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Suzanna O'Connor


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Jessica Phoenix Wins Horseware Indoor Eventing Challenge at the Royal Winter Horse Show

Jessica Phoenix and Abbey GS. Photo by Ben Radvanyi Photography.

Jessica Phoenix and her Trakehner mare Abbey GS captured the $6,000 top prize of the Horseware Indoor Eventing Challenge at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto last night. The capacity crowd roared their support and approval as Jessica and the 16-year-old mare, owned by Charlotte Schickedanz and bred at Galten Farms just north of Toronto, made the twisty, challenging course look easy.

Abby was Jessica’s alternate mount for the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto and is her preferred ride for Indoor Eventing. Phoenix modestly gives full credit to Abbey GS for the win: “For this event you want to have something that is super careful because if you leave the show jumps up you have a good chance of winning, and Abbey GS is such a fantastic jumper and so brave and so bold that I couldn’t have a better horse for this.”

Saturday night’s course in front of the loudly enthusiastic crowd was changed for the second round. The distances between the first four fences gave the riders a chance to open up their horses and get up some speed to thrill the audience while the placing of the fences, especially later in the course, called for careful, balanced riding while going at speed.

“They did a fantastic job of organizing those courses; the layout was exceptional,” Jessica said in discussing Captain Mark Phillips’ design.

Boyd Martin and Kyra. Photo by Ben Radvanyi Photography.

Indoor Eventing at the Royal gives top eventing athletes a chance to demonstrate the sport before a loud and enthusiastic crowd of people who may never normally see an eventing contest in its regular outdoor format. However, Indoor Eventing poses some unique challenges for riders more used to the pace of long outdoor courses.

Boyd Martin, who placed third on the trusty chestnut mare Kyra, laughed as he talked about warming up in a “parking lot” for the course. He was referring, of course, to the low ceiling warm-up area just off the main arena: “My head was close to the roof a few times,” Boyd said. He also joked about having a mere 15 minutes to walk and memorize the course instead of a couple of days to analyze and work out the striding.

Boyd’s plan for the second round was to “go as fast as possible and leave all the rails up”. He and his spectacular jumper, the Canadian-bred Warmblood owned by Christine Turner from Texas, did exactly that. The pair posted one of the fastest times of the night but a “really, really annoying rail yesterday” proved to be very costly as it meant that they were carrying 5 penalty points from the first round so they had to settle for third place.

Brendon McMechan and Oscar’s Wild. Photo by Ben Radvanyi Photography.

Brandon McMechan grabbed second place behind Jessica riding in his first ever Indoor Eventing Challenge. He was thrilled with the performance of his 8-year-old off-track Thoroughbred “too slow for racing, but fast enough for this” Oscar’s Wild.

McMechan explained that at this time of year the gelding was usually “on vacation” and he laughed that he felt the horse was doing him a favor by coming to the Royal to compete. A nice positive and conservative ride which left all the poles in the cups and saw no awkward moments at the imposing cross country style fences meant that the pair left the arena happily in second place.

The youngest rider in the competition and the leader after the first night, 25-year-old Rachel McDonough, blazed around the course with the boldness of youth on her side. Unfortunately, as the crowd was cheering them on to victory, Rachel and her 18-year-old Thoroughbred Irish Rhythm had a rail down at the very last fence, an oxer.  The slight hiccup dropped them down to fourth place.

Holly Jacks-Smither and More Inspiration had an inspired round as the pair took any fast route they could to shave valuable seconds from their time. They gave the crowds quite a thrill but the 5 penalties they had incurred from the first night kept them in fifth place.

Waylon Roberts, an 8-time winner of this event was riding his old friend John and Michelle Koppin’s  Lancaster. They posted a textbook second round. Waylon was so thrilled with his clear, deft and classy ride that he gave a fist pump at the end of it. He excited the crowd by doing a wild gallop around the ring and tried to high five some of his many fans who were leaning on the rails cheering him on.

