Meet the Four Five-Star First-Timers Contesting Kentucky 2019

It is the dream of many an ambitious eventer to someday compete at the highest level of the sport. This weekend at the 2019 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by MARS Equestrian, four riders will be making their debut at this level and checking a major achievement off their bucket list.

How strange is it to think that these riders have spent years aspiring to be four-star riders and then, as soon as the calendar flipped to 2019, all of a sudden they already were four-star riders, and it’s a five-star that they’re now shooting for. Bit of a crazy paradigm shift, eh?

Anyway, let’s get to meet the four riders who’s dreams are about to come true — welcome, Kentucky Class of 2019!

Matt Flynn and Wizzerd. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Matt Flynn and Wizzerd

An “A” Seneca Pony Club graduate and a graduate of the University of Delaware School of Business, you may know Matt Flynn for his well-established and successful import and sales business Flynn Sport Horses. Matt has brought many a future upper-level horse over to the States from all over Europe and typically sells between 10 and 15 horses a year.

Wizzerd, a 2009 KWPN gelding (Wizzerd – Amai, by Oklund), was selected by Matt as a 5-year-old and imported from the Netherlands. He’s now the first horse that Matt has retained the ride on long enough to bring to Kentucky and contest a five-star. Wizzerd’s owners now include A. Patrick Flynn and Kathleen Flynn, as well as Tyler Abell and his Merry Go Round Farm in Potomac, Maryland, where Matt is also originally from.

Matt and Wizzerd clinched the 2016 USEF Young Horse National Championship with a 10th place finish in the CCI3*-L at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International Fall Championship that year. Matt stepped Wizzerd up to the Advanced level at Red Hills last year and then tackled the horse’s first four-stars the next few months. Most recently, Matt and Wizzerd clocked in a 2nd place finish in the Advanced H.T. at Carolina International and then a 18th place in the CCI4*-S at Chattahoochee Hills this year.

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan 

Even though this is Ariel Grald’s first time competing at Kentucky, hers is far from a new name on the FEI eventing scene. Thirty-year-old Ariel got her first taste of FEI eventing in 2004 and has been competing in FEI events consistently since 2012. Over the past 14 years, she’s competed 12 different horses at FEI levels.

Ariel started eventing when she was 8. She grew up primarily in New Hampshire, spending a lot of time at Hitching Post Farm in Vermont as well. After graduating from the University of Vermont, during which time she continued to ride and work for Sue Berrill, and spending a little time working in a medical research lab, she decided to commit to riding full-time in order to pursue her upper-level goals.

Ariel was introduced to Annie Eldridge through a mutual friend and began riding and competing one horse for her. In 2012, Ariel moved down to Southern Pines in North Carolina to work for Annie at her Setter’s Run Farm. That number has grown over time, and Ariel now rides and competes several horses for Annie, including a number of homebreds from Annie’s sport horse breeding program. Annie is the owner of Ariel’s Kentucky mount, Leamore Master Plan, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Master Imp – Ardragh Bash, by Cavalier Royale) bred by Michael Bryne.

Ariel stepped “Simon” up to the Advanced level last February and since then the pair has completed six Advanced H.T.s, six CCI4*-S and two CCI4*-L. Over the winter, Ariel was named to the US Equestrian 2019 Eventing Developing Potential Training List. She and Simon recently placed 13th in a very large CCI4*-S at the Cloud 11~Gavilan North LLC Carolina International and were part of Erik Duvander’s winning team in the USEF/USET Foundation North American Futures Team Challenge. They most recently placed fifth in the Advanced H.T. at The Fork at Tryon.

Dom Schramm and Bolytair B. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Dom Schramm and Bolytair B

You’ll know Dom Schramm from the fan-favorite YouTube channel, Evention TV. While their Evention days are in the rearview mirror, the Schramm fam’s focus has shifted to pursuing their upper-level dreams, and finally getting to Kentucky is a win for the entire team.

