Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Bridesmaid Finally Wedded

Well, the women didn't pull it out this time, but Phillip Dutton, who's been second at Rolex five separate times (as well as numerous other placings) finally did it--he's the Rolex champion for 2008.

Before I talk about the stadium, however, I want to remember two magnificent horses: Frodo Baggins, Laine Ashker's horse who suffered a rotational fall on Fence Five, the Flower Basket, had to be euthanized yesterday. Following is the press release from the RK3DE Equestrian Events web page:

Frodo Baggins and Laine Ashker fell at fence 5. Ashker sustained injuries but was conscious, talking and able to move all extremities when she was transported to the University of Kentucky Hospital. She is currently under the care of the emergency and trauma services staff.

Frodo Baggins was immediately attended by a team of veterinarians. He was given intravenous fluids and supportive medications for shock and pain. After he was stabilized, he was sedated and transported by horse ambulance to nearby Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, where he was immediately attended by emergency personnel.

Further tests showed that Frodo Baggins had sustained a fracture at the base of his skull, as well as severe lung injury. As the prognosis was very poor, a representative of the family concurred that euthanasia was the most humane option for the horse. A complete necropsy examination will be performed. Everyone at the event is saddened by the loss of this brave horse.
Equestrian Events, Inc.

And The Quiet Man, ridden by first timer Sarah Hansel, had to be put down today--here's the update from the RK3DE site:

Media Center Sunday AM Update with Dr. Catherine W. Kohn, V.M.D.
Dr. Catherine W. Kohn, V.M.D, Veterinary Delegate, explained that due to the extent of injuries incurred in his fall, The Quiet Man was sadly humanely euthanized this morning. The Quiet Man's loss will be felt by all.

Wow. That's a lot of incredible, beautiful horseflesh, and I'm very sad about it. I have to admit that yesterday, seeing he big tarp being raised for Quiet Man at Jump 13 really shook me. It really was like a pall. But I understand that they want to protect the horse and the vets from the spectators (and, more importantly, the media). Still, for someone who's never seen it before, it was chilling.

Laine Ashker is in the UK hospital, and her family issued the following:

The good news is there was no injury to either the brain or spinal chord. While Laine suffered multiple injuries, including a badly broken jaw, broken ribs and clavicle, the main concern is with her collapsed lungs. She is progressing normally and is currently in reasonably stable condition in the ICU unit at the University of Kentucky Hospital. We appreciate your continued support and heart felt prayers.

My thoughts go out to Laine and her family, as well as Sarah and hers.

I was disappointed that Bonner Carpenter and Acapulco Jazz weren't passed at the final horse inspection. I really wanted her to be able to finish. Here's to next year, Bonner!

And Hugh Knows, Karen O'Conner's second ride (and another Texas native, I believe) was withdrawn after being held after the last horse inspection. Will Faudree and Antigua had to retire before the first inspection. Not a good day/Rolex for the Texans!

Another disappointment: One of the women I'd hoped would go all the way this year, Heidi White, did not present Northern Spy to the final horse inspection. Again, Heidi, I hope next year is YOUR year.

The stadium rounds were all over the place, from almost every rail down (that would be Oz) to double clear (ONLY Stephen Bradley on Brandonburg's Joshua and Phillip Dutton on Connaught boasted this score). Despite a number of double clears in XC, you could tell the horses (and riders) were beat on this, the final day.

Once again, I am a big fan of how Phillip Dutton rides: he's soft, supple, relaxed, he HELPS his horses, and he rides smart. He was one of the few riders who "used" the corners to regroup, and his score shows it.

Poor Becky Holder--while she and Courageous Comet looked magnificent, they still had two rails down, and they ended up in second place. Of course, second is nothing to scoff at, but I really was hoping that Becky would pull it out this year.

