Top Five Team USA Takeaways from Rolex

With another #RK3DE officially in the books, it’s time to rehash the results and gnaw on the data. It certainly proved to be an interesting and influential event for Team USA on a number of different levels, and we’re visiting that topic first. Here are our top five takeaways for Team USA after the conclusion of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Rare Air Photography.

1. Where to go for early retirees?

The spring/summer campaign for a number of top U.S. combinations remains up in the air after things went awry at Rolex. Buck Davidson retired 2013 USEF National Champion Ballynoe Castle RM after a runout at the Frog Pond at fence 7. Lauren Kieffer retired last year’s USEF National Champion Veronica after a runout at the Head of the Lake at fence 14. Marilyn Little retired four-star veteran RF Demeter after a runout at the Park Question at fence 9.

Were the 2015 Pan American Games not such a critical event in regards to Team USA’s qualification for the 2016 Olympic Games, one or more of these horses might have also had a cross entry at Badminton with the option to re-route after early trouble on course. But with the final Pan Ams selection trial being held at Jersey Fresh on the same weekend as Badminton, we don’t have any Americans entered at England’s premier spring event this year.

And the Pan Ams further compound the dilemma of where early Rolex retirees can re-route when you consider that the prep trials for Toronto are being run concurrently with Great Meadow’s new CIC3* in Virginia, which is the same weekend as Luhmühlen in Germany, the next CCI4* on HSBC FEI Classics calendar.

Prep trials are mandatory unless special consideration is given (as we saw last year when Veronica had a last-minute injury in a jump school before the World Equestrian Games prep trials and did not compete), so it seems unlikely we will see a rider named to the Pan American Games team given special permission to compete at Luhmühlen — and Marilyn, Buck and Lauren all have horses in Pan Ams contention.

So all that is to say that the situation remains a bit muddled for some of our heavy hitters in regards to how their spring and summer play out now. Coach David O’Connor has said he would like to take a team of top four-star horses to the Nations Cup event at Aachen, which is being held later than usual in August this year.

That placement on the calendar makes Aachen a nice final prep run for Burghley in September, so keep that in mind when looking at how the year could play out for some of these key early Rolex retirees.

Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights. Photo by Jenni Autry.

2. The time of Colleen Rutledge starts now

It’s no secret that Colleen Rutledge’s name has never appeared on a USEF Training List. Like never ever. She has been invited to train with Coach David O’Connor at the 2014 winter/spring and 2014 summer/fall training sessions with Covert Rights, but never officially listed. EN has documented this phenomenon for years now (a few examples herehere and here).

It will be very difficult for the selectors to ignore her now after finishing two horses inside the top 15 at Rolex, an achievement matched this year only by Michael Jung (perhaps you’ve heard of him) and Phillip Dutton. Colleen was our top placed American after dressage on 42.3 with Covert Rights, her 9-year-old homebred Covert Rights, a Thoroughbred/Clydesdale cross.

Colleen then delivered a double clear round on Shiraz as the trailblazer on cross country day, returning later in the afternoon when conditions had deteriorated to give Covert Rights a confidence-boosting introduction to his first four-star course, jumping clear with 12 time penalties. “CR” had two rails down yesterday to finish 11th on 62.3.

Standout U.S. horses are always vetted Sunday afternoon after Rolex concludes, and we’d be shocked if CR didn’t receive an invite to those evaluations yesterday. Expect to see their names (or just her name if the selectors follow their 2015 winter/spring trend and only list rider names) on the next round of training lists. The selectors simply can’t ignore her any longer.

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless. Photo by Jenni Autry.

3. The reign of the rookies

You’ll notice a number of newcomers who finished in respectable positions on the final Rolex leaderboard. Elisa Wallace rode with the poise and confidence of a much more seasoned rider around her first four-star cross country course in pouring rain on Saturday, piloting Simply Priceless to a clear round with 7.2 time penalties. (Her helmet cam has since been viewed 36,000 times.)

That’s the type of grit and determination we need in this next generation of Team USA, which has struggled to deliver clear cross country rounds under trying conditions in team scenarios. Elisa and “Johnny” went on to finish in 17th as our highest-placed Rolex Rookies.

We saw a class performance from Maya Black and pint-sized Doesn’t Play Fair, who perhaps would have racked up far fewer time penalties if little Cody’s legs were a few inches longer. They also delivered a clear round on cross country, pulling two rails yesterday to ultimately finish 22nd.

We also saw an impressive ride for USEF Eventing 25 rider Lizzie Snow and Coal Creek, who jumped around clear on cross country and finished 27th. Mackenna Shea and Landioso, who sat in sixth place after dressage on 43.7, jumped around clear in good form before their fall at the Opposing Corners at fence 21.

Jimmie Schramm and Bellamy were having the ride of their life and also jumped clear before “Bells” lost his footing in the slippery grass on takeoff at the brush corner at fence 24b, depositing Jimmie on the ground just five from home.

Team USA’s future is bright with riders like these in our arsenal. We also have to send a special shout out to 53-year-old Bunnie Sexton, who was entered to compete in her first Rolex last year but decided to take one more season to gain additional three-star experience. She had a cracking cross country round aboard Rise Against, jumping clear with 13.6 time, and pulled just one rail to finish 24th in their debut. You’re never too old to pursue your dreams. Go Bunnie.

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Cubalawn. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Cubalawn. Photo by Jenni Autry.

4. Phillip Dutton is riding better than ever

Phillip Dutton was the only rider with multiple horses entered at Rolex to not add a single jumping penalty to his dressage scores, finishing both Fernhill Cubalawn and Fernhill Fugitive inside the top 10 in their first four-star. Phillip and Fernhill Cubalawn are also our new USEF National Champions — the fourth time Phillip has earned that honor — as our highest placed American combination, finishing fifth on 54.1.

While Big Phil has always been an integral part of U.S. teams — and has competed in every major championships for the past 20 years — his experience and ability to get it done will prove even more valuable as Team USA looks to reclaim its rightful place on the international stage.

Considering how well he is riding right now and the added depth he has in his barn with these newly minted four-star horses, we could very well see him named to every major U.S. team this year, from the Pan Ams to the Nations Cup competitions at Aachen and Boekelo, which High Performance has marked as target events for this season to get some team mojo going again and show the world we can deliver.

Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda. Photo by Rare Air Photography.

Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda. Photo by Rare Air Photography.

5. We completed a team!

On that note, the U.S. completed a team for the first time in a year in the Dubarry Nations Team Challenge at Rolex. The team of Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda, Holly Payne and NeverOutfoxed, and Colleen Rutledge and Shiraz — who were all selected by random draw — finished second in the competition on a final score of 250.2. (Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect were also a member of the team; they retired at the Head of the Lake.)

Was this a major championships or Nations Cup event? No, but we’ll take anything to bolster team spirit at this point. Great job, ladies! (As an aside, Team USA won the Dubarry Nations Team Challenge at Rolex in 2014. Our last completion of a major team competition was at Boekelo CCIO3* in 2012. Interestingly, Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda also competed on that team.)

Keep checking back to EN for much more post-Rolex coverage, and click here to check out all our posts on #RK3DE.

#RK3DE: WebsiteFinal ScoresEN’s CoverageTwitterInstagram