On a brisk morning in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the first horses started down centerline Friday at the Virginia Horse Trials (VHT) International. Following the first phase of competition, Australia’s Ryan Wood and USA’s Jane Jennings are tied for the lead in the CCI2*-LA division on a score of 29.5.
Wood is riding Ruby, a 10-year-old Oldenburg mare owned by Summit Sporthorses Ltd, Inc. The pair won this same division last year and also won the CCI2*-S last spring at The Fork at Tryon.
“She’s feeling great. She pulled out a cracking test today,” Wood said. “I’m excited for her owner and breeder Ilona English, who stuck with this horse and believed in her since she was a foal. She won the two-star here last year and her brother Powell also won the two-star here [in 2014]. She’s from New Jersey but she’s bred a bunch of Virginia winners.”
Cross country course designer Carsten Meyer has set a testing two-star track for Saturday. On the rolling hills of the Virginia Horse Center, endurance plays a heavy role.
“We’ve been doing a lot of fitness, thankfully, because it’s a serious track out there for the two-star. There is lots of terrain and it’s a long course at 7 minutes, 38 seconds,” Wood said. “Ruby is a really honest jumper and she’s seasoned at the level. We’re looking forward to getting out there tomorrow.”
Jennings and Kontessa M are fresh off a win at Morven Park’s CCI2*-S. As the highest placed American rider in the CCI2*-LA division, she and the 9-year-old Oldenburg mare currently lead the USEF Two-Star Eventing National Championship.
Leading the way in the CCI2*-LB division and in the hunt for the USEF National Two-Star JR/YR Championship is Francesca Spoltore with Millstreet Mitch. With a leading score of 31.4, Spoltore, 19, and her 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding got a positive start to their first international competition as a pair.
“He was really super today. He’s really trained on the flat. It’s been me learning how to get the perfect test out of him,” Spoltore said. “That’s probably the best test he’s had. I was able to get him uphill and he grew a lot in there.”
Spoltore and “Mitch” partnered only four months ago. He arrived at her trainer Alex Green’s barn to be sold and he was the perfect fit to help Spoltore gain competition miles at the level. The plan for tomorrow’s cross country is to try and stay up on the minute markers early.
“I’m not super fast on the cross country, especially since I don’t know him that well. The times I have run him I’ve just been learning how to ride him,” Spoltore said. “I’m hoping I can go quick tomorrow. It’s a very long course and the terrain here guts them a little bit by the end.”
The CCI3*-L also has a tie for the top spot after dressage. Woods Baughman and the 10-year-old Masterel, a Thoroughbred owned by Denis Glaccum and Sharon White, sit in equal first on a score of 32.1 with John Michael Durr and Becky Brown’s 13-year-old CDE, Tilikum.
Earning the best dressage score to lead the inaugural VHT CCI1*-L are Mikki Kuchta and Special Reserve. They scored a 29.7, a solid start to the 6-year-old Thoroughbred’s first international competition.
The remainder of the national horse trials divisions, from Modified all the way to Starter, will begin their competition Saturday while the international combinations tackle cross country.