Phillip and Connaught, however, deserved their victory. The little horse jumped bigger than every fence he was presented at, and Phillip rode him superbly. I love that he thanked his horse first and foremost when he accepted his first place award. An excellent horseman indeed. And here's to another favorite of mine, Jimmy Wofford, who predicted that this would be Phillip's year to win (just as he predicted Clayton Frederick's win last year). Maybe Jimmy is getting clairvoyant in his old age....

A couple of highlights: Seeing Teddy O'Conner leap around the course like a deer. I believe he was tired (he made the time yesterday, after all, on legs half the size of some of his competitors!) and, as a result, he dropped a couple rails. However, when they all came back to receive their ribbons (he came in sixth place), he acted like it was a first place, stomping, snorting, and pawing like a stallion.

I was impressed by Missy Ransehousen and Critical Decision--the pair had only one rail down in stadium, and they rode well. They ended up in third place over all. I bet we see them back again in the near future!

I loved Kim Severson's new ride, Tipperary Liadhnan. He's a big, beautiful Irish horse, and I think he, too, will be back.

Even though they placed 16th, I will also look for Lauren O'Brien and Dunraths Alto. I really like this pair.

And condolences to Cayla Kitayama and Esker Riada, who went off course in stadium. She was having a lovely ride when she went off course and was eliminated; I hope we see her again, too.

A LOT of Irish horses here at Rolex this year. And I'm impressed with almost all of them. Are they the future?

Here's what I learned today while watching stadium:

--Just as with dressage, the stadium rider needs to be relaxed and supple.

--The rider who uses corners to rebalance will do better.

--Yanking on a horse's mouth before the fence almost ALWAYS results in rails down. Those who bring a horse back 4-8 strides away, then sit quietly, almost always do better.

--Simply standing in a two point with rigid legs creates a tense horse and a bad round. Better to sit softly and move with your horse.

--Trying to adjust too much can be dangerous. Trust your horse.

So there you have it. Another Rolex. I learned a lot, and I enjoyed spending time with my brother and his family, with Donna, and with the hordes of people who love horses and eventing. Despite all of the disappointments and the tragedies, I hope to be back.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Mishmash Day

Today started out gloomy and oppressive, with dark grey skies and spitting rain, but by midday the clouds had cleared and the glorious Kentucky hills and trees were bathed in sunlight.

So, too, the leaderboard changed (with some exceptions). I'm pleased to say that Becky Holder and Courageous Comet had a wonderful run, in spite of the fact that they were stopped right before the hammock because of a fall of horse and rider before them. First timer Donin North and her horse Lion Display fell twice on course, the last time at fence 13, a fence which would prove unlucky for several riders. Becky finished the course after the hold with a double clear, keeping her first place standing. Let's hear it for the girl and her amazing horse!

My fence, #11, the sunken road, was a real test of adjustability and bravery for both horse and rider. Horse and rider needed to make a sharp corner to get a straight line to fence 10, then a strider after they land they drop almost four feet into the sunken road, take two strides, then jump almost four feet up to bounce to another fence, fence 12. Those who made good corners, had accurate lines, and enough steam to get them over AND to a bounce did fine; others had sticky fences, though no one had a refusal or a run out.

Like last year, the first rider on course was the Bionic Pony, Teddy O'Conner. Once again, the pair roared through cross country like the little engine who could, making the giant fences look like tinker toys. They were careful at my fence, but quickly got back into their stride to finish the course double clear.

The good rides continued as the next few riders went double clear. No one seemed to be having any trouble with Mike Etherington Smith's course other than a few time penalties.

But soon Mr. Big, who I thought would breeze through, had a run out at the ducks, and we were once again reminded that this course is of Olympic caliber.

I'm pleased to say that Texas rider Bonner Carpenter and her horse Acapulco Jazz made it around the course clear, with only a few time penalties. Go Bonner!

I'm sad to say, however, that second place rider Heidi White and her horse Northern Spy "Parted Company" as Nigel says before the mushrooms toward the end of the course. She was barreling through over my jump and the ones before and afterwards, and I was sure she'd come through....ah, next year....

