Saturday at Blenheim brought the promised rain – on and off between steady, pouring and torrential. This made the CCI3* cross country course even tougher, and for the U.S. contingent especially it was a day of real highs and low lows.
We’re thrilled for Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot who blasted round clear and fast to move up to second place overnight behind dressage leaders Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott. Likewise we’re delighted for Holly Payne who moved up into the top ten after another super fast clear round in the wet, this time on Santino, and for Kurt Martin who piloted Delux Z round clear to creep into the top 25. However our hearts are aching for Tamie Smith who pulled up Twizted Syster after some braking and steering issues halfway round, and for Will Faudree who barely got started on Pfun before he retired.
Bettina Hoy coaxed Seigneur Medicott round clear with a handful of time, 8.4, to retain her dressage lead going into the final phase tomorrow. Bettina shared that Micky, as she calls Seigneur Medicott, is a much different ride to her Burghley horse Designer 10.
“He’s very reliant on me. He has a trust in me and he will do it even if he’s insecure and a bit nervous whereas Designer is a completely free spirit and I have to, in certain situations leave it to him and let him do his job. It’s sometimes a bit difficult for me because I really have to forget about last week and think about this week, and giving him a very different ride. Mickey does need the rider at the moment whereas Designer doesn’t. I think he’d do it on his own – he knows where the numbers are and that the red flags have to be on the right and white on the left. He’s so smart!
“I got both of them when they were five year olds and they had only show jumped prior to that which is what I like best. I like to get them early because I do believe at the end of the day we ask these horses to do such a lot for us, and the more they trust us and believe in us the more likely they are to do it in the end.”
Bettina’s training paid off in spades and Seigneur Medicott did do it for her, beautifully. “He was good. It was hard work out there, I have to say. He is still very green at this level. He missed half a year when he was six and he missed half a year when he was eight so he’s more like an 8-year-old than a 10-year-old but he kept going. He kept jumping and he kept galloping and I’m really proud of him.”
“It certainly helped that I’d done Blair and Gatcombe already, he keeps his speed up whether you go uphill or downhill,whether the ground is good or not so good which is great and I guess that’s where all the blood he has comes through. I could feel the crowds and the weather adding to his insecurity a little bit today, but then about halfway around the course I think he realised it was alright and he just got on with it.”
Bettina never comes to Blenheim underestimating the track. “There are enough good questions out there and it’s a perfect stepping stone if you’re thinking of doing a four-star next year. The hills certainly play a big role and I do believe you have to have the horses a lot fitter than you obviously have to have on a flat course. I think Boekelo is a lot, lot easier as a three-star than this.”
Sadly, Seigneur Medicott’s owner has decided to put the horse on the market and so Bettina is actively searching for two additional owners to join a syndicate so she can keep the ride, “It would be a real shame to lose the ride now. I love him. He’s a very special horse. I’m actively trying to put a syndicate together.”
Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot looked fantastic everywhere I saw them, and after she finished she told me he felt pretty wonderful the whole way round. “He started really strong and usually he gets stronger and stronger but this time, by the end, I think because it’s so twisty and turny and has so many downhills, when I said whoa he would start to slow down and listen which is really not like him and really nice! Usually he’ll just keep going but he learned as he went and really listened to me really, really well.
“I didn’t watch anyone go because I went pretty early and I didn’t want to watch anyone else. He’s so powerful through the combinations, he just covers the ground and I can just steer him and he jumps really well. Number 7ABC he covered the two-stride beautifully, no problem. The big water–the two corners I think I did four there but he’s so honest, even if he’s deep he just pats the ground and stays between the flags. The whole round kind of went like that; he was pulling me round and I was just kind of steering him! I think it definitely helps to have something that’s taking you around a course like this and especially on footing like this. He was really good.”
With 5.2 time faults Hannah’s round is one of the fastest of the day, and she said it felt like it. “I was pushing and pulling, it felt like Motocross out there, but I couldn’t be happier!” They are just 5.6 points behind Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott in second place overnight.
