Massive congrats are in order to EN founder/publisher John and his beautiful wife Jessica, who were wed yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia. As per EN tradition for big events, our team had boots (er, kitten heels) on the ground, bringing live updates to our readers via Twitter. Here’s the recap!
Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.
What programming do you sandwich between American Ninja Warrior and Badminton (the sport, not the four-star, sorry) on NBC Sports on a random Sunday afternoon in May? How about a one-hour recap of the 2018 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event!
We actually have not one, but two (2!) chances to catch the LRK3DE recap on television this weekend: it airs on Saturday, May 26, at 3-4 p.m. EST on the Olympic Channel and Sunday, May 27, 4-5 p.m. EST on NBC Sports.
Alyssa Phillips, Hannah Sue Burnett and Jennie Brannigan each received one-year suspensions from FEI and USEF competition backdated to the date of their testing. They may resume competing on November 18, 2018.
“All three athletes were able to prove no significant fault or negligence and the circumstances of the cases show that none of them had the intention to dope,” FEI Legal Director Mikael Rentsch said in a statement.
“In light of this, and the fact that the athletes have subsequently been granted Therapeutic Use Exemptions for these medications, the parties agreed that the period of ineligibility should be reduced to 12 months, and the FEI Tribunal has approved that.”
The USEF released a statement noting that the riders “are suspended from participating in any FEI and USEF sanctioned activities in an official capacity, but can spectate, in accordance with FEI General Regulations Article 169.5.1.”
Under the terms of the settlements, all three riders received a one-year period of ineligibility from the date of the sample collection at the Ocala Jockey Club on Nov. 18, 2017. All three riders will also pay a fine of CHF 1,500, and their results from the competition will be disqualified.
The riders will also be “required to support the FEI in its anti-doping campaign and to actively engage in athlete education, including providing testimonials for FEI education material,” as well as complete an anti-doping education course within one year of the FEI Tribunal’s final decision.
The full decisions from the FEI Tribunal are available at this link.
Alyssa tested positive for Amfetamine and Canrenone. Hannah tested positive for Amfetamine. Jennie tested positive for Amfetamine, Methylphenidate and Ritalinic Acid.
Amfetamine is a stimulant used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy and commonly sold under the brand name Adderall in the U.S. Methylphenidate is a stimulant used in the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy and commonly sold under the brand names Concerta, Daytrana and Methylin in the U.S. Ritalinic acid is an inactive, major metabolite of methylphenidate. Canrenone is a diuretic commonly sold under the trade names Contaren, Luvion, Phanurane and Spiroletan in Europe.
The riders released statements to EN in response to the sanctions.
Hannah Sue Burnett: “It is with the utmost passion and commitment that I will be returning to the competitive world of eventing. I have taken full responsibility for my actions and am grateful for the opportunity to return to the sport I so deeply love.
“Abiding by the rules that have been placed to ensure fair competition within the sport of eventing is important to me. While I am taking a doctor prescribed medication, I acknowledge and regret that I began taking the medication before submitting a Therapeutic Use Exemption. I have since gone through the FEI process and been granted a TUE going forward.
“I am humbled by the support and forgiveness of those closest to me despite my mistakes. To everyone who fought for me and believed in me when I couldn’t do so for myself—from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I know it will take time to rebuild the trust of many of my fans and supporters, but I am committed to doing exactly that.”
Jennie Brannigan: “I’m incredibly happy to know that I will be able to come back to compete again this November, and while this situation has been tough on my sponsors, students, owners, and support team I am truly thankful that I have learned how to love the sport even from the sidelines. I am grateful to everyone who has stood by me and I am extremely sorry to have let our sport, country, and my supporters down.
“That being said, I am appreciative to the FEI for recognizing I wasn’t taking the medication to try to improve my performance and that indeed I will be allowed to compete on this medication going forward. I know I have learned a lot from this experience, and I hope it has helped others be more educated on anti-doping as well.”
Alyssa Phillips: “Today FEI made public that I have been given the minimum sanction possible of 12 months for my ingestion of two prescribed medications, that are banned substances. As most of you may recall, I tested positive for the two prescribed medications at a competition back in November. At the time, I didn’t understand that riders were subject to an anti-doping program, I thought only horses were.
“I should’ve known to apply for a TUE for my two medications, but I was not aware I needed to. However, I have since applied and both medicines have received a TUE. With that being said, the FEI understood I was not trying to enhance my performance in any way and has granted me a sanction of 12 months backdated to when I was tested in November. So, I will be eligible to compete again on November 18, 2018.
“Despite my ineligibility to compete, I am grateful to be surrounded by people that have supported and continue to support me during this time, along with three happy and healthy horses. I have taken advantage of my time off to really focus on the training and ride-ability of my horses. I am staying positive and using this unfortunate situation as an opportunity to learn and grow as a rider.”
Jenni Autry contributed to this report, which was updated on May 28, 2018 with official statements from the FEI and USEF.
Live stream addicts, rejoice! French EN reader Florence Langer-Helffrich reminded us yesterday that we have not just one (Equestrian Festival Baborówko in Poland), but two (2!) international events live streaming this weekend. The Saumur Complet CCI3* in France is also broadcasting all three phases of the event, which kicked off with dressage yesterday and continues today.
Gonazalo Blasco Botin of Spain is the overnight leader, having scored a 29.2 with Sij Veux D’Autize. Kazuma Tomoto of Japan is second with Brookpark Vikenti (29.6) followed by Aurelie Riedweg of France and Rohan Du Maneix (31.4) in third. Dressage continues today from 2:30 – 4:50 p.m. local time (8:30 – 10:50 a.m. EST) and there are some heavy-hitters in the mix, including Mark Todd, Christopher Burton and Sam Griffiths.
Watch the live stream via the website here or video below:
Katherine Coleman and Monte Classico, Kalai, LLC’s 9-year-old German Sporthorse gelding. She is also competing Billy Bandit, her 10-year-old Anglo European gelding.
Hallie Coon and Celien, her own and Helen Coon’s 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare.
Caroline Martin and Danger Mouse, her own and Sherrie Martin’s 10-year-old Dutch gelding. She is also competing The Apprentice, Sherrie Martin’s 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding.
They’ll be facing off against Nations Cup teams from Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden and New Zealand. CICO3* dressage begins today and continues through Saturday morning, followed by show jumping Saturday afternoon and cross country on Sunday. There is no live stream, but you can follow live scoring on bdwp.co.uk.
