Sunday, April 26, 2009

Girls RULE!

Let’s hear it for the ladies! I was really hoping a woman would win this year, and I’m tickled to say that not only did a woman win, but she won it on a mare, finishing on her dressage score. DOUBLE female power! Lucinda Fredericks and Headley Britannia are the 2009 Rolex champions.

Close behind were Bettina Hoy and Ringwood Cockatoo, the 18 year old gelding that, but for some time penalties in XC, would have taken first.

Buck Davidson finished third on My Boy Bobby, a relative youngster. Bravo to them all!

Once again, the weather was perfect (especially under the roof of the new partially covered stadium!)….breezy and sunny, and we were in the shade!

There were some really interesting options: a straight vertical to the water, or a bent line to the water…then an option to go straight or bend to another vertical. It was interesting to see that the first several riders opted for the straighter approach…but I think the riders who took the bent line to the straight line had a better ride. The course ended on a triple combination (vertical to oxer to vertical) which caught quite a few riders who thought they were done before they were.

I have to say that I’m impressed with the horsemanship I witnessed today. Everyone rode well; it wasn’t raining rails like it has in Rolex past! Kelly Sult and Hollywood had an unexpected refusal at fence three, but she made an admirable recovery, riding the rest of the course like a pro. That was the only stop on course, and one person had five rails, and one had three—and the rest had none, one, or two.

Before the final twenty five riders, we watched those in the upper digits go. Young rider Madeline Blackman on Gordonstown showed us our first clear round, then was so happy she couldn’t figure out which gate to exit the arena from. With a little help from Nigel, she found her way out, with a lot of encouragement from the crowd. I hope we get to see her again!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I LOVE watching Bruce Davidson! He rode Jam clear in his somewhat unorthodox style, and it was obvious that he loved that mare and he loved what he was doing. Bravo for Bruce!

Along those lines, can I just say that watching William Fox-Pitt jump two very different horses was amazing? The man is incredibly tall, but mostly from his waist up! His body fold in such a balanced way that the horses barely seem to know he’s there. Buck Davidson deserved some credit, too; he rode two very different horses, and yet he was able to get from each the best possible performance.

I was surprised that a couple of the horses did some serious “stargazing” before the fences. But the ones who did seemed to get around clearly. Note to self: Looks do NOT equal performance!

It’s sad, but whenever a rail would come down, the crowd would generate an very loud "awwwwww!". It HAS to be distracting for the riders! I guess that’s just part of the game.

Several riders (like Philip Dutton on Woodburn and Selena O’Hanlen on Columbo) had absolutely lovely, balanced rides…and then let down at that last rail. How sad! And a good thing to remember in the future: it’s not over—and you DON’T stop riding—until you’re out of the arena!

Sara Dierks and Somerset II had a really lovely, even ride. I was impressed with the pair. So, too, was I impressed with Allison Springer and Aurthur, who caught a hind leg on a rail over the water, but had a lovely ride but for that.

Poor Tm Lips; after doing so incredibly well in Dressage and XC, he had two rails and two time faults, moving him from fourth to eight. A costly mistake, I fear!

I noticed (after my friend Donna pointed it out to me!) that several of the rails were direct results of riders moving early, ducking, and/or not getting back before the next jump. Again, Rolex has proved to be a good clinic.

A funny note: I was mentioning to Donna how practiced Nigel the announcer seemed to be—he never made a mistake. And only a few minutes after I uttered that, Nigel called Lucinda into the winner’s circle, then had to make her leave, because he really wanted Buck. I guess even perfect Brit announcers CAN make mistakes!

Another wonderful Rolex. Thanks to Larry and Roxanne for welcoming me to their Paris Villa, and to my Rolex bud Donna for coming along once again. Until next year!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lucky 13

To prep for the upcoming WEG, and because several fence judges didn’t make it to their posts on time last year because of traffic, we were told to arrive by 7, be inside by 8, and at our fences by 9. I dragged poor Donna up (we stayed out too late last night eating a wonderful meal at the Atomic CafĂ©), and we trudged in and over to our fence.

Once again, I find myself at the Sunken Road as a fence judge. But THIS time, they’ve turned it around (literally!), and made the exit a LOT more challenging. The riders have to come off a long gallop, round a corner to face a skinny (A), one stride to the sunken road (B), two short strides in the sunken road, then out (C), and one stride to the direct route out over the D element, which was literally perpendicular to the C element…making the riders have to take it as almost a corner.