Poor Sarah Hansel on The Quiet Man; you could tell that her horse was rattled by the throngs of people there for the four star event. When she made the turn to my fence, he had trouble locking on due to the crowd, but they scrambled over/through. However, the pair flipped over at fence 13, and both rider and horse had to be carried out in ambulences. I hope they're ok.

Another bad fall occurred at fence 5, the Flower Basket. Laine Ashker on her second ride, Frodo Baggins (a horse who was actually in the Lord of the Rings movies!), had a nasty fall there. Apparently the horse caught his chest on the edge and flipped over. Laine was airlifted out, and Frodo Baggins was stabilized and brought out in another horse ambulance. This spill held the course up for some time.

Interestingly, Karen O'Conner was held on course because of spectators in the galloping lane. The pair already had a run out, so she wasn't pushing any of the leaders, but it still must have been frustrating for her.

I was pleased to see Corinne Ashton and Dobbin do so well over my fence, but I understand they, too, "parted company" later in the course. Darn!

Boyd Martin, who John Nunn picked to win this year, looked a little tired as he rode his second horse over my fence--he actually lost balance and leaned forward into the sunken road. I guess he was tired, because he did the same thing at the head of the lake, ending up IN the lake. He's still tied for seventh (along with Phillip Dutton's Woodburn) on his first ride, Neville Bardos, so he's not out of it yet.

As I suspected, both Phillip Dutton and Stephen Bradley had great rides on Connaught and From respectively, and the two moved up into second and third, challenging Becky, the woman who's holding onto first. Missy Ransenhausen and Allison Springer both had great rides, too, so they're in fourth and fifth. And in sixth is the undeniable Kim Severson riding her Irish horse Tipperary Liadhnan, a beautiful, powerful grey who can really jump and really cover ground--I think he's her next superstar. While I think Phillip Dutton and Stephen Bradley are true professionals and superb riders, I really would like to see the girls pull this one out.

What I learned today:

--Horses that are set up and locked on should be let go--not a loose rein, per se, but allowed to navigate the jump.

--Getting into a fence straight cannot be overrated. Karen O'Conner and Phillip Dutton had great rides in part because they were ACCURATE.

--Corners can really help you rebalance.

--A rider can rebalance better in a corner if she's not pulling the horse around with one rein, but using both reins and both legs in harmony.

--The driving seat is an aid not to be diminished. I saw several riders use their seat effectively while not getting into the horse's way. I need to work on that.

On a sad note, Ralph D. Rickly died tonight in Sun City Center, FL after a lingering illness. We're all sad to see him go, and we'll miss him.

Good night, dad.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Girl Power!

As of yesterday, Becky Holder and Courageous Comet had a commanding lead--more than 10 points lower than anyone else. While that's not quite a refusal or run out, it's more than two rails, and all of those things come into play in the events to come.

But day two of dressage saw some excellent rides, and like 2006 it's the women who are leading the way.

Until the last two riders, in fact, the first five places were women. Becky Holder held on to her first place ride, but Heidi White (whose Norther Spy is apparently stabled right next to Courageous Comet) gave her a run for her money with a score of 40.6, just barely over a point difference. She and Northern Spy flew under the radar two years ago to come in second at Rolex, and I think she's got the stamina and determination to be consistent once again and give Becky a run for her money.

Corinne Ashton, riding her chestnut thoroughbred Dobbin (another TB who thinks he's a warmblood) had a really strong, consistent test. She's another one who's been to Rolex before (with this same horse), and her experience is showing. She and her horse aren't rattled, and they came in to give a workmanlike performance.

Young rider Emilee Libby on beautiful Cahir, a lovely bay with a quirky stripe, did quite well, too, though the judge at H didn't see what the other two did--she was one of the few who had very disperate scores. Two of the three judges scored her quite highly, while one didn't see what they saw (or, perhaps, saw something else). Regardless, this talented young lady is sitting in sixth going into the cross country day.

