Lexington, KY - August 17, 2011 - Sunny skies welcomed competitors to the first day of the 2011 Bluegrass Festival Horse Show at the Kentucky Horse Park. While the highlights of the week include the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, the $25,000 CSI-W Hagyard Lexington Classic World Cup Qualifier and the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix, the first day brought its own excitement when Erynn Ballard was victorious in both the 1.40m Open Jumpers and the 1.35m Open Jumpers. Ashlee Bond was on Ballard's heels in the 1.40m with Chivas Z taking home the reserve honors.
Just prior to the 1.40m Jumpers was the 1.35m Open Jumpers with a competitive 33 riders and horses entered for the Table 2(b) track. Riders showed over a course designed by Allen Rheinheimer that involved a vertical-oxer-vertical triple combination and an oxer-vertical double combination with many options for tight turns and hard rollbacks. Many competitors found themselves with faultless first rounds automatically taking them into the jump-off where another handful came out with double clean rounds.
Harold Chopping and Patent Pending, owned by Copernicus Stables, LLC, tripped the wire in 38.731 seconds, well under the time allowed of 48 seconds, but were only quick enough for sixth place. Jack Hardin Towell was the next rider on course and he managed to shave three seconds off of Chopping's time. Hardin Towell navigated Fieona without fault stopping the clock in 35.868 seconds, which would eventually put him in third place. Just a few hundredths of a second in front of Hardin Towell was Yann Candele and Azzaro who went fault free in 35.599 seconds, which held up for the second place prize.
Christina Kelly was the next rider to advance to the jump-off and she took a more conservative route with Ushuaia Van De Wolfsakke. The pair finished without fault, but stopped the clock at 40.046 seconds, which was only good enough for the seventh place finish. Debbie Stephens and Caquel Bigua put in a good effort leaving all the rails up, but they didn't have quite the speed of some other competitors. Their time of 37.852 seconds landed them in fifth place.
The top horse and rider duo was Erynn Ballard and Wennous. They took a very daring route, blazing around the course and crossing the wire in 34.352 seconds, without fault, placing them at the top of the leaderboard. Their score would hold up to earn them the victory in the 1.35m Open Jumpers.
"I am prepping Robin for the Grand Prix on Friday and he is 17 so we pick and choose where we go," noted Ballard. "When I used to jump in the FEI classes I went slow and organized, but now that he has taken a step down I try to go fast and stay competitive. At that level you need a horse that can go a little faster. It was good for me to go fast even though he turns slow."
Shane Sweetnam was the last to try and steel the win. He and his mount O' Splendido, also rode a speedy track without fault, stopping the clock in 36.241 seconds, resulting in the fourth place finish.
After a quick reset of the course, the 1.40m Open Jumpers got underway. Eighteen riders navigated another track set by Allen Rheinheimer with a vertical-oxer-vertical combination and an oxer-vertical combination with even more inside turns and rollbacks. Debbie Stephens was first on course with mount, FYI.Stephens easily set the bar with a clean round in 71.237 seconds, leaving numerous rider and horse pairs to try and pass them over the timed single-round course. Ashlee Bond and Chivas Z had a lightening fast clean trip, placing them in first up until the last rider. When the final round was scored, their time fell just short putting them in second place.
"Chivas Z has become a very different animal. He has become such a Steady Eddy. Honestly, Chivas and I have become such a team. These heights are more practice for me for the grand prix," noted Bond. "You just have to go for it. It's not that I have taken the pressure off or gone slower, but I slowed down my mind and thought about it. Being smart doesn't mean that you have to go slow, but make smarter turns and smart decisions during the course."
"It's been four years and it's taken about three of them to become a good team with this horse," said Bond. "He had the jump from day one, but his mind was a little bit behind his age. He needed the time. He had so much ability that he didn't really know how to use it. I can feel him thinking, 'I want to win.' I can feel the energy and know that he is with me, and not fighting against me. That is what allows me to make the inside turns and make decisions well. It's been a long road to get to where we are now, but I am really happy that we are here."
Christina Kelly also had a bold trip on Creata Van Ten Biesen but as many of the other riders didn't come close to the speed set by Bond. They stopped the clock in 69.306 seconds, which was good enough for third place. The next horse and rider combination to leave all the rails in their cups was Candice King with Imothep. The pair opted for a slower track, tripping the wire in 73.980 seconds, settling with the sixth place finish. Erynn Ballard was next on course and she piloted Robin Van Roosendael to a clear effort. The pair broke the beam in 70.594 seconds, which earned them the fourth place finish.
Just when it seemed as though no one could beat Bond's lightening round Ballard returned with her second mount Buttercup. Ballard and Buttercup took no mercy and they managed to shave almost a second off of the time to beat without fault. As the last horse and rider combination in today's class, the duo took home the victory.
"Buttercup wins a lot, she is so handy in the air," commented Ballard. "Even though she is always jumping clean she never really takes any time to jump the jump and she is always landing and getting you to the next. So whether it is fewer strides or her time in the air, she is just an incredibly fast horse. After riding Robin I knew the track and how to get in between the jumps. Having him go first makes Buttercup a little easier to ride. I thought all of today was good. She kind of felt the stadium and rose to the occasion. I haven't been here since the renovations, but I like it. It is a great ring and it is good to expose the horses to something a little different. The shows are run great the footing and stabling are great there is really nothing to complain about."
The Bluegrass Festival Horse Show will continue through Sunday, August 22. The highlight events will include the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals Saturday evening, the $25,000 CSI-W Hagyard Lexington Classic on Thursday evening. The weeklong competition will wrap-up with the $40,000 Bluegrass Festival Grand Prix on Sunday.
For more information about the Kentucky Summer Horse Shows please visit www.KentuckyHorseShows.com.
Photo Credit: Erynn Ballard and Wennous topped the 1.35m Open Jumpers with a double clear round at the Bluegrass Festival Horse Show. Photo By: Heather Bellock/PMG.