Woodstock, England - The Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials CCI3* came to an exciting conclusion on Sunday as 78 combinations moved forward to the show jumping phase over the Alison Abrahams-designed course. Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen jumped a beautiful double-clear round to claim top honors at the prestigious competition after leading from start to finish. The U.S. contingent made its presence known throughout the competition with solid performances and a total of four combinations finishing in the top 12.
Montgomery (Tetbury, England) and Jessica Montgomery, Kathryn Kraft, and Holly and William Becker's Loughan Glen began their Blenheim campaign with a stellar dressage test on Friday to receive an impressive score of 33.8 and sit on top of the leaderboard following the first phase. He and the 2003 Irish Sport Horse gelding laid down a textbook double-clear cross-country round over Eric Winter's track to maintain their lead heading into the final phase with over an eight-point lead. Not letting the pressure of the situation get to him, Montgomery gave Loughan Glen an excellent ride in the show jumping phase, jumping cleanly and inside the time to earn the biggest win of his career. The talented pair earned the 2015 Blenheim CCI3* title on their dressage score of 33.8.
"He was jumping fantastic in the warm-up but he actually got a bit flat in ring, so maybe the nerves were coming into play a bit," Montgomery said of Loughan Glen. "Thankfully he really understands his job and tried to keep all the rails up. I couldn't be happier with him, he tries so hard."
Explaining the significance of this win, Montgomery stated, "It's huge. Glen had been super competitive in the states. We talked about it and I decided I wanted to know what it took to win over here, so we moved here a few years ago. Things went downhill for a bit at first, but we found a formula that he likes and has proven to be successful. This [win] validates everything that we have been doing."
Montgomery's win makes him only the third American to win the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials CCI3* in the 25-year history of the event, along with Bruce Davidson (1994) and Kim Severson (2001).
Lauren Kieffer (Middleburg, Va.) and Team Rebecca, LLC's Veronica had excellent performances throughout their first trip to Blenheim. The recipients of a Karen E. Stives Endowment Fund for High Performance Eventing Competition Grant through the USET Foundation delivered their signature smooth dressage test on Thursday to score 46.2. Kieffer and the 2003 Dutch Warmblood mare made light work of the cross-country track, adding four-tenths of a time penalty for being a second over the optimum time of 10 minutes 51 seconds. The pair jumped a double-clear show jumping round to finish on a score of 46.6 in sixth place, earning Kieffer the best first-timer award as the highest-placed first-time competitor.
"I'm very pleased with how Veronica felt today. She's been very consistent this year and was really focused all weekend," Kieffer said. "It's so exciting to have not only a U.S. rider win but to have four U.S. riders in the top 15 really shows that the program is working and that the U.S. riders are hungry to continue being competitive. It couldn't happen without all the support from the USEF, our sponsors and owners, and of course the people that build the grants like [the late] Karen Stives."
Emily Beshear (Somerset, Va.) gave Deep Purple Eventing's Shame On The Moon a great ride in the horse's European debut, beginning with a lovely dressage test that received a score of 44.5. The USEF Land Rover Competition Grant recipients confidently tackled the cross-country track, adding only 3.2 time penalties to their score. She and 2006 Trakehner/Thoroughbred mare brought their weekend to a splendid finish with a double-clear show jumping round to finish on a score of 47.7 in seventh place.
Will Coleman (Gordonsville, Va.) and The Four Star Eventing Group's OBOS O'Reilly had a strong showing at Blenheim, starting off with a respectable dressage test on Thursday, despite the horse being quite tense, scoring 51.1. He and the 2003 Irish Sport Horse gelding earned redemption on Saturday with a masterful double-clear cross-country round. The USEF Land Rover Competition Grant recipients continued to display their jumping expertise as they were double-clear in the show jumping phase, finishing in 11th place on their dressage score of 51.1.
Rising stars Elisa Wallace (Jasper, Ga.) and David and Jill Hopcroft's Simply Priceless demonstrated experience beyond their years throughout their European debut at Blenheim. The USEF Land Rover Competition Grant recipients started their weekend with an accurate dressage test scoring 50.1. On cross-country day, they laid down a solid cross-country round, jumping cleanly and adding 7.6 time penalties to their score. Show jumping is the most challenging phase for Wallace and the 2001 Thoroughbred gelding, but they had a respectable round with a single rail down for four faults to finish on a score of 61.7 in 29th place.
Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp (East Sussex, UK) and Deborah Halliday's Fernhill By Night were the U.S. pathfinders throughout the competition, starting things off with a great dressage test that scored 45.9. She and the 2003 Irish Sport Horse gelding were having a fantastic cross-country round until running into an issue at the Cheltenham Annual Members' Badges skinnies combination at 17B, incurring 20 jumping penalties. They finished strongly but also added 26.0 time penalties to their score. The duo ended its weekend on a high note with a wonderful double-clear show jumping round, finishing in 62nd place on a score of 91.9.
Overall, it was a spectacular weekend for the U.S., and the U.S. Eventing Team Coach David O'Connor agreed, saying, "I was very pleased that Clark won, he deserved it, and the horse deserved it. It was a big win and served as a big morale booster. All of the U.S. riders were very consistent and they went at it, riding aggressively and getting the job done and being quite competitive through the competition."