Classic Eventing Nation

What’s Happening at the Defender Kentucky Three Day Event

While we all flock to the promised land of eventing (the Kentucky Horse Park) to watch the best of the best compete in arguably the top event in the country, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t also enjoy the shopping, show jumping, and events going on outside of all the CCI5* action. Every year Eventing Nation puts together your guide to everything going on at the Defender Kentucky Three Day Event that doesn’t necessarily take place in an arena or on the cross country course. And this year, the vendors have really brought it! We’ve got the inside scoop on autograph signings, course walks, raffles, prizes, Trivia Tours, and more.

Note: all times and locations are subject to change, particularly autograph signings, and this is not an official or comprehensive list. Be sure to stop by the booths to get more details on timing of signings/activities in the mornings to make sure you don’t miss it, and keep an eye out for additional activities happening all weekend long.

Feeling a little lost? Here’s a link to the Trade Fair map.

Photo by Tilly Berendt.


Check out Eventing Nation’s Trivia Tour with Chinch! Keep an eye out for Chinchilla stickers at a list of exclusive vendors. Scan the QR code and be entered to win a prize for each booth, as well as one Grand Prize featuring combined products from all the booths– including a $400 Vespucci Bridle from World Equestrian Brands. Find the vendor list [HERE].

Tamie Smith and the Ahearn/Markell family are teaming up with Strides for Equality Equestrians to increase diversity and accessibility in equestrian sports! A simple and elegant baseball cap with the likeness of Mai Baum will be offered for sale for $25 at the USEA booth. In purchasing a cap, you will be supporting a Mai Baum SEE Scholarship offered through the USEA Foundation. This program will support experiential internships that promote openness and diversity to young equestrians. All proceeds from the cap sales will be contributed to the scholarship. Learn more here.

Win a $500 shopping Spree at Kentucky Performance Products, Visit booth #193 at KY3DE and pick up a KPP bandana. Shoot a pic of your dog (or yourself) sporting the bandana and post it on social media with #KPP500 and you will be entered to win a shopping spree

Stop by the Canter Culture booth (#30 in the main Trade Fair building) to enter to win a pair of breeches, belt & boot sock package! Winner will be drawn at the end of the event.

Zoetis is hosting a scavenger hunt all weekend long! Scan the QR code located at each orange horse statue for a chance to win money back on ProStride. Full details located at each statue!

Boyd Martin fans rejoice– you now have a booth that’s dedicated solely to your favorite 5* eventer. Stop by booth #13 to get all the fan swag you’ve been dying for. You may even see him there!

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by Alex Jeffery.

Thursday is your last day to submit your Achieve Equine #Supergroom Nominations! Do you know of a groom who drinks enough Redbull to give someone a heart attack just to stay awake late into the night and then get up early to get the horses taken care of? Nominate them for one of our superlatives here!

Hear all about the course, right from the designer himself! Derek Di Grazia is leading an exclusive course walk on Thursday morning at 8:30 am. This event is offered by USEA and is only open to members of the USEA Adult Rider Program. Meet at the five-star start box that morning!

Looking for some fast-paced action to start the weekend off right? Stop by the Walnut Arena at 11am to watch the EEI Invitational Pony Club Mounted Games!

Stick around after the Mounted Games in the Walnut Arena to learn more about the Retired Racehorse Project at 1pm. It’s the perfect event for all of our OTTB-loving eventers.

At 11:45am, Elisa Wallace will be leading a course walk, presented by Stable Feed. Walk with Elisa and her friends at Stable Feed to get a 5* eventer’s opinion on the ins and outs of this year’s course.

Lillian Heard will be signing autographs and leading a 5* course walk at Zomedica during the lunch break. Meet at booth #303 to get started!

5* eventer Jennie Brannigan will be signing autographs at Schneiders Saddlery at 2pm.

Pan Ams Medalist Sharon White will be signing autographs at Sentinel Feeds on Thursday! Stop by their booth for more information on time.

Alexa Thompson will be hosting an autograph signing and 4* course walk at the Zomedica booth during Thursday afternoon. Stop by booth #303 for more details on time!

Joe Meyer will be signing autographs at the Devoucoux tent Thursday afternoon. Stop by the Devoucoux tent Thursday morning for more details on what time Joe will be there. You don’t want to miss it!

Last but absolutely not least, Zach Brandt will be signing autographs at Buckeye Nutrition on Thursday afternoon.

