High Times

Jen McFall and High Times in the downpour! Photo by Samantha Clark.

Blenheim Links: Website, Entries, EN’s Coverage, Twitter, Instagram, @samanthalclark

Laura Collett On Settling Into Team Great Britain

Laura Collett and Grand Manoeuvre Laura Collett and Grand Manoeuvre

How do you make the transition from baby on the British team to one of the more experienced riders, while you’re still relatively young and inexperienced? How do you bounce back from the shocking and tragic loss of a beloved horse, made even more difficult by mass media attention? If you’re Laura Collett you do what she’s always done — keep riding and keep working at it.

Laura flew relatively low under the radar at this year’s Blair Castle European Championships — it wasn’t her Senior team debut, she wasn’t the youngest or the oldest, and she was probably quite relieved to be able to get on with what she loves, the riding and her horses. Luckily for us, she took a few minutes to chat between the final horse inspection and the show jumping, but unluckily the wind interfered with our audio, but please do bear with us.

Laura talks about the support the whole team receives from UK Lottery Funding, and the amazing network of the crew that all go towards making the competitions a success for Team GBR. You only have to spend a couple of days at an event like Blair to see the cogs of the wheels of a machine like Team GBR in action and not fail to be impressed, and the team pride and camaraderie is obvious and huge. Check out these great photos from Jon Stroud Media to get a tiny idea of what we’re talking about!

Laura also talks about how excited she is for Grand Manoeuvre’s (Milo’s) future, who she’ll be tentatively aiming at Badminton again next year, and will be at Blenheim this week with Pamero.

Unfortunately Laura slipped out of the top 10 at Blair Castle with a stop at the Team GBR bogey fence, number 7, in the show jumping, and finished in 13th place, but I have no doubt that they’ll be working hard over the winter, and look forward to seeing her at Blenheim this weekend, and the both of them next spring. Many, many thanks to Laura for her time, and wishing her the best of luck going forward. Go Team GBR and Go Collett Eventing!

Germans Win Team Gold, Michael Jung is European Champion

Michael Jung and fischerTakinou. Photo by Samantha Clark. Michael Jung and fischerTakinou. Photo by Samantha Clark.

The German riders didn’t lower a single rail in the final phase to win the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships convincingly. Michael Jung takes his third consecutive individual gold medal, on a third horse, this time on fischerTakinou, the youngest horse in the field at 8 years old contesting only his third three-star – words fail me!

Sandra Auffarth takes individual silver on her World Champion partner Opgun Louvo, and Frenchman Lt Col Thibault Vallette and Qing Du Briot ENE HN moved up to the bronze medal position when Izzy Taylor ironically had the UK Lottery planks down on Guy Avis’ KBIS Briarlands Matilda, dropping them down to sixth place.

It wasn’t Great Britain’s finest hour this afternoon, but thank goodness for Kitty King who jumped a beautiful clear on Persimmon and moved up to fourth place, so narrowly missing out on a medal, and what an exciting combination Pippa Funnell and Sandman 7 are too, also jumping clear and moving up to finish 8th.

Team GBR finished in silver and Team France in bronze, which also guarantees their place at Rio next year. Sweden also booked their tickets to next year’s Olympics this afternoon.

Pippa Funnell and Sandman 7 Photo by Samantha Clark

Pippa Funnell and Sandman 7 Photo by Samantha Clark

Dirk Schrade’s Hop and Skip gave the fences so much air he actually had the crowd laughing at times. The crowd was large and enthusiastic with the biggest applause for the Brits, predictably, but with a large German contingent too.

Holly Woodhead and Sarah Bullimore both had the dreaded brown oxer at number 7 down. Lily Corrinne also had the second part of the double at 9 down when she was just getting too quick. Oliver Townend managed a nice clear with Fenya’s Elegance, her tongue still hanging out!

