Despite smoke billowing south from the devastating wildfires still raging throughout Canada, the air quality remained clear in the little pocket to the east of Montreal that seems to have primarily escaped the windblown plumes. We had a good amount of rain this morning — though not enough to concern anyone about it affecting the footing in anything other than a positive way — that gave way to slightly warmer temperatures and sun in the afternoon. We continue to keep those affected by the wildfires and smoke in our thoughts, and are grateful that both we and the horses here are able to breathe clean air and safely enjoy Bromont this weekend.
Nine of the 19 horses entered in the CCI4*-L competition at MARS Bromont CCI have completed their dressage tests this afternoon, and it’s Canadian Olympian Colleen Loach who has set the early gauntlet aboard her own and Amanda Bernhardt’s FE Golden Eye. The pair earned a mark of 27.6 — one of just two scores under 30 in the first half of the division — to set the standard ahead of the conclusion of dressage Friday.
This weekend stands to be among the biggest tests “Goldie” will have faced to date, though the 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding by Goldfever 3 is not short on experience at this level. Bromont will be his fourth start at the 4*-L level, with his best result to date being a fifth place finish in the inaugural Morven Park 4*-L in 2021. He’s also competed at Jersey Fresh (2021) and Tryon (2022). Mixed in between his eventing starts are also some rounds in the show jumping ring; most recently, Colleen and Goldie picked up a second place finish (right behind stablemate Vermont, who is here competing in the 4*-S this weekend) in the 1.35-1.4m Grand Prix here at this venue last month.
“We tried a little bit of a different warm-up strategy with Goldie today, working him a bit harder on the pre-ride,” Colleen noted after her test. The goal, with the help and input of Canadian chef d’equip Rebecca Howard, was to work on getting the big gelding a little more through in his body. “I’m not sure I would do it again. He was a little bit fussy, not quite as flowing and smooth in the contact as usual, so it’s good to know that what we were doing before worked better. But I was pretty happy with him. He was very obedient and overall had a pretty nice test — I’m being quite picky as I know he has a lot of good things in there.”
Colleen described her off-season as being focused on thoroughness and getting Goldie more in front of the leg — atmosphere doesn’t tend to rile this laid-back fellow much, so getting him to come up and into the contact presents a challenge at times. “He’s gotten a lot better — or I’ve gotten a lot better at riding him!”
In 2022, Colleen chose to run at Tryon instead of Bromont, but she earmarked this event in 2023 because she felt it would be a proper test for her horses. “I love Bromont, I love the cross country course here and it’s close to home,” she elaborated. “It’s just a really special event, the atmosphere is great and I think it’s a suitable course to Goldie.”
Second on the other sub-30 score of the day in the 4*-L are Lillian Heard Wood with Steve Berkowitz’s Chilly (Zanjero xx – Tax Rob xx, by Artax xx), sitting on a score of 29.0 ahead of Saturday’s cross country. If you’ve ever read anything about this incredible OTTB from Oklahoma, you know this guy has one heck of a story. If you haven’t, you can click on over to our Form Guide to read what Abby Powell wrote about his history. Suffice it to say, a mysterious illness in 2020 kept Chilly down for several months, to the point where both Steve, an equine vet by trade, and the team at New Bolton in Pennsylvania were stumped on the origin of the illness. Eventually, the now-11-year-old gelding pulled out of the sickness on his own, and Lillian was able to resume her training. Now, he’s ready to contest his first 4*-L with a very capable cross country rider in the irons, and he’s put himself into exceptionally good stead after the first phase.
Completing the top three after day one are Sweden’s Jennie Jarnstrom-Dennis and Flower Girl (Futurist – Lucy, by Romino), who spent the 2022 season primarily focusing on Short format events to improve their competitiveness. They very nearly beat their FEI personal best today, earning a mark of 31.0 from the judges (Marina Sciocchetti at M, president Andrew Benne at C, and Jane Hamlin at E). Time will be a factor for this pair to retain this standing at the end of Saturday, but for now enjoy that lovely test feeling, girl!
