Stephen Bradley checks in this week after a busy season in Aiken. Thanks for writing, Stephen, and thanks for reading!
Hi Eventing Nation!
Life has been a bit hectic since leaving for Aiken at the beginning of February. Aiken was made a little more interesting by some truck trouble that left my F550 at the local Aiken dealership for most our time in Aiken. This also pushed our departure date back by almost a full month, which ended up being a blessing in disguise, as the horses (especially the younger ones) really thrived during their time in Aiken’s sun and sand.
I thought I would just give a quick update on the horses since they’ve all done a competition or two since I last checked in.
With In The Fog (“Simon”) off in hunterland, the Nicholsons’ Leyland is enjoying a lot of attention and is thriving in it. He had a warm-up run at Pine Top in early February at Preliminary. He made short work of the courses and won his division. Next up was our first Advanced of the year at the second Pine Top. He was super again and seemed to enjoy the added challenge. Finally, we headed up to the Carolina Horse Park for Southern Pines II where Leyland continued at Advanced. I tried a slightly different approach with him in dressage by keeping our warm-up shorter than usual, in an attempt to relieve some of the tension that has marred our previous tests. Unfortunately, I don’t think I did quite enough warm up, but it was a good learning experience. The cross-country course was tough, with a lot of problems throughout the day. Leyland jumped around as well as any horse could. The stadium course was also difficult with few clear rounds. Leyland did pull two rails, but tried really hard throughout the course. The course was a good gauge of our progress and gave me some homework to work on to help him jump clear in the future.
Overall, the Aiken season really helped solidify the bond that Leyland and I started to form over the winter. We’re now qualified for Rolex, and we’ll just make a quick stop at The Fork before heading out to Kentucky. I feel very ready for both, and while we still have work to do to be as competitive as we can be, we’re well on our way.
Our group of youngsters also got to run at Southern Pines. First up was Peter Foley’s Loreto, who is quite talented but often lets his excitement about competing get the best of him. He was so very good at Southern Pines and, while he was a bit tense in dressage, he went through the test really well and I was quite pleased with him. Out on cross-country, he was a bit wound up (which I expected) but jumped around like a good boy. The most exciting part came in stadium when he took a breath halfway through and relaxed! Overall, I was really proud of this young man and am excited to bump him back up to Prelim in a few weeks.
Next up was Charlotte Harris’ Bedazzled (“Boomer”), who has developed into a Training-level packer (how fun for me!) and carried that “I got this” attitude over to his first Preliminary last fall. So at Southern Pines he was competing at Training level as a warm-up for the rest of his season. He was very, very good in dressage and was doing great on cross-country, when I got distracted by a group of spectators and missed a fence! Definitely a frustrating thing to happen, but maybe it was the universe’s way of telling us that Boomer doesn’t need to go Training anymore.
Finally, we have Helen Brettell’s Marble Arch (“Archie”), who is one of those horses you can’t help but be attracted to. He’s a handsome dapple grey who loves showing off. Archie was super in dressage and a machine out on cross-country. Unfortunately, he stung himself out on cross-country, so we didn’t get to show jump. But it was nothing major, and he’ll run at Preliminary this weekend at Morven.
While we were in Aiken, Charlotte Harris’ In The Fog (“Simon”) was enjoying the good life in Florida. He seems to love his new life where he’s encouraged to be fat and slow! In all seriousness though, he’s a great horse and it’s wonderful to see him do so well in his new job. The icing on the cake was when he was Circuit Champion at HITS Ocala in the 3’6″-3’9″ Performance Hunter division. Special thanks to Elizabeth Solter for riding Simon to his many Florida victories, and to Peter Foley for his superb training. (See Chronicle of the Horse photo by Molly Sorge)
I also want to give a shout-out my great team, who worked so hard while in Aiken. It’s always a bit of a challenge to be away from home, and they took everything in stride. Additionally, they all got to compete a bit while we were down there. Matthew Ulmer ran one Novice with his horse Sullivan while in Aiken and is preparing for his first Training-level debut at CDCTA in April. Amber Hodyka ran two Trainings with her horse Liberty Bell and will be bumping back up to Preliminary later in the month. My assistant James Daniel Connor has been rehabbing his Intermediate horse and ended up purchasing a new horse from Will Faudree. She’s quite a fancy mare, so it will be exciting to see where they go this spring.
Until next time …