Kyle Carter entertains the group at the EN x Ride iQ course walk at Kentucky. Photo by Sally Spickard.

The pony action continues into Friday morning! Stop by the Walnut Arena at 11am to watch the EEI Invitational Pony Club Mounted Games.

Stick around after the Mounted Games in the Walnut Arena to learn more about the Retired Racehorse Project at 1pm. It’s the perfect event for all of our OTTB-loving eventers.

Head to the USHJA tent at 2pm to get an autograph from a CSI4* rider. (We see you, hunters!)

The Ride IQ Course Walk, led by Kyle Carter and Will Faudree, will take place at 4:45pm, after dressage is completed. This year, we’re going to meet at the Normandy Bank. As a stop on the EN Trivia Tour with Chinch, you won’t want to miss this course walk! Ride IQ will be giving away Lemieux saddle pads. World Equestrian Brands will also be doing a drawing at the Ride IQ Course Walk to give you an opportunity to win Equilibrium Open Front Boots and Fetlock Boots.

After 5* dressage, stick around to watch the Welcome Speed Cup Ranking Class on Friday at 7:00 p.m.

Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

The USEA Area V Adult Rider Program is hosting a USEA Adult Rider Tailgate in Section L! If you’re a USEA Adult Rider Program Member, drop by to enjoy a good time watching cross country.

Have you ever wanted to get insight on the 5* cross country course from another 5* eventer? Thanks to Ecogold, you now have your chance! You can watch the 5* cross country sitting right next to Caroline Pamukcu who can answer any questions you might have about the course, the riders, and their horses. Spots are extremely limited! Reserve yours here.

Looking to cram even more excitement into your day? Watch the $35,000 1.45m two-phase competition during the lunch hour.

Are you a Phillip Dutton fan? Get an autograph from the man who’s competed in seven Olympic games. He’ll be at the Cosequin booth for a meet and greet immediately following cross country.

Why settle for one autograph when you could get four? The Pan Ams team will be signing autographs at the USEF booth. Stop by the booth in the morning for more details.

And of course, we can’t forget the annual Kentucky CSI4* Invitational Grand Prix! Taking place at 6:00 p.m. after the event’s cross-country phase, head to the show jumping arena to watch these show jumpers soar.

Vendors and riders– are you running an event that’s not on this list? Send us an email at [email protected] and we’ll update the article!

Kentucky CCI5* At A Glance: The Horses and Riders of The Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

If you’re a numbers person like myself, then sit back and get ready for a deep dive into the stats and facts of our CCI5* field at the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event. This year’s run brings a lot of diversity, with riders from across the globe pushing to earn their golden ticket to Paris in July. We’ve seen a lot of entry shuffling over the past few weeks (seriously, are you as whiplashed as I am from the back-and-forth of who’s going to Kentucky, who’s going to Badminton, some riders are opting for Stable View — it’s been a scramble) as everyone races to work the system to their best advantage in this incredibly pivotal year.

Several of our usual 5* contenders will actually be seen running in the 4*-S for this reason as well, so while these numbers only reflect our 5* competitors, keep an eye on your favorite pairs as they tackle both courses at the Defender Kentucky Three-Day!

You can view the full drawn order for the CCI5* by clicking here, and be sure to keep an eye out for our Form Guide (coming soon!) for a more thorough investigation into each horse and rider. The drawn order for the CCI4*-S can be found by clicking here.

EN’s coverage of the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event is presented by Kentucky Performance Products, your one-stop shop for science-backed nutritional support for all types of horses. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products.

Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event: [Website] [Tickets] [Entries/Drawn Order]


Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event: [Website] [Tickets] [Entries/Drawn Order]

Perfect Conditions for the Adelaide Equestrian Festival Finale

The Adelaide Equestrian Festival gates opened at 8am for the TRM Horse Inspections with blue skies and sunshine seeing spectators arriving early in anticipation for the final day of competition.

A morning performance from Guy McLean Horsemanship was welcomed with crowd laughter, applause and cheers as his time with the festival came to an end after a successful four days.

The competition commenced at 10am with the Heritage Grand Stand quickly filling up with eager onlookers. Some late rail drops saw overnight leaders Sam Woods and SS Eight Count drop into fourth place while Olivia Barton and APH Sodoku demonstrated a seamless clear round to take out the 2024 Racing SA CCI3*-L.