The two Irish men Michael Ryan and Sam Watson on Ballylynch Adventure and Horseware Lukeswell jumped really class clears. Gemma Tattersall had a stop at fence 3 on Arctic Soul, and Laura Collett had a stop at the Team GB bogey fence 7 on Grand Manouevre.

There were 14 clears this afternoon – five of them German, two Irish, three British, one Nederlands, one Italian and two French.

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Sam Watson and Camilla Speirs Talk European Championships & Eventing

Camilla Speirs and Portersize Just A Jif: clear XC at Blair Castle European Championships Camilla Speirs and Portersize Just A Jif: clear XC at Blair Castle European Championships

Many thanks to Irish team members Camilla Speirs and Sam Watson for taking some time after a long, wet and cold cross country day Satuday at the Longines FEI Blair Castle European Championships to sit down and chat with us about their day, and the sport in general. Both of them had jumped beautiful clear rounds earlier – Camilla on her long-time partner, the diminutive but exuberant Portersize Just A Jif, at their incredible NINTH championship together, and Sam on Horseware Lukeswell, a 10 year old making his first team appearance.

Thanks again to Camilla and Sam for their time, and congratulations on such terrific rides. You can find out more about Equiratings here, and more about Team Ireland here. Go Ireland and Go Eventing!

Sam Watson and Horseware Lukeswell: clear XC at Blair Castle European Championships

Sam Watson and Horseware Lukeswell: clear XC at Blair Castle European Championships

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Team GB Still in European Championship Hunt … Just!

Nicola Wilson and One Two Many avoid near disaster for Team GBR! Photo by Samantha Clark. Nicola Wilson and One Two Many avoid near disaster for Team GBR! Photo by Samantha Clark.

The morning session of show-jumping has just wrapped up, the top 25 will jump this afternoon starting at 2:05pm GB time, and with the German team in an almost unassailable lead (they’d need to have eleven jumps down between them) we’re all wondering who’ll take silver and bronze, and who’ll nab the two available qualifications for Rio next year.

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Bettina Hoy (GER) and Designer 10 jump clear. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Team GB are currently lying in the silver medal position, but after their anchor William Fox-Pitt retired Bay My Hero on course yesterday they can’t afford to lose anyone else, and then the unthinkable almost happened…! Nicola Wilson said the distance from the treble to the oxer at seven had been riding tight all morning, and she completely blamed herself when she got it absolutely wrong on One Two Many and they ploughed through it. Luckily ‘Coco’ waited with his head up while she reorganised herself and got back in the saddle and they jumped an astounding clear the rest of round – way to recover!

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Merel Blom (NED) and Rumor Has It jump clear. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Bettina Hoy was the first of our five clear rounds on Designer 10. The other four came from Merel Blom and Rumor Has it for the Netherlands, Juco CP and Carlos Diaz Fernandez for Spain, Joris Vanspringel for Belgium and Patrizia Attinger on Raumalpha for Switzerland.

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Joris Vanspringel (Bel) and Lully des Aulnes jump clear. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Fence number 2, the Red English Post Box upright rails came down five times. Niklas Lindback and Cendrillon had a stop at fence 3, the oxer four strides later, as did Cristina Pinedo Sendagorta on Helena XII who stopped there a second time, resulting in elimination.

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Patrizia Attinger (SUI) and Raumalpha jump clear. Photo by Samantha Clark.

The brown oxer jumping into the crowds where Nicola had her trouble came down four times, and general consensus among the few riders I talked to was that the course is not huge but technical. The time has not been hard to make, and there is an option to go around or inside the penultimate fence on your way to fence 5 depending on the turn you want to take. It is cold today but at least it’s not raining, yet.

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Carlos Diaz Fernandez (ESP) and Junco CP. Photo by Samantha Clark.

We’ll be back with the final session of show-jumping from the European Championships at Blair Castle. Go Eventing!

#Blair2015: Website, Schedule, Live Scores, FEI TVCourse Preview, EN’s CoverageEN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram, @samanthalclark