Lydia Hannon and My Royal Touch is the best placed British rider in third place after cross country. Lydia, in her twenties, has had the mare since finding her at Tattersalls after she’d done the 1* as a 6-year-old and says they’ve been learning together. “We’ve been at three-star together now for quite a long time and I’m just learning everything on her, and throughout the year we’re getting better and better and better. We didn’t have a happy run at Luhmühlen which is why we made the decision to come and have a really good run here and so far so good. The cross country was great, she gave me a really, really good ride.”
Lydia is fairly local to Blenheim; she only lives 45 minutes away and is excited to be doing so well here. “It’s been building, the mare doesn’t owe me anything. I don’t really know what to say. We came to get a Badminton qualification and anything else is a bonus.”
Holly Payne Caravella had some practice last week at waiting all day in the rain to ride, and it stood her in good stead today. She repeated her Burghley performance, giving Santino a fantastic ride and bringing him home with 9.2 time penalties to finish in 7th place heading into the show jumping.
“I think having ridden round Burghley last week definitely helped me get into the spirit of it. Here with the rain and the mud it didn’t walk terribly intimidating but you definitely had to ride strong and get it done and I think last week inspired me, it got me in that style of riding and was helpful for today.”
“He was really good, he was super. I was a little bit slow. I just lost it at the end. I was on my minutes at the water but that minute through all the water and the corners coming out gets a bit slow there and I couldn’t catch back up but he was super. He was really genuine the whole time. It actually rode really well. I was conservative in a couple of spots because Hannah and Kurt had said it had gotten quite slippery by the coffin and there’s quite a tight turn getting into that so I really took my time there and that was the only place he did slide a little bit, but I think the footing everywhere else held up pretty well.”
“We kept on galloping all the way to the end. I had to help him jumping wise at the end, I felt like that was the only place he got a little tired but he was still full of run, he wanted to keep on going. He’s got an amazing gallop but he’s one that is just a little slower with his footwork at the jumps. He actually wastes time jumping but he’s got a great gallop in between, but it was super. It rode really well. It was raining quite hard when I started off so I couldn’t see very well and I was just focusing on finding my jumps. I had no idea if there was a crowd out there at all!”
Holly tries not to let the fact that she’s in England impact her at all and thinks the events are actually pretty similar to those on the East Coast. “I think it’s pretty much the same. I kind of zone out. I try not to get affected by the crowds and just treat it like I’m just going out for a school!”
Kurt Martin is here on his first trip to England and rose to the occasion, giving Delux Z a strong, positive ride to bring him home clear with 15.6 time, good enough for 25th place at the end of the day.
A delighted Kurt described his round to me: “He was really good at the beginning, not too spooky about the people and that had been my concern. He jumped really well and we were up on our minutes until we crossed the first water and did three strides at the corners. He got a little flat at the top of the hill but he was very honest and he keeps jumping, he gave me such a great feel, he’s got such a great jump so it really gives me a lot of confidence. I think this was a great decision to come here and do a CCI3*, to get me out to see a lot and educate. He’s a great horse for that and I really love him for what he’s doing for me and I really had such a great ride.”
Kurt didn’t think the weather affected Delux Z but perhaps the speed did. “He’s not the fastest horse and I just have to keep at him all the way around. I was a little bit cautious around the turns but I don’t think the crowds affected him this time, and the jumps are never going to be too big for him so it’s awesome.”
Kurt, unlike a lot of event riders, is actually looking forward to tomorrow! “He’s a great show jumper and I enjoy that phase a lot. This was a great feeling and I even had fun out there, for once! As I was spurring and kicking, but I still had fun!”
Unfortunately Tamie Smith had no fun at all on Twizted Syster. Probably going out in this weather without gloves didn’t help but she pulled up about halfway after she lost her brakes and steering, and walked home bitterly disappointed. At this point she wasn’t sure what she’d do next, or quite what went wrong.