It was the Horseland CCI4*-S that followed with a stellar line-up of riders who delivered an exciting midday session. Shenae Lowings took out the win with a gasp-worthy performance with Bold Venture fortunately making a quick recovery following a stumble coming off the back of the Brand South Australia jump.

It was a nail-biting finish for the Adelaide International CCI5* with David Middleton completing the only clear round of the class which saw the Australian rider take out first place. It was the year 2000 that last saw David win first place at the South Australian event with his then horse, Willowbank Jack. Olivia Barton received second place with a remarkable round in her first ever 5* start with Hollyander HG while Donna Edwards-Smith from New Zealand took out third place.

The Racing SA CCI*3-L Results:

First Place: Olivia Barton and APH SODOKU (AUS) 31.9

Second Place: Olivia Shore and DREAMCATCHER (AUS) 32.4

Third Place: Gemma Tinney and PHS HILTON (AUS) 36.2

Bates Saddle Young Rider Championship: Olivia Shore and DREAMCATCHER (AUS)

Horseland CCI4*-S Results:

First Place: Shenae Lowings and BOLD VENTURE (AUS) 31.8

Second Place: Andrew Cooper and PEPPERJACK (AUS) 43.6

Third Place: Oliver Barrett and SANDHILLS SPECIAL (AUS) 46.9

Pure Steed Grooms Awards: Charlotte Andrews

Adelaide International CCI5* Results:

First Place: David Middleton and WEC IN THE MONEY (AUS) 47.8

Second Place: Olivia Barton and HOLLANDER HG (AUS) 53.4

Third Place: Donna Edwards-Smith and DSE MENDOZA (NZ) 63.3

The Adelaide Equestrian Festival Chair Greg Rolton said the 2024 program was a standout with an excellent display of world-class performances supported by a record-breaking crowd.

“What a fantastic competition that we have just witnessed right here in the heart of the Adelaide CBD. It’s been a pleasure to watch these talented equestrian athletes and their horses compete in our 4-day International event.”

“For all of our spectators that have joined us here in the Adelaide Park Lands, thank you. And for those who have watched from afar, we also say thank you. Likewise, to our fantastic sponsors and volunteers – without you we wouldn’t have this world-class event to share with the world.”

Adelaide Equestrian Festival [Website] [5* Entries] [Schedule] [Scoring] [Live Stream Replay]

Sunday Links fom EcoVet

IT’S KENTUCKY WEEK!! The best weekend all year is here and we are ready. And in true spirit of K3DE week, Liz Halliday is offering meet-and-greet tickets to two lucky winners — attendees can enter here to win, but you need to enter by tomorrow!

So strap in and get out your walking shoes (or your sittin’ sweats if, like me, you’ll be glued to the screen all weekend) and join the party — and make sure to check in regularly here for all Kentucky, all weekend. Additionally, if Kentucky Derby fans get Derby Fever, what do we eventers get? Defender Diphtheria? Three-Day Typhoid? Kentucky Cold Sweats? Vote now on your phones, let’s start a new hashtag.

U.S. Weekend Action

Fair Hill International April H.T. & CCI-S (Elkton, MD) [Website] [Entries] [Ride Times][Scoring]

Masterson Equestrian Trust YEH/NEH Qualifier (Lexington, KY) [Website] [Entries] [Ride Times] [Volunteer] [Scoring]

Meadowcreek Park – The Spring Social Event (Kosse, TX) [Website] [Entries][Ride Times] [Volunteer] [Scoring]

Ocala International Festival of Eventing (Ocala, FL) [Website] [Entries] [Ride Times] [Volunteer] [Scoring]

Sporting Days Farm April H.T. III (Aiken, SC) [Website] [Entries] [Ride Times] [Volunteer][Scoring]

Major International Events

Adelaide Equestrian Festival [Website] [5* Entries] [Schedule] [Scoring] [Live Stream]

UK International Events

Kelsall Hill International [Website] [Entries] [Scoring]

European International Events

Strzegom Spring Open II [Website] [Entries] [Timetable] [Scoring] [Live Stream]

Links to Start Your Sunday:

MARS Bromont Rising Grant Applications Now Open

Two new members appointed to British Eventing’s leadership team

Charlotte Fry and Everdale unfortunately eliminated at FEI Dressage World Cup

Check out some construction updates for the Paris Olympic Games!