Selena O’Hanlon is presented with the coveted Michael Gutowski Award. Photo by Ben Radvanyi Photography.

Selena O’Hanlon, riding Linnea Given’s Uptown Girl, broke the crowd’s heart when, after a lovely clear round, she and the dark-bay Hanoverian mare were another to have a rail down at the last fence on course.

Selena’s night improved as she was presented with the Michael Gutowski Award as the highest placed Canadian in the FEI International Standings this year. She leapt to her high placing internationally when she and her long time partner Foxwood High, owned by John and Judy Rumble, made history by being the first Canadians ever to win at the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI3*.

Selena was thrilled to be presented with an award honoring the late General Michael Gutowski, affectionately known as “the Colonel”.  Gutowski was a decorated Polish war hero. A career cavalry officer and an accomplished horseman, he rode in the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a member of the Polish Equestrian team. After his distinguished and heroic war career fighting  in the 1st Panzer division fighting alongside  the Allies after the invasion of Normandy, he came to Canada where he became trainer of the Canadian Olympic Equestrian Team.

Gutowski was an Inaugural Member of the Canadian Eventing Hall of Fame, inducted in 2009 as a Builder.  Coincidentally John Rumble, owner of Selena O’Hanlon’s mount Foxwood High, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in the same year as a member of the 1956 Olympic Bronze Medal Team along with his horse at the time, Cilroy.

Gutowski brought the classical form of European equitation to Canada. His training principles are the foundation of the coaching system today. He was also the coach/trainer of many of the riders that have competed for Canada at the Olympics as well as other international championships. Show jumper Ian Millar, Captain Canada himself, is honored to have it known that he trained extensively with “the Colonel” in his youth.

Holly Jacks-Smither and More Inspiration. Photo by Ben Radvanyi Photography.

Turning again to the Indoor Eventing results, Autorytet, the handsome grey 15-year-old Polish Warmblood/Thoroughbred cross owned and ridden by Dasha Ivandaeva, objected to the bright pink wooden pig he was asked to jump when first presented to it but he overcame his reluctance and leapt neatly over it the second time to bring his rider home in eighth place.

Colleen Loach and Brooke Massie’s Serendipity, having incurred a technical elimination on the first evening, put in a lovely, fast round. Kendal Lehari’s usually reliable RF D’Orbalia, had a bad day at the office and took exception twice to the job at hand which led to elimination for this normally spectacular partnership.

Indoor Eventing at the Royal Winter Horse Show is definitely a highlight of the 8-day show for the enthusiastic spectators and also for the riders who are pleased to be able to showcase their sport in such a fun and supportive atmosphere.

Boyd Martin said that he had no idea that the Fair was this “awesome” or he would have come many years before. His many fans in Toronto will be delighted to hear that he hinted that he would like to come back in the future.

Rachel McDonough Wins First Round of Royal Winter Fair Indoor Eventing

Rachel McDonough and Irish Rhythm. Photo by Ben Radvanyi Photography.

Rachel McDonough cut valuable seconds off the clock by taking a tricky inside turn through a narrow space between two jumps to grab the lead on the first night of the $20,000 Horseware Indoor Eventing Challenge at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, Canada.
Twenty-five-year-old Rachel, originally from Toronto but now based in The Plains, Va., is happy to be back home for what she regards as a little holiday to contest for the $6,000 in prize money that the winner will take home.
She credits her 18-year-old Thoroughbred Irish Rhythm, her partner for the last 12 years, with the speed and balance to make those tight turns possible. Rachel knows that at the final tomorrow night the pressure will be on as everyone will have had a chance to re-evaluate their battle plans.
Captain Mark Phillips’ clever course is designed to reward the bold horse and rider team who can simultaneously ride forward for speed, in control for tidy turns and careful enough to leave the rails in the cups all while the noise of the crowd fills their ears. This Indoor Eventing course is an exciting mix of colorful eventing type jumps featuring narrow corners, a keyhole, brush, a bank with a drop as well as some show jumping rails and oxers.

