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.....

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