Sponsor Corner: Does your horse’s tail look like this? Don’t panic. Reach for Ecovet– the only fly spray repellent that improves insect-related skin sensitivity by stopping insects from landing on the horse in the first place. [Shop now.]

Morning Viewing: Here’s some extra Kentucky hype to start off your week!

Adelaide Cross Country Day Delivers Standout Performances

It was a picture-perfect Saturday as South Australia turned on the weather for day three of the Adelaide Equestrian Festival – the RB Sellars Cross Country Day.

The morning kicked off with a Godolphin Cross Country Masterclass in the Gillian Rolton Main Arena. Hosted by Olympian Amanda Ross, the Masterclass was a one-hour showcase guided by the experience and knowledge of a world-class athlete as Amanda workshopped a series of cross country tips and techniques, showcasing the athleticism of five off-the-track Thoroughbreds.

Sam Woods and SS Eight Count. Photo courtesy of Adelaide International.

The Racing SA CCI3*-L cross country saw riders take to the course this morning with clear skies and pristine conditions. Rider Sam Woods and SS Eight Count took out the top spot by a narrow 0.1 margin over Olivia Barton and APH Sodoku.

The Adelaide International CCI5* cross country presented a stellar line-up of riders with the action-packed session seeing Australian rider Olivia Barton and Hollyander effortlessly executing their first ever CCI5* clear and under time, allowing her to jump from seventh after dressage to first place. First-phase leaders Diane Gilder and Your Attorney slipped to second when adding 14.8 time penalties, while first-phase runners-up Andrew Cooper and Hey Arnold picked up an unfortunate 20 penalties to drop to seventh. Ten of the eleven starters completed the phase; just one pair, Sam Woods and Cage Fighter, were eliminated after a horse fall at fence 24B, the second of a double of open corners. Olivia will go into the final phase with two rails and time in hand. 


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The Horseland CCI4* cross country rounded out the third day with last year’s winner, Shenae Lowings and Bold Venture taking out the top spot with 27.8.

The Adelaide Equestrian Festival Chair Greg Rolton said the level of athleticism on display across the day was second to none.

“The Adelaide Park Lands were alive with atmosphere as spectators made their way between Victoria Park and Rymill Park to watch on as each incredible rider took to the course. The RB Sellars cross country day was the perfect showcase of what South Australia has to offer. It was a pleasure to see so many families and equine enthusiasts out experiencing this great sport. The challenging course put riders to the test as each athlete put their bodies and horses on the line as we head into the final day of the competition.”

Check out the results in full here. To tune in for the remainder of the competition, check out our viewing guide. Showjumping for the CCI5* will commence on Sunday at 2:45pm local time/1:15am ET/ 7:15am CEST.

Exclusive on ClipMyHorse TV: The Story of Tamie Smith and Mai Baum

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum danced and jumped their way into eventing lore last year, taking the first U.S. title at the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event since Phillip Dutton won in 2008. It’s a victory we won’t be tired of reliving any time soon, and as this year’s event looms, ClipMyHorse TV has released an exclusive short documentary about the pair.

Click here to watch the video, which features interviews with Tamie, her husband Dave, and the true story of the highest highs and the lowest lows experienced in the sport we all love so much.

Note: ClipMyHorse TV does require a membership to view its content. Click here to see your options.

Where Are They Now: Cisko A is Back to Being a Rookie

Sydney Elliott and Cisko A. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

In spring 2016, Eventing Nation wrote an article highlighting a pair of Rolex Rookies: Sydney Elliott and Cisko A, a 2006 Westphalian gelding owned by Carol Stephens. Eight years later, Cisko A is once again a rookie, but this time he’s back to the Novice level as he applies himself to teaching up-and-coming riders instead of tackling the top of the sport.

Sydney and Cisko had a very special relationship – he was her first horse that was imported from Germany specifically for her, instead of one that she brought up the levels herself. They were still competitive at the CCI4* level – then known as three-star – as recently as 2018, when they finished in the top ten at Fair Hill in Elkton, Maryland. During the height of their career together, they placed fourth at Rebecca Farm, sixth at Great Meadow, and seventh at The Fork.

Back in 2016, Sydney said of Cisko, “I’m betting I have one of the best cross-country horses out there.”

She wasn’t wrong. Throughout their five-year career at the upper levels, Cisko A had a total of only 33 cross country penalties – breaking down to one run out/refusal and activating one frangible device.