U.S. ride times for dressage:
Katherine Coleman and Monte Classico: Thursday 4:22 p.m. BST/11:22 a.m. EST Katherine ColemanandBilly Bandit: Friday 11:15 a.m. BST/6:15 a.m. EST Caroline Martin and Danger Mouse: Friday 3:15 p.m. BST/10:22 a.m. EST Caroline Martin and The Apprentice: Saturday 8:52 a.m. BST/3:52 a.m. EST Hallie Coon and Celien: Saturday 11 a.m. BST/6 a.m. EST
Best of luck, ladies! EN’s Tilly Berendt will be heading to Houghton tomorrow to bring us all the latest throughout the event.
Many thanks to Alec Lochore of Musketeer Event Management for recording the course preview. View in full screen mode to scroll through all the fences. You can also click here to view on CrossCountry App’s website. Download CrossCountry App to access more maps like these from events all around the world. Go Eventing.
Baborówko dressage starts at 2:30 a.m. #EventingLiveStreamProblems
By this point in the season, if I don’t have a tab open on my computer that is live streaming some event somewhere, I feel lost. It’s like having the radio on while you’re driving or the television on while you’re folding laundry — I don’t even really care what I’m watching or listening to, it’s just habit, something to fill the void.
In the event that no live stream is available, night cheese IS a viable alternative.
Lucky for live stream/night cheese addicts like me, Equestrian Festival Baborówko will be live streaming all three phases of its CIC2* and CIC3* divisions this week.
What is Equestrian Festival Baborówko? Don’t care. (Answer: It’s a Polish event.)
Who is competing? Zero flips given. (Answer: Actually, there are quite a few big-names competing, like Maxime Livio of France, Andreas Dibowski of Germany, Sara Algotsson Osstholt of Sweden, Tim Price of New Zealand, and Oliver Townend of Great Britain.)
The broadcasts will be available on the event website, on Facebook, on YouTube, or on the Świat Koni website. Dressage for both classes will start on Thursday and Friday at 8:30 a.m. local time (2:30 a.m. EST), cross country begins on Saturday at 12:15 p.m. local time (6:15 a.m. EST), and show jumping follows on Sunday at 10:45 a.m. local time (4:15 a.m. EST).
Where there are horse people, there are dogs … and we love to show them off! Here are a few of the best pup pics you’ve posted on Instagram lately. Don’t forget to tag yours #DogsOfEN for inclusion in a future edition!
Once a horse girl, forever a horse girl. Jessica Thoma, shown here before a rare disease forced the amputation of both her legs and one arm, is now determined to return to the sport she loves. Photo courtesy of Jessica Thoma.
Up until a few months ago, Jessica Thoma was living a pretty normal — if horse-crazy — life. She was 24 years old, happily engaged, and recently promoted to Team Leader at Tractor Supply Co. in Crossville, Tennessee. She started riding at age 5 and loved horses even before that, and grew up surrounded by animals, also raising and showing rabbits and Boer goats.
“I fell in love with eventing when I was around 10 years old,” she recalls. “My parents had gotten me a computer game called ‘Lucinda Green’s Equestrian Challenge.'”
Virtually through the game, she tackled four-star cross country tracks around the world — Adelaide, Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley — and dreamed of experiencing the same rush in real life. When she got her horse Albert, a 15-year-old Thoroughbred with glossy brown eyes and an athletic jump, she knew for sure that she wanted to event.
“Albert loves eventing!” she says. “Jumping is in his blood. If you point him at a cross country question, he will take you to it.”
The pair has done schooling shows but not a recognized event — “always the hopes and the dreams, but never could make it happen,” she sighs — but that was the goal they were working toward … before Jessica got sick last year.
Jessica and Albert at a schooling show in her signature purple. Photo courtesy of Jessica Thoma.
Jessica in her element. Photo courtesy of Jessica Thoma.
Brandon’s proposal to Jessica in 2016 — awwww! The ring is a heart-shaped horseshoe. “He’s the love of my life,” she says. Photo courtesy of Jessica Thoma.
A Mystery Illness
It started with a rash. Jessica wondered if she was allergic to the baby chicks Tractor Supply sells in the springtime. But multiple allergist and dermatologist appointments proved inconclusive. “Then I started feeling weak all the time and my bones and muscles would ache constantly,” she says. “I had to quit Tractor Supply on Oct. 22 because at that point I could barely walk. I couldn’t eat, either, and I lost 30 pounds in a month.”
Photo courtesy of Jessica Thoma.
Misdiagnosis continued until she developed a huge skin lesion on her side. From a biopsy doctors were able to diagnosis Jessica with Polyarteritis Nedosa (PAN), a rare disease that results from vasculitis, or blood vessel inflammation, causing injury to organ systems.
On Dec. 3, 2017, two days before her 25th birthday, Jessica was admitted to Centennial Hospital in Nashville. “It was pretty shocking. I woke up on my birthday with tubes going in every part of me,” she says. The doctors had needed to intubate her because she couldn’t breathe on her own. “That was scary. I couldn’t talk, and I couldn’t move my left arm or my legs. They progressively died as a result of my severe case of PAN.”
Jessica’s PAN affected her small and medium blood vessels, threatening to attack her larger vessels as well. She nearly died three times over the course of her hospitalization. On Jan. 3, Jessica underwent surgery to amputate both of her legs and her left arm.
“I basically made medical history because they’ve never seen it attack all four limbs before,” Jessica said. “My right hand, I still have it, but it’s very damaged.”
Support and Strength of Will
Jessica had about two weeks between having her intubation tube removed and the amputations. Despite barely being able to talk or eat, and knowing that she was about to about to lose three out of four limbs, her spirits improved: “I am really lucky that I had my family and wonderful fiancé Brandon with me basically 24/7. They really kept me sane and kept me going.”
But there were some dark hours, too: “I had my bad days, and some of those days were especially horrible. I felt like such a burden to everyone. I was a person who always did everything for myself. Now I had to depend on my family, Brandon and my nurses to help me do the tasks that were once so simple for me. Eating, drinking bathroom — I couldn’t do those things myself anymore and it hit me very hard.”
During that time, and especially post-surgery, she found support from Facebook. “I remember waking up from my surgery being in excruciating pain, but when I got back to my room my brother and Brandon were there. I asked them to take a picture of me and I posted it to Facebook ….”
“I also had a friend set up a GoFundMe account to help me pay for hospital bills, which blew me away at how much people donated! I received so many letters, I have a huge stack of them at the house, I’ll keep them forever! My wonderful friend I get my hay from for my horses donated $600 worth of round bales to keep my horses fed while I was gone. It all brought me to tears, my faith in humanity was completely restored with how much love I received!”
