The old adage, “saved the best for last,” was certainly true in the dressage session at the 2023 $50,000 Grand-Prix Eventing Festival at Bruce’s Field, presented by Taylor Harris Insurance Services. The final combination, Doug Payne and Starr Witness, laid down a 19.9 for the first-phase lead.
The Ground Jury of Bea di Grazia and Andrew Bennie rewarded the 12-year-old KWPN mare (Chello III VDL – Carmen, by Veneur) for her flashy, correct movements with the pair securing a perfect 10 (!) for the first flying change. Though not an FEI sanctioned competition, this is the mare’s best ever score across her International career.
“She’s a horse that, the more you throw at her, the better she is, so if you kind of just dance around kind of placated, if that’s the right word, she just starts looking, her attention is drawn everywhere else and she’s gonna find something to be engaged with. So what we’ve found is actually the more we ask of her, the better she is,” Doug said. “Actually, our goal this year is to do our first Grand Prix dressage with her. She’s got pretty much everything, she’s got the ones, twos, got the piaffe and passage pretty good. The pirouettes are coming, that’s probably the hardest thing, but that’s been a huge, huge help because we keep throwing stuff at her and she just sort of raises to the expectations.”
Though they have a healthy leg up on the competition, Doug doesn’t have a rail in hand, and defending champion Boyd Martin is sure to keep the pressure on with his Tokyo and FEI World Championships partner Tsetserleg TSF. The 16-year-old Trakehner gelding (Windfall II – Thabana, by Buddenbrock), owned by Christine, Thomas and Tommie Turner, is second on a 23. Boyd credits his wife, Silva, and Bettina Hoy, for the inspiration on the flat.
“I was thrilled with him, he’s a champion horse. I’m very grateful to the German Federation, to send over Bettina Hoy to join Silva to warm us up, and yeah he felt like a dream, and fired up for this afternoon and tomorrow,” he said.
Liz Halliday-Sharp moved into third place with her final ride of the day, Miks Master C. Owned in partnership between Debbie Palmer and Ocala Horse Properties, the 11-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (Mighty Magic – Qui Luma CBF, by Flyinge Quite Easy 958) earned a score of 23.8.
This is not just an individual competition, though, as riders have been split into six teams, each representing a charitable organization. After dressage, Team Purple is at the top of the pile. Boyd Martin, with Tsetserleg and Fedarman B, Sarah Khun and Ryan Wood are riding for the Tri-Development Center of Aiken County.
Much more to come from Bruce’s Field today, folks. The show jumping kicks off at 3 p.m. and competitors will come in reverse order of standing. You can watch it all live with our friends at Horse & Country at this link. Until we get started, enjoy a gallery from all the top competitors here in Aiken.