“I’m excited that there’s been a group of us who put so much effort and energy into this, and it’s finally D-day and we can finally put it out there and see what happens,” Dom said. “I think it’s gonna go well and I’m on a good horse. It’s an opportunity for all of us to go and see what happens.”

Dom will be contesting his first five-star with Bolytair B, a 13-year-old KWPN gelding (Polytair – Nobelle, by Glennridge) owned by the Naked Horse Eventing Syndicate, which is comprised of the Giesselman family. “Boly” was imported in 2016 and had a very strong start to his stateside career with some top finishes including a win in his first FEI event with Dom, the CCI2*-L at Bromont that year. To this day, the pair does not have a cross country jump penalty on their record.

In 2017, Dom worked hard to campaign and fundraise for a trip to compete Boly overseas at Blenheim Palace that fall, but the horse sustained an injury one month before the event and thus they were unable to go. Happily, Boly bounced back and returned to competition last August. Dom and Boly punched their ticket to a five-star with a top 10 finish in the CCI4*-L at Fair Hill International last fall, securing them their qualification for Kentucky.

Competing at the top level of the sport has been a long-time dream of Dom’s and 19 years in the making — ever since he rode his very first event. With Boly, he says his biggest hurdle in getting to this point has been getting the timing of the events right.

“I’ve been very careful with this horse and only done the shows I’ve felt that we’ve needed to do and nothing else,” said Dom. “But if you’ve done the bare minimum, you have make sure you’re prepared and need to have a fantastic team. We’re prepared.”

Indeed, the name of the game for Dom has been preparation. “Personally I always feel I do the best when I feel prepared,” he said. “I know the test and know what I need to do movement to movement. He’s a very talented horse, but sometimes we’re battling against the tension in the dressage. For cross country, I’m trying hard to be ready for the types of questions that we’ll see there. ”

Dom is grateful for all the support around Boly throughout his career: “He’s had ups and downs and I think he’s become relatable, so thanks to all the people out there for following and supporting him,” said Dom.

Chris Talley and Unmarked Bills. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Chris Talley and Unmarked Bills

You’ll recognize Chris Talley as the fashion-forward young gun who made waves at Fair Hill in 2016 as the clear fan-favorite for our Best Dressed award. Obviously, we can’t wait to see what Chris has in store for the jogs, but even more so we can’t wait to see him and his OTTB Unmarked Bills (Posse – Kelli’s Ransom, by Red Ransom) storm around cross country on Saturday. Galloping across country on Saturday is what 25-year-old Chris is most excited for as well, but there are a whole host of other emotions involved, too.

“I think there are too many feelings to list,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted since I was a little kid, so to be so close is surreal but at the same time a bit nerve-wracking. As we get closer and closer, the excitement is building but at the same time so are my nerves!”

Chis took “Billy” from the track to the CCI4*-S level in two-years — a pretty incredible testament to the heart of the Thoroughbred and the partnership that Chris and Billy have formed. Since then, Chris formed the Unmarked Bills Syndicate, which includes Billy’s original race owner David Nuesch, in order to keep the ride on the now 10-year-old gelding, and they’ve gone on to step up to the CCI4*-L level and have spent the past two years gaining experience at the Advanced and four-star levels.

The amount of time that it has taken to get to this point (“Getting qualifications and praying the stars align,” he said) has been the biggest hurdle to overcome, and Chris is quick to attribute much of his success to the team at Zaragoza Acres where he lives and works: “They’re incredibly supportive and have stood behind Billy and I ever since the beginning. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride with Billy, as he struggles with tension in the dressage and show jumping, however, they have really put everything they have into him and I.”

In addition to the Unmarked Bills Syndicate and his parents, Chris is especially grateful for the support of his business partner, Hannah Salazar.

“Hannah has supported me to the fullest since I met her just over three years ago. She has told me to keep going with Billy when others said he couldn’t. And she has put an incredible amount of blood sweat and tears into Billy, and has given me so many opportunities to be able to chase my dream,” Chris said.