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The first day of competition at the Dansko Fair Hill International CCI2*/3* dawned bright, shiny, and full of potential. Predictions for who would emerge from the pack into leading positions were as murky as the morning fog that hung over the grounds in the early hours, and it was anyone’s game as the first competitors donned their shadbellies and took to the dressage arenas. With fall foliage flourishing around the grounds, bright reds, oranges, and yellows were the perfect backdrop for some truly superior dressage tests.
Half of the entries for the CCI2* division completed their tests today, with the other half riding dressage tomorrow. Susan Beebee and Plan Bee Equestrian’s, Wolf, a 9-year-old bay Dutch Warmblood gelding, are currently sitting in first place with a 40.8. Susan had a fantastic day of competition, but said she also made sure to enjoy herself. “Anything on Wolf is always a great day because he’s just amazing. The weather’s perfect, the atmosphere is beautiful, and I think in this arena the horses tend to rise. He always puts in a good test here.”
Susan and Wolf are certainly not strangers to the Fair Hill experience. The pair competed at this venue in 2011, and saw definite improvements after a year of practice. “Wolf is certainly more confirmed throughout the test this year. We were fortunate enough to be here last year and he won the dressage. He is just in the phase of his training where he’s really learning to carry the strength part, and occasionally he’s not totally sure he want’s all that, so our walk work today was a little dicey,” Susan said.
Susan and Wolf are longtime partners, beginning their relationship at the Beginner Novice level in 2010, and she was quick to complement the horse that she has come to know so well. “He’s tons of fun to ride, and he tries hard every day, and the lighter and softer I am with him, the better he performs. A step up for sure this year, but I think we’re still only at about 80% of Wolf.”
Lying in second place on a 41.4 is Danielle Dichting and the 14-year-old Sachsen-Anhalt, The Graduate, recent winners of the Intermediate division of the 2012 Nutrena USEA American Eventing Championships. The two began campaigning together only a little over a year ago at the Preliminary level, so they are still getting used to each other. “Benjamin [The Graduate] is still a relatively new ride for me, he’s the first horse that I haven’t brought along as a young horse to get to the upper levels, so I’m still learning all the buttons to press on him and what really makes him tick. We’re starting to figure it out. He came out feeling great today and the bit of wind kind of pushed him out for me, which worked to my advantage.”
Clayton Fredricks, who recently moved his home base from England to Ocala, Florida, holds the third place position on a 43.6 on Hailey Parker’s Pigrela Des Cabanes. This will be Clayton’s first time attending and competing at Fair Hill, and is here to give Pigrela Des Cabanes more experience before moving on to bigger goals. “I’m basically training and preparing the horse to try to go to the WEG, so we’re here just to give him a run and help get him upgraded, so it’s nice to be sitting in this position.”
Tomorrow, the remaining entries in the CCI2* will complete their dressage tests, followed by cross-country day on Saturday. The courses, designed by Derek Di Grazia, are predicted to provide a difficult yet accurate test for the two-star level, and the footing looks to be as close to perfection as one can hope for. Susan Beebee and Wolf are hoping to carry over their improvements in the dressage ring to the second phase of the competition. Susan commented on the cross-country course, “Derek’s courses are always great questions and very fair to the horse, but you’ve gotta keep riding.”
Beebee and Dichting are both aiming for a clean, safe round on Saturday in order to end the season on a positive note. However, after a bit of bad luck at the Olympics and Burghley this summer, Clayton Fredricks has a very specific goal in mind for cross-country day at Fair Hill- “Following some of the more recent events I’ve been at, I just want to finish, to be honest with you.”
The remainder of the two-star entries will complete their test tomorrow, along with the entire three-star division. Check back here tomorrow for further coverage of the dressage phase of the Dansko Fair Hill International event.