Several of the riders walked it so that they could go the direct route, or the “long” route—winding awkwardly around the edge of the sunken road, then back straight to the final element.

All in all, it was a really tough complex.

The TD’s spoke with us about the problems they foresaw, and we had several fence judge meetings before the event began. Because it was a tough fence, we had a large group of judges: scribes, “picture drawers”, timers, flag/stopping people, crowd control…and horse chasers (in case a rider and horse parted ways). I was assigned the latter job.

Because I was hoping not to have to perform my duty, I also drew and detailed each rider’s trip over my fence so that if anything happened, we’d have several records.

A few things happened.

The first thing happened with the first rider on course: Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM. As the pair came down the long galloping lane and was prepping for the turn to Element A, a dog ran out and nipped at the back of his horse’s legs! He rounded the corner, pulling up and pushing at the same time, but it was obvious that the horse’s attention was still back w/ the dog…for when the jump came up, the horse was totally surprised, and he ran out. GIVEN that this was the only run out at the A element of the fence the entire day, and GIVEN that Buck had a clean round the rest of the time, I believe that the dog interfered. We had to score it as a refusal, but the US Eventing apparently reversed the call (Good for them!), and Buck was left with only a few time penalties.

We had some exciting rides; a lot of the horses came up to the first element and saw the big gaping hole behind it and hesitated…..but they all went. And when they came out of the sunken road, they all went bravely (all of them ridden quite vigorously) to the final element.

Well, the first half of the day. Sandra Donnelly and Buenos Aires scrambled up the bank and tried to get past it, but hung up his front legs on the fence. They had to go past the D element, then circle and take the D element straight on.

Tim Lipps, the Dutch rider who gave us such a great dressage test the first day, rode really well, but his horse scraped his foot on the way down from the D element. I hope they’re ok!

I was pleased to see Bonner and Jazz take our fence complex like pros. Go Texas!

Barbara Crabo and Everady, who hail from Arizona (we’re practically neighbors!) had a ragged ride over our fence; her horse misjudged the leap up out of the sunken road and they pair ended up scrambling up the bank almost on their knees. I’m amazed she stayed on! She, too, had to circle past D and take it head on.

Tara Ziegler and Buckingham place, too, had to circle before D.

Some memorable rides:

Philip Dutton and Connaught: the pair who look so “together” got a bit off rhythm coming up out of the sunken road, and he sat back in a VERY defensive position and drove the horse over.

William Fox-Pit: For as long/tall as the man is, he’s in INCREDIBLE balance!

Bruce Davidson and Jam: The pair lilted along, taking the whole thing in the rhythm of their stride. We could learn a thing or two from these pros!

Buck Davidson and My Boy Bobby: Lots of controlled power there.

Jolie Sexson and Killian O’Connor: a nice, tight pair. They communicate really well together.

Kyle Carter and Madison Park: SMOOTH. Nicely done!

Ditto The Alchemist and Debbie Rosen!

And finally, KUDOS to Bettina Hoy and Ringwood Cockatoo, who were the ONLY ONES to voluntarily take “the long way” around to D. They did it efficiently and easily, and while they added to some of their time, they took care of each other. Bravo!

As of the end of the day, eight out of the top ten were Europeans…and the top two were women! I’m pulling for the ladies to win it all this time.

Because of the issues with the dog at our fence, we had to stay a bit extra after the course was closed. In the hospitality tent afterwards, where it was more hot and claustrophobic than “hospitable”, we waited to see what we would need to do with any complaints lodged re: the fence judge’s decisions. Ultimately, we were able to leave, but it gives one pause to know how much responsibility we have as fence judges. Once again, I’m honored to participate in such an incredible sport.

Because I was working, I didn’t feel right about taking pictures, so I drafted Donna and several other onlookers to take pictures. A BIG thanks to Chelsea DuFresne from Minnesota, who not only took pictures, but took great ones (and with verve!). Thanks, too, to Alison and Carol from Area V who ended up sitting next to me in Lexington, KY. I look forward to seeing you at future events!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hot Times!

When you’re hot, you’re hot….and sitting in the front row just inches from that lovely new footing—which reflected the sun’s warmth tenfold—was sweltering. We could only take it in short bursts.

