It’s Friday evening at the 2019 Dutta Corp Fair Hill International Three-Day and the leaderboard of both the CCI4*-L and CCI3*-L divisions have been shuffled since competition began yesterday.
Yesterday’s CCI4*-L leaders, Will Coleman and Dondante, now sit in 7th place at the conclusion of dressage. Mara DePuy and her own and David and Mary Regamey’s Congo Brazaville C have taken over the top spot, after being the first ones of the day to break into the 20s. They’ll head into cross country sitting on 28.6 penalty points.
After “not such a good test” at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event this spring, after which Mara chose to withdraw from the competition (“He was a little distracted and we did a few extra movements,” Mara recalled), she took the 12-year-old KWPN gelding back to basics this summer and sought help from dressage trainer James Burtwell.
“After Kentucky I just needed a restart. Congo totally caught me out — I thought I had him and I didn’t. I needed to go and solidify some of the basics, which sounds silly, but it’s so important,” she said. “James didn’t know me from anywhere and just was straightforward and strong. James has helped a ton and the test today I definitely owe to him.”
Sitting atop the leaderboard is extra special for Mara, who represented the United State at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio De Janiero, Brazil, as it’s marking a return to the top level of the sport — something she wouldn’t have pictured happening six years ago before she found Congo.
“I thought I was ready to give up at the top level and Congo is a pretty special horse and fun to ride so we’re going to keep going,” she said. “He’s kind of like my best friend. He’s like a Labrador in the barn. I wake up every morning wanting to ride him and I enjoy riding him no matter what we’re doing. We’ve worked really hard this year and I’m just happy that it’s paying off.”
Phillip Dutton and the Z Partnership’s Z, his mount at last year’s World Equestrian Games, were the only other pair to score sub-30 in the CCI4*-L which puts them in second place. Phillip will be looking to pilot the uber-talented 11-year-old Zangersheide gelding to a strong finish this season.
“I was really pleased. I thought he did some really good work,” Phillip said. “He kept the lid on things and didn’t get too wound up, but was still powerful. It might be one of his best tests.”
Rounding out the top three in the CCI4*-L is Colleen Rutledge and her homebred Covert Rights. Despite their good placement on the leaderboard, Colleen admitted that they’re capable of more.
“I had a couple of bobbles in a couple of places,” she said. “But it’s always a work in progress and there’s always something I can fix and there’s always something that can be done … but for the most part he showed up to work and he did what he did.”
Colleen and CR have already found much success this season, either winning or placing second in their last four CCI4*-S. With CR making a comeback from injury, success with him is particularly sweet.
“Horses are horses. They hurt themselves pretty consistently and there are always ups and downs. I’m just so glad that he’s come back as well as he has. I have fun on him every day.”
A college sophomore sits atop the leaderboard in the CCI3*-L. Alexa Gartenberg splits her time between studying business at the nearby University of Delaware and riding her own Louis M. Lovingly known as a “first phase freak” here at EN, Louis M was acquired about a year ago by the Gartenbergs from Cornelia Dorr, who originally imported him from Germany’s Pia Münker. The 14-year-old Rheinlander gelding is the ultimate teacher.
“This past year has been about just getting me more experienced at the three-star short level,” Alexa said. “This is my fist three-star long so I’m really happy to have him showing me. He was perfect today — he comes out every day in a suit and tie ready to work. He’s really taught me the proper way of riding dressage.”
Alexa commutes between school and Matt and Cecily Brown’s East West Training Stables, with whom she’s been riding for the past three years.
“They’re like my second parents, I love them so much,” she said of the couple. “They’ve taught me how to be a true horsewoman.”
Woods Baughman slotted into second place in the CCI3*-L with the Baughman family’s C’est La Vie 135, scoring a 27.6.
Woods took a sabbatical from his usual position working for Sharon White to train with Dirk Schrade in Germany throughout 2018. While there, he was introduced to C’est La Vie 135, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding, who was in training with Dirk and ended up purchasing and importing the gelding at the end of the year.
Woods has spent 2019 getting to know him, and their first outing together in the states was at the Carolina International CCI2*-S this spring.
“He’s just so much fun,” Woods smiled. “You can just sit there and ask and he gives you what he’s got and you just enjoy it.”
Colleen Loach and Vermont, who she rides for Peter Barry, complete the top three in the CCI3*-L. The towering chestnut may be the tallest horse in the competition this weekend, as he sticks over 18-hands.
“It’s been a little bit different getting used to riding him,” Colleen said of the 7-year-old Hanoverian gelding. “He can be a very emotional, so I was happy with the wind he held himself together today. He felt a little bit tense but he kept his composure and allowed me to ride him so I was happy with the result considering the weather.”
Forging a partnership with the horse has been key to unlocking the talented youngster’s potential. “He trusts me now, which is a big deal for him because he’s a little bit insecure at time so when he trusts a rider he’s pretty impressive.”
Riders will test their mettle across Derek di Grazia’s cross country courses tomorrow, beginning with the the CCI3*-L division at 9:00am. The CCI4*-L division begins at 12:45pm. Don’t miss our four-star course preview here. Ride times for both divisions can be viewed here and will be live streamed on USEF Network.