You Ain’t Never Gonna Keep Me Down (at Fair Hill)

Maggie and her Thoroughbred Divine Comedy are headed to the Fair Hill CCI2* on Oct. 15-19 for their fifth attempt at a CCI2*. This is their second year at Fair Hill, and they are looking for redemption after a temper tantrum in dressage last year left them just barely over the qualifying score of 75. Follow along as Maggie brings you a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most prestigious events in North America.

Dante surveys the ring during familiarization at Fair Hill 2013. Photo by Maggie Deatrick. Dante surveys the ring during familiarization at Fair Hill 2013. Photo by Maggie Deatrick.

I’m not entirely sure what it feels like to literally bang your head against a wall, but metaphorically I’ve been doing just that for the past three years.

Most riders seem to have a bug-a-boo level where they just can’t seem to get it done … but once over the hump, never have another issue. I’ve seen riders have trouble making the transition from Novice to Training, figure it out, and run all the way up to Advanced. I’ve seen other pairs who had issues with the jump to Training to Prelim or Prelim to Intermediate.

It’s not always related to cross country or even performance at all; sometimes it’s a horse that keeps turning up with cellulitis two days before a show or a tack malfunction in stadium.

For me, this level is the CCI2*.

I have run at the Intermediate level fairly successfully since 2010. Other than a blip in our very first attempt at the level and a blip recently at the Plantation CIC2*, we have no jump penalties on our record for Intermediate or two-star and quite a few double clears. Dressage has always been a get-through-it sort of thing and stadium is occasionally a bowling game, but for the most part, we haven’t had any real issues. We’ve even successfully run a few times at Advanced.

Cue the CCI2*.

I’ve twice been thwarted by sore feet, which cropped up after the two clear cross country phases and prevented us from completing at Jersey Fresh 2011 and Colorado 2012. In November of 2011, we drove out to Galway from Dallas, where we completed the dressage phase and were looking forward to a great run on the soft California footing.

Then Dante promptly caught a lung infection overnight, forcing us to withdraw and spend the next four days in the vet clinic, only recovering in time to get back on the trailer to come home.

And at Fair Hill last year, I was so worried about the dressage phase after scoring an epic 91 in our CIC3* debut four weeks prior at Plantation that I drilled him on the flat too much. By the third day straight of dressage, he had had enough and threw a quiet but persistent tantrum throughout the test, resulting in a score that was literally one point on any movement away from qualifying.

Each time, I’ve taken steps to fix the problem. After the sore feet persisted, I pulled Dante’s shoes and let his feet grow out for six months. He came back sound as a dollar and, knocking on wood, hasn’t taken a lame step since. After last year’s dressage debacle, we spent all late winter and spring practicing at dressage schooling shows, tweaking our warm-up and sharpening our mental game.

Dante then spent three months in professional dressage training, including going to a couple of rated shows where he figured it out, culminating in a win at his first attempt at Fourth Level. Now we board with a trainer known for her flat skills, and we get better every day. I no longer worry about tantrums on the flat.

So we’re back this year and feeling better about getting our QR this time than we ever have. Well, I’m not sure how Dante feels about it, but I’m certainly feeling good. In a field of 122, I don’t really have high expectations as to where we will place, but I think we’ll still be smiling at the end of the weekend.

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