Kentucky CCI5*: Tom McEwen Out in Front with JL Dublin After Thursday’s Dressage

Tom McEwen and JL Dublin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

What an exciting group of competitors we have coming forward to contest the 2023 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by MARS Equestrian. With a group of this caliber, no single entry stood out as the front runner during the lead up, but Great Britain’s Tom McEwen certainly made his mark on the first day, taking the lead of the class with JL Dublin.

The partnership between Tom and the 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Diarado – Zarinna, by Cantano), who is owned by Mr. and Mrs. J. Lambert and Mrs. D. Johnston, is less than a year in the making as the Olympic Gold and Silver Medalist took over the ride after Nicola Wilson had a fall with “Dubs” that resulted in life-threatening injuries which forced her retirement from the sport. It was Nicola who piloted the horse through his International career through last year, and it’s her years of training that Tom credits for today’s result.

“It’s all thanks to Nicola’s amazing training and the partnership they’ve had. [I’m] very lucky to take the reins on him, and he’s such a picture to watch anyway, so to go and pull off the tests — he can do it very easily and actually still have a few things to push up on. It’s very exciting really,” Tom said.

“Dubs is the kindest person you could ever meet. If I could put him into personality-wise what you see in the arena is sort of what you get. He’s lovely, soft, kind, but with the personality and a huge showmanship. He loves just being on the stage. He’s a lovely, lovely person.”

Tom McEwen and JL Dublin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In his first trip to Kentucky — about which, Tom says all he knew of the state was “racehorses, bourbon, and tobacco” — Tom earned a 22.6 with a test that features several nines awarded from the Ground Jury of Christina Klingspor (SWE), Peter Shaw (AUS), and Angela Tucker (GBR).

Speaking about his first trip to Kentucky, Tom said: “To be honest, it’s probably one of the greatest talked about events that I’ve never been to. So it’s been a pleasure to be able to come and an even bigger pleasure to be able to start competing here. Everyone is so super friendly. So that is the first thing I would say, but the stadium, I mean, the TV doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s quite a brilliant experience. It’s much, much bigger. And of course, it’s beautiful. The course is designed so well and it’s beautifully carved. So yeah, it’s a stunning place to be and I’m very lucky to be here,” he said.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

California girl Tamie Smith held the lead through the middle of the afternoon on a 24.2 with her World Championship partner Mai Baum before taking one step down the podium to rest in second place at this point in the competition.

“I think it was one of his best tests to date. We’ve been working on just getting him stronger and being more in self carriage and being in front of my leg and he answered all the questions super. I really couldn’t have asked him to be better. I maybe had a couple of little tiny mistakes, but I was very pleased,” Tamie said.

Tamie and “Lexus,” a 17-year-old German Sporthorse gelding (Loredano – Ramira, by Leoni) owned by Alexandra Ahearn, Ellen Ahearn, and Eric Markell, spent their time very carefully over the winter, dedicating their focus to straight dressage competitions.

“I spent a lot of time this winter just getting him stronger and working with my dressage instructor, Johann Hinnemann, at home. I ended up doing the Prix St. George over the winter, and it was a really good exercise because I felt like that was his best test [today]. He really stayed in front of me,” she said.

Their partnership is nearly a decade in the making, but Tamie says that with each year it gets sweeter and sweeter. “I think with any horse as time goes on you hope to develop a very good trusting partnership and the quality has always been very much there, but his confidence and strength has — I think for both of us — has grown. I felt like the best way to describe it is like a hand in a glove. We think for each other — I think something and he does it; I look somewhere he goes like he’s just so with me,” she said.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Liz Halliday-Sharp, who currently leads the CCI4*-S division, claims third place in the five-star aboard Deniro Z. Their result of 29.0 wouldn’t be their best at the level — they achieved that here two years ago on 27.4 — but Liz was pleased to see that their hard work on the flying changes, which they’ve historically struggled with, has begun to pay off.

“He got three out of the four so I guess we should be excited about that. Actually at home they’ve been the best they’ve ever been this year and I would say I owe a lot of that to some training I’ve done with Shelly Francis lately. She really kind of changed the way that I teach the horses to do changes, and I think it’s made a huge difference to him.”

“Obviously it wasn’t our very best test today. Deniro decided something was terrifying with the camera on the first centerline which genuinely he’s never done that in my entire time with him. But here we are, it just shows they’re individuals and they can still do cheeky things,” Liz said of the Ocala Horse Properties’ 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Zapatero – Zonne-Trend, by French Buffet xx). “But yeah, he is starting to really understand what he’s supposed to do with the changes. The right to left has always been harder for him. They’re physically very hard for him. At home he very rarely would miss the right to left this year now which is great. But when he’s feeling a little excited and a little snazzy, that’s usually when he leaps in the air or misses it. But here we are 15 years old and we’re still getting better, but at least he’s still learning.”

Sandra Auffarth and Viamant du Matz. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Another Kentucky first-timer, former World Champion Sandra Auffarth is in fourth place. Sandra is no stranger to the very top levels of the sport, having represented her country at each and every Olympics and World Championship since 2012, and her partner here this weekend, Nikolaus Prinz von Croy’s  Viamant du Matz, a 14year-old Selle Français gelding (Diamant de Semilly – Heralina X, by Voltigeur le Malin X)helped Germany earn team gold in Pratoni last autumn. Despite his championship experience, this is a five-star debut for “Mat,” which he’s kicked off with a dressage score of 30.4.