I was eager to see home town (well, Texas, anyway!) local Bonner Carpenter here on Acapulco Jazz, the Mexican QH. She had a solid test, with some very nice lead changes. A stumble in the corner sent up some “oohs!” from the crowd, but overall it was a good test.

The announcer asked the spectators NOT to applaud after Kyle Carter of Canada’s test, or “he might exit the arena faster than he’s supposed to”!

Watching Amy Tryon’s warmup, there was some excitement; Leyland was definitely “up”! He threatened to do some aires above ground, and Amy wisely made him move around the cameras and judge’s box. She noted that he was very green earlier, and I think she was making sure that he calmed down and still stayed up.

That’s something I’m learning—and that’s being reinforced—lately: GOOD dressage is both constrained and free, supple and controlled. You can’t get it by being lazy, or by allowing your horse to be lazy. You both have to be energetic yet relaxed. The line between these is often delicate, as I’m seeing here more and more. In Amy and Leyland’s case, it was a fine one indeed. They had a good, solid test with some really nice lateral work. Bravo for Amy for keeping her focus!

Several of the horses went in a double bridle. I have to learn more about when the double bridle is necessary/appropriate, but in some horses’ cases—like, for instance, Chaos Theory—the horse seemed tight and constrained without being relaxed and flexible.

John Nunn picked Nicolas Touzaint and Hildago De L’ile to win this year, because “the French ‘go for it’!” That was made clear as he did his extended trot—he pushed so hard he broke into a canter, but like Amy, he didn’t dwell on it and went on to have a lovely, relaxed test with nice bend.

But it was Bettina Hoy and Ringwood Cockatoo who stole the moment. The pair came in looking polished and ready, and while they weren’t the “floatiest” nor did they have the biggest movement, the two had a beautiful, tranquil, supple test with really, really nice bends in their circles and their halfpasses. Accurate and Obedient, and very, very elastic and connected. The pair were together.

Headley Britannia was a close second, with Lucinda Fredricks aboard! The crowd actually “ooooh”ed when she did her changes, they were so buoyant and light.

Another strong performer was Jennifer Wooten-Dafoe and The Good Witch. They had a good, consistent test going, and the horse simply didn’t want to do the reinback. Rather than fighting and worrying, she simply went on. Did the score hurt her? Of course….but less so than poor scores down the line.

Philip Dutton had flying “leap” changes instead of “lead” changes on Connaught! Other than that, though, his test, too, was accurate and smooth, putting him in the top ten.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was Buck Davidson on My Boy Bobby. First, the horse is a TANK! Reminds me of when Karen O’Connor met Dylan…”you mean S.S. Dylan!” I know the horse is relatively young/inexperienced, by the pair make it look easy. Just proves that a big horse can be graceful and supple and relaxed….!

It was a joy to see Bruce Davidson at the end on Cruise Lion. The pair walked in OWNING the place. He rode with long reins, and they didn’t score particularly well, but there was an obvious connection between the two.

William Fox-Pitt cut an imposing figure on Seacookie. What a balanced, TALL man he is!

Several of the horses here are getting up in years. I wonder if that portends anything?

All in all, a really good day two. We ended up with two women in the lead: Bettina Hoy and Lucinda Fredericks. Let’s go ladies!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's a Beautiful Day for Dressage!

We arrived at the horse park almost on time, and found that our seats in the new stadium are in the FRONT ROW! I feel so special. It’s like having 50 yard line tickets at the superbowl!

The new arena is stupendous. It was intimidating before, but now it’s world class. I love the details, including the emblem of the horse park in the guard rails in the stands And the footing—WOW. I’m not sure what it is: fine sand, mixed with a cotton-like material. Plush. Whatever it is, it looks amazing. And it didn’t look like it had rained four days previous. Well done, KY horse park!

Alas, we missed the first ride, and we apparently missed something; William Fox-Pitt and Navigator held the lead for quite some time.

Stephen Bradley of the USA had a nice, consistent ride on Brandonburg’s Joshua, a horse I’ve liked for some time. And Selena O’Hanlon of Canada had a LOVELY test with a beautiful, floaty trot and once again, a consistent test. Well done!

Jolie Sexon’s Killian O’Connor was another impressive ride.

