What a day for West Coast eventers! Matt Brown and Happenstance lead the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International CCI2* on a score of 40.1 after the first half of dressage, with fellow Californian Tamie Smith holding fourth place with Twizted Syster on 44.7 with one of the best tests of the afternoon group.
Tamie only just recently officially acquired the ride on the mare, as “Chloe” came into her program from best friend Heather Morris, who had to get the mare out of Texas, as living in the state aggravated her allergies. She settled in beautifully in California, and after winning the Merial Open Intermediate division at the American Eventing Championships last month, Tamie announced she officially had the ride thanks to the Twizted Syster Syndicate.
Kevin Baumgardner — past USEA president, fellow West Coaster, the only male member of the “Twizted Systers” and a two-star competitor himself aboard Wembley — led the cheering brigade after Brian O’Connor announced Tamie’s score, with lots of hugs and smiles all around.
And that really sums up the tight-knit bond these West Coast eventers share. “It’s been a lot to be away from home for so long, especially with having a business back home and competitions between the AECs and Fair Hill,” Tamie said. “I’ve had to fly back and forth to make it work, and I’ve just had a tremendous amount of support from my team. It would be impossible to do what I’m doing without them.”
Chloe, a 7-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare, spent some time eventing in Florida with Heather after being imported from Ireland, but that’s the closest she’s been to this part of the East Coast, which features terrain and mud as its defining character qualities. But Tamie said she really likes the course and thinks Chloe is up to the task.
“It’s a lot of galloping, and I think Derek (di Grazia)’s down a great job with putting in rideable questions,” Tamie said. “Some are asking things like “can you horse come back and still turn?” and there are also accuracy questions after long gallops. It’s a stiff two-star.”
The course, which has been aerated twice, is perfect in some spots and muddy in others, with the forecast looking promisingly sunny between now and Saturday for cross country. “I think the ground will play a big factor depending on how it dries out,” Tamie said. “Either way, I’m not worried about it because I have a horse that likes to run regardless of how the ground is.”
Though the other Twizted Systers — Elizabeth Lendrum, Erin Hofmann, Michelle Parker, Judith McSwain, Patricia New and Gretchen Baumgardner — couldn’t make it out to Fair Hill this weekend, we know they’ll be cheering Tamie and Chloe on, and Heather is making the trek out for cross country to offer her support. Isn’t that what best friends are for?
In other notable tests of the afternoon, Lauren Kieffer and Landmark’s Monte Carlo scored 43.0 to just edge Boyd Martin and SBF Cortez for second place thanks to an accurate, fluid test. A homebred of Jacqueline Mars, Lauren said “Patrick” — named after being born on St. Patrick’s Day — an 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse/Thoroughbred gelding, really rose to the occasion in the little white box.
“He’s always a good workman in the ring,” Lauren said. “He’s very broke, and he goes in and rides the same as he does at home and anywhere else. This test is suitable for him because he’s very accurate. He went in and nailed everything and didn’t throw any points away.”
And, of course, we have to give a shoutout to the super pony, Forrest Nymph, for all 14.2 hands of her holding her own against the big, fancy movers. “Farrah” has really settled beautifully in this phase as Sinead Halpin has worked through some of the conversations that have cropped up during their partnership, and they put in a lovely performance for 52.5 and 16th place.
Jennie Brannigan and Henry also had a really nice test to score 49.6 for ninth place. The horse is a flashy, uphill mover and a serious one to watch for the future. The first eight horses of the CCI3* division did their tests alongside the final CCI2* group, with Buck Davidson and The Apprentice leading in the very early going on 44. Stay tuned for much more from Fair Hill.