Tallahassee, FL - It's only fitting that the winner of the first event of the 2011 Adequan USEA Gold Cup Series would be decided on the final moments of the competition on Sunday afternoon, drawing out the nail-biting excitement to the very last jump. Overnight leader Allison Springer must have breathed a huge sigh of relief to cross the finish line with all the rails still neatly in their cups, solidifying her victory at the prestigious Red Hills CIC3*.
Without having a rail in hand heading into the final phase, Allison and Arthur won the event by just 1.3 points ahead of Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos. Michael Pollard and Icarus, Selena O'Hanlon and Colombo, and Leslie Law and Rehy Lux, all finished third through fifth, respectively, also posting double-clear rounds.
For her win in the CIC3*, a delighted Allison earned a year-lease on a fancy new Mercedes SUV, and even took it for a victory spin around the arena. Allison also earned a bevvy of prizes from the Adequan USEA Gold Cup series as well: $500 in cash, 7-dose box of Adequan, a 3-month supply of SUCCEED, and a pair of Nunn Finer American Style open front boots. Second placers Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos take home a 7-dose box of Adequan as well as a pair of the Nunn Finers boots.
The 2011 Adequan USEA Gold Cup Series is point-based for horse and rider combinations, and so far Allison Springer and Arthur picked up 240 points (200 for the win, and 40 bonus points for their double clear show jumping round) to top the Gold Cup leaderboard. Boyd and Neville Bardos are second with 215, Michael and Icarus have 200, Selena and Colombo picked up 190, and Leslie and Rehy Lux have 185. Sixth placed Doug Payne and Running Order have 140 points, while Karen O'Connor and Mandiba, who finished 7th, have 135.
A Long Road to Victory
Allison and Arthur's first CIC win was well-deserved, as they've been knocking on the door for quite some time, having placed in the top ten at eleven FEI events since 2007.
"This was an important event. I have a tremendous horse," said Allison, of the 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding she's owned since 2004. "Show jumping in the past, well...he used to be a five or six-rail type of a horse, and so I've worked really hard in the past couple of years to improve my show jumping and I actually look forward to show jumping him now. So this is really fun to have a weekend like this and put it all together."
Arthur's well-known for his spooky nature, but the chestnut gelding held it together and didn't let a few jostled rails unnerve them. "I thought he was really rideable--I did hear a couple rattle toward the end, but I did hear that from most everyone," she said with a laugh. "So, I'm fortunate for that."
Preparation is key for this pair, especially in the show jumping phase, and Allison spent five weeks in Wellington, Florida working closely with top Grand Prix show jumping rider and trainer, Katie Prudent. "She's been great not only for just my show jumping with Arthur, but also overall for me as a competitor learning how to be a winner. How do execute every time, how do you do that? That, to me, is something that Katie Prudent is so good at. She's produced so many top Grand Prix show jump riders and I think that's really translated into what I need. I don't get nervous and I'm not dreading competing, I love to compete, but as far as executing and getting it right every time, that's the next thing that I've really been working on.
"I took lessons with Katie and we jumped in WEF [Winter Equestrian Festival]. She'll come up to Aiken at the end of March to work with all of us and hopefully be at Rolex as well. She's great--I love her and her husband, Henri, they've been so helpful and have always believed in me. When I went to them, I felt really down on myself and my horse, and said, "Oh, we can't show jump, we're terrible, I can't see a distance..." and they were just like, "Shh... Stop. You're a good rider, you just have to learn how to do this right."
A World-Class Event in Tallahassee
Riders all agree that there's something special about Red Hills--the enthusiastic support of the locals, the huge crowds, and intense media coverage reminds them of European events. "This is a really important event because not many events in the U.S. have this sort of atmosphere with the crowd and whatnot. Especially with a horse like Arthur, who is a nervous, spooky horse, it's so good for him to get this experience and come here. It really is a big time event--it's very special. It's very important to have on the calendar here."
The show jumping course, designed by William ('Fuzzy') Mayo, was a true test of the athletes' abilities to stay focused and make positive decisions about their plan. "I really enjoyed the course. I like it when a course designer gives you some choices. We had two or three different spots where we could add [strides] or be forward a little more, so I love that when they make you have a good plan and really have to think about it and what's best for your horse. That was neat--there were a lot of places where you could think, "What's going to make my horse most careful to jump out of this combination." It's tricky in there. You have crowds right up against the rope all around, and there's a bit of terrain so it's an added challenge in your balance. But I think it was a great design. "
"It's been years developing this partnership with this horse. I'll always be the little girl who fell in love with a pony, and so he's my boy. Same with Burger, that's Destination Known. Burger was tremendous today--he jumped really well in there. And he hasn't seen as much atmosphere as Arthur has at this point, so I'm really proud of both the horses." Allison was the only rider with multiple horses in the division to finish all her show jumping rounds fault-free, and Destination Known finished up his weekend with a commendable 11th place.