Waylon Roberts and Lancaster. Photo by Ben Radvanyi Photography.

The Indoor Eventing Challenge was the first event of an action packed first night of the Royal Winter Fair and Horse Show, the largest combined agricultural and equestrian fair in the world.  The early start meant that the stands were not at full capacity but the enthusiastic crowd, any of whom bought their tickets especially because of the Horseware Eventing Challenge, roared their approval and were loud in their appreciation of all the riders.

The evening got off to a thrilling start as Elise Saunders sang the song “Rise” inspired by the incredible story of Jessica Phoenix who overcame many challenges to become a member of Canada’s successful World Equestrian Games, Pan American Games and Olympic Games teams.

Jessica, a crowd favorite, riding Charlotte Schickedanz’s lovely Trakehner  mare, Abbey GS, her regular Indoor Eventing partner, rode a smooth, balanced round to finish second only 4.11 seconds behind Rachel.

Brendon McMechan, new on the Indoor Eventing scene, rode his own Oscar’s Wild to third place 9.91 seconds behind Jessica and a full 14.02 seconds behind Rachel. McMechan’s feat is all the more surprising because unlike all the other riders in this ten-team field, he is not a full time equestrian. McMechan is a chiropractor and credits Gwen and Kendal Lehari, with whom he and Oscar’s Wild train, with making it possible for him to both ride and work.

Boyd Martin and Kyra. Photo by Ben Radvanyi Photography.

Boyd Martin is this year’s international celebrity guest rider and another crowd favorite. An excited trill ran through the audience, and the three young ladies seated behind me nearly dropped their popcorn as Boyd rode into the arena riding Kyra. Boyd and the chestnut mare finished second at the Rolex Central Park U.S Open $50,000 Arena Eventing in September.

Boyd gave Christine Turner’s 10-year-old Canadian Warmblood a good long look at the course while the announcer made the pair’s introductions over the loud speaker. An unfortunate rail on the very last fence, an show jumping oxer, made the crowd groan as Martin’s blazing fast round added 5 penalty points to his total going into the second round tomorrow.

All the other riders are still “in it to win it” going into tonight’s second round. Waylon Roberts, 8-time winner of this event, had an uncharacteristically slow round and a 5 point penalty. He and his long-time partner Lancaster, a 10-year-old Canadian Sport Horse owned by John and Michelle Koppin, are sitting in sixth place behind Holly Jacks-Smither, the night’s trail blazer, and her 12-year-old Thoroughbred More Inspiration.

Roberts is just ahead of Dasha Ivandaeva and Autorytet, her 15-year-old Polish Warmblood/Thoroughbred gelding with whom she competes at the Advanced level.

Selena O’Hanlon and Uptown Girl. Photo by Ben Radvanyi Photography.

Selena O’Hanlon, first Canadian winner of the most recent running of the extremely challenging Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI3* on John and Judy Rumble’s fantastic Foxwood High, rode Uptown Girl in this first round at the Royal into eighth place.

Scores are so close in this event that Uptown Girl, a 13-year-old Hanoverian mare owned by Linnea Given, cannot be counted out. Jessica Phoenix confided to me before the evening began that she picked Selena for the winner’s circle, so anything may happen on the second night.

Kendal Lehari rode the Dutch Warmblood mare R.F. D’Orabalia, owned by the Syndicate of the same name, rode like a sports car zooming around the turns and thrilling the crowd. They had an unfortunate stop on the top of the bank to add 10 penalties to her score.

Colleen Loach from Sherbrooke, Quebec and a member of the 2015 Pan American Games and 2016 Rio Olympic teams was unlucky enough to miss the start timers at the beginning of the round and so were eliminated. This was doubly unfortunate as she and Brook Massie’s Thoroughbred mare, Serendipity, turned on the speed early and put in a great round. They will be out for redemption the second time around.

Rachel McDonough and Irish Rhythm will be ready for them. McDonough will be ready to amp up to defend their first night first place finish against the pack baying at their heels.