It wasn’t Will Coleman‘s “plan A” to bring Team Rebecca LLC and the Four Star Eventing Group’s Dondante to the Setters’ Run Farm CCI4*-S at Carolina International. But after he and “Al” had an untimely slip on the flat while on cross country at Red Hills earlier this month, he found himself in need of a backup as he preps for the 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding’s second start at Kentucky in April.
For plan B, Will and Dondante (Pachio – Muckno Clover, by Euro Clover) delivered a cool, clear round inside the optimum time around Ian Stark’s cross country track to seal a second consecutive win in this division (he won in 2021 with eventual Aachen winner Off the Record). Their finishing score of 27.4 is also the lowest in Carolina’s eight year 4*-S history — he’d set the previous record in 2021 with a 27.5.
“Sometimes the best laid plans kind of happen in a happenstance kind of way,” he reflected on his drive home. “I ended up leaving Red Hills thinking it would be perfect for [Dondante] to go to Carolina. And I’m so happy I did — it was a fantastic course, a really great five-star prep. I think Carolina is unmatched on the spring calendar as an event.”
The door was left open for someone else to step up onto the top of the podium after the planned withdrawal of leader Mai Baum by Tamie Smith. Will was given just over 11 seconds of time in hand after second-placed Doug Payne and Starr Witness picked up a handful of time penalties, but he wouldn’t need it. Deliciously perfect weather and footing made the decision to put the pedal down a bit easier, as the rain we saw earlier this week made for great going. And when the conditions genies grant you a wish, you might as well take a shot.
“He’s not the most nimble horse, so going fast on these short courses isn’t really his bag,” Will said. “He’s good at getting the time at long formats, but the shorts have not been something we’ve generally gone for time on. But I was in a good position to go out and be competitive, and I was happy with how he answered the bell.”
This is a horse Will’s had since his early eventing days, having been found as a four-year-old at Cooley Farm. Will competed Dondante in Young Event Horse competition as a five-year-old and has spent the intervening years instilling confidence and fine-tuning the natural talent. That time spent has paid off well, as Dondante also earned a personal best on Thursday, shaving 5.3 penalty points off of his previous lowest score to earn a 27.4.
“Probably the biggest thing I was happy with this weekend was his dressage,” Will explained. “Katie and I and one of our dressage coaches, Ian Woodhead, have been working hard on this horse for a few years now. We’ve all thought that there was the ability there to eventually get him well into the twenties, and it was just nice to see that actually happen this weekend.”
Will also moved up the board this weekend with The Conair Syndicate’s Tight Lines (Turgeon – Merindole, by Tel Quel), finishing sixth after starting the weekend in 20th. He now looks ahead to Kentucky, where he’ll compete his top three (Dondante, Off the Record, and Tight Lines) in the 5* and his rising star, Chin Tonic HS, in the 4*-S.
“I feel like we put some good things together this weekend and can maintain that momentum as we look towards Kentucky,” Will said. “There’s still a lot of things to fine tune, but that’s kind of the beauty of the sport, you’re never done trying to get better.”
The second and third spots on the podium belong to two riders who also enjoyed strong weekends on multiple rides. Doug Payne and Starr Witness (Chello II – Carmen, by Veneur), who is owned by Laurie McRee and Catherine Winter, enjoyed a stellar weekend and added only 3.2 time across the country today to cement a second place finish.
“Starr Witness was incredibly good,” Doug said. “She is just getting stronger and stronger. She started eventing late so it took a little longer to get her base fitness there. She was really confident, and I couldn’t be much happier and excited for the future for her.”
Starr Witness is aiming for the CCI4*-L at Tryon in May (and continue to look for this pair in the dressage ring, too — Doug hopes to earn some scores toward his USDF gold medal with her in the future).
Doug also finishes in the top five with Debi Crowley’s Vandiver (Windfall II – Visions of Grandeur, by Mystic Replica xx), who looked like he was skipping around a Novice on cross country this afternoon, adding 1.2 time penalties to his score. Stablemate Quantum Leap (Quite Capitol – Report to Sloopy, by Corporate Report), who along with Vandiver is aiming for Kentucky, also delivered a clear round with some time to finish in 11th overall. And it was an exciting peek at the young Camarillo (Chicardo – Rehobeth, by Riverman), bred in the U.S. by Didi Callahan (who also bred Quantum Leap), stepping up to the plate in a big way this weekend in just his second Advanced outing to end in the top 20.
It’s a home event for Will Faudree, who also sits on the organizing committee of Carolina International and was thrilled with the tracks and the perfect going today. “What can I say other than it’s just ‘fun’?” he said after coming home clear inside the time with Jennifer Mosing and Sterling Silver Stables’ Pfun (Tadmus – Celerina, by Cento) to finish third. He also finished in the top 10 with the Badminton-bound Mama’s Magic Way (Mighty Magic – Straightaway, by Star Regent xx), noting that this was a track where he felt “Mason” step up to be faster across the ground while still “thinking in slow motion”.
Sydney Elliott continues to impress with a determined ride aboard Carol Stephens’ QC Diamantaire (Diarado – Lantana, by Sandro Hit), finishing in fourth with just 2.4 time penalties accumulated today. This pair is aiming for a second trip to Kentucky next month.