The thing I noticed about the horses that didn’t place as well was that they were TIGHT. I know these horses want to GO…and getting them into a relaxed, supple, yet on-the-bit frame for dressage is nigh unto impossible. Last week at Holly Hill, I learned that contact doesn’t mean stiff or pulling….and that you can have some substantial contact and still be soft and supple. I’m learning that dressage is more and more of a contradiction…sort of “you have to be cruel to be kind, in the right measure…” So it’s sit softly, but half halt with your core/tush; keep a taught outside rein, but be supple; keep your leg on, but don’t squeeze; and so forth!

Still, I’m noticing that the horses who do well LOOK more relaxed and seem much, much more consistent.

After a walkabout through the trade fair (and a nice chat with Bit of Britain’s John Nunn, who believes that this year’s Rolex will go to France’s Nicolas Touzaint, as well as David and Leslie from the incredible Stackhouse Saddlery), it was back to dressage.

Sadly, we missed Oliver Townend’s ride, and it must have been a good one; it moved him into first place. We did see Jolie Sexon and Killian O’Connor, and they had a smooth, up, lovely test—enough to move them into third.

But it was the Dutch rider Tim Lips on Concrex Oncarlos, who stole the show today. I found out later he’d spent the winter taking lessons with Anky Van Grunsven, who I believe just came in second last week in the World Cup. Well, no wonder those Dutch are so good at Dressage; they WORK at it with the very best! His test was lovely; flowing, consistent, up, and really supple. Nicely done!

Corinne Ashton and Dobin should have come in better than they did—but Dobbin had a canter bauble that spoiled an otherwise excellent test. The pair is still in fourth place now, though, so let’s hope the pair have a great XC and SJ round! Right now, the leaderboard is headed by a Dutch rider and two Brits. C'mon, USA!

A special acknowledgment to Canadian Karl Slezak from Canada, who put in a solid test on a first time horse….and later let me borrow his helmet as I tried out a horse. I don’t know that it made me ride any better, but it was impressive to have worn the hat helmet of a four star rider!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Jog Up

I felt right at home waiting for the jog up; winds were blowing dust, and when the clouds gathered the temperature changed about 10 degrees. If it weren’t for all the green and the humidity, I might think I was back in West Texas!

We arrived early enough to get plumb seats for the jog up. I love watching these fit horses and their riders dressed nicely trotting up and down the newly-sanded drive. Speaking of the sand—or clay-like grit resembling big kitty litter—I wonder where they get it? It’s great stuff to keep the horses (and the riders) sure-footed in the jog.

Some beautiful horses here this year.

Two horses were held, and both voluntarily withdrew. The first was Craig Thompson’s Orion, and the second was Ashley Leith’s ESB Irish Doctrine. The former looked long and low and tired, the second looked off in the left hind. Sigh. How frustrating to come all this way and not be able to compete! But it really IS all about the horses.

Bruce Davidson Sr. brought TWO horses: Jam and Cruise Lion, both beautiful greys (the former a mare, the latter a gelding). He must have a thing for those greys! He looks good. He’s the reason I fell in love with this sport; I read a book about him when I was 9, and I’ve wanted to “do” eventing since!

Lots of European riders here, and they all have nice looking horses. Stanislas de Zuchowicz was smart in his traditional Fresh army uniform, but there were no kilts or other really interesting looks. Jose Ortelli jr. from Argentina had two horses who were quite…hyper. One his horses was so upset they asked him to go again. But he seemed very calm, and his horses all passed. Stephanie Boyer looked dashing in a very stylish blue Kentucky Derby-type hat. And Cayla Kitayama had an oriental looking top on that really made her look global.

I can’t wait to see these horses go! We’re supposed to have great weather for the rest of the weekend. Here’s to the best Rolex ever!

Counting the Days....

After a fairly uneventful flight, Donna and I made it to Louisville yesterday evening, hooked up with our rental car, and made the drive to Paris, KY. True to form, it was raining the whole way. My brother welcomed us with open arms (and GREAT sandwiches), we admired the newly redecorated living room and bedroom, and we enjoyed "catching up" with Larry and Rox (and met their friend Brandon), and then it was off to bed.

This morning, we actually SLEPT IN. Wow. I'd forgotten what that felt like!

Now we're anticipating a trip to Quillin tack, and then watching the first Jog up. I need to come back to teach my class tonight....and then it's time for ROLEX!

I'm excited; so many folks from outside the US! And some familiar faces from TX: Bonner Carpenter and Clark Montgomery. Jimmy Wofford picked Philip Dutton to win it again this year (on Connaught, I believe), but he'll have some mighty competition. Can't wait!