Two phases of FEI competition are now complete in Temecula, Ca. on day one of the Galway Downs Spring International, and despite southern California’s best attempts to mimic waning winter we saw some stellar performances across divisions as we look ahead to tomorrow afternoon’s cross country finale. Erin Kellerhouse and her own Woodford Reserve are your overnight leaders following a testing Marc Donovan track that shook up many of the lower placings.
We first met Woodford Reserve in an EN’s Got Talent piece in 2017 during his Preliminary days. Erin bought the Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tinaranas Inspector – Laharns Laughton, by Laughton’s Flight) as a four-year-old and has spent the ensuing years thoughtfully producing the confident four-star horse we see today. Now 10, this will be “Woody’s” first full season at the Advanced/four-star level, having first made the step up in 2020. This pair was fifth in the CCI4*-L here at Galway Downs last fall and will look to the Bluegrass State as their next adventure – they’re entered in the CCI4*-S at Kentucky next month.
Despite a chill and a steady wind during this morning’s dressage, Erin says the test with Woody was one of the best they’ve had. “He’s definitely getting stronger and happy with the work,” she said. “There are little things I need to do. He wants to try so hard and gets away from me, so there’s a lot to improve on still – that’s exciting.”
“He actually always jumps pretty well,” she continued. “I made myself do every inside turn…he was jumping out of his skin. The number one thing is me getting comfortable, doing that size course and knowing my horse. I know really know him well now. It’s such a process, and I’ve never really had that up to this level. I’ve ridden a lot of babies to the two-star and Intermediate level, so I know their ins and outs. The young horses start tomorrow, so it’s nice to just focus on (Woody) today.”
Despite one second of time in the show jumping today, Erin held to the lead she established this morning, where she earned a 29.7 to squeeze past early leaders Helen Alliston and Ebay. A score of 30.1 will take them onto Clayton Fredericks’ cross country track tomorrow afternoon with a few seconds in hand. Erin says she joined a group for a course walk with Clayton, and she’s feeling more confident each time she walks the track. “I think, ‘hey, we did the long – this short is going to feel like nothing’, but there’s a lot to do. Things come up quicker with short format. I’ll have to be riding and on my toes, trying to stay on the time.”
Second to go in the cold and wind this morning were Helen Alliston and her own Ebay (Escudo – Komtessa), a 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding, put in an absolutely lovely test before judges Peter Gray and Helen Brettell this morning to lay down an early lead with a score of 30.7. This is also a horse newer to the Advanced level, and confidence remains the foremost thought in Helen’s mind as she looks ahead to a goal of contesting the CCI4*-L at Rebecca Farm.
“Ebay was really good today. Our dressage had a lot of improvements and I’m excited that there is still a lot that can be even better,” Helen said. “He show jumped really well – I should have taken some inside turns to make the time, but he jumps better if I stay riding forward so I tried to just go fast on the outside lines. He felt great and I’m excited for tomorrow – it’s big and challenging so I’m excited to see where we are at as a team in our education.”
Moving up one spot into third are Kentucky-bound Emilee Libby and her and Linda Libby’s Jakobi (Ustinov – Expression, by Coriano), a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood who finished in the top 10 here at Galway’s CCI4*-L last fall. After earning a 33.7 in the dressage, this pair were one of just two to manage the time around Marc Donovan’s track, which challenged riders to carve in some inside turns if they wanted to get close to the clock. Jakobi is a strong, powerful jumper, and Emilee says she has struggled in the past with pesky time penalties.
“It’s the softest he’s ever felt throughout his body, and I am shocked we just jumped in a snaffle today!” Emilee said. “He was listening so well to my half-halts, so I felt like I was able to finally ride him a bit more forward but still trust he was going to come back to me. We were really on the same page today. I’ve struggled with that one or two time penalties in the past so I’ve become pretty aware on where I need to be quick or make a quick turn with him. He sometimes feels like he’s going fast but he’s really not.”
