Gettin’ Piggy with It on Day One at MARS Maryland 5 Star

Piggy March and Brookfield Cavalier Cruise. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

It may be Piggy March’s (GBR) first time at the MARS Maryland 5 Star, presented by Brown Advisory, but she’s certainly settled right in. Set as the seventh to see in the drawn order with 5* first-time horse Brookfield Cavalier Cruise (Cavalier Carnival – Ryans Cruise, by Atlantic Cruise) — whose name-givers honestly missed an opportunity to name him “Carnival Cruise” and secure a sponsorship with major perks — Piggy laid down a 24.2 to take an unchallenged lead. Earlier leaders Monica Spencer (NZL) and Artist will now be in overnight second after scoring a 28.4.

“He’s still he’s only ten and he’s really quite low on mileage,” Piggy said of the 10-year-old owned by Chloé Perry, John Perry, and Alice Swinburn. “And this is his first five-star test, obviously that he’s even ran through or ever done. So, you know, obviously I’m absolutely delighted. There is there will still be more to come from him; he’s a 17.1, 17.2 horse with a great big frame — an ’empty’ frame still. He will over the next few years — he’s an Irish boy — he will still keep filling and developing and building his core strength. He’s got the most unbelievable brain…and he’s just so charming to work with, so he’s like ‘alright mom, I’ll try!’.”

Piggy, who’s making her first trip to Cecil County this year, though it’s hardly her first trip to the States, acknowledges there’s still much to be done in terms of “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” with “Fletcher” in terms of his development both in his body and in terms of experience. After finishing second on their dressage score at Bramham’s notoriously tough (as Piggy puts it, perhaps the toughest 4*-L in the world) CCI4*-L this spring, Piggy wanted to find the next reasonable progression for the supremely talented 10-year-old. And for a trip that’s part “see how we do” and part “give it a good bloody go”, Piggy feels she’s in a good spot to tackle the monstrous course Ian Stark has designed for 2023. However, in this edition of “5* riders, they’re just like us”, she candidly said this year’s course has her clenching certain body parts a little extra.

Piggy March and Brookfield Cavalier Cruise. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

“You know, it’s a brilliant first-time five-star because [it’s] just big and bold and attacking,” she said. “It can get wet, which you don’t really normally mind, and the time can be easy and we thought well maybe they’ll tighten that up over time if everyone’s still getting the time. But I still thought, it’s not a big field, hopefully they won’t go mad…I get here and the further I get ’round I’m like, ‘Oh, God, I should have gone to Burghley and just gone a bit slower!’ But you know, it’s very inviting. I have grown up watching Ian Stark and riding lots of his courses. So it’s like, shut up Pig and get on with it! You know, we’ve got a lot of trust in [Ian].”

Monica Spencer and Artist. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Kiwi World Championships rider Monica Spencer is basing here in the States in preparation for a run at the Paris Olympics squad next year with her 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, Artist. She’s spent the last few months here, basing in Pennsylvania with an eye on this event. It was quite an adventure to get here to the U.S., flying together from Auckland, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia, where they had a half-day layover before boarding a plane to the U.S., stopping in Queensland, Hong Kong, Anchorage and, finally Chicago. “Max” and Monica then had to trek another 15 hours to get to their final destination in Pennsylvania, so it’s safe to say they likely slept for about a week between them after that literal round-the-world journey.

But now, they’ve settled in and have competed in Unionville as well as at Loch Moy in preparation for this weekend. Monica noted in an earlier interview with EN that she’d watched the live stream of Maryland before and thought this course would be particularly suited to her horse, who was trained as a racehorse in Australia but did not actually race. One of the things that drew her to the horse was his natural movement. We don’t see terribly many pure Thoroughbreds in the sport who regularly score in the 20s, but Artist would be one of them.

“He’s a Thoroughbred, you know, and I do think they take a little bit longer to strengthen up because they’re not bred or built for the job we ask them to do,” Monica said. “So just strength over the years [is what I’ve worked on]. For the dressage, it’s [a lot of] lateral [work] and just keeping that suppleness through the ribs. I just produced him up the levels and and he was kind of one that that won all the way through and he’s always just, I guess, found his job a little bit easy, so he was a pleasure to produce.”

Hannah Sue Hollberg and Capitol HIM. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

First of the U.S. riders today is Hannah Sue Hollberg, riding Capitol HIM for Christa Schmidt (who, by the way, is currently loving life as Harbour Pilot’s new dancing partner!), who scored a 32.4 to sit third overnight. “Chito” can be quite horse shy, so the journey from the warm-up to the stadium can be a harrowing one, but once the pair got to work Hannah Sue felt the 16-year-old Holsteiner gelding settle in to the task at hand. “I showed [the Jumbotron] to him a couple times and he was really good and went in there and actually was better than he is normally,” she said after her test. “He did everything better and like as well as he can at home or better, so I messed up that last change — I was getting too excited! But otherwise, I thought I rode to my plan and I rode more aggressively in the trot work, which I’ve been trying to do.”