A chemotherapy drug called Cytoxan stopped the spread of PAN in her body, but she’ll need to manage it via medication for the rest of her life. As for managing her emotional well-being, she immediately turned to her horses.
Back in the Saddle
“I always knew I would ride again, I was determined to do so,” Jessica says. “I didn’t see my horses for five months while I was hospitalized, but I did get to see my precious dog a couple of times! Of course I got to see pictures of my horses, but of course that’s never enough for a horse crazy girl. I went home on April 5th, and the first thing I did was go see my horses!”
Jessica working on the lunge with Brandon, riding Sugar, a 20-year-old Spotted Saddle Horse mare she rescued from starvation in 2009. “She is my heart pony,” Jessica says. “I wouldn’t give her up for anything. I haven’t shown her much but we did take first place in a dressage schooling show at River Glen a few years back!” Photo courtesy of Jessica Thoma.
Jessica is already back in the saddle, albeit on the lunge line, but no doubt she’ll be riding independently soon. Depending on insurance, she could have prosthetic legs in a couple of months, although the arm prosthetic is going to take longer. As an animal lover, she is tickled to be going through Hanger clinic, known for making the tail prosthetic for Winter the Dolphin, whose tail was amputated after she got caught in crab trap lines. Despite overwhelming odds against survival, Winter was able to adapt to her new physical form, embrace a new swim pattern and recover completely.
Feels good to be home again, especially when home is the back of a horse. Photo courtesy of Jessica Thoma.
Likewise, Jessica aims to not only survive but to thrive, and ultimately make her way back to the cross country start box. Longterm, she says her goal is to teach kids and hopefully get a degree in riding instruction. She keeps supporters posted on her progress via Instagram (@TripleAmputeeEventer) and Facebook (Jessica Thoma).
“I have some really big dreams and plans and I have a HUGE support team cheering me on!,” she says. “I will do eventing again soon! Hopefully next year! #TripleAmputeeEventer isn’t just a tag I put on my photos — it is my dream.”
Need WEG accommodations for yourself and 33 of your closest friends? Rented in full (for a cool $7,000/night), The Horse Shoe Farm in Hendersonville, NC, is one of the largest listings on the WEG lodging referral system. It includes five houses (14 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms) on over 80 acres of river front farmland. Photo via The Horse Shoe Farm — see listing here.
Seeking lodging for the 2018 World Equestrian Games, or want to list your own Tryon-area property? Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) recently announced a lodging referral system provided through Tryon Resort Realty LLC.
This WEG specific listing service works similarly to the Airbnb/VRBO platform, except that communications and transactions take place between WEG attendees and lodging establishments directly. Listings are being added on a continuous basis and include apartment, lakeside, cottage, farm, luxury home, inn and bed-and-breakfast options. There’s even glamping, some funky listings like this “retrovated” motor court and lodging that includes stabling for your horse. A portal to hotel reservations is also available.
Homeowners are able to submit listings to the platform. The listings are subject to approval and require a nonrefundable $25 application fee to Tryon Resort Realty LLC at time of application. Once approved, if rented, homeowners are subject to a listing fee of 7% of the total rental fee. Terms and conditions apply.
A couple notes, and then we’ll count down the winners.
The lowest finishing score in the country belonged to Tik Maynard and Santiano, who scored a 22.5 in Open Beginner Novice at Chattahoochee Hills. Tik also had the second lowest finishing score, a 23.1., with Galileo in the same division. Well done, Tik! Did you hear he has a book, In the Middle Are the Horsemen, coming out in June? We shared excerpts from it last week — check them out here and here.
The winningest rider of the weekend was Chelsea Kiernan, who won both divisions of Novice at Kent School with Calypsos Dream and KC’s Michelangelo. A blue for each hand, Chelsea!
Open Intermediate: Joe Meyer & Clip Clop (32.4)
Open Preliminary: Julie Richards & CS Carrera (28.5)
Preliminary Rider: Maxine Preston & Shannondale Magnum (26.5)
Open Training: Charles Plumb & Westwinds Navigator (28.8)
Training Rider: Alayna Backel & Phantom of the Oscar (39.8)
Novice Rider-A: Solomon Edwards & My Valentine (28.8)
Novice Rider-B: Nicole Andrews Kees DVM & Fernhill Stateside (32.4)
Open Novice: Erica Addison & Fire For Effect (34.3)
Beginner Novice Rider: Breeana Robinette & Velvet Brown (26.7)
Open Beginner Novice: Tik Maynard & Santiano (22.5)
Photo by Kathy Russell, courtesy of Trafalgar Square Books.
Tik Maynard is one of those people you look at and think: How does he do it all? He and four-star eventer wife Sinead Halpin run a bustling operation out of Copperline Farm in Citra, Florida, are readying themselves for their first child, due in September, and now he’s gone and written a book, In the Middle Are the Horsemen, due in June!
Writing is among Tik’s not-so-secret skills. In addition to having been a contributor to equestrian publications, he has written a children’s story, published by REAL magazine, won the Malahat Review Open Season Award, and has twice been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards for his nonfiction works.
Tik’s new full-length work from Trafalgar Square Books, In the Middle Are the Horsemen, is a memoir that faces both inward and outward. To write, one must have a story to tell, and Tik’s story is a poignant one. Both his parents were Grand Prix riders — his mother in dressage and his father in show jumping, in addition to being an Olympic coach of the Canadian modern pentathlon team. Horses were in his blood and he grew up riding with the Vancouver Pony Club, in Southlands, British Columbia, earning his “A” rating.
He began competing in modern pentathlon, eventually representing Canada at three World Championships and the 2007 Pan American Games, but his quest to make the 2008 Olympic team was fraught. Some obstacles are meant to be overcome, while others are meant to point you in a different direction, and sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. At age 26, simultaneously facing a career-ending injury and a painful breakup, Tik found himself adrift. At this crossroads, he began a journey to improve his riding that would ultimately bring his life purpose into view.
In the Middle Are the Horsemen chronicles that journey, which took him from Germany to Florida, from Alberta to Texas, and from Florida to New Jersey, from show jumping to eventing and beyond. Along the way, he learned as much about people as he did about horses, and discovered his own path. Its guiding principle: horsemanship.
Image courtesy of Trafalgar Square Books.
In a two-part series in the coming days, we are excited to bring you sneak preview excerpts from Tik’s book, which is currently available via pre-order here. In the meantime, we catch up with Tik himself via this interview from Rebecca Didier of Trafalgar Square Books:
RD: Your book In the Middle Are the Horsemen chronicles several years you spent “on the road,” trading labor for an equestrian education in the role of “working student.” How would you describe what a working student is to someone outside the equestrian industry?