Sydney Elliott waves to her fans after a great test with Cisko A. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

These days, Cisko is embarking on an equally important career path, teaching young riders the ropes. His new pilot is Sydney’s working student, 16-year-old Ava Wehr. Originally from Maryland, Ava is now juggling online high school and life as a working student at Sydney’s base in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

“It was definitely hard at first, because I came here over the summer so I had the whole summer to get used to everything here. And now that school has started it’s a little bit difficult for sure. But Sydney is great with making sure we have a schedule and there’s time that I do school versus being a working student,” Ava says.

Ava has been riding since she was a baby on her parents’ farm in Southern Maryland, and for the past few years, she’s been competing in the Novice division with her 14-hand Morgan cross, Lyric. The move from pony to horse is a big jump for every rider, but it’s an even bigger leap when you’re transitioning from a 14-hand pony to a former 5* horse.

“It’s kind of a big move up to Cisco, and we weren’t sure if it was gonna work out well or not. He is a lot more powerful and just a lot more horse than I was used to, but it ended up working out really well.”

Cisko may be in his late teens, but in his opinion, he’s 18 years young, not old. While he does have joint injections to prevent wear and tear, Ava says he doesn’t need any special coddling to stay fit and healthy.

“He definitely still is pretty spicy. He gets very excited on cross country and all that stuff,” Ava says. “He loves his job. He gets so excited to go out there and work.”

Sydney Elliott and Cisko A. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Ava got the ride on Cisko in the fall of 2023 after he came back from Will Faudree’s farm, where he was being ridden by one of his working students.

“He was prepping for a one-star with the person who was leasing him, so he’s ready to go. He’s like, ‘this novice stuff is boring!’ I actually took him to his first Novice. He had never done it before, so it was kind of funny,” Ava says. “I mean, I’m pretty sure the first couple times we schooled some jumps, he was like ‘What’s going on? What is this?’ It’s definitely very hard riding something so different and completely opposite to my old pony.”

Back at the barns, Cisko is the same crotchety horse that he was in 2016, when Sydney shared that he has a special moniker in the barn. Nearly a decade later, the nickname has really stuck.

“In the barn, he’s a little bit grumpy sometimes. He’ll pin his ears at you, but he doesn’t bite or anything like that. We always call him the grumpy German,” Ava laughs. “He definitely likes to be brushed and groomed, but he can be a little grumpy sometimes.”

Under saddle, Ava has had to learn how to ride to his standards, as the Westfalian gelding can be unforgiving.

“He can’t really take a joke about things. He likes to be very professional. He wants to go do his work and get it done. I mean, I guess you could say he’s sensitive emotionally,” Ava says. “I took him back to Maryland for a bit around Christmas and we decided to dress up. He got so upset — he didn’t like it. He was like, ‘this is not my normal routine, this is not what I do.’ It was so funny. He’d much rather go do horse shows, do his normal thing, and that’s it.”

Cisko’s role as a professional and workmanlike ride has taught Ava a lot in a short amount of time. “Even just the fact that he’s a bigger horse was a really big thing for me. My old pony was only 14 hands, and so just learning striding and distance and everything was a big deal,” Ava says. “And then also he has so many buttons — he’s just such a cool horse. He’s one of those types of horses where if I’m not riding him correctly, he lets me know and he’s not going to do it for me. You need to ride. You can’t just sit there.”

Cisko A & Ava Wehrs Photo by Brant Gamma

Watching Ava learn from Cisko has been a great experience for Sydney.

“They are just such a good fit for each other and he’s teaching her how to be brave and confident on cross country. It’s a match made in heaven so far,” she says.

Ava is hoping to do her first Training level event this season with Cisko.

“We’re local to the War Horse Series and those are really great schooling shows. So, hopefully we’ll be able to do that series and slowly move up to Training over the summer.”

Of course, Cisko isn’t the only one Ava is learning from. She also says she’s learned a lot from his former rider, Sydney.

“Sydney is such an amazing person and coach. It’s really been great. I’m really one of the only people working for her, so it’s just a very small barn, just us, and then we also live pretty close to Will Faudree and we work with him a whole bunch. It’s really great. She’s such a great person and all the horses are amazing. I’ve learned so much since being here.”

As for Sydney, she says Ava is one in a million.

