Jennie Brannigan and Tim and Nina Gardner’s Cambalda keep bringing home these emotional wins. With “Ping” looking on his toes across Mike Etherington-Smith’s brand new cross country course at the $30,000 Land Rover Great Meadow International, Jennie and her longtime partner delivered a clear trip with 8 time penalties to win the inaugural CIC3* on a score of 47.4.
Numbers don’t lie — Jennie and Ping are the most consistent three-star combination in the country — but it’s not like you can pull three-star wins out of a hat. And the past nine months haven’t exactly been a walk in the park for Jennie and her team.
After winning the National CCI3* Championship at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International last fall, it seemed like stars were finally aligning. Then the USEF High Performance Winter/Spring Training Lists were released a few weeks later, with Jennie and Ping’s names notably absent.
The rollercoaster continued as they finished third in the Red Hills CIC3* and won The Fork CIC3* this past spring, finally recorded the first CCI4* completion of their careers at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and were unexpectedly named as alternates to the U.S. Pan American Games team.
How do you cope with that mentally? “I came back to Pennsylvania and completely put my mind back to working with my young horses and galloping for Michael (Matz) — which in all honestly completely keeps me sane — and not thinking about it. I support our country; I want the best team to go (to the Pan Ams). I think (the selectors) picked a great team. I think my horse deserves to be on that team, but that does not mean that I don’t think the team they picked is great,” Jennie said.
“I think it does put you in a little bit of an odd position. For me mentally, I backed off of training on Ping. I put one of my younger employees on him to keep him fit, and I trained him very specifically to do certain things on certain days, and I’ve taken the pressure off of him, which has taken the pressure of myself so I could focus on the other amazing things I have going on in my life, and that’s kept me very good mentally going into this.
“When I came here this weekend, I knew I was ready to play this game, but not in a way that made me overly aggressive. I just felt like it’s time. For me with the Pan Ams, it’s got Ping’s name on it. So I just figured I would go out there and show everyone what he is, which is a consistent player. You can’t fault him in his three-star record.
“I completely see where (the selectors) are coming from — they want to see me step up to the plate and be the real deal, and I plan to. I have a pipeline of horses coming, and I love producing my own horses. That’s very important to me. And I will continue to try to do the best job I can on every horse I have in my barn and produce them to the highest level I can.”
Tim and Nina Gardner, Jennie’s longtime supporters and owners of Cambalda, also play a big role in her story. “I don’t think you could get better owners. It’s emotional to talk about them because they prove that you can still make it and not have a bunch of money,” Jennie said. “They’re special; I wouldn’t be anything without them. I’m just lucky. I think God, or whoever, put them in my life for a reason, and I want to do them proud.”
So what’s next for Jennie and Ping after their second CIC3* win of the season? The horse was vetted this afternoon along with the other alternates, and we are now awaiting the announcement of which combination will serve as the traveling reserve for the U.S. Pan American Games team. At the same time, Jennie and Ping have received a Land Rover Competition Grant to compete at the Rebecca Farm CCI3* next month, and she would also like to use her the free flight she won at Fair Hill to go to Pau.
“I want the horses that got named to the team to go. If I travel, hopefully I learn from that experience, then maybe the horse gets a break and can go to Pau. And if not, we run Rebecca Farm and go from there. At the end of the day, I can’t think of a greater honor that what it would be to represent our country, and I just hope that this is a step to that,” Jennie said.
“If I get the honor of being the first alternate, hopefully it will help me pave the way to being there in the future in another team event. If I ever get a pinque coat, I’ll be crying, because that’s really special to me.”
In looking at the rest of the leaderboard, Lynn Symansky and The Donner Syndicate’s Donner finished second in the CIC3* on a score of 50.4 after jumping clear with 7.6 time penalties. This was The Flying Deer’s first cross country run since completing the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event for a second time in April and his second time jumping on this hallowed turf at Great Meadow, as he ran the World Equestrian Games Prep Trials here last year.
“It was actually pretty cool to run this year compared to last year. I expected the course to ride well, and I trust Mike’s courses. I thought it was a great run for Donner. The footing was fantastic,” Lynn said. “It was a little bit of a tough lead up, as last week I hurt my back, and I actually was unable to ride and really prepare for this week how I would usually work him, so I was just planning to try to get through dressage, but my back was cooperating, so I took it by day, and he stepped up the plate. I couldn’t be happier with him. He felt fantastic.”
After Donner’s good performance today, Lynn said the next step in their season is to wait to see who receives USEF fall grants; applications are due this Friday. “I’m really thinking about the schedule and would like to go to Europe in the fall, likely Burghley, maybe Aachen. It depends on grants. Hopefully I can get a grant to send him overseas,” Lynn said.
“It would be pretty cool to be able to go to Aachen, but I also think he would be an unbelievable Burghley horse. In the meantime, I’ll be giving him some time off and then keep working on the dressage and show jumping and hopefully have an exciting fall over in Europe.”
Colleen Rutledge also had her first run back with her own Covert Rights after Rolex, and he had the fastest time in the division to move up from 12th to third place thanks to jumping clear with just 0.8 time penalties. “He was fantastic. He sees the fences so well now, and he looks for his flags so much better than he did at the beginning of the year,” Colleen said.
“It’s very gratifying for me to have him come out on a course like this and to have him really and truly be looking for his flags and be willing to gallop on. He handled the footing really well, and he was just really happily galloping around the course.”
Colleen is another rider whose fall plans are up in the air pending grant allocations. “I would love to go to Burghley. If the team decides that they’d like me to go to Aachen, that sounds like fun, but it’s not a make or break for me. Burghley is more of my end goal. I’m super happy with him even if we don’t get a grant. For our first run back after Rolex, I’m thrilled with it.”
Mike Etherington-Smith’s course rode well for the most part, with about 70 percent of the CIC3* field jumping clear. Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM, who were sitting in second place after show jumping, picked up an unfortunate technical elimination after the jump judge said they missed a flag at the skinny at 9c at the George Mason Steps and went on to jump the next fence.
The angled brushes at fence 4 caused numerous problems, and the steps at fence 9 also caught out experienced combinations. Justine Dutton fell from Jollybo at the brushes, and Michael Pollard and Cyrano and Maggie Deatrick and Divine Comedy picked up a runout there. Rolex veterans Boyd Martin and Crackerjack picked up 20 jumping penalties at the steps. Sally Cousins and Abecca GS fell at the offset cabins just one fence from home; thankfully both are totally fine.
Looking to the Pan American Games prep trials division, Lauren Kieffer and Marie Le Menestrel’s Meadowbrook’s Scarlett clinched the win after jumping clear with 6 time penalties to finish on a final score of 49.3. Marilyn Little and Raylyn Farms’ and Phoebe and Michael Manders’ RF Scandalous had the fastest time in the class to come home with 4.8 time penalties to finish second on 50.4. Boyd Martin and the Pancho Villa Syndicate’s Pancho Villa round out the top three on 53.9 after jumping clear with 10 time penalties.
We have much more to bring you from #LandRoverGMI, including comments from our U.S. Pan American Games team, U.S. Coach David O’Connor and Great Meadow Foundation President Rob Banner. You can relive all the cross country action in our open thread, and we’ll let you know when the video replay is ready to view on USEF Network.
Click here to catch up on all of EN’s coverage from the Land Rover Great Meadow International. Kudos to Great Meadow and Land Rover for pulling off such a lovely event, and thank you to the volunteers for enduring everything from extreme heat to hurricane-like conditions over the course of the past few days. That’s eventing for you, and it keeps us coming back for more. Thanks to everyone who followed along with our coverage this weekend. Go Eventing.