TM: It is a trade. Instead of trading work for money, it is a trade of work for knowledge. It is like an apprenticeship or internship. Every working student position tends to be a bit different, but they are inevitably a lot of work. And that is because horses are a lot of work.
RD: How did you first hear of what being a working student could offer? Was it something you always planned to do?
TM: Being a working student is a pretty common thing in the riding world. Many top riders went through a phase of being a working student, and although I could have skipped it and just rode more, because my parents own horses and a horse business, I felt like it was sort of a rite of passage. From a business perspective I wanted to earn my way, work my way up, not just enter a management position. And now having said that I could have skipped it, I’m glad I didn’t! I have learned more, in so many ways, by being a working student than I would have dreamed possible.
RD: Before you set off on your horsemanship adventure, you were a modern pentathlete. How did you discover modern pentathalon? Do you still practice all five events that make up the sport?
TM: Many kids that ride are introduced to Pony Club at a young age. I was, and my brothers were, too. In Pony Club there are all kinds of interesting activities, like something they call Quiz, and Prince Phillip Games, which is like mounted relay races. There is also tetrathlon, which is riding, running, swimming and shooting. Many kids that start in tetrathlon go on to modern pentathlon, which includes fencing as the fifth sport. Modern pentathlon is practiced all over the world and is a part of the Pan American Games and the Olympic Games. I was even lucky enough to go to the Pan Am Games in Brazil in 2007.
And no, I do not still practice all the events. I run a little bit still to stay in shape. And I ride of course. I do miss it, but I also love what I am doing now.
RD: Your time as a working student spanned three years and sprawled across Canada, the United States and Europe. How did the places you visited influence your evolving goals? What is one specific place you journeyed to that you feel had a profound impact on you?
TM: What surprised me was how different Florida, and the South in general, felt to me. Even though Germany has a different language I felt relatively at home in their culture. Of course I had a few issues in Germany, but they were to do with personal relationships, not the culture. I was unprepared coming to Florida to see billboards advertising Jesus and gun shows, or the lack of recycling. Lots of little things like that. But the people are so friendly! I live in Florida now and love it, but it is definitely different than Vancouver!
RD: Your desire to record your experiences in writing was as strong as your interest in becoming a better rider. How did writing about your struggles, your successes, what you learned, what you didn’t, affect your journey? Did it dictate the outcome ever, or was it simply a manner of processing?
TM: It was mostly a matter of keeping balance in my life and giving me some perspective.
I love horses, but if they are the only thing in my life I lose some of the enjoyment. I love writing, but if I were to write full time I would go crazy—and I would have nothing to write about.
The perspective comes from thinking about my experiences and how they fit into the bigger picture. No matter how tough it can feel, and how many ups and downs there are, working with horses is a choice, and if it ceases to be fun there are many things that are more profitable.
RD: Your wife is a top international rider. Is it difficult to find balance when you both are in the same profession? Or when it comes to having horses and riding being part of the relationship equation, do you feel it is plain old necessary?
TM: Working with horses, and trying to be the best at something, takes so much passion and commitment. We have arguments about things for sure, but as time goes on we find out what is important to each other and it gets easier. For example we have this game where we will ask each other “How important is going to the rider party, out of 10?” If she wants to go eight out of 10, and I’m tired and I don’t want to go six out of 10, then we go, even if I’m tired. And I make the best of it. Of course the game only works if we are honest, and in the end it balances out.
Also, we have different strengths at the barn so we can help each other. She is great at dressage and cross country. She is amazing at stable management. I have a strong show jumping background, and I end up working with all the young horses and complicated horses. I love having a complicated horse problem to think about. They are like riddles!
In the end I think it’s tough, but we get each other, and I wouldn’t trade her!
RD: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book?
TM: When I hear this question, I think, God, I just hope they make it past the first chapter. If they even finish the book I’ll be happy.
But a lesson? Let me think. Maybe don’t judge people too harshly when they are in a different place on their horsemanship journey than you. A lot of riders see somebody doing something different and they don’t ask why, or have the patience to see things from another point of view.
Also, I see a lot of gray area in how we treat horses. For example people often say it is wrong to abuse horses. That is great to say, but abuse is sure open to interpretation. Some people might say it is abuse to even own a horse. Some people pay more attention to physical abuse, and some people are very aware of emotional abuse. I try never to say never or always. Instead I try to think: “I thought that was true, but maybe there is a better way.”
Gladiator Polo™ is one of the nine competitions planned for the inaugural WEGx Games™ to be held this September at Tryon International Equestrian Center. Photo courtesy of TIEC.
New for the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon is the WEQx Games™, a showcase of nine spectator-friendly equestrian competitions that will run alongside the nine FEI WEG disciplines at Tryon International Equestrian Center. These accessory events are aimed at highlighting the accessibility, diversity, athleticism and passion for horses and horse sport for athletes of all ages.
Equestrian athletes interested in competing in any of the events must register their interest in participating by May 15, 2018.
The planned competitions include:
U-25 U.S. Open Championship™ – The two class competition over two days during the 2018 WEG and will highlight the Show Jumping world’s up and coming riders under 25 years of age. Total prize money over the two days will be $50,000. The U-25 U.S. Open Champion™ will be crowned. Click here to express interest in competing.
U.S. Open Speed Horse™ – A 1.40m, two-team relay featuring 32 two-person teams will navigate an Alan Wade course to compete for $100,000. Riders can create their own 2-person teams. Qualifying course and the final course will be the same and will be available for practice. Click here to express interest in competing.
DERBYx™ – A derivative Hunter competition will be open to 24 competitors that will compete for a $100,000 prize. The optimum time competition will have 15 jumps and be objectively scored based on a set criteria. Click here to express interest in competing.
Battle of the Sexes – A three-event jumping competition featuring a 1.30m match race, speed class and relay with 10 men versus 10 women from the U.S. Ranking List among non-WEG participants or non-WEG reserves. The competition will highlight the only Olympic sport where men compete with women as equals. The teams will compete for $75,000 in prize money. Click here to express interest in competing.
Match Race – A 1.30m competition where two riders face off in the ring over a mirrored course. Standard FEI rules to apply – two second faults converted, open to 24 competitors. Riders compete for a $50,000 prize. Click here to express interest in competing.
Puissance – A horse and rider’s ability to clear a single fence that increases in height after each round – to as much as seven feet and is limited to four rounds. Riders compete for a $50,000 prize. Click here to express interest in competing.
