“No one in the world has ever ridden this course before.” – Ema Klugman
Well folks, Carolyn Mackintosh and her team have pulled it off. Loch Moy Farm is officially a CCI4* venue. At 9 a.m. this morning, the first rider galloped out of the start box to tackle the highly anticipated four-star track at the Maryland International Horse Trials. The Advanced and CCI4*-S groups were lucky — this morning a cool breeze was whispering across Loch Moy’s hills and the bugs were hiding somewhere -– probably in the woods near fence three. Not so lucky are this afternoon’s riders who have to deal with the scorching heat.
As I write this report, I’m lounging in an adirondack chair by the dressage ring, under my very own Maryland-colored umbrella, complete with beer, watching Bruce Davidson warm-up for preliminary dressage with his mount, Chesterland’s Sunswick. Am I a fancy person yet? Shhh.. No one tell the people sitting around me that I’m wearing $8 shoes from the Target clearance rack.
The Maryland International Horse Trial was definitely a spectator-friendly event. You can see the majority of the course from a variety of places and the start box is a stone’s throw from the show jumping ring. Altogether, I found the course to be extremely easy to navigate on foot with a multitude of great spectating locations. You won’t find drinks or snacks out on course, but I would argue they aren’t needed — here you can easily nip back to the concession stand by the dressage ring.
While all in all the course rode beautifully, the morning was not without its upsets. I had expected the combination at 11 to be the real test that would filter the true 4* horses from the rest of the pack, but it was really the third element at fence 4 that proved difficult, as we had three refusals there. The broken bridge at fence 13 — giving major Badminton vibes — also proved to be a stiff question for a few riders, leading to one elimination and another three refusals.
The course really shook up the placings in the Advanced class with Leslie Lamb moving up nine places with her own Banjo (Bailero – Banjanbee) to win the division with a score of 64.8 while our former leader, Lauren Nicholson and Larcot Z, retired after a refusal at the first element of fence 11.
“I know that everybody’s coming back and saying it was riding tough and yeah -– you had to be there and really be present — but Banjo answered every question and really stepped up to the plate,” said Leslie.
This was Banjo’s second ever Advanced course completed, his first one being at the Horse Park of New Jersey a few weeks ago. Comparing the two tracks, Leslie said, “This was a lot more technical. About the same size but this one is definitely more twisty-turny than Jersey. There were a lot of things that we never see, like the Broken Bridge and the bounce up there into the water. That’s stuff that he’s never been able to practice, but he handled it amazingly well.”
4*-S winner Jennie Saville agreed. “It’s twisty, but you know that coming here. It’s good to ride different kinds of tracks. I rode at Devon Arena Eventing just to get prepped for this. [Pascal and FE Connery] are both not great at turning, so I think that preparation really helped me today,” she said. “I was talking to Ariel Grald about Simon and she said that she would take Simon to places that wouldn’t really suit him just to make sure he would learn how to be flexible. That’s what I want to emulate with my horses. I think we need to be able to ride around twisty courses, like Boekelo. I don’t want to pigeonhole my horses into just one type of track.”
It has been a spring of “almost there’s” for Jennie and her team — she told me yesterday that she felt like she had been in the top 10 a lot, but not winning like she had been last year. Well today was the end of that “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” situation — after a great run, she and the Gardners’ FE Connery (Conrato – Hocaponta), “Sean,” finished an impressive 15 points ahead of the rest of the pack (47.9).
“Sean was great. Phillip Dutton rode him last time I went cross country schooling. I had been putting bigger bits on him, but Phillip said to just ride him in a snaffle. So I did, and he ran up underneath fence three a little bit, but got over it okay, just like Phillip predicted. After that, he was wonderful. So, Phillip was right -– like always,” Jennie said, laughing. “I’m proud of his score. The top three are riders that I really respect, so I’m very pleased with it.”
I caught up with Ian Stark maybe a total of 15 minutes before the first rider galloped out of the start box. This is quite possibly the absolute worst time to speak to a course designer whose brand new track is about to be tested for the first time, but Ian was a good sport about it and graciously agreed to give me a quote.
“I’m excited about the course. The guys have done a brilliant job. Carolyn Mackintosh and her crew have done an amazing job on the ground. We’re all set, we’ll just have to see how the riders cope with it. No one has come and attacked me yet, so I guess they’re happy with it. Or they’re all terrified and scared speechless,” Ian said, laughing. “There’s enough questions out there, there’s enough challenges. It’s got to be up to four-star level, but at the same time it has to be educational as well.”
For the first running of a four-star division, the day went smoothly. Jump judges were on their game and spectators were respectful. All dogs stayed on their respective leashes and did the important job of looking adorable. Good sportsmanship abounded and the horses were beautifully turned out.
Big picture-wise, I’m betting that this event has a shining future ahead of it. The organizers are innovators who aren’t afraid to try something new, like the exchange program with Ireland’s Millstreet International Horse Trials. The idea for the program developed after Governor Larry Hogan went to Cork County, Ireland in 2022 alongside Maryland Horse Industry Board officials, including Ross Peddicord.
“With Millstreet hosting a four-star and the Maryland Horse Trials hosting a four-star, we thought it would be natural to do a rider exchange,” Ross said. “Marylanders have a lot of connections with Ireland and Cork County, which is Maryland’s sister state. Marylanders and U.S. folks buy a lot of horses in Ireland. Our Maryland Hunt Cup has been won by Irish horses. The last three years in a row a lot of our steeplechasers were from Ireland. There’s already a lot of close connection between Maryland and Ireland and we’re very excited to further that relationship.”
Madison Temkin was crowned the inaugural winner of the exchange program with Millstreet, as she was the top placed young adult rider (18-25) in the FEI divisions with her OTTB mare, MVP Mad Bum. Madison, “Maddy,” was thrilled to get the chance to go to Millstreet, if a little sad that she’ll have to leave her horse behind. “I’m a very superstitious person so when people asked me about the opportunity I would just say, ‘Oh I don’t know, I don’t know,” Maddy said. “And then when I heard them calling me to the VIP tent I thought, ‘Wow, I’m going to get to go to Millstreet.’ That’s pretty amazing. I’m very, very grateful for the opportunity.”
The Maryland Horse Industry Board will be sponsoring Maddy’s flight to Ireland, while Fleur Bryan of Parkmore Supplements and Parkmore Academy will also be sponsoring part of the trip. “I have a passion for putting horses under good young riders,” said Fleur. “Originally I was just going to be sponsoring the rider snacks at Maryland Horse Trials this weekend, but when they asked if I could help sponsor part of the trip as well, I said of course. You know, I’m honored to find a young rider to go to Millstreet.”
On top of doing an exchange with Millstreet Horse Trials, the Maryland International Horse Trials have done their best to make the event as accessible as possible. The Maryland International Equestrian Foundation (MIEF) has provided three riders with scholarships for the one-star, two-star, and three-star divisions. The organization’s mission is to support “equestrian sport from grass roots to FEI level at Loch Moy Farm, and is committed to providing funding for the development of dedicated riders from diverse backgrounds to compete at the top levels of our sport.”
The foundation awarded three scholarships equivalent to $1,000 to: Christy Niehues in the 1* division, Morgan Connelly in the 2* division, and Caitlin O’Roark in the 3* division.
All in all, my time at the Maryland International Horse Trials could not have been more enjoyable. Loch Moy Farm has done a wonderful job of fostering a relaxed atmosphere that creates a breeding ground for good sportsmanship and feels welcoming to spectators, volunteers, and riders alike.
Most of all, everyone involved with the event stayed focused on what matters most: that all participants gallop safely home.