The last two riders of the day were Stephen Bradley on From and Phillip Dutton on Connnaught, and both of them came with a score to settle with the women in the lead. From had some amazing trot work and a really nice test (with the exception of some odd lead changes behind) and he snuck into third place in front of Corinne Ashton and Dobbin. Phillip Dutton, the consumate professional (and also wearing perhaps the tallest hat of all the men...hmmm, does that mean anything?) had a consistent, workmanlike test that was a pleasure to watch, and he slid in front of Bradley with the last ride of the day to finish third after dressage. I honestly think he MIGHT have given Becky and Heidi a run for his money if his flying lead changes to the left hadn't been leaps. His lead changes to the right were perfect.

Once again, I was impressed with Dutton's relaxed seat and excellent hands. I've heard he's not the most nurturing teacher, but I think watching him for an extended period of time would be a superb learning experience.

So it's the ladies in the lead! I saw Heidi White sitting next the the Charles Owen booth, and I congratulated her on her score, and told her I was pulling for her and Becky. She said this year was the year of the woman at Rolex. Let's hope she's prophetic!

Two high points today: first, I got to meet my hero of all time, Jimmy Wofford, at the Practical Horseman booth. Surprisingly, there wasn't a huge line, so I chatted with him for a few minutes. I said "hello" from a friend of his (and mine), Day Acton, and when I asked for advice about eventing in Texas he replied "ride early, and get a fast truck". Wise man, that Jimmy! I hope one day to be able to take a clinic/lesson with him. The things he knows just blow me away. What a horseman! Donna was kind enough to take my picture with him, so as soon as I get it downloaded, I'll post it. Of course, it's on my brother's camera, so that could take a while....yesterday, I used my little tiny camera to take pictures, and was wistfully eyeing all the fine cameras that the professionals were using. Donna suggested that perhaps I had camera/lens envy, which was true. But Larry lent me a cannon with a respectable length lens, so I'm happy now. AND I should have some great shots for XC and stadium!

I watched the last two rides in the Equestrian tent (listening to Sally O'Conner's insightful commentary), and while there I met some lovely folks from Terre Haute, IN: Melony (the mom, who's a lawyer and who rides dressage), and her daughters, Olivia and Ali. All of them were going to be crossing guards for the cross country phase on Saturday. Both girls have done some hunter/jumpers, and now they're starting to event (and they love it). I'm really impressed that they are learning to contribute to the sport from the beginning as volunteers--Yeah for them! Crossing Guards are some of the hardest working volunteers, and I know they'll do an excellent job. And here's to the girls of the future!

I also got to meet the famous Denny Emerson at Bit of Britain, ever so briefly. I LOVE his posts on the Chronicle of the Horse forum, and he's probably got as much good stuff in his head as Jimmy Wofford. Can you imagine getting them BOTH to talk? Talk about heaven....the mind boggles at such a thought!

I attended the fence judge briefing with Carolyn Borgert, who's amazing, and I'll be at Fence 11, the Sunken Road. I'm very excited once again to be a very small part of such an incredible event. To see these athletes go over this and the surrounding obstacles will be humbling, amazing, and thrilling I'm sure.

Until tomorrow.....

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Courageous Competitors

Again, let me say that Kentucky horse country is a magical place for anyone who loves nature, horses, or life in general. I'm reminded of life cycles as I see mares and foals in the fields, fecundity as I look at the glorious greens of spring, and good folks as I meet people who share my passion for horses and eventing.

After a quick trip to Quillin Leather and Tack to pick up a few items we'd ordered the day before, Donna and I set out in plenty of time to make it for the first dressage ride: The Bionic Pony himself, Teddy O'Conner.

