Rolling thunder and flashing lightening ushered in the second day of competition at the Fair Hill International, with storms of torrential proportions drenching the grounds and turning the rings into mud puddles. The inclement weather stubbornly continued on through the early morning, pushing back the start of competition for an hour. Already soaked competitors were forced back to the barns, and staff and volunteers sought respite underneath the warm, dry tents.
Eventually, the storms slackened their grip over the open Maryland sky, the clouds thinned, and the rain puttered to a halt, leaving the show free to continue on with business as usual. Horses splashed through the arena like children in galoshes, covering their gleaming legs and bellies with grit. Despite such soggy start to the day, the consummate professional competitors pressed on to complete their tests in fine style, with several rising from the muck to achieve dressage domination.
Today, the rest of the competitors in the CCI2* were able to strut their stuff in front of the judges, causing placings to shift throughout the leaderboard. However, the overnight leader, Susan Beebee, was able to cling on to the first place position with her own Wolf, a 9-year-old bay Dutch Warmblood gelding. “I’m relieved to still be here, it’s fabulous,” she said.
But, as they say, it’s not a dressage competition, and Susan and Wolf will have plenty of questions to answer tomorrow across Derek Di Grazia’s cross-country course. “The course looks great,” said Beebee. “Wolf will be fabulous out there, and I’m excited to get him out early tomorrow morning.”
Danielle Dichting and The Graduate, a 14-year-old Sachsen-Anhalt gelding, also maintained their overnight position to sit in second after the completion of the CCI2* dressage. Her second mount, Tops, currently sits in seventh place in the CCI3* division. “Just to be able to be here with both of them riding is a real honor,” said Dichting of her Fair Hill experience. “I have two great horses that are fun for me to ride.”
Edging out newly minted Floridian Clayton Fredericks from the number three spot is New Jersey native Doug Payne and his mount, the 9-year old Thoroughbred gelding, Crown Talisman, owned by Larry and Amelia Ross. This weekend will be the horse’s second run in a CCI2*, after coming off of an injury sustained at Millbrook this August. “He was in great shape at Millbrook and got a pretty big heel grab, so this will be his first run back. He’s very brave. He’s an excellent horse and very talented, so I can’t wait to see what’s coming,” said Payne.
Today saw the beginning and the end of the dressage phase for the CCI3* competitors, with all 34 horses completing their tests. Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot took a commanding early lead to finish out the day almost two points ahead of second place. Hannah Sue and Harbor Pilot, a.k.a. William, a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Jacqueline Mars, came into the ring on a mission after a series of set backs this season. “I was actually quite nervous today. We’ve had a bit of a bumpy year trying to figure out all three phases, and I really want to bring it home this weekend, so I was feeling a little pressure," said Burnett.
However, despite the electricity felt by both horse and rider on such a big weekend for the two, they were able to complete an almost flawless test and take the lead with a 43.0. “He’s such a showman in the ring and really knows his job and is very rideable,” said Burnett. “He doesn’t get tense or nervous no matter what’s going on around him. When he’s in the little white box, he does his job, which is really nice.”
Burnett is much looking forward to cross-country day tomorrow and has always been a fan of Derek Di Grazia’s courses. “I just love the flow of them,” she said. “He uses the terrain so brilliantly. At Rolex in 2011, it was just a beautiful course and I loved the forwardness of it.”
Less than two points behind Burnett is Marilyn Little and her own RF Smoke on the Water, who put in a relaxed, fluid test and earned a 44.8. Despite RF Smoke on the Water being a fairly young horse, Little said that the formation of their partnership was natural and easy. “The show jumping is his weak phase, and my strong phase, my weak phase being dressage, his strong phase, and cross country just came together,” said Little. “The partnership formed without a lot of effort and we just kept things cool between events and use competition times to enjoy ourselves.”
With Little’s self-declared “weak phase” behind her, Marilyn is prepared to take on phase two tomorrow, and commented that she is pleased to see that the course will be a great predecessor for Rolex Kentucky in the spring. “The course is a modified version of Rolex,” she said. “If the horses are not jumping this well, you’ve got a lot to do if you plan to go to Rolex. If they handle this well, you’ve got to try and take it to the next level.”
Sneaking into the third place position is Heather Gillette and her own Our Questionnaire, a 16-year-old New Zealand Thoroughbred gelding, who were able to score a 48.6. Gillette attributes their lovely dressage test to several random injuries in a row that caused them to focus solely on flatwork. “We had some freak injuries that just set us back. That’s why our flat work’s gotten so good, all we’ve been doing is flatwork for a really, really long time.”
Looking forward to tomorrow, Gillette said that she will be depending on her longtime partner to help her through the tough spots. Hopefully our partnership will see us through tomorrow,” she said. “I just need to keep my hands down and go fast. Mine’s a little older, I have to take care of him and trust him.”
The footing, however, seems to be far from worrisome to the competitors, who all feel that the morning showers only improved the going on the cross-country course. “The footing needed a little bit of water yesterday,” said Gillette. “It was definitely dry and a little hard. Apart from a few low spots where its wet, by tomorrow, if we don’t get any more rain, it should be quite good.”
All competitors will get to try their hand on Derek DiGrazia’s challenging course tomorrow, starting at 9:30 am with the CCI2*, followed by the CCI3* after lunch. Check back here tomorrow for more coverage of the exciting cross-country phase of the Fair Hill International event.