Saturday, April 29, 2006

Upsets and Girl Power

Yesterday, I raved about a few dressage rides that I had seen and was impressed with--most notably, the presence exuded by a really magnificent horse (Windfall II), and a really magnificent rider (Kim Severson).

I still maintain that these individuals/horses are, in fact, magnificent.

But what today proved is that the riders are, after all, human, and the horses are, after all, horses. And humans and horses simply aren't perfect--even those at the top of their game/sport. As of today, the top two riders--who were, one could argue, the best in the sport--dropped out because of refusals/falls, and the new leaders are three women who have plugged on, doing a masterful job of pushing themselves and their horses.

Darren Chiacchia ended up retiring after three refusals. Kim Severson retired after a fall into the water at the head of the lake. The new leaders are Becky Holder, Polly Stockton, and Heidi J. White.

While my fence (Fence #2, the Woodsman's Cottage, 3'11", with a 6'6" spread) was a pretty straightforward fence, I nonetheless enjoyed watching how each rider took it. On the coursewalk yesterday, Corrine Ashton referred to these fences as "galloping fences". There are "horse fences" and "rider fences", and this one is a rider fence in that the horse will take it fine if you point and let him go; it's the rider that can mess it up if he/she thinks about it/worries about it. The ones who let their horses go were able to take it in stride; those that tried to check their horses too close to the fence were the ones who had troubles. A few riders "put the horse together" several strides out but let the horse maintain pace--and those riders did well, too.

Heidi White, who as of today moved up to third place, really impressed me. She was going at a very good clip, and I was pretty sure she WANTED to slow down--but she set her jaw, hunkered down, lowered her hands, and let her horse (Northern Spy) take it the way HE wanted to--and he literally took this massive fence in stride. It was lovely to watch.

Kristin Bond on Gryffindor also rode the fence boldly.

The new leader, Becky Holder and Courageous Comet (who is a beautiful big grey TB) slowed slightly, putting themselves together, then at pace took the fence nicely. her ride was similar to Kim Severson's, who put Royal Venture together well before the jump, then took it at speed.

At least one rider--I THINK it was Jonathan Holling--tried to slow down, and ended up fighting with his horse, and as a result the team left a calling card on the fence: two large grease spots where the horse hit the fence. The pair retired a bit later on course.

Similarly, Darren Chiacchia and Windfall didn't take the jump particularly well--Darren leaned forward before the jump, and the pair hung over the jump--and Windfall ended up hitting it with both front and hind feet.

I got a special kick out of watching Will Faudree take my jump (cleanly and at speed). Will is a Texas rancher's kid from Midland, TX, who used to prowl cattle in his english saddle. It's nice to see someone from West/SW Texas make it to the big time and do so well. I know Will works w/ Phillip Dutton, and he's really made a good showing here; Will and Antigua moved up to 11th place, and were one of the few horse/rider teams who went double clean (and one of the few MEN who went double clean--I think only two men did, and something like eight women. Including Karen O'Conner, who once again was professional and amazing. As of today, 7 of the top 10 are women (Andrew Hoy has two horses in the top 10, and Buck Davidson has one--Will Faudree, btw, is 11th). GO GIRLS!

I met some really nice folks who were fence judges today as well. One, Nancy Thier, was especially delightful. I enjoyed sharing stories of Michigan with her, and her son, John, is working his way up in the eventing world--I'll be looking for him to make it to Rolex in the next few years.

Another couple I met, and I can't recall their names, were from Southern Pines, and the husband was a farrier, and the wife a rider who's doing CCI** now. Good for them! I look forward to seeing them as well.

As usual, the coordinating people were amazing; Carolyn Borger, the fence judge coordinator, does things no human should be able to do, and does it with humility, grace, and will. It's a real pleasure working for her.

The sport of eventing is filled with amazing people. Kind, driven, and centered around horses and those who love them. Once again, I'm honored to be a small part of such an incredible sport.

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