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.