Though not a single rider made the time yesterday over Hugh Lochore's winding CIC3* course, Allison said her horses were fresh and full of running at the end of the day. "My horses looked great [after cross-country] and they felt really good. They didn't feel exhausted or tired or anything."
Destination Known and Planned
Allison is planning to run both horses at Southern Pines (March 25-27) and The Fork (April 2-3). "Certainly Arthur will do the whole event at The Fork. He's very sound and good, but sometimes you just gauge how much you need to compete a horse and how much do you want to run them cross-country to see how the footing is. But I will definitely do two more top-notch competitions coming up leading up to Rolex."
This year will be Allison and Arthur's fourth attempt at the famed CCI4* in Kentucky at the end of April, having completed the event for the past three years."I have the ability with Arthur to absolutely smash it in the dressage, and I haven't actually done that yet so I'm continuing to work on that. It'd be nice to have even more leeway to start out with."
Allison and Arthur were also short-listed for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, and are currently members of the USEF High Performance List. With everything falling into place for this year, Allison can't help but think ahead to London Olympics in 2012. "I think looking into next year for the Olympics, I need to have consistent good results and just do what I know I can do, and start executing all the time."
"It's been a great start to the year. It's really neat when competitions end up being a gauge of where your training is and what you've been doing, and this is where I feel like I am right now, so it's very exciting."
Top Five Fault-Free
Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos, who finished 10th individually at last year's Alltech FEI WEG, looked better than ever this weekend picking up an easy second place finish, with just 7.6 cross-country time faults tacked onto their 47.0 dressage score. Michael Pollard piloted two horses to top ten finishes in the division--Icarus, owned by his wife Nathalie, moved up to ten places after dressage to end the weekend with third place. Wonderful Will, owned by Sher Schwartz, was tenth after picking up a rail on Sunday afternoon.
Top Five Fault-Free
Better with Age--the "Metabolic Machine"
Canadian Selena O'Hanlon and her experienced partner Colombo, owned by Elaine Davies, finished their weekend in fourth place. The pair had a stellar season last year, which included an 8th at Rolex Kentucky, a win at the Richland Park CIC3* (a Gold Cup event), and also helped the Canadian team earn a silver medal at the WEG in October.
Though Colombo is 17-years-young this year, the Thoroughbred-cross gelding isn't slowing down a bit. "He was super, you know, he's got a heart of gold. Doing the warm-up today I wasn't 100 percent sure if he was going to go in there and jump clear. He tends to show jump by Braille sometimes," she said referring to the gelding's tendency to tap rails. "But he's a trooper and he loves Red Hills. We've done well here before. He actually prefers grass turf and a little bit undulating terrain makes me ride better, along with the pressure of the crowd and that sort of thing. He puts his all in."
Selena and the Canadian vet team take extra care to make sure Colombo's happy and healthy, and he gets the proper amount of top-class treatment for an athlete his age. "He's due to get all his tune-ups like his Adequan and his hocks injected as soon as he's done with this to get ready for The Fork. He's at the end of all his treatments that help him run the best and he's still goes out there and jumps from his heart. I'm really pleased with him.
"I use Adequan. He's 17-years-old and you wouldn't know it. The team calls him the Metabolic Machine. Dr. Christiana Ober gives him his Adequan. He starts it out every fourth day, and then he goes onto it just once a week, and it makes all the difference in the world, you can tell. I make sure he gets his Adequan all the way through the show season, and even when he's travelling all over the world."
Selena's pleased with how well Colombo's feeling this year. "He has done nothing but get younger and younger. When I first got him, he's had a bunch of surgeries and came to me to recover, and then we just got along so well. The owners decided to keep him and campaign me, and he's just gotten younger and younger. He finished the WEG the fastest time of the day and he jogged up the best he's ever jogged up after a four-star."
A Word from Our Sponsors
Thank you to the wonderful Adequan USEA Gold Cup Sponsors for this continued support of this exciting series: Adequan, Nunn Finer, Nutrena, Broadstone Equine Insurance, and SUCCEED.
Photos: 1st: Allison Springer and Arthur, 53.3; 2nd: Boyd Martin and Neville Bardos, 54.6; 3rd: Michael Pollard and Icarus, 66.1; 4th: Selena O'Hanlon and Colombo, 66.2 and 5th: Leslie Law and Rehy Lux, 69.6. Photos by Leslie Threlkeld.