Derek di Grazia, who we most often see out perfecting cross country courses at the biggest events in the world, moves up into fourth from fifth aboard his own Ringwood Justice (Ringwood Harley Carol – Ringwood Venus, by Osilvis), adding 3.2 time penalties to his dressage score for a two-day mark of 27.3.
Andrea Baxter, Madison Temkin, and Rebecca Braitling all jumped up the leaderboard after show jumping today, into fifth, sixth, and seventh respectively. Andrea and Laguna Seca, the son of her veteran five-star partner Indy 500, collected the only other double clear round of the day and will move forward in fifth on a score of 38.4. Andrea has enjoyed the “T-Rex” taming throughout “Junior’s” upbringing – which you can read more about here – and now seems to be reaping the fruits of her efforts with a solid dressage test this morning (though Junior opted to take great offense to a flapping tent, luckily saving it for his final halt) and a fast and clear jumping round this afternoon.
Haley Turner was the best of the best in the CCI3*-S after two phases with her own Shadow Inspector, who came over from the UK four years ago after beginning his FEI career with James Sommerville. Just four riders in the CCI3*-S put in double clear show jumping rounds, and Haley’s clear round inside the time will keep her atop the leaderboard on a score of 27.1.
Training with Bea and Derek Di Grazia as well as Volker Brommann, Haley says she’s very happy with “Chief”, who seems to light up more here and prefer this venue specifically. Chief, Haley says, has been a big confidence booster for her as she makes the step up to the Intermediate/three-star level this year. Some injury setbacks delayed their career progression a bit, but in 2020 the pair came out swinging, winning the CCI2*-S at Twin and finishing in the top 10 in the CCI2*-L at Galway last fall.
“2020 was kind of the year we got going together doing some Prelims and two-stars, before Covid,” Haley said. “I was really happy with our dressage. He was quite excited in the stadium as well.”
Puerto Rican Olympian Lauren Billys and the Can Be Sweet Syndicate’s Can Be Sweet (Candyman – Tres Belle) had a successful day in the CCI2*-S and will leave the start box tomorrow in the lead on a two-phase score of 28.2, despite a bit of time collected in the show jumping. This division was also thin on double clears – just two riders (Miranda Olagaray with Tanquaray and Madison Temkin with MVP Madbum) jumped clear inside the time.
The FEI divisions here at Galway will conclude tomorrow afternoon with cross country, designed by Clayton Fredericks. You can take a virtual walk around the track here. You can also get some insight on Clayton’s design thoughts for this venue in this interview
from last fall.
I’ll be back tomorrow evening (late for all of you East coast night owls) with a report from the cross country conclusion here in wine country. I’d be remiss not to commend the team here at Galway, headed up for this event by Robert Kellerhouse and Kellerhouse Presents, for the impeccable facility upgrades that have been put in for this season. This is a venue that’s constantly evolving, and competitors this week are treated to a new dressage arena as well as a permanent, future VIP and general spectating pavilion overlooking the Grand Prix Arena sponsored by Evergate Stables.
Galway is a unique facility home to race trainers, hunter/jumper programs, and a plethora of eventing professionals who base here on the grounds year-round. At any given point, you’re likely to see some racehorses out on the training track (which can be seen from the new dressage arena – hang on to your hats, dressage riders!), some up-down lessons being given, and a full-scale FEI event all at once. It’s a fascinating ecosystem of equestrian sport – and it’s in the heart of Temecula wine country, so there’s honestly nothing to dislike here. Except maybe the pretend winter weather.
My thanks also go out to Kim Miller, who heads up the PR for Galway and other events in California. Kim contributed to this report with quotes from Erin and Haley, as well as plenty of moral support in the chill! I’ll leave you with a handful of shots from the day. If you’re competing this weekend, don’t forget to stop by Tina Fitch Photography and Ride On Video for your show photos and videos. Ride On Video is also providing a live stream of the FEI action this weekend – you can follow along here.