Sally O'Conner was doing a commentary, and the folks around us said that she'd asked everyone to NOT clap when Teddy came in the ring. However, those without Sally's admonitions were overcome with enthusiasm for the little guy and received a stern look and shaking of her head from Karen. Apparently, Teddy loses concentration when folks clap.

Teddy had a bit of trouble with his lead changes, but otherwise he had a solid test. And while he doesn't have the big movement of some of the warmbloods (or even the thoroughbreds who think they're warmbloods...more on that later), he has presence.

I was impressed once again with Phillip Dutton's ride on Woodburn. Donna and I noted that he was quiet and looked relaxed--his hands in particular were still and quiet. He had some really nice trot work and lead changes. I DID see him lean forward slightly during one of his canter departs--nice to know that even the pros have trouble with that from time to time.

Laine Ashker had a solid text except for her walk--too bad.

Boyd Martin on Neville Bardos (who I believe is the youngest horse entered this year) had a really solid test as well except for the swishing tail. There's something about that tail swishing that doesn't say "relaxed".

I really liked Stephen Bradley's Brandonburg's Joshua from previous years, and this year was no different. I was impressed by his transitions, both upwards and downwards, and I noticed Stephen USING his corners before movements more than I had seen others. Good job!

Kingpin, ridden by Mike Winter from Canada was a big mover with flourish. Mike also had "flourish" as he saluted at the beginning and end even after his horse swapped leads before the initial halt. Like rider, like horse. Nicely done.

Mr. Big, who really isn't, had what I would call a piston engine trot. I know it's the way he goes, but it was a little odd after Kingpin and before Dun to a T.

I understand Jonathan Holling has been riding Darren Chiacchia's ride, Dun to a T, for only two weeks--nonetheless, he gave the big Irish dun a great ride. He jumped into his leads, but overall they had a pretty good test. Well done!

I was pleased to see Bonner Carpenter, a young rider from Texas riding Acapulco Jazz who was at Holly Hills just last week with me (uh, doing advanced, while I was BN....), have a good, obedient test. She seemed to be sitting on top of a potential explosion, but kept him in check (perhaps even TOO much)....and she ended up scoring better than many of her colleagues who had been to Rolex numerous times.

Donna and I took a quick trip (ha) around the trade fair, and while there we stopped at one of MY favorite tack stores, Bit of Britain(my hub says I should have my paycheck directly deposited to an affiliated site, Tack of the Day). While there, I ended up chatting with none other than John Nunn of Nunn Finer products. I asked him who his pick was (noting that Jimmy Wofford had chosen always-a-bridesmaid competitor Phillip Dutton) to win this year. He said that Boyd Martin would be the one to watch out for, but that he was also thinking Heidi White would do well.

I'm pulling for Becky Holder and Courageous Comet, I told him. I've always loved this pair, and since Becky has a new svelt figure, she and her horse looked incredible at the first horse inspection. He hadn't seen the "new and improved" Becky, but he agreed the pair were formidable in the past and they might well pull this one off. I, too, think Heidi has a good chance; she kept going a couple years ago to come in second, and she's not to be dismissed. So while I think Phillip Dutton is amazing, I'm pulling for the women this year.

WELL, was I ever prophetic! We made sure to get back to the dressage in time to see Becky, and it was a test worth waiting for. It reminded me of Kim Severson and Dan--the pair was relaxed and obedient and ON. Courageous Comet is a thoroughbred, but no one has told him that; he thinks he's a warmblood. He gets "hang time" in the trot, he has so much suspension! The test could have been a demo ride--every movement was executed where it should be and how it should be.

At the end of her ride (after much deserved applause), a group of people shouted out "Happy Birthday Becky!". If this was indeed her birthday, I cannot imagine a better present than this test. The two were truly together, and their scores showed it: 39.3. Amazing. The next closest competitor is Stephen Bradley at 50.7. Of course, tomorrow is another day (thank you, Scarlett!), but I cannot imagine anyone topping this test.

