Jennie Brannigan and Nina Gardner’s Cambalda delivered the best three-star test of their career in the late afternoon sun here at the Land Rover Great Meadow International to win the CIC3* dressage on a score 39.8. “Ping,” a 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, is arguably the most consistent three-star in horse in the country right now, averaging a third-place finish and a 100 percent completion rate at CIC3* events.
Though Ping has hit the low 40s a number of times — with his previous best score being a 42.6 at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International CCI3* in 2013 — Jennie said after the test that she had wondered if he would ever break the 30s. “I usually am scared to ever comment on anything until you get a score, but for me I was really excited leaving the ring. I had a feeling that I just felt like he was going well and was accurate and good. … I was pretty thrilled with that — over the moon,” Jennie said.
“He’s not a huge mover, so you have to be really accurate and keep his neck out, which is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I don’t think he’s a horse you necessarily watch go and say, Wow, he’s got this huge step,’ but he’s consistent, and I have a great partnership with him. I’ve had that horse for a long time. It’s a joy to get to ride him, and I know him like the back of my hand now. He’s got good changes and a great canter, so I think that’s his saving grace.
We’ve predicted Jennie and Ping to finish second at this event, but after throwing down a test like that, they’re one step closer to the trophy. Keep in mind that this pair is in the running to travel to Toronto as the alternates for the U.S. Pan American Games team; they’ve also received a Land Rover Competition Grant to compete at the inaugural Rebecca Farm CCI3*, so their schedule post-Great Meadow is a bit up in the air.
Fan favorite Ballynoe Castle RM gave his usual, workmanlike performance with Buck Davidson in the irons to put him in second place on a score of 40.8 with Carl and Cassie Segal’s 15-year-old Irish gelding. Buck is just home from the UK after coaching his longtime student and USEF Eventing 25 rider Caroline Martin in the Under 25 CCI3* division at Bramham, and Buck and Reggie are another pair very much in the hunt coming off the first CCI3* win of the horse’s career last month at Jersey Fresh.
Buck said after the test that Phillip Dutton had joked that perhaps he should stay away more often, as his absence didn’t seem to affect Reggie’s preparation for the test at all. With his hardworking team and wife Andrea Davidson holding down the fort while he’s been across the pond, Buck said Reggie didn’t miss a beat: “I just have to sit there and point him. He was really good today. I feel like I’m starting to do a better job of riding him in the ring.”
U.S. Pan American Games team alternate Mai Baum is contesting his first CIC3* this weekend, and he put in a super test with Tamie Smith to sit in third place on 41.1. The 9-year-old German Sport Horse gelding owned by Ellen and Alex Ahearn moved up to Advanced this spring, and the fact that he’s still green to the level perhaps showed a bit when he had some minor spooks by R and in the corner between C and H during his canter tour. He’s so impressive on the flat that he easily overcame those little bobbles.
Donner showed once again how much he loves this venue, delivering a lovely test with Lynn Symansky to score 42.8 for fourth place. The 12-year-old off-track Thoroughbred gelding put in one of the best tests of his career here during last year’s World Equestrian Games prep trials, so he definitely has an affinity for Great Meadow. Perhaps he likes to stay close to home, as Lynn’s homebase of Handlen Farm is just 20 minutes away, and he was also bred in Middleburg at Dresden Farm.
Michael Pollard and Carl Bouckaert’s Cyrano, a 14-year-old Zangersheide gelding, round out the top five on 47.3 after having the unfortunate luck of completing the final third of their test in an absolute downpour. A huge storm cell complete with dramatic thunder and lightning is currently rolling through The Plains, and we’re under a 30-minute rain delay for the start of the Pan American Games prep trials division.
Buck Davidson has a second horse in the top 10 with Caroline and Sherrie Martin’s Petite Flower in sixth place on 49.0 in the mare’s first competition back since completing her first four-star at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Michael Pollard also has another ride in the top 10, with the Phoenix Syndicate’s Ballingowan Pizazz sitting on the bubble on a score of 51.2; Mango finished sixth in first CCI3* completion last month at Jersey Fresh.
Sydney Conley Elliot picked a good day to have the nicest test of her entire career, scoring 49.6 with Carol Stephen’s Cisko A to best their three-star score from The Fork by about six points; that puts them in seventh place after dressage in very good company. The 9-year-old Westphalian gelding seemed to really enjoy being in this atmosphere and rose to the occasion in the little white box — a very good test from these two.
Despite the storm, everyone is having a great time here at Great Meadow — from the patrons and owners who are enjoying the Sip ‘N Shop in the Vendor Village to the journalists who have a fantastic press box and equally wonderful media tent manned by none other than Captain Rolex himself Marty Bauman and the fabulous Ann Haller.
There’s much more to come from #LandRoverGMI, including comments from the three-star leaders once we hold a press conference later tonight. (I tried to called Jennie for comments and the call wouldn’t even go through. The Middleburg area is not on the map for its surplus of cell towers.) We’ll also have a full recap of the Pan Ams prep trials division, which will kick off with Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Cubalawn at 8:30 p.m. EST.
Kudos to the entire Great Meadow team for a super first day here at this inaugural CIC3*. We’d like to give a special shout out to Bobby Hilton, who has managed the grounds crew here at Great Meadow for 30 years. It’s because of dedicated people like him that we have fantastic footing for these horses to gallop across on Sunday. If you haven’t checked out the course yet, don’t miss the preview here. Go Eventing.