Six Bar – A challenge where the horse and rider jump a series of six vertical fences placed in a straight line with two strides between each fence. The six fences are progressively higher from fence one through six and are all raised after each round. Riders will compete for a $50,000 prize. Click here to express interest in competing.
Pony Jumpers – A competition where the top children of the sport compete for a $10,000 prize. Click here to express interest in competing.
Gladiator Polo™ – A professional three-on-three arena polo match with modified rules that keep the play fast. The event is played in a ring with all-weather footing that is approximately 310-feet x 250-feet, which is one-tenth the size of a typical grass polo field. Four international teams will compete for $100,000 in prize money.
The WEQx Games™ concept and competitions have been approved by the FEI and the USEF Board of Directors with the intent to grow interest in horse sport.
Organizer will assess the final competition schedule and qualifying information based on interest from exhibitors. All Jumping competitions are national classes and as such, entries are restricted by the provisions of FEI General Regulations Article 101 (maximum of four National Federations and/or a maximum of 15 foreign athletes). Entry fees will vary based on prize money of competitions and will not exceed all inclusive $1,250.
Following the response to this expression of interest, the organizer will submit the full details of the WEQX Games™ to the USEF Board of Directors for approval. Details of the competition and qualifying information will be available soon at www.Tryon2018.com/WEQxGames.
Eventers have historically fared pretty well in the Mongol Derby, not because we know the first thing about endurance riding but because as a lot we’re generally tough, scrappy and just psychotic enough to think we can pull it off. Lucinda Green’s niece, Lara Prior-Palmer, won the race in 2013, and several more have found their way to the finish line over the years including (by the skin of my teeth) yours truly.
The 10th annual race, a sort of 1,000-kilometer Hunger Games on horseback, takes place Aug. 5-18 somewhere in Mongolia and will be contested by 45 riders from 13 countries. North America is sending its biggest ever contingent — a whopping 13 riders from the U.S. and two from Canada — and once again there will be a few eventers in the mix.
Let’s break down the American field!
Nicolette Merle-Smith and Ratatouille at Virginia Horse Trials in 2017. Photo by Brant Gamma Photography.
Nickie Merle-Smith, 30, and fiancé Joel Scholz, 44, are racing as a package deal. I sat down with them at the AECs last year and tried to talk them out of it, because I love them, why not just go enjoy a nice Caribbean honeymoon like normal newlyweds?, but they are a hard-headed and adventurous couple which will serve them well on the steppe. Set to get hitched in October, they are dedicating their entire wedding registry to official Mongol Derby charity Cool Earth in support of land conservation. Who needs a bunch of crap from Bed, Bath & Beyond, anyway! Learn more and follow their journey via FB page Married to the Mongol Derby 2018.
Joel Scholz and Sterling at Southern Pines in 2010. Photo by Brant Gamma Photography.
It’s been a hot minute since Joel left a start box but he spends plenty of time in the saddle; Nickie competes at the Intermediate level and is a cross country natural. They are based in Ocala, Florida, training up young homebred sport horses and riding out with hounds on a regular basis all over the country. Nickie’s grandmother told them, “If you can survive the Mongol Derby together, then you must deserve each other.” Awwww!
Just to heap on one more layer of sweetness, racing the Derby had long been a dream of Nickie’s foxhunting father Grosvenor, but since he broke his neck a few years back, it is not to be. So Nickie and Joel are carrying the torch for dad, too.
Jocelyn Pierce and her pony Treya at Loch Moy. Photo by GRC Photo.
Jocelyn Pierce, 31, of Rockville, Maryland, is an eventer and self-described adventure freak as well as an editor at Practical Horseman magazine, where she’ll be chronicling her road to the Derby — check out her first entry here.
Love her bio: “Jocelyn believes her horse-crazy childhood of pool-noodle jousting, crude attempts at skijoring and ill-fated trail rides in search of ice cream cones have aptly prepared her for partnering with the Mongolian horse. She is eager to immerse herself in one of the last surviving nomadic cultures, but a misguided assurance that her time in the concrete jungle as a U.S. letter carrier will parallel Genghis Khan’s ‘pony express’ route may prove problematic.”
I predict the best PH cover story ever! I caught up with Jocelyn at Kentucky and it sounds like she’s doing all the right prep stuff, and bonus points for being outdoorsy and gifted at sitting a buck. You can keep up with Jocelyn’s journey and fundraising efforts via her Derby Facebook page here.
A few others to keep your eye on …
Photo courtesy of Jeannette Lazzaro.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jeannette Lazzaro, 29, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, when she stopped by the EN cross country tailgate party at Kentucky last month. Jeannette grew up riding in Pony Club and eventing, and now works in aviation, but still squeezes horses in — in her spare time she trained a rescue quarter horse. Work took to her to live in Japan last year, so she’s adept at navigating other cultures, and she’s been preparing for the Derby by riding anything she can and “doing lots of squats.” Check out her blog and GoFundMe. Best of luck, Jeannette! Hang in there, Jeannette’s mom!
Maddie Smith in the 2016 Mongol Derby. Photo by Richard Dunwoody/Mongol Derby.
Madison Smith, 28, of San Francisco, California, is a hunter/jumper rider who is taking her second whack at the Derby after a bump on the head and some breaks in 2016. I interviewed her on the Horses in the Morning podcast last year about her sudden “game over” moment:
“The race was going great, the pacing was great, and it was the last leg of the second day, so going from station six to seven,” Maddie explained. “I don’t remember what happened, I think I crashed but I’m not exactly sure. When I came to, woke up, the doctor had already come — I’d pushed my SOS button (which sends an emergency signal from the riders’ tracking device), although I don’t remember pushing it. I had an IV in my arm, they’d taken my shirt off, my helmet was to the side. And my horse was there, which was cool because my horse didn’t run away. I’d thrown up on myself. It was kind of surreal.”
The “adventure ambulance,” as she called it, drove her five hours through the night back to Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, where she was treated at the hospital. Maddie says it was a bummer to drop out of the race so early in the game but, on the bright side: “It was nice that I didn’t have to be airlifted.”
Every day that you don’t end up in a medevac during the Derby is a good day, I guess. And she’s been training every day for the past year for her rematch. Go get ’em, Maddie! Check out her GoFundMe here.
Devan Horn in the 2015 Mongol Derby. Photo by Saskia Marloh/Mongol Derby.
My money is on Devan Horn, 24, of Houston, Texas, who is contesting her third Derby after very nearly winning it in 2013 (she crossed the finish line first but her horse’s heart rate was slow to go down) and then falling violently ill (read: her kidneys were shutting down) during the 2015 race. Still the fastest ever competitor, this will be her fifth ride over 500 miles, and physically she’s in top form — she ran (not rode, RAN ON HER OWN TWO FEET) a 100-mile ultra-marathon in February … I can’t even.
