The Indoor Eventing Challenge was the first event of an action packed first night of the Royal Winter Fair and Horse Show, the largest combined agricultural and equestrian fair in the world. The early start meant that the stands were not at full capacity but the enthusiastic crowd, any of whom bought their tickets especially because of the Horseware Eventing Challenge, roared their approval and were loud in their appreciation of all the riders.
The evening got off to a thrilling start as Elise Saunders sang the song “Rise” inspired by the incredible story of Jessica Phoenix who overcame many challenges to become a member of Canada’s successful World Equestrian Games, Pan American Games and Olympic Games teams.
Jessica, a crowd favorite, riding Charlotte Schickedanz’s lovely Trakehner mare, Abbey GS, her regular Indoor Eventing partner, rode a smooth, balanced round to finish second only 4.11 seconds behind Rachel.
Brendon McMechan, new on the Indoor Eventing scene, rode his own Oscar’s Wild to third place 9.91 seconds behind Jessica and a full 14.02 seconds behind Rachel. McMechan’s feat is all the more surprising because unlike all the other riders in this ten-team field, he is not a full time equestrian. McMechan is a chiropractor and credits Gwen and Kendal Lehari, with whom he and Oscar’s Wild train, with making it possible for him to both ride and work.
Boyd Martin is this year’s international celebrity guest rider and another crowd favorite. An excited trill ran through the audience, and the three young ladies seated behind me nearly dropped their popcorn as Boyd rode into the arena riding Kyra. Boyd and the chestnut mare finished second at the Rolex Central Park U.S Open $50,000 Arena Eventing in September.
Boyd gave Christine Turner’s 10-year-old Canadian Warmblood a good long look at the course while the announcer made the pair’s introductions over the loud speaker. An unfortunate rail on the very last fence, an show jumping oxer, made the crowd groan as Martin’s blazing fast round added 5 penalty points to his total going into the second round tomorrow.
Roberts is just ahead of Dasha Ivandaeva and Autorytet, her 15-year-old Polish Warmblood/Thoroughbred gelding with whom she competes at the Advanced level.
Selena O’Hanlon, first Canadian winner of the most recent running of the extremely challenging Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI3* on John and Judy Rumble’s fantastic Foxwood High, rode Uptown Girl in this first round at the Royal into eighth place.
Scores are so close in this event that Uptown Girl, a 13-year-old Hanoverian mare owned by Linnea Given, cannot be counted out. Jessica Phoenix confided to me before the evening began that she picked Selena for the winner’s circle, so anything may happen on the second night.
Kendal Lehari rode the Dutch Warmblood mare R.F. D’Orabalia, owned by the Syndicate of the same name, rode like a sports car zooming around the turns and thrilling the crowd. They had an unfortunate stop on the top of the bank to add 10 penalties to her score.
Colleen Loach from Sherbrooke, Quebec and a member of the 2015 Pan American Games and 2016 Rio Olympic teams was unlucky enough to miss the start timers at the beginning of the round and so were eliminated. This was doubly unfortunate as she and Brook Massie’s Thoroughbred mare, Serendipity, turned on the speed early and put in a great round. They will be out for redemption the second time around.