We will see the second half of this division tomorrow, and we’re predicting Colleen will stay in the lead, but could face a strong challenge from the likes of Ariel Grald and Diara, if they can replicate some of the scores earned at the level below this, or Sara Kozumplik and Rock Phantom, who’ve been knocking on the door of a solid sub-30 mark as of late and earned a 25.9 in their final prep for this event at an Advanced/Intermediate run last month. Ariel withdrew her first ride, Forrest Gump 124, from the competition ahead of her dressage test.
Lauren Nicholson Sits Pretty on New Ride
It was just a few weeks ago that Lauren Nicholson, with the help of Ms. Jacqueline Mars, acquired the ride on Larcot Z. Previously owned by Reagan Lafleuer and campaigned most recently by Will Coleman, Larcot Z now adds even more depth to Lauren’s string, already with a win at the 3*-S level under his belt.
In fact, Lauren’s had her eye on this stunning 10-year-old by L’Arc de Triomphe ever since Reagan brought the gelding over for a lesson with David O’Connor when he was a five-year-old. “I tried to buy him off her then!” Lauren laughed. “And I have a little bit harassed her for years, like ‘you want to sell him yet?'” That persistence (I’ll use that word here instead of “harassment” Lauren!) paid off, as when the decision was made to put the gelding up for sale, Will called Lauren first and offered her the sale.
“Long story short, [Reagan and Will have] done a beautiful job producing the horse,” Lauren continued. “He’s such an athlete. Right now I’m really just trying to figure out his buttons and not take anything away from how well he’s been trained. And, you know, it’s a fine line of just trying to make him my own without taking anything away from him. There’s few horses that I would feel confident going to a three-Long on such a short history, but I really felt at home on him and having known his history so well, with both Reagan and Coleman, I’m super lucky.”
Their score of 28.4 edges out Boyd Martin and Sandra Holden’s Chiraz, who also delivered a test with some lovely moments to earn a 29.6. Chiraz was formerly campaigned by Nicola Wilson (GBR) and Mikki Kuchta before joining Boyd’s string, and this weekend brings their first 3*-L start together.
Michelle Koppin held the 3*-L lead for a good chunk of the day, on a score of 31.0 with her own and John Koppin’s Calcourt Valley. This pair bested the score earned in the 3*-S here at Bromont in 2022, when they finished eighth overall. This is this pair’s second start at the 3*-L level; they previously finished inside the top 25 at Maryland’s CCI3*-L championship last fall.
Mixed in with the 3*-L division and competing for their own set of ribbons are the U25 riders, many of whom are recipients of this year’s MARS Bromont Rising Grant. Best placed of that group are West Virginia-based Lea Adams-Blackmore and her own Frostbite, who are currently tied for third with Michelle on a score of 31.0. This is the second year Lea has benefitted from the MARS Bromont Rising program, and she gives a lot of credit both to her longtime coach at home, Sharon White, as well as Bettina Hoy and Cara Whitham (who are here to help coach and mentor the Bromont Rising students this weekend) for helping her crack the code with “Frosty”.
“I’ve felt like the big goal for me was to just not sacrifice, you know, getting a seven because we’re going for a nine,” Lea commented. “We just wanted to have a really consistent, pleasant test. The places where we could get those extra points, we would do our best, but I really didn’t want to make it a huge stressful thing for him. I just finally got him to the point where he goes in the ring and he is able to take a breath — we’re both able to take a breath. It’s a lot of me just not putting that pressure on him. So I was so pleased.”
Speaking to the benefits of the Bromont Rising program, Lea was quick to list off a few things she had picked up over the last few days. The grant recipients attended workshops with Cara and Bettina to break down their dressage tests and learn about the whole system that must be in place to find success in this sport.