“There’s not many adults, let alone kids, that are quite like her. She loves all the aspects of the horses, from cleaning the stalls to bathing them – all the little details that make up why we do this in the first place – not just sitting in the saddle.”

Saturday Links from World Equestrian Brands

Screenshot via Ema Klugman’s brother and personal hype-man, Josh.

Ema Klugman had a nice day in the office yesterday. She rode two horses at Fair Hill: Bronte Beach, who is headed to Kentucky next week practiced the five-star dressage test, while Chiraz put down a very competitive first phase score in the Intermediate division. AND Ema, who is a law student in addition to being a busy upper-level event rider and also contributor for EN, passed the Virginia Bar Exam! Congratulations, Ema! We still don’t know how you do it all!

U.S. Weekend Action

Fair Hill International April H.T. & CCI-S (Elkton, MD) [Website] [Entries] [Ride Times][Scoring]

Masterson Equestrian Trust YEH/NEH Qualifier (Lexington, KY) [Website] [Entries] [Ride Times] [Volunteer] [Scoring]

Meadowcreek Park – The Spring Social Event (Kosse, TX) [Website] [Entries][Ride Times] [Volunteer] [Scoring]

Ocala International Festival of Eventing (Ocala, FL) [Website] [Entries] [Ride Times] [Volunteer] [Scoring]

Sporting Days Farm April H.T. III (Aiken, SC) [Website] [Entries] [Ride Times] [Volunteer][Scoring]

Major International Events

Adelaide Equestrian Festival [Website] [5* Entries] [Schedule] [Scoring] [Live Stream]

UK International Events

Kelsall Hill International [Website] [Entries] [Scoring]

European International Events

Strzegom Spring Open II [Website] [Entries] [Timetable] [Scoring] [Live Stream]

Links to Start Your Weekend:

Susie Berry’s Irish Wish

Sharon White: Become A Self-Confident Leader for Your Horse

Top Tips for Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event First-Timers from USEA Members

AMA: How Do I Keep My Horse From Getting Bored With Arena Work?

How to Treat and Prevent Summer Sores in Horses

Sponsor Corner: The E.A. Mattes configurator is no longer just for saddle pads! Create your dream girth, quarter sheet, cooler, boots, or fly veil. If you need me, you can find me down a rabbit hole of cross country colors 🐰🌈 Design your dream tack set!

Morning Viewing: The more you know … about brush. (I swear, this is actuallyr really interesting!)

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“What, Like It’s Hard?” Your Attorney Takes Adelaide CCI5* Dressage Lead


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Oh, you thought two spring CCI5* fixtures was a treat? Well buckle up, eventing nerds, because – surprise! – there’s another one on the go right now, whetting our collective whistles for the few weeks of madness to come.

I won’t profess to understand how time zones work, so to be totally honest with you, cross-country at the Adelaide Equestrian Festival in sunny Australia could be starting in five minutes, or it could be starting in five hours, and I’m sorry, but not that sorry, if that’s not a professional enough analysis for you. Somewhere between writing this sentence and coming to the tail end of this article, I suspect one of my more sensible colleagues will send me a painstakingly calculated guide to when the pivotal second phase begins, and then I will copy and past that information where it belongs at the bottom of the piece, but I will not come back to the top of it and erase this paragraph. For posterity’s sake, but also because I have to live my own truth, don’t I?

Anywho, whenever the cross-country starts, what we can tell you in full confidence is this: the dressage is done and dusted, and our compact field of eleven starters has begun to establish its competitive hierarchy.

In first place overnight is New Zealand’s Diane Gilder, riding the rising twenty-year-old (yes, really, but he’s a November baby, so he’s rising slowly) Your Attorney. This is a third five-star start for the pair, who made their debut at Adelaide in 2019, finishing sixth, and then returned last year, finishing seventh. Though they didn’t quite match last year’s 28.9, their first-phase score of 31.5 puts them 2.2 penalties ahead of second-placed Andrew Cooper and Hey Arnold of Australia, who sit on an overnight score of 33.7. Third place is the domain of Aussies Gordon Bishop and Advantage Hill on a 34.2.

Though no one broke the 30 barrier this year, we also saw only two riders head into the 40s, which means that cross-country gets underway with just 14.1 penalties spanning the entire field. That means that a refusal will be the difference between first and last place, as will a flag penalty – while a MIM activation or even a smattering of time looks pretty pricy, too. Diane and Andrew, who finished seventh and eighth last year, respectively, are the highest-placed 2023 returners to this year’s event, with reigning champion Shane Rose sidelined after a nasty fall recently.

