The Fair Hill International guest blogging series presented by SmartPak gave riders who are entered to compete at FHI the opportunity to tell their tale and lay all their hard work on the table prior to the event. Katie Ruppel and her mount Sir Donovan (“Don”) will compete in the CCI*** this year.
Here I am, sitting with a glass of wine not fully believing that I have just entered my third Fair Hill CCI3*. I am at the ripe old age of 25 and it is my last year for the National Under 25 Championships, with my “old” campaigner Sir Donovan who is nearing senior citizen status at the age of 10. Will have to remember to pack our walkers and hover-rounds. And umbrellas. And parkas… oh dear.
Don took us both around our first Fair Hill when he was 7, I was too young and dumb to realize how exceptional a feat that was. It was also the monsoon year, Noah’s Ark could have gotten around faster than we did. I think Don loved it, being from Ireland, he probably felt right at home in the mud and muck. Nonetheless, we jumped an amazing clear round, and 3 years later I like to think I am less young and dumb and able to give it a better shot this time around.
Our second year we did Fair Hill, in 2010, again we jumped clear cross country and improved our effort by finishing 4th in the Under 25 Championship and 7th in the Owner/Rider Championship. That year the going was much better and I wasn’t soaked to the bone every day.
Don and I took a year off from Fair Hill in 2011 and decided to try Galway CCI3* where we jumped double clear around cross country and finished 12th. We had an amazing trip, it was a fabulous event and being in wine country wasn’t too shabby either.
I had not originally planned on entering Don in Fair Hill or any fall 3* for that matter. After a long post-Olympics talk with my coach, Jon Holling, I’ve made the mature decision to move on from Don, to purchase younger horses. It was a bit crushing, like when I was a little kid and I thought my Shetland pony Woody was going to be the next Winsome Adante. I am beyond fortunate that I have another fantastic young Advanced horse waiting in the wings, so it became a matter of which one do I need to sell to further my riding career. I had figured I would spend the late summer and fall at my farm in Ocala and just keep on keeping on….
All it took was one crisp fall day. I think event riders can measure their seasons by “Kentucky” and “Fair Hill” and once the weather turns, you just feel it.. and that one day it felt like Fair Hill. I could close my eyes and see the red and yellow trees, the colors of autumn in Maryland. Suddenly I had the taste of crab bisque in my mouth. I immediately remembered where my sweaters were packed and my internal GPS hit the coordinates for Elkton. It was all over for me and before I knew it I had pressed the “send” button with my entry.
Katie and Don at the jog at Rolex this past year
This year at Fair Hill is bittersweet for me, as it will likely be my last major international event with Don. He is an amazing cross country machine and I would like nothing more than for him to do for someone else what he has done for me. He gave me confidence, gave me experience, gave me everything. Here we are, Don and I, feeling old at 25 and 10, but so much has happened to us between our first Fair Hill and now. We’ve hit every 3* in the country, conquered the Wild West together, twice (we did go to Montana, too!). We ate Poutine at Bromont and did the Dirty Jerz in style by finishing 4th. We’ve been Forked 3 times and we’ve eaten more corn cobs than I care to admit at Richland. That’s just scratching the surface, Don and I have done it all, it just seems fitting that we end up right back where we started… Fair Hill.
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