The young horse pathway has been one that Caroline Martin has followed to the letter with her up-and-coming horses, and it paid off this weekend as she won the CCI3*-L at the Ocala Festival of Eventing aboard the 7-year-old HSH Connor.
“I’m a huge fan of the young horse program. It’s great to have mile markers every year: As a 4-year-old your mile marker is to get to the 4-year-old Championship, the 5-year-old year getting him to that Championship. And then as a 6-year-old six year old, our goal was to get him to Le Lion, so our whole season is just around that one goal,” Caroline said, and that’s exactly how “Connor’s” career has progressed: He won the 2020 Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse East Coast 4-Year-Old Championship, reserve champion as a 5-year-old the following year, and finally finished second place in the FEI WBFSH Eventing World Breeding 6-year-old Championship last autumn.
“So this year, I’m trying to follow the same plan — do an early, long, given him a break, and then hopefully get him ready for Le Lion again in the fall,” she said.
Caroline’s business partner, Kelly Hutchinson talent spotted the Irish Sport Horse (Connor 48 — Galway Bay Merstona, by Mermus R) from the breeder, Justin Burke, before he made it over to Caroline in 2020. From the start Caroline says that Connor has been sharp with a mean spook, but he’s come out his 7-year-old year with those energies focused on the job.
“He would spin me off every day, stop at every single jump, spook at everything, but he’s always been incredibly talented. And so that still translates to him — even as a 7-year-old, but he’s definitely grown up a lot this year,” Caroline said. “Last year, when I’ve gotten back into work, he’d stop every time at any type of grid. This year, he’s jumping through grids on the first try. He’s jumping in and out of water. The horse is just so intelligent that you can’t you have to carefully explain stuff to him because he overthinks, but he’s been great this week, and everything felt super, super easy for him.”
Connor won his class wire-to-wire, with his only fault being one second in the show jumping, to finish on a final score of 23.3, cheered throughout the weekend by his faithful supporters, but no one cheered louder than Luann McElduff who shares ownership of Connor with her daughter, Maddie, the rider and Sherrie Martin.
Jon Holling was second with Constance Holling and Team Rebecca’s Juczt My Style S. “Polo,” a 9-year-old KWPN (Ahorn — Sakura Hill Czola, by Alla’czar) who was bred in the U.S. by Sakira Hill Farm, finished on his dressage score of 27.1.
Also finishing on their dressage result (27.4) was third-placed Leslie Law aboard Countess Cooley, an 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Remiro B — Regular Eaton) owned by Craig McCallum.
While this event has run upper level competition since 2006, this year for the first time they hosted a CCI4*-S, which was topped by Sharon White and her own Claus 63.
Sharon has been thoughtfully bringing along the 11-year-old Holsteiner (Catoo x Tina II) after taking over the reins from Dirk Schrade several years ago, and their success this weekend is a well deserved feather in their cap as Sharon eyes even bigger future goals.
“There were some really good questions. And in the warmup, people were like, ‘Oh, they’re not reading the first water and do the option.’ But I’m gearing up towards bigger and better things, so I wanted to challenge him a bit. And he said, ‘No problem,’” Sharon told the U.S. Eventing Association.
Just three weeks out from the Tryon CCI4*-L next month, this event was perfectly scheduled as a final preparatory event, and Sharon was among many of the riders who applauded Organizer Emily Holmes and her team for putting it on.
“I really appreciate the organizers making the effort,” She said. “We’re just really grateful that they were willing to do it. I think anyone who wants to run an event deserves all the recognition. It’s a lot of work—whether you’re an organizer, an official, a competitor, or volunteer, I think we should all band together and give each other a high-five because we’re all in this together.”
Leslie Law won first and second in the CCI2*-L with Fernhill Lottery and Must Be Cooley, respectively.
Jamie McAllister piloted her own Army Ranger to win the Advanced division. The 11-year-old Thoroughbred stepped up to the Advanced level this spring, and delivered for Jamie this weekend, cruising around a technical cross country designed by Jay Hambly with 17.2 time penalties.
Well done to all for a great weekend at Ocala. Go eventing.