With the schedule here at Great Meadow reorganized to avoid the thunderstorms this afternoon, we enjoyed a brief morning of cross country action with just twelve horse and rider pairs. As the last outing before the team riders ship off to Germany next week, today was an important test of how all the horses are feeling going into the Olympics, and how the alternates are looking for future team selection.
As this event is mostly a prep run to establish confidence, and tick off any last minute changes before Big Bad Tokyo, so most riders ran with their horses well in hand, and nobody made the time of 5:30. The crew here at Great Meadow did an excellent job of preparing the footing on cross country, with a personalized sprinkler system on all of the galloping lanes, and even though the first horse was on course at 10 AM, the weather was a suitable test for the heat of Tokyo.
Will Coleman and Off The Record came the closest to making the time, with Timmy looking like a lion on course and coming in with a scant few 6.8 time penalties. This horse’s big galloping stride and bold jumping style helped him shave seconds off without looking like he was even trying, and seems to have come out of his first Kentucky with more self confidence than before. The 12-year-old Irish gelding had a great spring with a win in the CCI4*-S at Carolina International, and a 15th place ribbon in his debut at the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event following a clear cross country round. Will hopes to aim Timmy for another CCI5* with the addition of the Maryland Five Star to our North American calendar in the fall.
The young guns with the first name Will were on fire today with their up-and-coming stars, with Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way smoking their way around for 9.2 time penalties, and the only other pair to garner single digit points. At only 10 years of age, Mason is a something of a prodigy, with his Land Rover Kentucky debut already in the bag, and a performance impressive enough to land him on the Olympic alternates list. Fun fact: today was only Mason’s 8th run at the Advanced level! Will can’t say enough about the horse, “On cross country he’s just a machine, he gives me the same feeling as Antigua”. This pair is flying over to Germany to get the travel and training experience, but ultimately this young horse has a big future ahead of him outside of performances in 2021.
Another pair heading to Germany is Tamie Smith & Mai Baum, who made the trip all the way back from California to participate in this outing, and then hop on a plane for Aachen. Tamie says that she has been working with Erik for a different style of riding on cross country, and that she was actually a little nervous to test it out here at Great Meadow. “It all worked out though, and actually it was much easier!” she said. Lexus looked in fine form, and always stuns with his athletic prowess over jumps.
The only surprise where Doug is concerned is that he went slowly enough to earn himself 10.4 time penalties, and didn’t feature any trademark DP Shortcuts, but the very experienced Vandiver looked fresh as a daisy and bopped along easily in preparation for Big Bad Tokyo. Doug made his Team USA debut at the Pan American Games in 2019 with Starr Witness, finishing in 4th place individually and helping the team snag Team Gold in the process. Doug’s consistency and reliability with 17-year-old Quinn landed him a spot as the traveling reserve to Tokyo, where the new Olympic format will potentially have him as a competing member.
The Big Three all looked in fine form today, with the first run since Kentucky for all of them. Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z looked extremely confident on course, but Liz says he has only jumped a few skinnies in her indoor since Kentucky, and this was his first real cross country school since April. Niro sprung a shoe and had some farrier issues during the past two weeks, so while he was back in work and got his important gallops in beforehand, he missed the opportunity to school cross country. However, their long term partnership and his zest for running fast and jumping high served him well, and he was spot on for every combination.
“My plan is to work on the test for Tokyo, and especially the changes for Niro,” says Liz. “The two rails down at Kentucky were a little uncharacteristic for him, so it’s good that Peter [Wylde] is going to Germany with us to work on show jumping, and I’ve just got a few minor things to tweak on cross country.”
Ultimately, however, the plan has always been to ship out the team next week “ready to run” as Erik Duvander put it, and while they’ll use their training time in Aachen wisely, the feeling is that all four horses heading to Tokyo are prepared in terms of fitness and technical skill.
When asked about the new Olympic format, Erik replied that he’s not a fan. “I don’t like the new format, and I think it makes you have a defensive and reserved strategy for cross country, because we absolutely cannot afford any members of the team to have a run-out, or tip up at all”. He went on to elaborate that this new format even affected team selection, with consistency and reliability in producing clear rounds on cross country becoming even more important than before. With only three riders on the team, there is no more room for error or taking risk on cross country, which Erik believes takes out some of the excitement of the sport.
Phillip Dutton is certainly no stranger to the hubbub surrounding The Olympic Games, considering Tokyo will be his 7th time representing his country in this capacity. Phillip will also be the oldest Olympian representing the United States this year, but his age certainly hasn’t stopped him from keeping up with the exuberant 12-year-old Zangersheide gelding. A man of few words, Phillip is straightforward in his praise for Zedd, “He’s as good as they get. He’s starting to really understand each phase. He’s a real competitor, and hopefully that’s going to happen at Tokyo”.
Z is a horse that has just gotten better and better with time, and finished in a solid 8th place this spring at Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*, adding just 5.2 cross country time penalties to his dressage score, and securing his ticket to Tokyo with his consistency, and, let’s be fair, probably some experience from his jockey.
And last but not least, Boyd Martin went out of the start box first today with On Cue, and last with Tsetserleg TSF. A testament to Boyd’s training and Thomas’ confidence, the two looked no worse for the wear after their unfortunate fall late in the course at Kentucky, and Thomas positively pinged around the course here. “The old campaigner Thomas, he’s feeling really fit and strong,” says Boyd. “I think I’m in good shape going into the games”. Simple, succinct, but experienced and tough as nails, Boyd is probably accurate in this feeling, and his horses look in prime condition.
While the day was relatively easy going, we had one unfortunate spill from Colleen Loach at 20B, the log drop down into the second water, where Qorry Blue d’Argouges took a dislike to the proposed jump, and put on the brakes, sending her gracefully into the water on her own. Both horse and rider walked away just fine though, so a safe day of high performance eventing overall. We’ll be back tomorrow for an update from the show jumping course!