Woods Baughman Leads Maryland 5 Star in the Downpour on Day One

Woods Baughman and C’est La Vie 135. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

As we checked the weather radar with trepidation this morning, watching the buckets pour outside the media center, we held hope that the forecast would be correct: the worst of today’s rain was supposed to have moved on by around the time the first 5* rider went down centerline.

We wouldn’t quite get so lucky, though, and it would be Woods Baughman who got the worst of the downpour as the final rider in the ring with his and his family’s C’est La Vie 135 (Contendro – Anette, by Aarking xx). Despite the fact Woods says he had to keep reminding himself to look up — “I couldn’t see across the ring with all the rain!” — he delivered a 5* personal best of 27.2, shaving 2.6 points off his Burghley score.

“We started hacking over and I was like, ‘this is a bad joke’,” Woods said of the deluge that was originally forecasted to have cleared up by his ride time. “It just started getting heavier and heavier. So I got soaked completely, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it and made the lateral work quite easy, because he didn’t want to go straight. So whenever I put him into the half passes, he’s like, ‘thank you!’ and just wanted to go sideways, away from the rain!”

It’s been a year — maybe more than that, honestly — of learning curves for Woods, who made his 5* debut with this horse at Kentucky in April. Woods recalls that weekend as the first time he’s ever really felt nervous, and it wouldn’t wind up being quite the debut he was seeking. He would later go to England for a crack at Burghley but wound up with a week he’d most likely prefer to mostly forget after finding himself eliminated due to some, err, braking issues on cross country (not to mention a supremely stressful travel over that involved multiple canceled flights and a midnight trailer run to deliver “Contendro” to his flight on time). But for Woods, these difficulties are fodder to build on.

Woods Baughman and C’est La Vie 135. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It just took a little bit a while to figure out what we need to do to keep him happy all the time,” Woods explained. “He definitely thrives on as much free time as possible. He doesn’t like to be touched a whole lot. He kind of wants to be left alone. He likes to stand in the back of his stall, so we give him as much time as we can to just be him, and the more time you give him the less he is likely to be kind of snappy and a bit dominant. He’s a big, strong horse and he doesn’t like to be pushed around too much.”

So practice, he hopes, will make for a better finish this weekend. He’s always had to work on rideability with C’est La Vie, who was sourced by Dirk Schrade, with whom Woods based and trained with for a year while getting to know the Hanoverian gelding. It was Dirk, in fact, who picked this one out as Woods’ eventual first 5* horse. But in between then and now, there have been more than a few learning experiences. Woods, though, would be a cooler-headed rider past his 26 years, and for him it’s all a bit a part of the process.

“So he took time and I found the more I can let him be as himself, the better I am and then just kind of stepping into last minute to tell him what we actually need to do and then letting him do it rather than directing every foot.”

Astier Nicolas and Babylon de Gamma. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Frenchman Astier Nicolas makes a return to this event after bringing the 11-year-old Babylon de Gamma

A 29.1 to start the weekend puts Astier in better stead than he began the weekend with last year, where he scored a 32.7 in this phase, despite the fact he said he would’ve liked to have had a better position in the draw order. He described Babylon de Gamma’s straightness and connection as having improved over the intervening twelve months. As for Ian Stark’s sophomore cross country design, Astier says he rather likes this very different track. “I really like the courses of Ian [Stark],” he said, noting it was one more thing that prompted him to make the trip again.

“I like the way it starts this year, a bit more flat and galloping,” he said. “But it’s totally to different last year because we’re doing the very long hill at the ten minute, sort of the nine or 10 minutes…He feels very good this year. So we’ll see if he’s very good at sprinting also at having stamina. That’s what we’re here to discover.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There was a bit of a flip-flop on the third placing of the day, which originally saw Tamie Smith and Ruth Bley’s Danito (Dancier – Wie Musik, by Wolkenstein II) score a 29.0 in the 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding’s debut at this level. Tamie, ever the competitor, says she would’ve liked to see some better marks in the trot work in particular, and it would in the end be a review on the scoring of one of her flying changes that would see her score updated to a 29.4.

This change would slot Liz Halliday-Sharp with The Monster Partnership’s (Ocala Horse Properties, Renee Lane, Deborah Halliday) “weird and wonderful” Cooley Quicksilver (Womanizer – Kylemore Crystal) up into third place after originally being sat in fourth, squeaking by Tamie’s updated score on a 29.3.

It’s been quite a progression for “Monster” — so named not because he’s an actual monster, but rather just a bit on the cheeky side (I think Liz has a bit of a type, eh?) — who Liz acquired as a “very green” five-year-old. But he’s taken right to the game, now starting his fourth 5* event. Liz, well-known for her love of learning about and trying new bits, chose to put Cooley Quicksilver back into a double bridle at Great Meadow last week and again chose to put him in it today.