Over in the CCI4*-S, Shenae Lowings and Bold Venture lead the way on a score of 27.8 – the only sub-30 score in the class, and a great start to their bid for Paris selection, while the CCI3*-L is helmed by Olivia Barton and APH Sodoku on a 29.9. You can find each class’s dressage leaderboards here.

And what of the cross-country challenge to come? Well, it’s going to be a big’un, by the looks of it. Course designer Clayton Fredericks has an interesting challenge on his hands laying his routes around Adelaide’s available space, because this is a true city event, not dissimilar, all things considered, to the location afforded by Pau in the south of France. Here’s a look at some of the challenges he’s snuck into this year’s track.

Want to follow along? Of course you do – who on earth wants to miss a five-star?! Luckily for all of us a touch too far away to enjoy the show in person, Horse&Country TV will be live-streaming all the action – you can find all the information here, plus a closer look at the course in full. I’m semi-reliably informed that the start times for the remaining phases of the CCI5* are as follows, but Our Attorney (ha, ha) tells us that we can’t be held responsible if we got those calculations wrong, so please don’t shout at us. Go Eventing, Go Adelaide, and, um, Go Math Lessons, I guess.

Saturday 20th – 5* Cross Country – 1pm local time / Friday (19th) 11:30pm ET / 5:30am CEST

Sunday 21st – 5* Show Jumping – 2:45pm local time / 1:15am ET / 7:15am CEST

Adelaide Equestrian Festival [Website] [5* Entries] [Schedule] [Scoring] [Live Stream]

Never Say Never: Breaking into the Eventing Industry with Daija Sams

“Honestly, I don’t know how I ended up here, but I’m not mad that I ended up here. It just happened. I just let life do life and here we are.”

So began my interview with 23-year-old Daija Sams, who has meandered into a career path in the equestrian industry, mostly by seeking new opportunities and rarely saying no. From modeling to working as a barn manager and assistant trainer, to chasing dreams as a new eventer, Daija believes the sky’s the limit.

One winter, she found herself working as a model for photographer Cassidy Brooke. “I was on winter break from the Savannah College of Art and Design and I knew Cassidy because she rode at my 4-H barn and she just so happened to put out this model call for And I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna apply and just see what happens.’ I ended up getting it.”

Since modeling for Cassidy, she’s also modeled for Urgo Beauty, Free Ride, and a few local photographers who were just looking for more practice.

The next summer, Daija started managing newly christened CCI3* eventer Shannon Riley’s barn, Infinity Sport Horses. “I saw Shannon’s job posting on Facebook for a barn manager position and there were opportunities to ride. The only reason I applied to it is because I would get to ride plus bring my horse but not have to pay for any of that.”

From there, managing Shannon’s barn turned into taking on a role as her assistant trainer. Taking on the position was also Daija’s first introduction to eventing, as she grew up in the hunter ring and in 4H clubs.

“Until I met Shannon, I always had this thing that I was like ‘Eventing is scary and going over solid obstacles – I don’t know if I will ever do that in my life.’ It did take Shannon nine months to get me to go cross country schooling for the first time,” Daija laughed. “I got thrown into it and I was just like ‘Okay, jumping over logs isn’t that bad.’ And then it led to going to Stable View, doing Eventing Academy, and all these things. I just competed in my first ever recognized Novice trial on our barn owner’s horse. Now, I’m gearing up for bigger and better things.”

Her plans for 2024 include qualifying her five-year-old Appendix, Pilot, into the USEA Young Event Horse track with the main goal of finishing the season by competing in the championships at the Maryland 5 Star. Daija started Pilot herself as part of her coursework in a colt-starting class at Martin Community College.

“You don’t really see Quarter Horses at the top of the sport; you see them in lower level eventing, but not really at the top. So I asked Shannon, and she thinks he could be a contender at the upper levels, so I decided to try and qualify for the Young Event Horse championships.”

As for whether or not she’s ready to tackle Young Event Horse having just completed her first ever Novice event, Daija is going into this with her eyes wide open. “I absolutely do not feel ready. Pilot has been cross country schooling two times. He cannot figure out how benches work, he tries to climb them. We have a membership to the Vista. We’ll probably just go every week, up until qualifiers which are coming up very soon. It’s stressing me out,” she laughed.

