With just .7 penalties separating Marilyn Little from James Atkinson in the CCI2* at Galway Downs, she had to jump a fast, clear round with RF West Indie to seal the deal on a day when riders struggled to make the time over Marc Donovan’s show jumping course.
“It was a lot harder to ride right after watching James go clear and fast,” she said. “It was one thing watching the time allowed being hard to make but no one really getting it done. Then he laid down a beautifully executed, fast, clear round and made it look very easy. I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be that easy, and I was right. He added a lot of pressure, and he made it a fun day.”
Marilyn’s clear gave her the win on a score of 56 over James Atkinson and Gustav, his 2011 Guadalajara Pan American Games team silver medal partner, who finished on 56.7 and agreed the tight scoring made for an exciting finale.
“I had a rail in hand before third, so I had to go in and try to make time and keep the pressure on Marilyn,” he said. “It made it a great competition, didn’t it? Time was really tight in there. We planned our inside turns when we walked the course not knowing it would be that tight. It was a good thing we did, because it was all I could do to be inside of it.”
The win gives Marilyn the redemption she was looking for to cap Indie’s season after they parted ways on cross country at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International last month. “Indie has been incredibly consistent,” she said. “Things do happen when you’re trying to win and you’re taking chances, like Fair Hill. That’s the game, and she’s been a wonderful, consistent competitor, even as a young horse.”
The win validates Marilyn’s decision to re-route following the blip at Fair Hill, and though she’s never competed at Galway Downs, she said the event absolutely lived up to her expectations, and she’s very glad she made the trip west.
“I think it’s one of the friendliest events I’ve ever been to, from the competitors to the organizers to the people who have been working to make the footing the best it can be to moving the jumps — everything has been done with the utmost care for the horses’ welfare in mind,” Marilyn said.
The East Coast contingent that traveled west helped boost entries in the divisions and also upped the ante from a competitive standpoint, James said. “It’s great to have the exposure for the West Coast riders all the way from Novice to be in the same competition with Marilyn, Buck (Davidson) and Boyd (Martin).
“I think it encourages them to see the highest level, the best quality in the sport,” he said. “It grows our entries and keeps these people excited about the sport. For us as competitors, it just makes us better. These guys came and took home the money, took home the blue ribbons. It just makes us keep working harder and trying harder and getting better.”
Though she’s one of the East Coast riders who ended up with a ribbon, Caroline Martin said she didn’t expect to finish near the top of the leaderboard at the start of the weekend, as 7-year-old Spring Easy is still green and learning, and they primarily came here looking for experience. “This is the happiest I’ve been in a long time,” she said of their third-place finish in the CCI2*.
Caroline imported the horse, who had previously done a few lower-level events with Tim Price in Europe, last year with the idea that they could move up the levels together, “with both of us getting to know each other, learning from each other’s mistakes and growing together,” she said.
He did the CCI* at Ocala and then the CIC2* at Chatt Hills this year, and she decided with her coach Buck Davidson that aiming for Galway Downs would be a good learning experience for him. Considering the way “Paddy” went out and attacked Ian Stark’s cross country yesterday, it seems like they made the right decision.
“I knew going out there that the footing was great and also that I wanted to come home with a few time faults,” she said. “Ten was probably a larger number than I was looking for, but every time he came off a jump, he was looking for the next one. I’ve never sat on a 7-year-old that was always looking ahead like that.”
And the horse rose to the occasion again today in show jumping, delivering one of the four double clear rounds in the division. “The thing about this horse is he has so much heart,” Caroline said. “He was tapping the jumps in warmup, but he’s a competitor. When we went in the ring, he knew it was time to show off.”
As for what’s next for Paddy, Caroline said the plan is for him to follow the same path as her 2013 NAJYRC gold medal partner Quantum Solace. “He’ll run a few more Intermediates and then go to Young Riders so we can keep building confidence,” she said.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better year, and I don’t want to bump him up to Advanced yet. We’ll go to Young Riders where he can learn in that type of atmosphere and get used to competing in a big arena,” she said. “The goal is to keep learning together.”
Leah Breakey and Master Plan delivered the only other double clear in the division. Lauren Billys and Castle Larchfield Purdy had one rail and 7 time penalties to finish fourth, and Bea di Grazia and Lad’s Night Out jumped clear with three time penalties to finish in fifth place. Alyssa Phillips and Bliss III jumped clear with four time penalties.