Ian Stark’s refreshed track received a lot of positive feedback today. Typically this would be considered a twistier course, but we saw a somewhat faster average pace carried today, helped by the ideal ground and weather conditions. On average in 2021, the 4*-S saw about 12 seconds of time across 31 finishers, while this year’s track averaged just under 8 seconds of time penalties. Last year, Will was the sole double clear in the field with Off the Record. This year’s course yielded three double clears, all owned by the two Wills: Coleman and Dondante and Faudree with both Pfun and Mama’s Magic Way.
“I thought Ian Stark designed a brilliant cross country course,” Will Faudree said. “It was big and impressive, and the Carolina Horse Park has gone above and beyond in making the footing the best in the country. You wanted to go fast on it.”
“The ground was honestly perfect and there has been a ton of work done to it,” Doug agreed. “It really showed and the conditions couldn’t have been better.”
“I think this weekend you saw a cross country course that really embodied a lot of the things we love about eventing,” Will Coleman said. “There were big imposing jumps, but horses understood what they had to do, gaining confidence as they went around. Riders also gaining confidence. I think if they’re built the right way, these courses can still be very rewarding and very horse friendly, and that’s for sure what we want in our sport: horses that love their job.”
Problems were fairly few, though two horses did fall: Dani Sussman and Jos Bravio fell on landing in the water at fence 12, the Cordelia’s Cove Corner, while Jules Ennis and Cooley O fell at fence 10, the Ride EquiSafe Hollow. Both horses and riders were immediately up and appeared to be just fine. Tamie Smith had a tough day at the office with Julianne Guariglia’s Solaguayre California, making an epic save in the first water but ultimately coming to grief after the big, bold mare took a huge leap into the main water later on. Tamie was reported to have had a hand injury and a sore ankle this morning, but she also put in a bold ride aboard Judy McSwain’s Fleeceworks Royal as the first to go in the 4*-S.
The other FEI divisions wrapped up their cross country phase today as well, let’s turn it over to the winners:
CCI3*-S: Christina Henriksen and JTH Zest (32.9)
“She just really loves competing,” Christina said. “She was incredible and just gave me the most amazing feeling all the way around. My plan was not to run quickly actually but she is just so smooth making it all feel easy. This winter was very different for me, but it has really worked. I came to Southern Pines and have been based here working with Bobby Costello. Having the consistency of Bobby has been amazing and it really all came together this weekend.”
CCI2*-S: Lucia Strini and Kevin G (33.0)
“I just love this event and the horses were really great,” Lucia said. “The course also couldn’t have been better. All the horses kept trying for me all the way to the end because I set out to go for time. I was really impressed by my sister’s horse, Kevin G, who won. It’s only his second start at the level and he was just so great. He learned so much and gained so much confidence as he went. I am just super proud of how they all went and stepped up.”
CCI1*-S: Olivia Coolidge and Bold Impression (28.7)
“My horse was awesome,” Olivia said. “He is a cross country machine and if anything, it is just a matter if I can ride him. I liked how much galloping there was because I could really focus on taking everything out of stride. That was our first FEI [event] so there were a lot of years of work leading up to this. I really couldn’t be happier.”
Bits & Bobs:
I was pleased to see Marc Grandia and Team Rebecca LLC’s Campari FFF (Camiros – Tanner, by Ariadus) deliver a confident, clean round today to tick off an important Kentucky prep. Marc is, by now, probably on plan F, having had to reroute east from his home base in Washington after his California prep was canceled. Marc told me yesterday he wasn’t looking to go all out today, but that he was looking for a good challenge to set him up for his first 5*. I’d say mission accomplished, Marc!
Talent alert: You’ll want to keep an eye on Ariel Grald‘s newest four-star partner, Annie Eldridge’s Forrest Gump 124 (Fuerst Nymphemburg – Amaterasu, by Amerigo Vespucci xx). This 11-year-old, who previously campaigned through three-star with Great Britain’s Tom Jackson before joining Ariel’s string last year, made an impression on a big track today. Even with a couple of green moments, his keen expression never wavered — he’s definitely got “the look” of a horse for the future.
It’s been a wonderful weekend of sport at Carolina International. I was sad to miss the event in person this year and hope to make it there again soon — it’s one of my favorite venues and always a preferred stop on the road to Kentucky for us here at EN. A huge shout-out and thank you to the organizers, officials, volunteers, sponsors, grooms, and all who are involved the immense work of putting on these events. This event is well-supported by the local equestrian community — a big EN shout-out to 4*-S sponsor Setters’ Run Farm, owned by Annie Eldrige, and to media sponsor Ride EquiSafe, owned by Catherine Winter!
Of course, the show isn’t quite over just yet — the National divisions will wrap up tomorrow. You can keep up with live scores here.
If you missed out on any of the action this weekend, never fear! You can click here to look back through our reports from this weekend, and you can also keep an eye on Horse & Country, which always has full replays available quickly for H&C+ subscribers.
Thank you for following along with us. Next up: Shelby Allen will be on the ground at Stable View’s CCI4*-S next weekend, where we’ll see more Kentucky-bound horses out for a prep run. Click here to preview the entry list — we can’t wait!
As always, #goeventing.
Many thanks to Mikaela Kantorowski and Brant Gamma Photography for the media support this weekend!