Devan was my Derby mentor, and she has been so generous in sharing her experiences and knowledge with other competitors. Such an ambassador for the sport, and an inspirational human being overall. I would not have made it through the Derby without her guidance and support (or at least not with my calves intact — fenders not stirrup leathers, people!) and I can’t wait to cheer her on to the win this year! Third time’s a charm, girl.
Other North American bios:
Tamara Beckstead, 54, Rockwood, Canada
A small animal vet who feels most alive atop a horse. Eventing has earned Tamara the nickname “Teflon Girl” by her coach. Hunting satisfies her thrill of speed; Dressage, her desire for beauty and perfection; and Side Saddle got her and her horse, Modesty, onto a movie set. She looks forward to the Derby providing an escape from her current reality and was inspired to take this adventure by the Doris Day song “Enjoy Yourself” (look it up and sing along!).
Carol Federighi, 58, Takoma Park, Maryland, USA
Government lawyer, endurance rider, Ride and Tie competitor (whatever that is?!). Always wondered if she could ride the day after a 100-mile ride, now she will find out. Convinced a friend to sign up, will also find out how far the friendship goes …. “Looking forward to the wide-open spaces, the gutsy horses, and living by my wits rather than my phone”.
Heather ‘Flash’ Accardo, 37, Prairieville, Louisiana, USA
“My mom always made sure I had a horse to ride while growing up — for that I am eternally grateful.” Flash grew up showing Arabs in every event possible and now endurance is her love. Her motto in life is: “If you want something bad enough you’ll find a way, otherwise you’ll make an excuse.” She has been blogging her preparations on Facebook at Flash’s Journey To The Derby and is raising money for her charity Heroes and Horses.
Michael Gascon, 28, Poplarville, Mississippi, USA
Fifth generation horse trainer who has dedicated his life to the way of the horse. “Ready to go on an adventure for the ages!!”
Matthew Graham, USA
Mechanical engineer, yoga teacher, freelance outdoors and adventure writer. Hang glider pilot, paraglider pilot, SCUBA diver, rock climber, skier, sailor, paddler and cyclist. Started riding horses 25 years ago because it was his wife’s favourite sport. They rode together in fox chases, played polo together for over a decade and took equestrian vacations throughout Europe. He then tragically lost her in a freak hang gliding accident two years ago. Is “competing in this race in honour of her and her love of horses and her spirit of adventure.”
Dori Hertel, 48, Kingwood, Texas, USA
Vet for 23 years. Done mainly what she calls “pleasure adventure” riding including endurance and polo. Owns and breeds quarter horses.
Pamela Karner, 64, Ithaca, New York, USA
Recently retired large animal veterinarian. Has practiced for over 30 years in Ithaca, New York. Is an endurance rider, veterinarian and ride manager in both the US and more recently in Australia as well. “I have felt drawn to Mongolia since I was a little girl AND I thrive on challenges! I can’t think of a better way to satisfy both of those than racing across the steppes. I wake up every morning ridiculously excited and equally frightened by the upcoming race. I don’t feel 64 but ask me that after the race!”
Kelsey Opstad, 27, Anchorage, Alaska, USA
A commercial fishing captain and paramedic who grew up showing dressage, but has since found a love of travel and other sports (backcountry snowboarding, speedflying, snowmachining, paragliding, biking, climbing). The Derby is “an opportunity for me to immerse myself in horseback riding once again, and a challenge to combine riding skills with those of navigation and survival. I wanted a reason to bring horses back into my life in a big way, and this was the one which excited me most.”
Kelsey Riley, 29, Lexington, Kentucky, USA (Canadian)
Having not ridden a horse for two years prior to applying, Kelsey decided the Mongol Derby would be a good excuse to get back in the saddle (no, seriously). After she was, shockingly, actually accepted to participate, Kelsey has discovered that (thankfully) she has not forgotten how to ride. A rigorous training schedule should hopefully see her ship-shape in August. She is an editor of the Thoroughbred Daily News, and is riding to raise money for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances Program at the Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, KY.
Christine Roberts, 29, Dallas, Pennsylvania, USA
Growing up with three brothers on a farm in Colorado did not cultivate a weak person. Instead it created an independent, tough-as-nails woman who enjoys martial arts, competitive shooting, travel, and horses. Christine has been riding since in the womb and has never been without a horse. She grew up riding in Competitive Trail and made the switch to Endurance Racing in 2007. Easy going yet highly competitive, she cannot wait to breathe in the Mongolian air on the back of a galloping horse taking on the Derby!
May the good lord have mercy on all their souls. Go Eventing!
I don’t care if Monday’s blue / Tuesday’s gray and Wednesday too / Thursday I don’t care about you … we eventers live for the weekend, and Mondays can be extra tough especially if we’re coming off an event or other fun outing.
What a busy weekend! In addition to Jersey Fresh (see EN’s coverage here), we saw a second FEI event at Texas Rose Horse Park H.T., which offered CIC2* and CCI1* divisions, plus a slew of USEA horse trials around the country:
First up, some special shout-outs!
Four riders at four different events came home double-fisting blue ribbons. The winningest riders in the country this weekend: At WindRidge, Laine Asher won both the Prelim and Training divisions; at Plantation Field, Lauren Chumley topped Open Training B and Training Rider; at Winona, Madeline Bletzacker won Novice A and B; at Spokane Sport Horse, Kelsey Horn won Open Novice and Open Beginner Novice.
The lowest finishing score of the weekend in the country went to Gabriella Ringer and Get Wild, who won the Junior Novice Rider division at Galway Downs on a score of 20.2.
Open Intermediate: Daniel Clasing & MW Gangster’s Game (32.6)
Junior Young Riders Open Preliminary: Rachel Ziemann & Highland Storm (46.0)
Open Preliminary: Sydney Solomon & Qui Luma (34.4)
Preliminary Rider: Janelle Phaneuf & Strattonstown Lewis (28.0)
Junior Open Training: Lakyn Harlow & Gunnar (35.4)
Open Training A: Ryan Wood & Ben Nevis (34.1)
Open Training B: Lauren Chumley & Atlanta B (29.5)
Training Rider: Lauren Chumley & Nikolas (31.7)
Junior Open Novice: Lucy Arnold & Lapin Rouge (31.2)
Novice Rider: Cindi Cauffman & Lamondale Florinia (23.3)
Open Novice: Janelle Phaneuf & Carrowgar Cannagh Hugo (27.9)
Beginner Novice Rider: Holly Morey & Nikita (30.2)
Junior Open Beginner Novice Rider: Cayla Rubin & Celtic Lass (29.7)
Open Beginner Novice: Skyler Decker & Excel Star Eminem m2s (29.7)
Plantation also ran a Starter H.T. on Sunday with Elementary through Training divisions — check out those results here. Love this post from a proud daughter — happy birthday, happy Mother’s Day, and congrats on your blue ribbon, Anne Luke! Anne won her division of Elementary Rider A on an impressive score of 18.8 with her horse Seaweed.
“Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” Whoever made up that quote clearly did not have horses, because most of our problems are just plain problems — I can think of zero upsides to my horse’s latest injury, dumpster fire dressage test or assorted catastrophic event. But a few problems, I suppose, do have solutions that are entertaining or DIY genius enough to post to Instagram. Enjoy!
Badminton may have had the international spotlight this weekend, but the feel-good three-day event of the year was unfolding elsewhere, at Southern 8ths Farm in Chesterfield, South Carolina. The facility hosted the eighth annual Heart of the Carolinas Three-Day Event & Horse Trials, the only event offering riders the chance to contest a USEA recognized traditional long-format event at all four levels of Beginner Novice, Novice, Training and Preliminary.
Join us in issuing a job well done to the event’s hardworking organizers, a big thank-you to sponsors and volunteers, and a hearty congrats to competitors. A great time was had by all at this destination three-day — consider putting Heart of the Carolinas on your event calendar next year!
One shout-out, and then we’ll move on to a roll call of event winners. The honor of lowest finishing score in the country this weekend goes to Conor Rollins and On Target, who scored a 24.8 in Open Novice at Heart of the Carolinas. Way to go, Conor!
Beginner Novice Three-Day: Brenda Hutton & WYO Dun Maid (27.7)
Novice Three-Day: Audrey Wiggins & Spookhill At Last (28.5)
Preliminary Three-Day: Jodie Potts & Wapiti Byrd (41.0)
Training Three-Day: Mary Clare & Furl the Main (33.7)
Open Preliminary: Danielle Dichting Busbee & Fernhill Allure (28.5)
Modified: Emma Reid & Love Like Crazy (35.5.)
Open Training: Paytin Schaeffer & Fernhill Tito (29.5)
Preliminary/Training: Dana Cooke & Master the Moment (34.4)
Open Novice: Conor Rollins & On Target (24.8)
Open Beginner Novice: Chelsea Kang & Daffy Doozies (28.9)
Saturday Open Advanced CT: Lindsay Kelley & Cooley Cruise Control (40.9)
Saturday Open Intermediate: Boyd Martin & Contessa (35.7)
Saturday Jr/YR Open Preliminary: Joe Bowersox & Minotaure du Passoir (45.4)
Saturday Open Preliminary A: Chris Talley & Faramund (30.2)
Saturday Open Preliminary B: Boyd Martin & Ringo Star (31.1)
Sunday Open Preliminary: Nora Battig-Leamer & Little Miss (35.2)
Saturday Open Modified: Kristen Gray & Corsen SR (36.4)
Sunday Open Modified: Cindy Anderson-Blank & Wahoo Legal (34.1)
Saturday Jr/YR Open Training: Katelyn Duda & More Ways Than One (33.1)
Saturday Open Training A: Mackenzie Williams & Get Serious (29.5)
Saturday Open Training B: Kim Severson & Exclusively Cooley (33.3)
Sunday Jr/YR Open Training: Delaney O’Neil & An Irish Blessing (27.6)
Sunday Open Training A: Michael Pendleton & Espri Fidele (33.3)
Sunday Open Training B: Emily Beshear & Templewood (30.2)
Saturday Open Novice: Holly McEwen & Cool Jack (36.4)
Sunday Open Jr/YR Novice: Meredith Chance & Bell Of The Ball (31.9)
Sunday Open Novice A: Lindsay Kelley & Cooley Romance (32.4)
Sunday Open Novice B: Susan Gallagher & Chacco Chip (31.2)
Sunday Jr/YR Open BN: Christina Welch & We Will (31.3)
Sunday Open BN: Noa Crowley & Charlie’s Angel (32.4)
Leah Lang-Gluscic thanked the Pony Clubbers for volunteering and let them give AP Prime a pat after his dressage test. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.
Everyone got their start in eventing somewhere, but nearly half of all the competitors at this year’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day event got their start in Pony Club.
Name, Rating, Pony Club
Andrea Baxter, A, Black Oaks Pony Club
Hawley Bennett-Awad, Groe and Langley Pony Club (Canadian Pony Club)
Tim Bourke, A, Clew Bay Pony Club (Irish Pony Club)
Buck Davidson, UR, Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds Pony Club
Ellen Doughty-Hume, A, Trinity Hills II Pony Club
Phillip Dutton, A, Nyngan Pony Club, New South Wales (Pony Club Australia)
Savannah Fulton, D-2, Full Moon Far Pony Club Riding Center
Lillian Heard, B, Seneca Valley Pony Club
Ashley Johnson, A, Amwell Valley Hounds Pony Club
Alexandra Knowles, A, Sierra Gold Pony Club
Marilyn Little, Frederick Pony Club
Elinor MacPhail O’Neal, C-2, Hunter Run Pony Club
Boyd Martin, Forest Hills Pony Club, New South Wales (Pony Club Australia)
Jennifer McFall, C-3, Sierra Gold Pony Club
Joe Meyer, Wainuioru Pony Club (The New Zealand Pony Club)
Colleen Rutledge, A, Frederick Pony Club
Kim Severson, B, Diamondback Pony Club
Erin Sylvester, C-2, North River Pony Club
Lynn Symansky, A, Difficult Run Pony Club
Ellen Doughty-Hume wore her alumni pin throughout the event. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Pony Club alumni are everywhere. They walk among us, disguised as humans, identifiable by their superhuman bandaging skills, freak knowledge of obscure equine trivia and legendary horse management neuroses. Not sure if you’re in the presence of an alum? Hang a water bucket in front of them with the snaps facing outward. If they start twitching, they’re in the Club. As this USPC Blog blog post puts it: “Regardless of your level or how many years you spent in the organization; once a Pony Club Member, always a Pony Club Member!”
Not every Pony Club grad goes on to become a four-star rider, but the organization is known for instilling within its membership a number of healthy, hard-won qualities: discipline, work ethic, focus, drive and myriad other character traits that contribute to a lifetime of success in the equestrian realm and beyond.
