Norwood, NC - Ten event horses from the USEF Short List for Eventing made the trip to Jim Cogdell's The Fork Stables in Norwood, NC for the final mandatory outing for the 2008 Olympic Games. Five horse/rider combinations from the Short List competed at the Barbury Castle CIC*** last weekend in England and per the selection procedures riders were allowed to choose which one to contest.
The outing began with the dressage test designed specifically for the 2008 Olympic Games. The test was judged by dressage legend Jessica Ransenhousen who critiqued the riders after their rides.
The test includes shoulder-in to half pass, four flying changes and canter serpentines and the all the riders showed that three days of intensive training under the watchful eye of Capt. Mark Phillips was valuable. “The riders had some great feedback from Jessica,” said Phillips. Because the mandatory outing isn't a competition scores were used as a basis for analysis only.
Phillip Dutton was the only rider with two horses in the outing and got the morning started with Connaught. The 2008 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event winner is owned by Bruce Duchossois.
The 16-year Irish Thoroughbred gelding struggles with the flying change from the right lead to the left lead but put in a customary professional performance. “'Simon did a decent test,” said Dutton who lives in West Grove, PA. “Especially for this stage in his preparation. It usually takes a little while for him to come into his own.”
A three-time Olympian for Australia, Dutton is making his first bid for a spot to represent the United States in the Olympic Games. Dutton went last on Acorn Hill Farm's New Zealand Thoroughbred Woodburn and put in a very strong effort. Dutton was pleased as this is the lesser experienced of the two horses. “I was pleased with his flatwork,” said Dutton. “The most exciting part is that there is room for improvement.”
The winner of the dressage at the 2008 Rolex Kentucky CCI**** (second overall behind Dutton) was Becky Holder and the easy moving Courageous Comet. The grey Thoroughbred gelding put in a good performance under a different kind of pressure for Holder.
“I thought it was a solid test,” said Holder from Mendota Heights, MN. “It was a good chance to ride through the Olympic test in an environment working on training not competition. It was a lot of pressure but a different kind.”
The cross country was run over a modified version of the CIC*** course from The Fork Spring Event. Designed by Mark Phillips and built by Eric Bull, the course of 3650 meters, tested a variety of cross country skills in 6:24. Two water jumps, a sunken road, a set of double corners and two big tables on a three-stride line All the horses jumped clear rounds and three were close to the time allowed.
Jennifer Wooten made the thousands of miles from California worth the effort with a great cross country round on the smallest horse in the group (and the only mare) The Good Witch. A veteran of two four stars, The Good Witch skipped around the track.
Will Faudree, who lives just down the road in Southern Pines, NC and the oldest horse on the short list, Antigua, cruised around the course shaking off the rust as 'Brad' hasn't been out on the cross-country course since March. The 19-year-old Thoroughbred is a veteran of Burghley, Badminton, Adelaide, Foxhall and Fair Hill is undoubtedly one of the most experienced in the world. “He was very good,” said Faudree. “He was very excited to be running. He was a little strong starting out but he felt great.”
The only double medalist from the 2004 Olympic Games in Eventing, Kim Severson, has a horse of a different color to make a bid for her second Olympic Games with Tipperary Liadhnan, is a 17.3 grey Irish-bred gelding, just finished fifth in his first four-star in April and Severson was pleased with the way he handled his first competition back in action. “I was happy with him,” said Severson. “He was very good on the cross country. I took out the flags on the double corners but I never really got a good shot in. He was good though, after they do their first CCI****, you never know what they are going to do the next time out.”
Heidi White from Aiken, SC and the tremendously experienced Northern Spy, looked completely back to their old fantastic form after White had an uncharacteristic fall at Rolex Kentucky in April. They happily cruised around the track.
Bonnie Mosser and the adorable Merloch jumped efficiently around the course, and Mosser's accurate riding made the course look easy as did Buck Davidson and BallyNoe Castle RM. The youngest horse on the list was not outclassed by his far more experienced group mates.
Dutton's two horses went well, Connaught jumped as spectacularly as always and Dutton was confident that Woodburn seemed better served all the way around after his 10th place Rolex Kentucky experience this spring.
Holder nearly lost her stirrup at the second water but made a very quick recovery and 'Comet' never took his eye of the third and final element. Holder was pleased with Comet's effort nonetheless.
“I was very, very pleased with all the accuracy questions,” said Holder. “I tried to do a little hunter seat equitation crest release at the second water at the second element and got a little unseated but I got back in the saddle… this was a good environment to knock the rust off.”
In the best interest of Brandenburg's Joshua, Stephen Bradley asked to be excused by the selectors from the Mandatory Outing for a veterinary reason. The selectors granted Bradley's request. Unfortunately Brandenburg's Joshua was a victim of bad timing with a foot abscess that opened up on Thursday but is already well on the mend.
The show jumping concludes the Mandatory Outing on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. the veterinary panel will evaluate the horses on Saturday afternoon and Sunday and The U.S. Olympic Team in Eventing will be named on Monday, July 14, 2008.