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with bits and I found sort of a new bradoon and a new style Weymouth I’ve never tried before, and I chucked it in to see and I was like, wow, he’s great in this,” she elaborated. “He’s a horse that you kind of need to keep him light in his frame and he just feels happy in it. And so it’s all about just what helps him flow and keeps him consistent, keeps him happy.”

The score of 29.3 is just a tick above the pair’s 29.1 earned at Luhm├╝hlen in June en route to a fifth place finish, and Liz says she felt this test was actually better than the one in Germany.

“Anyone that knows him, he’s quite quirky and it’s taken a long time to get him sort of in this really professional space. And I mean, he tried very, very hard for me and I actually thought it was a better test than the score which is a bummer, but it’s always tough to be first to go especially on not, sort of, your ‘traditional’ horse. Not everybody gets him straightaway. But I’m just thrilled with his progression because now this year, he’s come out and he’s just a professional horse. He comes in and does his job and tries for me, so I couldn’t have asked more for him.”

Liz had an unexpected departure from the competition with her other ride, Deniro Z, who was not accepted by the Ground Jury at the first horse inspection yesterday. “He’s sore in his frog,” she said, explaining that the lameness didn’t show up until the gelding had trotted up on hard ground. “It’s just extremely bad timing. I had no idea that was even happening because he has been completely sound on the soft. So it was as much a shock to us as anything, which is really unfortunate.”

Deniro will re-route to the 4*-L at Tryon in November — “he needs to have a long format and sort of settle in again,” she said of the fighting fit 14-year-old. “But I suppose maybe the universe just had other plans for us. I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason and maybe this just wasn’t meant to be our our weekend to compete in this five-star.”

Tamie Smith and Danito. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pratoni silver medalist Tamie Smith says she wound up here at Maryland with the “crunchy Cheeto” Danito after Ian Stark talked her into it. “He’s done three four-star Longs before, and Ian Stark kind of talked me into it. I saw him at Rebecca Farm and he was like, ‘are you going to Maryland?’ and I said ‘eh, I don’t know — those hills are kind of scary!’ But he said the terrain was going to be a little different, and that was the whole point was I trusted him.

“It’s quite electric in there, so he got away from me a bit towards the end, but he’s such a good boy so I’m very pleased,” she said after her test. “The canter he was just a little bit strong, not so much hot.”

Juggling a World Championships in another country and a whole slew of 4* and 5* horses needing to be kept in work for their respective fall destinations takes a monumental effort, and Tamie’s got one of the best teams backing her up while she jets around the globe picking up medals. Tamie brought her horses out to the East coast ahead of Pratoni, running Danito in the 4*-S at Great Meadow as his final big prep for this event. Her assistant rider, Grace Walker, flew out from California to help keep Danito in work while Tamie went to Pratoni. Once she returned from Italy, Tamie took Danito to a schooling combined test and ran an Intermediate at ESDCTA in New Jersey as one final leg-stretch.

Phillip Dutton and Z. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fourth-placed after today on a 30.4 — just a tick below his Tokyo mark of 30.5 — Phillip Dutton said he actually wasn’t sure if he’d bring Z (Asca Z – Bellabouche) here after traveling to France and back for Team USA training camp as the traveling reserve. It’s a tough spot to be in, and more so because of all the travel involved with no competition.

“When he first got home he was not feeling himself,” Phillip said. “He was just out of it and so we gave him plenty of time and all the sudden he came around. So I was kind of on the fence whether he was going to come, but he, say, the last two weeks has been really great.”

Another Pratoni silver medalist on the board today is Will Coleman — who also leads the USEF 3*-L National Championship with the Cold Red Rum Syndicate’s Cold Red Rum — with Team Rebecca’s Dondante (Pachio – Muckno Clover, by Euro Clover), currently in sixth on a score of 33.0.

Will Coleman and Dondante. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“Dondante is a great horse, but dressage is hard for him, and that’s a really hard test for him,” Will commented. “He’s a bit of a nervous type, and he’s very big and very leggy, and sometimes it feels like it’s hard for us to get all the parts in the right place. We’re trying to ride for a more relaxed outline and just a more relaxed horse in general, and I think we’re going in the right direction, but sometimes you don’t execute as well riding like that.”

How do you cope with a score you’d probably like to have a few marks back on? Well, for the philosophical Will it’s fairly simple: “We’ve got a big two days left and you know, I’ll probably be kicking myself for a couple hours and then I’ll forget about it. Put on some My Morning Jacket.”

Jennie Brannigan and Twilightslastgleam. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Looking to the rest of the top 12 after day one, Jennie Brannigan put in a lovely effort with the 5* debutant Twilightslastgleam (National Anthem – Royal Child), who is a homebred of longtime owners Nina and Tim Gardner, scoring a 35.2 to sit in seventh overnight. The 12-year-old Thoroughbred by National Anthem won the notoriously tough 4*-L at Bromont in June in muddy going, setting him up well for the challenge ahead. Jennie will ride her second horse, FE Lifestyle, tomorrow.

