Great Meadow hosted the final prep event for Team USA in the lead up to a major championships for the second year in a row, and once again everyone from the riders to Coach David O’Connor thought the venue provided an ideal last run before the team ships to Toronto for next month’s Pan American Games.
Team USA — Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive, Lauren Kieffer and Meadowbrook’s Scarlett, Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous, and Boyd Martin and Pancho Villa — swept the leaderboard, claiming four of the top five placings in the prep trials and delivering the fastest times in the division.
“It was nice to see that in the Pan Am division the four fastest rides were our four team members, so nobody was holding back,” David O’Connor said after cross country. “They want out to give their horses a good prep, and I thought those four horses really jumped well, so I’m excited about that.”
As for how David thought Mike Etherington-Smith’s CIC3* course worked for the Pan Ams horses (after several modifications were made in combinations): “It was big and it was challenging, so I think it was a great preparation for all the horses. The footing ended up being perfect for the horses. I’m really excited about this venue, not just for this weekend but for the future.”
There were questions as to how the footing would hold up — especially on the recently purchased Fleming Farm side of the property that does not yet have established turf — following Saturday night’s apocalyptic thunderstorms. Lauren Kieffer said after cross country that she thought the course held up well given the conditions, echoing Boyd Martin’s comments.
“The first section of the course was brilliant,” Boyd said, “and I think this new property was seeded not long ago, so it wasn’t quite as established as the first part, but I think by this time next year we’ll be standing on just as good footing.”
Marilyn Little said it was a positive sign that all the horses looked to be in good form coming off the course. “The best indicator is it looked to me like the horses were coming in from the cross country really well,” she said. “(RF Scandalous) was firing coming in, and she left the start box picking off the first three jumps and was ecstatic to be out there. She gave me a great ride.”
Phillip Dutton commended the organizers on the inaugural CIC3* — which Jennie Brannigan and Tim and Nina Gardner’s Cambalda won — and for hosting a second consecutive prep trials: “It was an incredible honor to be here, and I have to congratulate all the people who had a vision to put it on. It was great for the horses, and things are only going to keep getting better.”
A bright future
The future is bright for Great Meadow, as the venue officially broke ground yesterday to start construction on the brand new arenas that will transform the grounds into a world class facility for eventing — and hopefully a site for the first FEI Eventing Nations Cup in the U.S. Rob Banner, president of the Great Meadow Foundation, said the people behind the event have big plans.
It all started when the foundation purchased the 174 acres adjacent to the primary property, which hosts the prestigious Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase races each year, as well as other popular local events like Twilight Jumpers. The goal was to bring eventing back to Great Meadow, which until this past weekend had not hosted an FEI event in 14 years.
“Where we began was a very inauspicious start knowing that the Fleming Farm property was available and that we could and should use it to the best of our ability to honor our mission,” Rob said. “The Great Meadow Foundation’s mission is to preserve open space for equestrian and community service, and we could see that this was an opportunity to do more of the same thing.”
The new 400-by-70-foot warm-up arena and 300-by-250-foot competition ring will be ready for next year’s event, as well as a brand new water complex below the main ring. Construction will begin immediately on the new arenas “that will bring the world to our doorstep,” as Rob put it. “We’ve come so far, and this was just an example of how far we can go, so if anybody is looking for the future, it’s right here at Great Meadow.”
‘Go get the job done’
In the meantime, Team USA is heading off to Toronto. As the team was recognized yesterday in the prize giving at Great Meadow, David O’Connor said, “We couldn’t have had four people represent their country better than these guys, including two new team members with Marilyn and Lauren. So we’re really excited about going up to Canada and winning gold.”
It’s not a secret that Team USA very much wants to win gold in Toronto; every day since the disappointing conclusion of the 2014 World Equestrian Games has been focused on attaining that goal. “I’m excited about the team we’ve got,” Phillip said. “We’re very determined to go to Toronto and bring home a gold medal.”
With U.S. eventing in a growing phase as we look to re-establish our place on the world stage, Lauren said the riders know what they have to do in Canada: “I think all the riders are realistic about how much we have to improve, and everyone is continuing to improve. I think a lot has changed since David has become coach.”
Boyd perhaps summed it up best: “When it comes down to it, you just gotta get the job done. I think the four of us have been picked because when it comes to the crunch, we get it done. You can have the best coach, the best horse and the best training camp, but when there’s five seconds to go in the start box, you have to take a deep breath and go get the job done.”
Go Team USA. Go Great Meadow. Go Eventing.
The EN team would like to thank all the people who helped make the purchase of the Fleming Farm property possible: Mrs. Magalen O. Bryant, Dr. & Mrs. Manuel H. Johnson, Mrs. Jacqueline Mars, Mr. & Mrs. Charles Akre, Jr. Mr. & Mrs. Ronald M. Bradley, Mr. & Mrs. Michael Crane, Mr. & Mrs. Glenn Epstein, Mr. & Mrs. Najaf Husain, Dr. Sheila C. Johnson, Mr. & Mrs. Irvin Naylor, Mrs. Darrin Mollett, Dr. William Ballhaus, The Ohrstrom Foundation, Nina Fout, First Chukker, Mr. & Mrs. Donald DeWees Jr., Mr. & Mrs. Richard J. Dwyer Foundation, Mr. & Mrs. Michael T. Hall, Mr. & Mrs. Benjamin Graham, Lufkin Family Foundation, Mrs. George L Ohrstrom Jr., Ms. Nicole H. Perry, and Mr. Andrew T.C. Stifler.