Fairburn, GA - There is plenty at stake for the best riders in the United States this weekend at the Land Rover/USEA American Eventing Championships. Among the nearly 700 horses contesting the competition from Beginner Novice to Advanced, there are 38 American horses vying for the Jack LeGoff trophy for the USEF National Advanced Horse Trial Championship. Of those, 17 are vying for a spot on the Land Rover/US Eventing Team for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Carl Bouckaert proved, as always, a gracious host at his farm outside of Atlanta and the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team will be based at Chatthoochee Hills until they head to Kentucky for the World Games September 25 - October 10. At the end of the second day of dressage - the Advanced was ruled by Allison Springer (Marshall, VA) and Arthur - who, with a score of 35.7, took a commanding lead in the division. Phillip Dutton and Becky Holder got the closest, the 2008 Olympic teammates are tied on a score of 41.5 with The Foreman and Courageous Comet respectively.
With three dressage rings running simultaneously it was a busy day as Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced championships took place in front of a busy patrons tent and enthusiastic spectators. Arthur, an 11-year-old Irish Thoroughbred gelding, flashed stellar paces and accurate movements in an environment that some horses found a little overwhelming.
"He was good," said Springer. "I was actually a little disappointed when I left the arena. Not with him, he was super, but there were a few pilot errors, mistakes that shouldn't have happened... I had an early change... silly things. I shouldn't be giving away accuracy stuff."
Arthur has been on an upswing since a disappointing spring and has put together a string of consistent performances throughout the summer and Springer hopes that the stars are aligning at the right moment to earn her beloved horse a trip to Kentucky.
"He was more relaxed today," said Springer. "I still need to improve his walk a bit more."
Phillip Dutton (West Grove, PA) has five horses in the Championships and four on the short list for the World Games and The Foreman, a classy veteran, was the best of the group to finish second on a score of 41.5. Dutton is one of the most experienced riders in the world having won two Gold medals while representing Australia at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. He began riding for the U.S. team in 2007 and is one of the most consistent competitors in the United States.
The Foreman was second in two CCI4*s in 2005, but has run sparingly since. His performance is always reliable, and Dutton took the opportunity to make sure he was really paying attention to his aids.
"He trotted well," said Dutton. "I was quite aggressive in the canter. He started to back off in the canter, which he does a bit... he changed leads. But I wanted to let him know in the test he can't do that. He walked and trotted well, it was a good score for him but he can improve a whole lot."
Owned by Ann Jones, the 14-year-old Thoroughbred gelding was sixth at the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* in April - and he will not run on the cross-country tomorrow. Dutton is choosing to run Connaught, the 2008 Rolex Kentucky CCI4* winner who is in a tie for fifth and Fernhill Eagle, his least inexperienced ride of the weekend who is not in contention for the World Games.
Holder (Palmetto, GA) has had incredible dressage scores throughout the years with Courageous Comet, but she had a first today, something that has been the product of a lot of hard work with Holder's dressage coach Gunner Ostergaard.
"One of the biggest things we accomplished is that there was no spooking at the boards," said Holder. "With my coach Gunner Ostergaard, we came up with a new plan to introduce him to the
Holder's strategy worked well and Comet's flashy gaits and confidence in the ring were accordingly rewarded with a good score for the 14-year-old Thoroughbred gelding who she owns jointly with her husband Tom.
Holder is looking forward to the challenges of the cross country course. "It looks good," said Holder. "There are a lot of questions about holding a line. They have done a lot of work on the footing - it's a positive run, prep for WEG."
Holder noted, that despite an incredible drought, the course has been getting lots of attention, including USEF President David O'Connor and U.S. Eventing Team Chef d'Equipe Mark Phillips taking turns driving the tractor with the aggravator.
Cross country begins at 8:30 am with the Advanced.
Photos: Arthur and Allison Springer Emily Daily/USEA Photo
Beautiful Chatthoochee Hills