“This is my second year and the program is amazing,” Lea explained. “The lectures, the help on the ground, the course walks…I know last year, it was a little bit different — we didn’t have Bettina here. I felt like last year and this year, it’s been great to feel like you have access to those people. My normal coach, Sharon White, couldn’t be here this week, so it was huge to have somebody that can just give you that insight and the lecture, the centerline workshop yesterday — those are the kinds of things that you’re going to be thinking about before you go in. You’re not going to completely change your test, but having those little details and riding for those extra marks are how you kind of work your way into the upper rankings if you can just focus on that. And I’m so, so excited to walk the course with [Bettina] tomorrow, and just get her take on it. It’s just been an awesome experience both years.”
Dutton, Schulman Lead Two CCI2*-L Divisions
The CCI2*-L is split into two divisions this weekend, one as an open division and one for the U25 riders. Phillip Dutton slotted into the lead (and gave a double fist pump when we informed him of his score) with about half of the horses finished on Thursday aboard Fernhill Shutterfly on a score of 24.5. The 9-year-old Irish gelding by Sir Shutterfly was sourced originally by Fernhill Sport Horses and Carol Gee before first being purchased by fellow eventer Julie Richards before then changing hands to Kevin Keane. He’s now owned for Phillip by Dave Vos, Caroline Moran, and John Ingram.
“He’s had a few ownership changes, but he’s an exciting horse for us to have,” Phillip said. “He’s got a great blend of that Thoroughbred feel underneath, but he’s got a pretty good brain as well. This is his first two-star Long, but he is a little bit older and he did a little bit of everything in Ireland — Pony Club, and show jumping. He’s certainly very gifted on the flat. He’s got a nice presence and movement and balance. At Tryon, he got a little spooky, so I prepared him a little bit better today, and he was right on the money and didn’t put a foot wrong.”
Speaking to why he chose Bromont for this debut, Phillip said he likes the test the horses face here as they look to move up the levels. “This is a proper test for good horses with the cross country the way it is, and he needs to get to be able to do these tough, stronger cross country courses. And this is ideal for that.”
Currently leading the U25 CCI2*-L following dressage, which completed Thursday for this division, are Sara Schulman and her own Cooley Chromatic. Also a MARS Bromont Rising recipient, Sara says she has benefited immensely from the help she’s received this week, in addition to that from her longtime coach, Jan Byyny. This pair’s score of 22.0 gives them a healthy breathing margin of 8.1 penalty points ahead of second-placed Emeline Gilbert and EWSZ Mozart.
“[Bromont Rising is] the first program of this type that I’ve been able to be a part of, which has been really awesome,” Sara said. “And I think the coaching, especially for dressage, with Bettina yesterday morning was incredibly helpful, especially because my main coach, Jan Byyny, was able to be there alongside. So having those two eyes working together, working for me, and as well as in the warm-up this morning was super helpful to just shape up the little finer details and create an even better test.”
Sara pointed out the detail-oriented approach that has been instilled throughout this program, noting some tips she’d taken away from the educational seminars and lessons thus far. “Using everything in the ring to your disposal,” she said when asked what one of the top tips she’d gleaned was. “So being able to use every corner as a preparation point, as well as thinking through each movement, breaking down even the transitions that go into the movement, and being able to add a bit more detail into it.”
Friday and Beyond
Competition resumes tomorrow with the remainder of the CCI3*-L and CCI2*-L competitors in the morning, followed by the conclusion of the CCI4*-L and the CCI4*-S, which does not begin until tomorrow, in the afternoon. Cross country will follow on Saturday, followed by the Second Horse Inspection and show jumping on Sunday. I’ll be back tomorrow with more from the action, as well as a cross country preview of the 4*-L, so don’t go anywhere — or if you do, go and find somewhere to order me a bunch of Nestle Aero bars as it’s wildly unfair that I cannot get them in the States and I’m currently considering changing residences solely to have access to this delightful discovery (not really, but I did think about it for at least two seconds).