Some things I'm left wondering about after dressage today:

Is it better to have a great movement with a "bobble" or a mediocre movement?
If you have a "bobble", is it better to go on or to fix it?

I'm going to say that the judges here seemed to like the good movement with a bobble, and I'll also say that everyone DID try to fix it.

And one thing I noticed: those who were doing more advanced movements (like half pass) and had a loss of rhythm really didn't look as consistent/together as those (like Courageous Comet) who were able to perform the movement maintaining the same rhythm they began with.

Until tomorrow, then.....

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

5, 4, 3, 2, 1....have a good ride!

After a leisurely morning of playing with dogs, walking in the glorious green grass of Paris, KY, visiting Quillin Leather and Tack shop, Donna and I made our way to the horse park (gawking as we went at the incredible Horse Farms along the way). I never tire of admiring the well-tended grounds, the immaculate black fences, the stately barns, and the rolling green pastures of the Kentucky horse farms around Paris Pike and Iron Works road en route to the Kentucky Horse Park.

We made it in plenty of time to wander around the various outdoor marketplaces, find our spot in the Equestrian tent (a step up from the last few years, to be sure!), and to mosey in and out of the merchants in the covered arena before trudging up to the trot up at 3:00.

When Nigel Casserley announced that "Rolex time is now 2:58, two minutes before the first horse inspection" I knew I'd arrived. There's nothing like hearing that strong British voice over the loudspeaker telling us what time it is. The stands were packed with folks who love the sport, the horses, and their riders. I sat next to a very nice gentleman, a vet from Pennsylvania Peter Blaner, who was as amiable was he was knowledgeable. He had first hand knowledge of several of the horses and riders from the Pennsylvania area, and I enjoyed sitting next to him.

The first rider to present her horse was Polly Stockton, wearing pink. Her horse, Charles Owen Tangleman, was lovely and while she had a bit of a time keeping him together, she passed with flying colors.

Karen presented both Teddy and Hugh Knows (a former Texan, I believe). and Teddy was a handful. Talk about a horse who's full of himself! Both passed without a problem.

Philip Dutton was a cool customer in his shades (though it WAS a bright, beautiful day), and both of his horses (Woodburn and Connaught). I can't wait to see Connaught in the dressage ring; he ought to do well.

Julia Steinburg seemed to be about a week early, in her yellow taffita dress and Derby hat, but she and her horse Mr. Big (who's only 15 hands tall--one of the smaller horses presented at this year's Rolex, which to Teddy must seem to be the Land of the Giants) made a fine showing.

Hawley Bennett from Canada and her lovely horse Linvingstone made a fine showing--another woman "pretty in pink", the Canadian opted for bright shocking pink for her trot up.

Can I say how INCREDIBLE Becky Holder and Courageous Comet looked? Both looked fit as a fiddle. Becky has lost weight, and I think she's the one I'll be cheering for this year. GO BECKY!

One totally uninformed observation: I want to feed Blair King something--the woman looked absolutely starved.

Two sad notes: Amy Tryon and Poggio II never presented, and While Will Faudree and Antigua presented once (and were held), the pair voluntarily withdrew. I'm sad; I would have loved to see the big bay do one last Rolex before he retired. I don't know about Poggio, but I think Antigua had an abscess. What a trooper!

There's something about starting Rolex with the first trot up. The horses are in amazing shape, the riders look ready to go, and I know this year will be a great one!

Until tomorrow.....

Monday, April 21, 2008

Can't Get There From Here....

Well, American Airline has not been particularly reliable lately, but Donna and I are up for the challenge. We're leaving on Tuesday for Gay Paris (KY) to visit my brother, but more importantly, to attend the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event! We're going a day early so that we are assured of getting there in time for the dressage (and, I hope, the first horse inspection on Wednesday) as well as my night class on Wed. evening.

My dad's in the hospital, so things may take a turn for the worse and I'll have to forego all or some of the blog, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

At least there are no babies to worry about this year!