Erin Sylvester didn’t need to wait long for her final placing to be decided in the 2019 Dutta Corp Fair Hill International Three-Day. With her back still facing the ring after jumping a double clear round over Marc Donovan’s CCI4*-L show jumping course, overnight leaders Waylon Roberts and Lancaster tipped a pole on the first fence. With 3.2 penalty points separating the top two spots, that pole meant Erin and Paddy the Caddy would be crowned The Dutta Corp./USEF CCI4*-L Eventing National Champions.
“He felt a little tired, but he has endless heart and tries to do the best every time he in the ring. He jumped great. He was rideable. He used to be a little wild show jumping, but he isn’t that way anymore which is nice,” Erin said.
Erin and “Paddy”, a 12-year old Thoroughbred gelding owner by herself and Frank McEntee, began their weekend in 8th place after a windy day of dressage. They very nearly turned in a double clear round across the country on Saturday, but ultimately added only a single cross country time penalty to their initial score after a delivering a double clear show jumping round under pressure in less than ideal rainy conditions to finish their weekend on a score of 34.3.
“I really, really dislike show jumping in the rain. I feel like I am all over the tack and I felt that way today. Fortunately he jumps straight and stays in a rhythm, so I just try to hold on.”
“The cross-country walked really, really tough to me,” she recounted. “I kept trying to compare to Kentucky in some aspects I felt there were some combinations that felt Kentucky caliber or a bit tougher. It was fun to get all that stuff behind us yesterday and look forward to today.”
“This has been my goal to get this event done and done well for awhile now. We have hit a few bumps in the road through the season, so it was great to put that all behind us and have a good weekend. I had a less than perfect run at Kentucky this spring, so I came here with the plan that we belonged at the level and that we were competitive at the level and hopefully set up for a good run at Kentucky next year.”
Erin and Paddy have a special partnership, as she’s worked with the full Thoroughbred gelding since he was a 3-year-old. She considers him to be her first really competitive horse which she says is exciting, but also comes with it’s own set of pressures:
“I feel like I might be doing him wrong on the flat. If I have a rail on him it is entirely my fault. And on the cross-country I just have to prepare him well and get him to the jumps the right way,” she said.
“He has so much heart and he really loves this sport. It has taken him really to this year to be very confident. He has been a cautious horse and as he was coming along it would have been very easy to scare him, but he is confident and has a blast out there now.”
And of course, the winner of the The Dutta Corp./USEF CCI4*-L Eventing National Championship receives the generous prize of a flight for their horse anywhere in the world. The burning question at the final press conference was therefore what overseas venture with Paddy might Erin have in mind?
“I would love to get Paddy to Burghley,” she said, though was cautious to mention that she’d only take him hen the timing is right. “It is really exciting to know that Derek is going to be the designer there. He is definitely Paddy’s favorite designer hands down. We have to manage him really carefully and kind of strike when the iron is hot with him.”
With the withdrawal of the third placed pair Lauren Kieffer and D.A. Duras before the the final horse inspection, Mia Farley and her own BGS Firecracker moved up from 4th overnight to finish as Reserve Champions in The Dutta Corp./USEF CCI4*-L Eventing National Championship and, at 19 years of age, received the USET Foundation’s Markham Trophy for the highest-placed U.S. young rider in the CCI4*-L.
Moving up from 22nd position after dressage thanks to finishing on that score of 38.3, the West Coast native didn’t expect to find herself in such a competitive position on the final day.
“It was a little stressful. I overall had so much fun all week and I feel very lucky to be here. Coming from California it has always been a goal of mine to come to Fair Hill and experience the track, and I never thought that I could have had the finish that I did,” she said.
Mia, who has been a part of the U25 Eventing program, made the move to the East Coast thanks to the program. She initially planned to train with David O’Connor for just three months, but three months turned into a year and a half and she is now giving full-time eventing a shot. She’s been partnered “Crackers”, 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare since 2017.
“I am lucky to have my horse. David has been very on board with everything, thank goodness. Karen helps me a bit back home. David has helped me a lot with my horse. Our connection when I first got her wasn’t quite there, and he has been a tremendous help to our partnership.”
“She always tries her heart out for me. She saved me a few a times on cross-country,” Mia recounted. “Cross-country was so much fun. It was going so well in the beginning I thought something must be wrong. It rode really well for us. She kept her gallop going the whole way round and I think she had a lot of fun.”