Woods Baughman and C’Est La Vie 135. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Woods Baughman rounds out the top five with his and his parents’ C’est la Vie 135 on a score of 30.6. Growing up in the Lexington area, Woods certainly has a loud and proud cheering squad for his and the 15-year-old Hanoverian gelding’s (Contendro – Anette, by Aarking xx) performance in the first phase. “Contendro” certainly felt the atmosphere, showing his exuberance through the extended canters, but Woods has focused his warmup on producing relaxation through all possible conditions. 

“I did get a little too excited. That canter — the extend across the diagonal back, and then the counter-canter, the corner change — really is hard [for him],” Woods said. “[It’s about] just getting him really flexible because he’s such a big, stiff thing. Most of my warm up is in the walk and turn about the haunches, pretty much go side pass, and then back, and then small circle. Just keep moving him around and then do really long and low, and only the last five minutes I shorten the reins and put his head up and then he looks like a horse again.”

Alina Dibowski and Barbados 26. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Five-star debutant Alina Dibowski stands in sixth place with Susanna Dibowski’s Barbados 26 on a score of 30.7. At only 22, Alina is the youngest rider in this year’s competition, but she’s got mileage that belies her age. She and “Baba,” a 14-year-old Polish Sporthorse gelding (Moravia – Babilonia xx, by Jape xx) represented Germany in the junior championship ranks before taking up the call up to compete as individuals at the 2022 World Championships in Italy. For her, this is a new opportunity to showcase their partnership on a world stage.

“We’re into our ninth year together, so we built a very strong bond. That’s why my dad is the groom on paper for the accreditation, but I do everything myself, so I think this is why we have such a strong connection. We grew into this together. At the start I didn’t even know that he may be capable or I may be capable of riding here in Kentucky. So I think this is something I just have with this horse and this is why I call him once a lifetime.

Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Great Britain’s Kirsty Chabert came over to Kentucky riding on her successes of 2022. After a heartbreaking elimination nearly at the end of the Badminton cross country course, Kirsty redirected to the 5* at Luhmühlen where she and her quirky mare Classic VI proved their mettle and finished second, and she’s chasing a similar fairytale here in the states.

“[It’s a] bit of a once in a lifetime — potentially — opportunity, the horse was in amazing form last year, so it’s an incredible experience to come and ride in such an atmosphere,” she said. “[We] got very established last year. We had a little hiccup at Badminton and sort of went away and rectified it, and then I can’t really fault the horse from then on, to be honest. She was second at Luhmühlen, she won two four-stars and a second in another one, so I feel like this year was the chance to come over.”

She and the 14-year-old Anglo European Sporthorse mare (Calvaro F.C – Indian Summer), who is owned by Carole Somers, John Johnston, and Kate Ward, are starting their American bid in good form with a 30.8 on the flat that has them in current seventh place.

Will Coleman and Off The Record. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The Team USA stalwart Will Coleman felt like he left points on the table after his 31.2-point dressage test with World Championship partner Off The Record, a 14-year-old Irish Sporthorse gelding (Arkansas VDL – Drumagoland Bay, by Ard Ohio) owned by the Off The Record Syndicate. They’re in eighth place at day’s end.

“I just couldn’t really get them to breathe in there. He was just kind of holding his breath the whole time and felt like he was almost trying too hard. You know, just a lot of little mistakes. He swapped off his lead a couple of times, just anxious and tight and it wasn’t very good,” Will said. “It’s a shame, he’s been doing good work, I don’t know if he just didn’t have it in there. He never has really done a great test in there. It’d be nice if maybe we could school him in there a few times during the week, but they never let you do that here. I just can’t really get him over those demons in there. He just goes in there and holds his breath.”

Phillip Dutton and Z. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Phillip Dutton had the major competitive advantage of dressage coaching from Silva Martin to help he and the Z Partnership’s Z, a 15-year-old Zangersheide gelding (Asca Z – Bella Bouche B, by Babouche vh Gehucht Z), produce a 31.9 for ninth place. Though Phillip says he envisioned a slightly lower score, he’s thrilled with the work Z produced.

“He’s getting more mature. Silva Martin’s been helping me, she’s been a big help,” he said. “He went really well. As long as they keep marking hard like that throughout the competition — because 31, he’s always done better than that — but I think this is the best test he’s ever done. So I was pleased, very pleased.”

Zara Tindall and Class Affair. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Rounding out the top ten is another British entry, Zara Tindall riding Gleadhill House Stud LTD’s Class Affair. “Socks,” a 14-year-old Irish Sporthorse gelding (Obos Quality 004 – Ruby’s Rosshaven Flight, by Laughton’s Flight) has proved to be a tricky personality for Zara, and that’s heightened at the five-star level.

“He hates people. This situation is literally his worst thing ever. He’s just a tricky horse, in his brain — you’ve got to be a bit careful with him. You’re not sure which side of the bed he’s gonna come out on. He’s really talented, but his brain kind of interferes a bit,” she said, and although her score of 32.6 is their highest at five-star level, Zara is the first to point out: there’s plenty more to do this weekend.

Looking at today’s scores in their entirety, the Ground Jury were in strong agreement in their judging, with the biggest spread being seen in Will Faudree’s results with Mama’s Magic Way, with a 4.62-point disagreement. They were similarly divided on Tamie Smith’s performance, with Christina Klingspor giving her a 78.65% from her spot at C, while Peter Shaw and Angela Tucker were in agreement on a 74.42% from their places at E and M, respectively.

The 5* will resume tomorrow at 1:00 PM with Emily Hamel and Corvett cantering down the centerline and we’ll be there to bring you all the action!

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[Click here to catch up on all of EN’s coverage of the 2023 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event]

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