The Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm have long been a staple of the local eventing community. Loch Moy manages to provide the perfect environment for both young riders looking to get their feet wet and for professionals looking to give their horse a great experience as they move up the ranks. Because of this unique duality, you wind up with stories of riders like five-star eventer Ema Klugman, who has been competing here since she was ten years old and is now one of the top contenders in this weekend’s event.
Many a pony clubber has learned how to event on the hills of the Maryland Horse Trials. So, to see the event “grow up” and offer an international CCI4* for the first time is bittersweet. On the one hand, I’m so excited for everyone who has worked so hard to pull off this historic moment for the venue. But, on the other hand, I hope pony clubbers and adult amateurs with green horses will always feel at home in the welcoming atmosphere provided by Loch Moy Farm.
To this end, I was pleasantly surprised with how little the competitive atmosphere changed with the addition of the 4* level. While there were some spectators in dresses and heels, the overall vibe of the event was the same as always: down to earth and welcoming. A moment that made me (for the umpteenth time) think about how much I love the eventing community was when Jennie Saville called, “Good luck!” to Ema Klugman in the show jumping ring, despite the fact that the two were currently duking it out for the lead. That moment exemplified what the Maryland Horse Trials have always been, and continue to be, about: good sportsmanship, friendly competition, and great horsemanship.
Speaking of great horsemanship, props to the many riders I saw who exited the show jumping ring and immediately got off, loosening their horses tack and giving them a big pat on the neck. In today’s heat, it’s so important that we give an extra big carrot to our faithful mounts who would probably rather be standing in their stalls in front of a fan.
If you’ve never been to the Maryland Horse Trials before, you’re in for a treat. After winding your way up a hill, you’ll find yourself greeted by the sight of a sizable show jumping ring, surrounded by flags. As you slowly meander your way over to the parking area, you’ll get a mini tour of the show grounds. Four dressage rings, two up on a hill and two below, offer spectators a clear view of the event, particularly of the four-star ring. The VIP tent sits up on a ridge overlooking Ring 1, with four Maryland-colored sun umbrellas and adirondacks in front. Overall, everything felt within arm’s reach on day one.
Day one included both show jumping and dressage. While we had a small field in the four star and in the Advanced, there were plenty of familiar names and faces, including the aforementioned Jennie Saville and Ema Klugman, as well as Caroline Pamukcu, Lauren Nicholson, Jan Byyny, and Will Faudree. Countries represented included Australia, Canada, Brazil, and the good ol’ US of A.
For the 4*-S, it’s clear that Jennie and Ema will be duking it out for first place Saturday. After dressage, Ema and RF Redfern were in the lead with the second-lowest dressage score of “Fern’s” career, a 28.3. Unfortunately, a rail in show jumping dropped her down to second place, giving Jennie the lead by less than a point.
Speaking of show jumping, Jennie and FE Connery were one of only two clear rounds of the day. FE Connery, or “Sean” as he’s known at the barn (yes, his owners named him after Sean Connery), has a bit of an underdog story. Jennie almost didn’t buy the then-six-year-old. “He was ewe-necked and had a yellow coat. He really hadn’t done anything,” Jennie said. “But I just loved to ride him and I knew I had to have him.”
Her gut feeling about Sean has paid off. The 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding, owned by Jennie along with longtime supporters Nina and Tim Gardner, has proven himself to be a real contender of the sport. “I’ve been working with Silva Martin on the flat and today was the first time we had two clean changes in the ring,” Jennie said. “He’s just a really nice horse to have and I’m really excited about his future. I feel like I’ve been in the top ten a lot this year, so I’m ready to go out and win.”
The Advanced field was a bit bigger than the 4* group, 24 riders to the 4*’s nine. The top three names on the leaderboard were easily predictable: Lauren Nicholson and Larcot Z, Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way, and Allison Springer and Vandyke in that order. Sydney Hagaman was in second place after dressage and show jumping, but withdrew before cross country.
At one point we had a little bit of a family feud going on. Maks Mojo C, ridden by Maya Clarkson, and Mama’s Magic Way, ridden by Will Faudree, were tied for third place after dressage. Both horses are by the hugely popular stud-of-the-moment Mighty Magic. Lately, it’s felt like you could throw a stick at any event and chances are high you’ll hit a horse by the Hanoverian stallion (attempt at your own risk*).