Hannah Sue originally brought Chito to Kentucky in 2022 for his 5* debut, but a parting of ways on cross country would keep them from securing that first completion. In the intervening months, she feels the horse has gotten stronger and more with her than ever before. “I feel like he’s actually a completely different horse in a lot of ways,” she explained. “He jumps a lot better, he moves better. He’s more kind of with me in general, like on the aids and looks to me instead of kind of getting nervous and getting hot. When he gets nervous, he’s like, ‘what do we do now?’ Which is such a nice thing to have.”

Mia Farley and Phelps. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Mia Farley hits the board as the fourth-place rider after today — not a bad way to start off your first 5*! Mia’s doing her best to think of this debut as “just another horse show” with David O’Connor’s 10-year-old ex-racehorse Phelps, who scored a very respectable 32.9 today. “You know, he’s a Thoroughbred, but he’s got a pretty strong trot now. And then I cantered, they rung the bell, I went in and just started the test and remembered every movement! So, I’m happy. Phelps was great!”

Mia says she’s worked on a lot of canter pirouettes with Phelps to strengthen his hind end. “Him being a Thoroughbred, he’s naturally long and flat, kind of. But he’s really improved throughout the years — I think him and I both, not just him. But I give him a lot of credit — he tries his heart out in every phase for me.”

Andrew McConnon is another 5* debut rider this weekend, riding Ferrie’s Cello (Chello III VDL – Karelza, by Wolfgang) for Jeanne Shigo to a score of 33.4 and fifth place overnight. Andrew originally intended to run “Eddie” at Kentucky this spring, but after he felt the 11-year-old KWPN gelding wasn’t quite 100% ahead of dressage opted to withdraw and aim for another event. More time generally never hurts, and Andrew agrees, benefitting from some valuable overseas experience as a part of Team USA at the Strzegom Nations Cup leg in June instead.

“He’s eleven this year, physically. Mentally, he’d be a little bit younger than that,” Andrew elaborated. “So we just wanted to make sure everything was going in the right direction before Kentucky, and we had the opportunity to go over to Poland and do [the Nations Cup CCIO4*-S]. So when everything wasn’t lining up 100% [at Kentucky], there was no point in setting him up to do something big. So we decided to reroute and go to Poland, which was a really good experience to be able to pack and travel and deal with all the logistics and everything before hopefully eventually a team experience one day. So it was really valuable for him and honestly, extra months and extra time, just working away, has been really helpful.”

Andrew spent time in England in 2017 working for British Olympian William Fox-Pitt, who’s also here this weekend with the young mare Grafennacht (we’ll see their test tomorrow). Having the chance to spend some time with William this week has been icing on the cake, Andrew says. “I really respect him as a person,” he said. “I knew him as a horseman before, as a kid watching him go around Kentucky and he was always my favorite rider. But then working with him I got to know him as a person outside of the horses, and he’s somebody that I would like to emulate on and off the horse. He’s wonderfully supportive, and he’s very relaxed and it was really comforting to have him here. It is comforting to hear and really fun to walk cross country. You know, he’s serious about it, but he also is realistic and understands different people’s plans and he’s really supportive. So I feel like I’ve got a good group of people around me, which is really important.”

Tomorrow we’ll see the remainder of the riders in the dressage arena, which is chaired this weekend by the Ground Jury of Judy Hancock (GBR), Robert Stevenson (USA), and Andrew Bennie (NZL). Notables on the order tomorrow include New Zealand’s Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier, William Fox-Pitt and Grafenfnacht, Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent, and Boyd Martin and Contessa. Of those, Grafennacht and Cooley Rosalent are the most likely threats to the top of the leaderboard, so stay tuned to find out if we have some shuffles — and perhaps an all-international top three heading into cross country — by this time tomorrow.

Lauren Nicholson in Charge of USEF CCI3*-L National Championship

Lauren Nicholson and Landmark’s Jungle Gold. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Lauren Nicholson claimed the overnight lead in the CCI3*-L aboard Jacqueline Mars’ gelding Landmark’s Jungle Gold (Diarado – Jungle Tale, by Cougar), ending the day on a 30.3.

“He’s a homebred, so we’ve had him his whole life and career and he’s always handled the atmosphere quite well,” says Lauren of “Richie”. “He’s a very self-confident creature and always has been, so he just kind of looked around and was quite content.” The eight-year-old gelding matured quite young, she explains, and took to the rather vibrant arena atmosphere this morning with nary a nod to the audience.

“The great thing about this track as a three-star is that it’s strong,” she says in reference to Richie’s young age. “It’s a great track for their education, and also for their fitness, thinking about the future – that’s why we decided to aim him here.”

Lauren and Richie squeezed just ahead of Lynn Symansky aboard Idefix van de Crumelhaeve by just 0.4 points, followed by an even smaller margin of 0.2 by Woods Baughman and Kamara CFF in third position.

You can view the full CCI3*-L leaderboard here.

MARS Maryland 5 Star: [Website] [Entries, Schedule & Times] [Live Scores] [Live Stream (North America)] [Live Stream (Outside North America)] [Tickets] [5* Form Guide] [Digital Program] [XC Maps] [EN’s Coverage]

EN’s coverage of MARS Maryland 5 Star is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products.

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