The competition was far from over with just nine more left to dance in the sandbox following the lunch break here at the $100,000 Land Rover Wellington Eventing Showcase. Four of those remaining horse-and-rider combinations cracked the top 10, giving us a leaderboard shake-up as we look ahead to tomorrow’s finale.
Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous ultimately delivered the best test of the day, scoring 24.9 to take the lead. While we haven’t seen her compete at any horse trials since she won the USEF National CCI3* Championship at Fair Hill last fall, the 12-year-old Oldenburg mare owned by Jacqueline Mars, Phoebe and Michael Manders, and Robin Parsky is in her fourth week of competing in jumpers and dressage at the Winter Equestrian Festival.
The dressage has been a special area of focus since Marilyn started working with a new dressage trainer, Bo Jena, in December. “I thought she might be a bit fresh today, so I was pleasantly surprised with her demeanor. She was as lovely to ride as she always is. The changes were more on the aids, which was a big goal for us. She is a mare, so sometimes in the past I would get a head shake or a buck telling me she was already going to do it without my help.”
Marilyn said she had always planned to target the Wellington Eventing Showcase as part of RF Scandalous’ 2017 competition schedule in preparation for her first four-star. She will compete next at The Fork before going to Germany alongside stablemate RF Demeter for Luhmühlen CCI4*.
“This is such a wonderful venue for us to have to showcase our horses,” Marilyn said. “This time of year is when we’re all working on presentation pieces. This is before we’ve started really going after the fitness and into the meat of the season. This is a time to work on the things on the flat you wish you could do better but sometimes a fit eventer doesn’t let you work on at the end of your season when you wish you could.”
Ryan Wood and Powell also went in the final group of the day, scoring 26.1 to sit in second place at the conclusion of dressage. The 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding bred and owned by Summit Sporthorses didn’t quite hit his personal best of 25.4 we saw at the American Eventing Championships when he was crowned Adequan USEA Gold Cup Champion.
“I’ve had a lot of help from Boyd’s wife (Silva Martin) on the dressage, and it’s a little bit tough at the dinner table when I end up beating him,” Ryan said, to which Boyd added: “It’s a bit weird renting your wife to your friend.”
As for Ryan’s thoughts on Capt. Mark Phillips’ cross country course: “It looks like a challenging course. This is the horse’s first start for the year, so they are going to be eyes popping a little bit. Usually we ease into it a little bit more than throwing them in a competition like this. I have some great schooling places around us in Aiken, and they’ve been out a couple times. There are good questions. Mark has made some changes and accuracy is going to be a factor.”
As the undefeated champion of the Wellington Eventing Showcase, Boyd Martin will look to make it a three-peat tomorrow. Craig and Gloria Callen’s Welcome Shadow, a 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare and one of his self-proclaimed “favorites,” sits in third place after dressage on a personal best score of 26.5.
“She’s starting to feel seasoned in the ring. She’s been at the Advanced level for two years now, and I feel like we’re starting to get some of our best work together. She’s a wonderful mover, a real pleaser and a real trier,” Boyd said.
“Tomorrow will be a big test. It’s our first event of the year. Her last run was at Pau, which was a twisty, turny course over corners and narrows. Capt. Mark Phillips has really beefed the course up; I think it’s considerably trickier. The time should be a fair bit harder to make. I think if you want to win a prize here then you are really going to have to take a chance and go for broke.”
Shadow will go to Rolex Kentucky this spring for her second career four-star start, and Boyd said he is grateful to have an event like the Wellington Eventing Showcase to start her season.
“Being an event rider in this era is better. If I came to America 15 years ago, I would have been so much worse off than I am today,” Boyd said. “For the last two years my owners have come to these things and feel like they’re in the royal family. They’re investing in horses in my wildest dreams I thought I’d never be able to buy, and their investment is now equaling their experience.”
Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Equestrian Sport Productions, has once again been extremely welcoming to the eventing crowd and emphasized the larger role an event like the Wellington Eventing Showcase can play in growing the sport.
“This is an opportunity for us to expose a much broader audience to eventing that hasn’t had the benefit or experience of seeing eventing,” Mark said. “Our fundamental goal in doing the event was to bring new owners and spectators and hopefully sponsors into the sport. We’re very excited about the future. We’ve amped up the prize money a little bit, and we’re thinking through a strategy that extends this into three of these types of events, a series like a triple crown.”
We also spoke to Hannah Sue Burnett, who is sitting in fourth place on 27.1 with Harbour Pilot. The 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Jacqueline Mars is aiming for Badminton this spring and is one of EN’s top picks for a big finish in a spring four-star.
“He’s really growing up. He just goes in the ring and absolutely knows. He knows the tack and my outfit, and he knows when it’s time for dressage, and he gets his brain on right. He knows what he’s supposed to do and he’s so ridable,” she said. “I feel like I can push the trot more now, and I thought the trot was quite good for him. We had two mistakes in both halts, so we’ll be looking to improve on that next time.”
Allison Springer and Arthur sit in fifth on 27.2, followed by Buck Davidson and Carlevo in sixth on 27.5, Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border in seventh on 28.0, and Liz Halliday-Sharp and Fernhill By Night in eighth on 29.3. Marilyn Little is the only rider with both of her rides in the top 10, with RF Demeter in ninth, and Mark Todd and Anna Bella round out the top 10 on 29.9. Click here for full scores.
There’s a full day of action tomorrow, with horses and riders tackling Richard Jeffery’s show jumping track at 10:30 a.m., following by cross country at 1 p.m. You can watch live once again on tv.coth.com. Click here if you missed EN’s morning report, and be sure to look for more photos on EN’s Instagram.
There is a sea of blue bracelets here at the Wellington Eventing Showcase in support of Lee Lee Jones, who is recovering from a traumatic brain injury. Please join us in sending continued love, prayers and strength to the Dutton and Jones families. #teamleelee #leeleestrong