Solidly in the lead for the Advanced after day one is Lauren Nicholson and Larcot Z. While this is only Lauren Nicholson’s second FEI event with the 10-year-old Zangersheide gelding, the pair are clearly gelling well together. Prior to the Maryland International Horse Trials, Lauren took “Larco” owned by Ms. Mars, to the MARS Bromont CCI3*-L, where the pair came in fourth on a technical track. Now, they’re poised to clean up this weekend, if the horse’s prior cross country record is anything to go by, though for a step up this may be more of a “getting to know you” sort of trip on Saturday.
“Larcot and I are still getting to know each other but have become fast friends thanks to how beautifully he was produced by Will Coleman and Reagan LaFleur (who is here this weekend giving me advice and cheering him on!),” Lauren said. “It’s been a relatively quick partnership but I do feel like I’ve ridden him for years and really get on well with him. Hopefully he feels the same about me.”
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Looking ahead to cross country day tomorrow, riders will have to tackle a new course designed by renowned 5* course designer Ian Stark. New features have been added to the Loch Moy cross country course, including a triple bank complex at the water, coffin, and leaf pit track. Ema Klugman led a course walk, sponsored by Equestly, on Friday evening. I tagged along to hear about the 3570 meter track with a total of 34 jumping efforts and 22 questions.
My main takeaway from this course could be summarized in one word: Surprise! But, keep in mind that I’m a weenie wanna-be eventer. The course starts out with a pretty standard first three fences to get the horse’s blood pumping and find your rhythm.
The riders will encounter their first combination at fence 4, which features three elements. However, the real excitement begins at fence six, which is a coffin with a lot of terrain that Ema thinks will feel like a real “rollercoaster ride.” She also pointed out that the horse will not have a lot of time to realize there’s a ditch after the first fence and recommended that the rider should be in a defensive position and ready to support the horse with a lot of leg.
The fun doesn’t stop there. After a few twisting turns, fence 8 is a decent drop into the water, Ema’s advice is to “kick like hell” if your horse hesitates, as you’ll only get one shot due to the tight space. Horses will have to be super brave at the first element in order to make it into the water and get out neatly.
A ditch and wall at fence 9 and a steeplechase-like jump with a ton of brush at fence 10 are the lead up to the real show: fence 11. After a tight turn, riders will come up to the ABC combination. When we here at Eventing Nation say “insanity in the middle,” we’re talking about fences like this one. The combination will ride more like a gymnastics exercise meets cross country with two up banks leading to a massive log with a steep drop on the other side. If I were riding it (which I would never), I’d be channeling my inner Man from Snowy River.
After a relatively straightforward fence 12 to let the riders and horses catch their breath, riders will gallop through the arena for a decent drop and angle at fence 13, gallop up a hill to a skinny fence 14 and then encounter the Normandy bank at fence 15. Fence 16 is where the real “surprise” comes in.
Riders will gallop up a steep hill to all of a sudden emerge in the second dressage ring and wind up nearly perpendicular to a small water jump containing fence 16. After that, they’ll gallop up a short hill to the combination at fence 17 where they’ll need to make a tight turn and carefully angle the B element, all while watching their footing on the edge of the steep hill they just cantered up before 16.
From there on out, I think Ian takes pity on his
victims eventers because the rest of the course, despite a significant drop at 20 and a few tight turns, is relatively “straightforward”. Keywords from the course walk? Turn, spooky, drop, brave, kick like hell, defensive position -– oh, and did I mention turn?
Ema seems relatively unfazed, however. “I think parts of it are pretty technical, there’s a lot of terrain in the course. It’s similar to Carolina [International], which Ian Stark also designed,” she said. “It’s friendlier than you might think, but you’ve got to be on your game. The horse has to be well-educated, brave -– all the things a four-star horse should be. It’s a proper course with lots of turns, you’ll want a horse that turns well. But I’m glad it’s not soft and we’ll just have to see how it rides.”
As always, I’m very excited for cross country day tomorrow. Our first rider to hit the course and serpentine around the Loch Moy grounds will be Matt Brown on board Alderwood. We’ll keep our fingers and toes crossed for an exciting, but safe, day of cross country. See you at the finish line!
*EN does not condone throwing sticks at horses.