Of note, Mia also was crowned the USEF Young Rider Eventing National Championship, which is awarded to the t finishing fine between the ages of 16 and 21 in the CCI3*-L, thanks to her 11th place finish in that division with Fernhill Fine Diamond, an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare owned by Charlotte Zovighian.
Third placed finishers Jenny Caras and her long-time partner Fernhill Fortitude, owned by the Fernhill Fortitude Syndicate, were another pair who jumped leaps and bounds up the leaderboard thanks to finishing on their dressage score of 40.0.
“I was pretty disappointed with the dressage on Friday because he is quite a tricky horse on the flat, but he always tries really hard,” Jenny said of the 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding. “Unfortunately I didn’t have quite the test I was hoping for. He was mistake free, but we lacked a bit of the wow factor of some of the other riders.”
Fabulous jumping rounds made up for it, however, and Jenny was particularly excited to contest the CCI4*-L at Fair Hill for the fourth time in her career.
“I love riding at Fair Hill and I love riding around Derek di Grazia’s tracks. It is so nice as a rider to go out on cross-country and trust that the course designer has set you a track that you can really ride forward and bold to,” she said. “I knew my horse could get the trip and I knew what he felt like around the course, so it was just nice to go out to do what I know to do on him. He was excellent and he finished full of running.”
“In the past show jumping has been a bit tricky for us, but I spent a lot of time this winter working on him. I used to put him in a lot of hackamores and bigger bits to help me hold him, but now I have just taken him back to a snaffle and really focused on getting the jumps to hold him, so he was great. He went out in show jumping and tried his heart out.”
Fourth place is occupied by Sydney Elliott and the lovely QC Diamantaire, owned by Carol Stephens. This horse and rider pair has been catching the eye of U.S. Eventing and are certainly ones to watch. They were on Erik Duvander’s winning teams for both North American Futures Team Challenges at Carolina International and at Bromont this spring, plus were named a reserve pair for the 2019 Pan American team. They finished their weekend on a score of 40.2, after adding only bit on cross country time to their dressage score.
Phillip Dutton jumped two fault-free rounds on the final day of competition. Fernhill Singapore, his younger mount in the division, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood owned by Ann Jone, Thomas Tierney, and David Vos, was piloted to a fifth place finish (42.4) also with just a few time penalties across the country to add to his dressage score.
Phillip’s more seasoned mount, Z, an 11-year-old Zangersheide gelding owned by The Z Partnership, also finished within the top ten. Their final score of 44.4 was enough to earn then seventh place despite incurring 15 penalties on cross country due to the controversial flag rule — more on that another time.
Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent, a 13-year-old Thoroughbred gelding owned by Chase and Darcie Shipka, just barely slipped from their overnight fifth place to finish in 6th after knocking a single rail to add 4 faults to their dressage score. They finished the weekend with 42.6.
Overnight leaders Waylon Roberts and Lancaster, the 12-year-old Canadian Sport Horse gelding owned by Michelle and John Koppin, ended their weekend in 8th place with a score of 47.1, after ultimately taking four rails in the final phase.
Ninth place went to Allison Springer and Business Ben who finished one second over the clock in their show jumping round and also added time across the country for a final score of 47.3.
Doug Payne and his upper-level partner Vandiver, the 15-year-old Trakehner owned in partnership with Debbie Crowley, were another victim of the 15 penalty flag ruling on cross country, but even so, their final score of 47.5 still earned them a top ten finish.
13 out of the 29 CCI4*-L pairs who jumped on Sunday delivered double clear rounds over the Marc Donovan-designed course. Those who ultimately finished outside the top ten but rode completely cleanly on the final day were: Clayton Fredericks and FE Always In Time (11th), Will Coleman and Dondante (12th), Alexandra MacLeod and Newmarket Jack (13th), Mike Pendleton and Steady Eddie (14th), Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights (18th), and Will Faudree and Michael 233 (20th).
Thanks for hanging in there with us for the final CCI4*-L at Fair Hill! It’s been a particularly exciting weekend of sport and, though this is our last official report from the event, we still have a few extras to bring you including a massive cross county day photo gallery. Be on the lookout for more, and Go Eventing.