Holly Payne Caravella and Bruisyard Hall are turning heads in the horse’s CCI2* debut at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event, sitting in second place after dressage on a score of 46.3.
The 9-year-old off-track Thoroughbred gelding is holding his own in a sea of warmbloods at the top of the leaderboard, which is all the more impressive when you consider he was only competing at Training level a year ago.
Holly’s good friend Shelby Godfrey, who owns the horse, bought him in California in 2014 after he had been off the track for about a year. “Bruges” raced 17 times under the Jockey Club name Inbetweenthesheets (Sought After – The Borg Queen, by Fruition).
He completed one event at Training level at Woodside with Shelby before she relocated to the East Coast and bought Old Fox Farm in Gladstone, New Jersey, where Holly is now based. Shortly after making the move, Shelby found out she and her husband were expecting a child, so Holly took over the ride during the pregnancy.
“Originally the plan was that Shelby would take him back now that she’s had her baby and is back to riding, but she decided to let me keep him,” Holly said. “She’s really supportive, and I’m excited to keep going with him.”
Bruges is proving he’s an exciting horse for the future, quickly cruising through the levels since Holly took over the ride. She rode him in three Training level events before moving him up to Preliminary at Stuart last July, and then he completed his first CIC* at Richland.
Holly has strategically worked her way through the levels with Bruges, going slow the majority of the time on cross country in order to “make sure the control and rideability is there,” she explained.
Holly let off the brakes a bit for cross country at Bruges’ first CCI* at Virginia last fall, where he easily made the time and went clear in show jumping to finish eighth on his dressage score of 47.0.
She then kept him in check at his first two Intermediate starts at Pine Top and Carolina International CIC2* before opening him up at The Fork, where he had 5.6 time penalties on cross country to finish second in his Intermediate division on 33.7.
“At The Fork he was ready to be competitive, so I let him run more there. Now this weekend I’ll find out if he’s ready to be competitive in a two-star. I want to make sure I have enough control to get him back for combinations, and I have to make sure he’s rideable,” Holly said.
“He wanted to bolt at the jumps at first, so we had to work a lot in the last year to keep him quiet, round and soft. Even at Training level I still had time penalties on him; we just went really slow until he got it. Now he’s to the point where I can say, ‘Go have fun now. You figured it out.'”
Holly has also worked on improving his shape over fences, and show jumping is still a bit of a work in progress. He jumped clear in his Intermediate division at The Fork, his last event in preparation for Jersey Fresh, and Holly is hoping to replicate that performance this weekend.
“He’s still figuring out his body and his shape in the air,” Holly said. “He’s a bit bigger than my other two horses and can be a bit gangly at time.”
Bruges is the third upper-level Thoroughbred to join Holly’s string of top horses. She completed Rolex last month with Bethann Groblewski’s Santino (“Sonny”) and also had one of the fastest cross country trips of the event with The Fox Syndicate’s Never OutFoxed (“Fox”).
As for whether Bruges’ personality more closely matches Sonny or Fox, Holly said he’s a mix between the two. “Sonny and Fox are total opposites. I love them both for different reasons, and Bruges has a little bit of both horses, which is great because I always wanted to mix them together,” Holly said.
“He’s got a pretty level head and is a little quieter than Fox, but he’s a bit more sensitive and a bit more reactive than Sonny. He’s super athletic and super game. He definitely can be a little more tricky at times just because he’s green and a little sensitive.”
Bruges is also best friends with Fox. “He’s a little insecure, and he looks up to Fox. You don’t think of Fox as having a calming influence on other horses, but he really does for Bruges. If Bruges isn’t turned out in a field near Fox or stabled next to him, he worries. As long as they’re side by side, he’s calm.”
Holly’s plan is to to target more Intermediate horse trials with Bruges through the summer and aim for the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International CCI2* in the fall. If all goes well, she’s hoping to move him up to Advanced next spring.
“Just in the past year he’s built so much strength, and we need to keep building on that. He’s a horse that is easy to move along because he’s athletic, and he also has the advantage of training alongside Sonny and Fox and schooling a lot of the same exercises as them. He’s been so good through it all,” Holly said.
“He’s a really smart horse, which is a big part of why he’s moved up pretty quickly. He’s got a lot of ability. The brain is so important, and he has that, plus a good work ethic. He also has a good gallop, which is what you need for the cross country at this level. I think the course here will be good for him since it’s open and gallopy. The goal is to make the time.”
We’re wishing Holly and Bruges the very best of luck as we look ahead to cross country tomorrow. Click here to see a preview of John Williams’ cross country course, and click here to catch up on all of EN’s #JerseyFreshIntl coverage so far. Go Eventing.