The USPC’s Pin Promise campaign makes it a little easier to give credit where credit is due. Launched in 2012 and Macy Carman, former Chair of Pony Club’s National Youth Board, it’s an initiative encouraging members, volunteers and alumni to wear their Pony Club pins outside of USPC affiliated functions, mirroring the impact that Pony Club has had on many members’ lives.
When you wear your pin, you are reminding others that Pony Club is one stepping stone to success in the equestrian community. Wearing your pin can inspire a D3 Pony Club Member watching at a local jumper show, or the thousands watching a former Pony Club member gallop by at Kentucky.
Chinch stopped by the Stop by the United States Pony Club booth in the Sponsor Village to sign the Pin Pledge banner. Photo by Leslie Wylie.
The Pin Promise was one of many irons Pony Club had in the fire at this year’s event. There were Keeneland Pony Club Quadrille and Pas de Deux demonstrations in the Walnut Ring, a Shapley’s grooming demo and autograph signing with Emma Ford in the Pony Club boot, and member-only course walks with designers Guilherme Jorge for the CSI3* Grand Prix course and with Richard Jeffery (a Pony Club grad!) for the CCI4*.
There was a Celebrity Games Challenge, and the annual Prince Philip Cup Games were fierce as usual! The four teams were the MidSouth Region Picks, Sunshine Region Butterfingers, Sunshine Region Yellow Jackets and an Eastern Pennsylvania/Old Dominion/Tri-State Region Mix Team called Switch Blade. 2018 marks the competition’s 18th consecutive year it has been hosted during Kentucky.
We were happy to meet the two recipients of the 2018 USPC Media Internship, who joined two returning interns for this year’s event. The crew: Brynn Hawley (Delaware PC), Isabel Brunker (Keeneland PC), Allison Bailey (Delaware PC), and Kaila McCormack (Metamora Hunt II PC). During a tour of the media center, we interviewed THEM about their internship experience — sounds like it’s been a fun and educational one!
Learn more about USPC by visiting the website here. Go Pony Club. Go Eventing!
Roaming amid the various tailgate setups on cross country day at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, you encounter a lot of impressive setups — fancy to-dos tricked out with bloody mary bars, tiny snacks on toothpicks, and ornamental shrubbery, inhabited by classy-looking people in interesting hats.
The EN tailgate, presented by Amerigo, is … something else.
“The decor aesthetic we’re going for is ‘chinchilla acid trip nightmare,'” I chirped to the crew of volunteers who showed up early to help set up, preferably with mimosas in hand. And they delivered: from a few cardboard boxes full of random red-white-and-blue crap from Party City emerged a sprawling wonderland of eventing insanity.
Its centerpiece: Chinch himself, roaming free against a backdrop of fluttering selfies. This photographic memoir told the story of a life well lived, filled with globe-trotting adventure and four-star friends.
Photo by Leslie Wylie.
Fans visited him throughout the day, passing him around and posing with him for photos.
Photo by Leslie Wylie.
Photo by Leslie Wylie.
Photo by Leslie Wylie.
At some point during the day, another random stuffed animal friend showed up:
Notice the guy getting an EN temporary tattoo tramp stamp in the background. Photo by Leslie Wylie.
Around here you just never know what’s going to happen next!
This year’s tailgate featured a signature cocktail, a spiked lavender lemonade featuring vodka from Prohibition Distillery in Roscoe, New York.
Photo by Leslie Wylie.
We also gave away swag, including EN sunglasses and W.W.MJ.D. bracelets — which we may have to change to W.W.OT.D. for next year’s event.
Many thanks to all the EN friends and family who stopped by, to our volunteers (especially chief chinchilla wrangler and hostess-with-the-mostest Courtney Paige Tiedt), and to our fabulous sponsor Amerigo.
We may have been overlooked for the official Land Rover Best Tailgate award, but if there was an award for Most Insane Tailgate, we’d have it on lock.
Photo by Janer Oxenden.
Red on right, white on left, insanity in the middle. Now more than ever, Go Eventing!
Originally published on EN in 2012, this essay’s relevance has remained intact over the years. On the eve of this year’s event, we thought it appropriate to re-share as a reminder that this collective experience we know as Kentucky is much bigger, and more complex, than we sometimes give it credit for.
Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos on course at Kentucky in 2011. Photo by Leslie Wylie.
Some people believe there are spiritual vortexes scattered around the world, energetic super-centers so powerful that you can practically feel the stuff circulating in the air. Mystics and metaphysicists flock to them — Stonehenge, the Giza pyramids, ancient Inca ruins — hoping to catch a whiff of the divine.
I don’t know how much I buy into that crystal visions claptrap, but I do think there’s something to the idea of a place retaining its history in mysterious ways. The Kentucky Horse Park, in particular, is a plot of earth that I’ve always sensed had more going on than meets the eye. There’s a magic to it, and it’s more than just the pastoral combination of majestic oak trees, plush bluegrass and pristine rural air. Rather, it’s layers upon layers of emotion, saturating the soil and rustling through the leaves.
The poetry of a flawlessly executed dressage test, the cheer of a crowd gathered round the Head of the Lake, the thunder of a victory gallop — that energy lingers in the air long after everyone has packed up and gone home. But the source of the Park’s magic is more multidimensional than that.
On Jimmy Wofford’s cross country walk at WEG in 2010, he told the crowd that there was a dandelion on the course for every heart broken at the Park. I remember looking down, seeing a patch of the weed’s sharply scalloped leaves, and wondering in earnest whose tears had fertilized them.
I’m sure I’ve got a few dandelions out there myself, not from the four-star, but from other Horse Park events that felt equivalently serious at the time. When you’re 13 and you’ve saved your $4-an-hour stall mucking wages all summer to compete at some event, only to have your pony jump out of the dressage ring … dandelion. When you’re 17 and your horse hangs a leg in the water complex at Pony Club championships and you feel like you’ve let down your entire team … dandelion. When you’re 29 and you pull up halfway around the course with the sinking realization that you’re simply not prepared … dandelion.
I could go on and on, and I’m sure some of you could, too. Certainly these moments weren’t the end of the world, but perspective is a function of the mind, not the heart.
This weekend there are going to be riders who don’t make it around the course. They’ll make the same long walk back to the barn that so many have before them, replaying a split second over and over again in their minds, trying to figure out what went wrong. Some of them will get a leg up on their next ride or have the opportunity try again next year. Others might not get a second chance.
If you’re at Kentucky this weekend, take a quiet moment at some point to look around you. Acknowledge the dandelions and the horses and riders who planted them there. Remember that it’s all connected. Without attempt, and the risk of failure that goes with it, there can be no glory. The hit and the miss both begin with a leap.