Buck Davidson and Carlevo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Buck Davidson put in a solid effort for very tough and expecting owner Aubrey Davidson aboard the 11-year-old off-track Thoroughbred Sorocaima (Rock Hard Ten – Sankobasi, by Pulpit), who makes his second 5* start this weekend after making his debut at Kentucky in April. Carl and Cassie Segal, longtime supporters of Buck’s and owners of the late and great Ballynoecastle RM, came on board just before Kentucky to take ownership of “Cam”, who was put on Buck’s radar by good friend and Olympian Jill Henneberg. “He’s just the ultimate trier and he will get there because he’s such a workman, it’s just getting strong enough to do it,” Buck said of Cam’s 35.7.

“And actually, it’s my daughter’s horse,” Buck chuckled. “So Aubrey asked my wife, ‘some events,’ she said, ‘how was Cam? Was he winning?’ And Andrea said ‘no, it’s a work in progress, but getting better’. And Aubrey says ‘okay, when’s the progress over so we can win??’ So I think my my owner might be a little disappointed in me, but she’ll be here tomorrow to give me the instructions.”

Zach Brandt and Direct Advance. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was a heck of a soggy 5* debut for Zach Brandt, who was twice entered at Kentucky with the unforgettable Cavallino Cocktail in 2014 and 2015, but had to withdraw both times. So it’s a long-awaited debut on a very different, but equally special, horse in the 11-year-old Irish gelding Direct Advance (Night Cruise – Herbst Jennie B, by Concorde).

Longtime friend and coach Jon Holling was the one who found “Rosco” and told Zach that this would be one to take a gamble on. “To be honest, it feels a bit surreal,” Zach said. “You know, I’ve sort of been pinching myself all week sort of trying to just think of it as another event because the end of the day is just another event and just another weekend. But to be here, on a horse that we got as a four year old that Jon found for me, and he’s helped me produce over seven years. I mean, it just surreal cantering down centerline. And truth is, whatever happens this weekend. I’m just excited to be here.”

“It’s an incredibly well bred horse,” Jon added. “So it was a pretty easy thing to say, just based on that. And I will say Zach was coming off of an incredible mare, so I knew I had to get him something that was going to be a really good jumper. Because he wasn’t going to settle for anything that wasn’t exceptional. I mean, it’s always a bit of a gamble when you’re buying a young horse, but I knew based on the breeding, the way it was put together, and the jump that I knew he would be a really nice horse. And then it’s a little bit going on your gut instinct is this will be a good match. I heard overheard Zach saying he’s a bit of character. And I knew he liked that. He had that look in his eye, like he just thought he was the best horse on the property. And he’s kind of proven he was.”

Lisa Marie Fergusson and Honor Me. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Looking to the rest of the board today, next are Canada’s Lisa Marie Fergusson, who’s riding with some extra motivation on her shoulder this weekend after narrowly missing out on a berth for the Canadian squad in Pratoni with Honor Me (Brynarian Brenin AP Maldwyn – Dream Contessa). “Tali” is fit and ready to go, not having had a good cross country run to use his fitness since Kentucky in April. Lisa Marie and Honor Me scored a 37.1 to take forward into Saturday.

Hayley Frielick and Dunedin Black Watch. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kiwi rider Hayley Frielick found herself sending her horses here to the U.S. much earlier than planned due to some flight logistics complications, but she says the extra time has set her up well for her first 5* outside of Australia with the off-track Thoroughbred Dunedin Black Watch (Dylan Thomas – Love First, by Lonhro). “He was brilliant,” Hayley said after her ride. “I’m so stoked with him. Obviously, it’s been a huge trip to get here. And he’s just like a little Thoroughbred off the track, but it’s just been amazing from start to finish. He just keeps trying and he felt like he was really, really with me.”

Completing the starter list for today is Zoe Crawford with K.E.C. Zara (Visa Aldatus Z – Puissance Flight, by Puissance), who was her very first event horse and now her first 5* horse. This is their fourth 5* start, and while dressage wouldn’t be this spicy mare’s preference, she lives and breathes for cross country and will do well to try to finish on her mark of 39.6 come Sunday. Zoe has been getting some help from Liz Halliday-Sharp, whose biggest advice for today was to “let go” and let the mare work freely.

We’ll have much more coming you way, now that I’ve gotten us kicked off with 3,000 words, in the coming days, including more content from the Young Event Horse and 3* and, of course, the conclusion of the 5* dressage tomorrow.

If you’re here on site, be sure to join us tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. for a cross country course walk in partnership with Ride iQ and World Equestrian Brands. The walk will be lead by Kyle Carter and Sharon White, and you can sign up for email notifications here.

Until then, I’m off to toss my soggy shoes in a dryer. Go Eventing!

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