“I just couldn’t hang on to my reins. I don’t know. She was great, she was strong but I have to have my reins when she’s strong like that. I probably went a little bit further than I should have but I’m here so…I don’t know, I just have to figure out what reins to use in this weather. I guess it’s better when you have an equipment failure than when you have a horse that won’t jump. Maybe we’ll go to Gatcombe next weekend, I don’t know. I have a lot to think about right now. I’m not going to have her go home to California next week like I was going to because I’m here for a reason, to figure all this out, and to bring my riding to the next level, so I have to chalk this up to inexperience. It’s hard. I’m at Rodney’s (Powell) and he’ll help me, Mark Todd is up the street and he’ll help me. I’ll figure it out.”
“She jumped everything really well, I just couldn’t stop. She’s fit enough though – I wasn’t sure if she was, but I’m pretty sure she is! Maybe I’ll take her to Boekelo or maybe I’ll look at doing something else. She’s always been a difficult horse. It’s so hard because I believe in her, I know she has it, it’s just been hard to figure it all out. I worked with Phillip (Dutton) this spring and that was really helpful but he’s not here, I wish he was. It’s so hard when you come over here and you feel like you let everybody down, because I know she’s capable and I know I am.”
It speaks volumes about Tamie’s strength of character that she not only talked to me so honestly right after such a difficult round, but that she put a brave face on and was back in the finish box an hour later helping to cool out Holly’s horse, along with Kurt Martin, still in his breeches. This, I think, is what will put the USA back on top – real teamwork, and it must have taken real guts on Tamie’s part.
Equally, Will Faudree came back after retiring after two stops at the skinny at part B of fence 4 and was lost for words. “He started out really good and I went to make the turn to the fourth jump and there was a bunch of umbrellas in the crowd, and he’s never looked at stuff like that and he really spooked at those and jumped off my line. I got him into the combination; it was an oxer to a chevron and he jumped the oxer and was just looking off into the crowds and just stuck his head into the air and ran past it and never even really saw it.
“It’s really frustrating because he’s a good cross country horse and he’s never done anything like this. He was going great leading up to it, it’s just bad luck, but it’s frustrating The only good thing is it was early on so I can take him home and do something else with him this autumn, but it’s really disappointing as I think he’s a really top horse and it’s frustrating for this to happen here.”
US Team Coach David O’Connor summed up the day, “Three great rides: Kurt went out and was strong and aggressive and put a great round in. Hannah’s round was class as that horse and rider have shown before, so it’s great for her to be in that position. Both those horses jumped really well. I think Holly put in a really good round too, was pretty quick and for a younger horse I think that was great. Tamie just got in a bunch of trouble with reins and things, and I haven’t had a chance to look at Will’s round yet, he told me he was spooking at the crowds. It’s a tough track but it’s the first time some of these horses are maybe seeing crowds; I think it’s a good event for an experienced nine year old, I wouldn’t bring a horse here for it’s first three star. It’s a good event especially on a rainy day, and I think it’s a good event to bring our horses too for what we need to do.”
Nilson Moreira Da Silva and Muggle didn’t have much of a happier time here at Blenheim than they did at Burghley – they once again elected to retire after some trouble early on.
First out this morning, Andrew Nicholson was the fastest round of the day on Teseo, coming home with 0.4 time despite taking two long routes. There were 42 clear rounds (52%), 16 rounds with 20 penalties, 13 retired and 5 eliminated. There were no horse falls and no one was injured.
It’s been a long, wet day and we’re waiting now for the CIC3* show-jumping to start. An enormous thank you to the riders for chatting as always, and especially to all the volunteers who stood outside in foul weather and were bar none the most cheerful bunch I’ve ever encountered. Props again also to the organisers for the mammoth task of fitting in three enormous divisions, and a special personal thank you to Catherine Austen and Kate Green in the press tent who are making magic happen in the most testing of conditions.