While I think Daija would love to find herself at the top of the sport, she’s a little coy about setting a goal that’s quite that lofty. “I don’t have any big major goals. At this point, I’m going to just keep doing what I’m doing. If I end up at the top – cool.”

As a person of color, Daija finds it frustrating that there aren’t more people of color (POC) competing in the upper levels of eventing. “It’s very odd. Like, you have Anna Buffini in dressage. You have Mavis Spencer in showjumping. Rob Van Jacobs in hunters and equitation — but I cannot name a single person in eventing.”

When I asked her about the barriers to access for people of color in eventing, Daija said that while she sees POC in the lower levels, she thinks the jump from amateur to professional eventer is simply a big leap to make.

“Now there’s all of these programs that are meant to help at the lower levels — like okay, yeah, 4H helped me. But when it comes to getting to the upper levels of the sport, there’s not many resources,” Daija said. “The only reason that I am where I am now is because I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to make this my entire life for a minute. I’ll work hard. I’ll get the connections to be able to go and do what I need to do to advance.’ I mean, that’s why the SEE [Strides for Equality Equestrians] scholarship was made, to help bridge the gap between those connections. But overall there’s just a lack of knowledge. Putting more spotlight on resources like that I think would very much help getting people into the top of the sport.”

As for her own experience as a POC and professional in the equestrian industry, she says that while she’s encountered racism, she tries not to let it bother her.

“I feel like the best way to deal with it is by saying, ‘Well, I don’t really care what you say. I’m doing my thing and I’m living my best life. I don’t care that it’s making you miserable, that has nothing to do with me. I’m over here minding my own business.’”

Daija was very candid about the racism she experienced throughout her life, especially as a young rider. “At one barn, I was just treated so differently from everybody else. I remember one time I literally stayed home from school because I couldn’t stop bawling my eyes out just because of something said to me or how I was being treated that week,” Daija said. Then added, “But that’s why I left that barn and all my friends left that barn. At the time, I just thought they had a problem with me, but looking back maybe it was because of my skin color.”

While she has also encountered people mistaking her for a groom or unfair judging in the hunter ring, she says what annoys her the most is often from the most well-meaning people. “Everyone in the eventing community is so nice. There’s basically more ignorance in some people’s comments than blatant racism. For example, one lady walked up to me and started a conversation with me and she goes, ‘Oh were you in the DEI meeting with USEA the other night? I was like, no… At that point in time, I didn’t even have my USEA number. And she was like, ‘Oh, well, there’s this person that looks like you and she was telling her story. It was so inspirational!’” Daija said. “And then she says that same line that I hear all the time– ‘She was very well-spoken.’ Everytime I hear that I try not to roll my eyes into the back of my head. Just because I don’t talk in slang all the time, doesn’t mean I’m very well-spoken. There’s so many people that are very well-spoken, but it’s just different. It’s like speaking Spanish versus English, right? It’s just a different dialect.”

At the end of the day, Daija says she doesn’t lose sleep over instances like these. In her opinion, most of the time, people like this don’t even realize they’re being racist. Plus, she believes that the eventing industry could play a big role in bridging the gap between POC and English disciplines. “English disciplines are more elitist than Western in a way and cost more, but that’s why I also think eventing can bridge the gap – it’s cheaper than a lot of the other English disciplines in this industry.”

Daija sees a lot of promise in the eventing community, from the individual people to the venues. “When I went to Kentucky for the first time in 2016, there was a whole section in the museums about Black people. I was like, What the heck?! Honestly, I was genuinely shocked and so happy at the same time.”

As a young professional and someone new to eventing, Daija’s perspective offers a lot of wisdom for our community. She provides a first-person perspective on what’s missing in the stepping stones from amateur to professional, as well as unique insight on the promise our community can hold as an accessible haven for people of all backgrounds. I hope that in the future, young Black girls staying home from school and bawling their eyes out because of the way they were treated can turn on their TV and watch Daija Sams and other POC tackle the Kentucky Three Day Event — or, even better, that they never find themselves crying because of mistreatment and micro- or macro- aggressions at all, because it’ll be so commonplace to see riders of all races and backgrounds at the top of the sport.

No matter who you are or where you came from, whether you’re watching from the sidelines or galloping down the track – all of our dreams ride on the backs of these horses.