Rolex Rookies: Amanda Wilson and Cool Decision

Amanda Wilson and Cool Decision. Photo by Kasey Mueller Amanda Wilson and Cool Decision. Photo by Kasey Mueller

Cool Decision had never even cantered under saddle when Amanda Wilson went to try him. He was 4 1/2 years old and had 45 days of training. With all that in mind, she trotted him over a 3-foot coop and instantly knew the Hanoverian/Thoroughbred gelding was something special.

Amanda brought “Cody,” now 13, through the ranks from Novice level and is now preparing for their four-star debut at Rolex. As the day of the first jog draws closer, Amanda finds it increasingly difficult to put her feelings into words.

“I have no words. Really and truly,” Amanda said. “The stress is going to kill me before I even get there! I’m just trying to tie up loose ends and keep everything together.”

The trip to Kentucky has been two years in the making, as they were nearly qualified for the 2014 event save a final CCI3* run at Fair Hill in October 2013. They retired on course there and so started the next season with renewed vigor.

“We took a step back and had a whole other year at three-stars. We started 2014 with the idea that as long as we could keep it going, as long as we made it around Fair Hill, Rolex would be the plan.”

Amanda Wilson and Cool Decision. Photo by Samantha Clark

Amanda Wilson and Cool Decision. Photo by Samantha Clark

They completed four three-stars in 2014, including a 31st place finish and a clear cross country round at Fair Hill, qualifying them for Rolex.

Cody had a long break after Fair Hill, and their preparation this spring has been conservative, partially thanks to Mother Nature.

“I decided to stay in Pennsylvania this winter and stay close to home to keep things going,” said Amanda, who runs a training and boarding business at Dark Horse Farm. “We got stuck in a snowstorm, so we missed Southern Pines.”

When the snow finally melted and they made their way south, they hit Carolina International in March, where they did dressage, “kicked around” the Advanced cross country and withdrew before show jumping. They then ran the full event at The Fork,  producing one of their fastest three-star runs to finish 26th in the division.

The main focus during their preparation has been on Cody’s fitness. The track at Kentucky is considerably long, and Cody has a strange tendency to draw late. At Rolex, they ride as number 63, and depending on the weather during cross country day, a late ride time may make for a more difficult track. Cody has run well in the past, however, in rain and mud, so making sure he’s fit to finish is key.

“It’s more mental for me — I’m the one that goes around careful. He’d gallop for it all day long,” Amanda said. Cody can be quite strong, but she thinks the track at Kentucky will suit him. “We used to laugh that by the time he finally went Advanced, it would be a big enough fence to actually hold him.”

Cody is keen on course, but “keeping his mind right” in the dressage ring will be the real test for these two. “Battling the fact that he likes to get tense, plus where he’s at with fitness and the atmosphere … I think with all three of those combined it’s going to be a lot to keep his mind right. And mine too, quite frankly. I can’t get caught up in what he’s trying to do underneath me.”

Like most Rolex Rookies, Amanda will be delighted to complete the event with a sound horse, but doesn’t want to resolve herself to just finish. “If I could come out of there with no cross country jump penalties and leave with a sound horse, that’s the biggest thing. Our longterm partnership I think is going to help as far as that goes.”

Whatever the outcome, Amanda and Cody will have an incredible contingent of cheerleaders there to support them. Her friend Mary Macklin will be there to groom; her dressage coach Barb Ferneyhough is coming, as is her farrier Mike Smith. In addition, a multitude of clients and students from Dark Horse wouldn’t miss this.

“Our little town is basically shutting down, and everyone is going to Kentucky.”