It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As the spring CCI5* season kicks into high gear, we’re pleased to bring back our much-loved 5* Rookie profiles. Get to know some of the first-timers tackling the CCI5* level for the first time at both Kentucky and Badminton in the coming weeks. Want more coverage from EN? Be sure to sign up for the free #ICYMI and Daily Digest emails! #ICYMI is sent each Monday morning, and Daily Digests are sent for each major 5* and Championship. Sign up here.
As we gear up for the #BestWeekendAllYear, we’re continuing our tradition of highlighting some of our CCI5* rookies. First up, Sydney Solomon!
Sydney will be tackling Derek di Grazia’s formidable course onboard the 14-year-old Hanoverian mare, Early Review CBF, bred in the U.S. and owned by Laurie Cameron. Sydney has had the ride on Early Review, or “Coco”, for nearly a decade now. That close connection and familiarity will be a great weapon in their arsenal as they make the move up to the top level of the sport.
Sydney is understandably a bit nervous to move up, but raring to go. “I’m feeling pretty ready,” she said. “You know, it’s always nerve-wracking moving up a level, but I’ve ridden Coco for eight years now, so we know each other pretty well, which can only help. I’m really excited, but definitely nervous.”
The pair has had a strong start to the 2023 season. So far, they’ve tackled Chattahoochee Hills, Three Lakes, and last weekend’s CCI4* at Stable View. “We actually had our personal best score at the Advanced level in dressage at Chatt,” Sydney shared. “I was really happy with her there. She stayed pretty relaxed in the arena, and then she felt great around cross country. It was definitely a good fitness run, and I did increase my fitness a bit after that. She felt decent but we’re going to need more ‘engine’ for a five star.” The pair wrapped up their prep with a top-15 finish on a soggy Capt. Mark Phillips track at Stable View.
Dressage has always been a bit of a tricky phase for Coco. “Sometimes, actually, more often than not, she likes to throw in a buck or two in the flying changes. So that’s always exciting,” Sydney laughed.
If Chattahoochee is anything to go by, as long as Coco can keep her heels down, this pair can offer some stiff competition in the dressage phase.
Sydney and Coco have also been working on their fitness in the lead up to the big weekend. Thanks to some insider knowledge from friend and Canadian Olympic veteran Colleen Loach, Sydney and Coco have even found a good hill to train on in notoriously flat Ocala. “She’s actually galloping every five days now. And Colleen Loach showed me a really nice hill here, so I’ve been going out with her every five days. Before February I was doing slow canters every few days, and a lot of jogging, and just a lot of hacking and making sure that she just is moving enough every day.”
One of the biggest obstacles for Coco, in terms of fitness, is her history of tying up. “She didn’t start tying up until she was 12 years old, and that’s happened only a couple of times since then. But now that’s sort of at the back of my mind, so we’ve done a lot to manage her feed and we make sure that she’s not getting too much sugar in the grass. We just try to keep her moving as much as possible.”
Sydney’s goals for her first 5* event are to go clear and not be too far off the time. “Coco does tend to go better if I run her faster, which is something I’ve learned over the years, but I also have to be strategic about it. I can’t just run flat out at the jumps. I’m gonna go out guns blazing because, from what I’ve seen, it seems like you can’t go out casually — so I’m definitely going to have my foot on the gas pedal, but I’m not going to take any crazy risks.”
The events leading up to Kentucky will be extra important for Coco’s confidence. “I definitely have to be careful in not running her too fast in the events leading up because I just don’t want her to lose confidence. She tends to be best if I can have a couple of steady runs and then really go for it at the big one.”
There will also be a sentimental aspect to Sydney’s time at the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event. This will be her first time back at the Kentucky Horse Park since she was there for the North American Junior Young Rider Championships with her horse, Lillian Pink. Sadly, that was Sydney’s last FEI event with ‘Lily’, as the mare tragically passed away after a horrific accident in her stall. Lily, Sydney tells us, was the horse that really inspired her to pursue eventing as a full-time career.
Sydney anticipates there will be some reminiscing going on at LRK3DE. “That was just a really amazing experience for me. Lily just had so much heart. She was really awesome. So yeah, I think being at the Kentucky Horse Park will bring back some memories.”
Coco and Sydney will have a secret weapon in their back pocket to guide them through the weekend: experienced 5* groom, Emma Ford. “She is amazing. She was Phillip Dutton’s head groom for probably fifteen years, and I worked for Phillip for a while and she always said she would groom for me at my first five-star event. I’m so, so lucky to have her, because she knows that event like the back of her hand — so that’ll be a huge advantage.”
Keep an eye out for this trio at the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event. Give an extra cheer for this five-star rookie when they gallop by on cross country and be sure to congratulate Coco for giving Sydney clean, buck-free flying changes in their dressage test. A little bit of manifestation never hurt anyone, right?