You can’t help but hear the smile in Kelly Prather’s voice as she recounts her weekend with Debbie and Tony Adams’ D.A. Duras at the FEI Young Horse Championships at Le Lion d’Angers.
As the sole U.S. pair in the 7-year-old field (and overall after Katherine Coleman did not compete Monte Classico in the 6-year-old championship), the pressure was on to perform well — and the aid of the inaugural Holekamp/Turner Young Event Horse Grant added even more to the mix.
Kelly was there to soak it in and gain the experience, though, and didn’t feel as much pressure as most of us would have. “I was excited to represent the U.S. over there,” she explained. “I wanted to have a horse for them to cheer for and to support. I was proud to have the American flag flown there.”
A true pro with extensive experience at the two-star level, D.A. Duras took his travel in stride, arriving several days before the start of competition to settle in before Le Lion began. “He really settled in well. He’s a pretty good horse in the sense where is he curious of his surroundings but is pretty good tempered.”
There was a lot of hurry up and wait as Kelly’s draw was later in the order. She spent her downtime hacking and familiarizing with “D”, and he settled beautifully to earn a 50.4 in the dressage against stiff competition and just a shade higher than his score in the CCI2* at Bromont. This put them mid-pack heading to a tricky cross country — but Kelly had a wonderful mentor to help give her some inside tips.
“I worked for William Fox-Pitt in 2012,” Kelly said. “So since I was there without a coach, he was kind enough to walk the course with me and give me some tricks of the trade when it comes to certain questions and the terrain. Come Saturday, I had walked several times and was just ready to get out there and have fun.”
And have fun she did, turning in a double clear round to rocket into the top 20 on a day when the cross country claimed its fair share of victims.
“He went out of the box a bit wide eyed — there were thousands of people pressed against the fences — so I had to ride a bit harder than I normally do, but after he came out of the first water and I sent him out at a gallop he settled in and figured out that this was just another cross country course,” Kelly recalled. “I never really had to kick him after that. He’s a phenomenal cross country horse with a lot of experience.”
“I had wondered what he’d feel like around the eight minute mark, but he felt strong on his legs and came home really strong. I didn’t have to run for the time and came in just under it. I was delighted.”
Safely through the final jog, it was on to show jumping, which Kelly says comes fairly naturally to D. “He really took his experience from being there the whole week into the ring,” she said. “The course was about 1.20m since it was a championship course, and it asked a lot of questions. I walked it two or three times and came up with a plan and stuck to it. And it rode exactly according to plan, which is great when that happens.”
Kelly ended up in ninth place overall, successfully representing the red, white and blue with an impressive finish in equally impressive company. It’s an experience she’s grateful to have had and one she plans to build upon in the coming months.
“Debbie (Adams) really loves producing the young horses, so when the opportunity came up to take the grant, it was an easy decision,” Kelly explained. “It was a big goal for them and it was a big decision for me to sit out Fair Hill. But I think the experience and exposure was important and valuable.”
While D could likely have been moved up to Advanced this year, the decision was made to continue his mileage at the two-star level — an effort that definitely paid off in France. “I think you can spend a lot of time at the two-star level,” Kelly said. “There is plenty to do on those courses, and even my Advanced horses happily run around Intermediate. They don’t need to run around the huge tracks all the time. I read an article a long time ago about how some of the best horses spent a lot of time at the Intermediate and two-star level, so I think that’s a big part in building the foundation and taking the time at that level.”
With three CCI2* completions (and competitive placings) under his belt, D.A. Duras is set to eye a move up to the next level in the spring. Kelly has really clicked with him and their partnership is growing stronger with each ride.
“I really was in the right place at the right time when I met Debbie and Tony,” Kelly said. “Debbie imported him from Holland as a four-year-old and produced him, and she asked if I’d like to take a spin around his first Prelim. From there we really just got along well.”
It’s an exciting time for this talented young horse, who undoubtedly will continue on his upward trajectory next season. Kelly is thrilled to be along for the ride with D.A. Duras. “I think he really grew up last week. He has a big heart and he’s a trier, and that’s one of the best qualities you can ask for.”