It was no surprise that after the first day of Dressage, reigning champion Michael Jung of Germany and Fischerrocana FST were sitting comfortably in first place. But the second day of Dressage did hold some surprises, as American pair Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous took control by turning in a personal best to grab the lead with a 24.8, more than 2 points ahead of Jung’s 27.1. Australia’s Christopher Burton and Nobilis 18 are keeping pace in third with a 27.9.
In addition to her top placement on the international leaderboard, Little is also currently leading the Land Rover/USEF CCI**** National Championship.
“She gave me great ride today,” said Little, 36, of Frederick, Md. “She was a little bit excited with the Friday afternoon atmosphere, which we are familiar with at Kentucky. I was excited to go on Friday afternoon and knew she could handle it well. She was very businesslike, and it was a great ride. She was looking to please and she did her job.”
The 13-year-old Oldenburg mare Little calls “Kitty” was her mount for the Pan American Games in 2015, where the pair brought home two gold medals.
“She’s been with me for a while, but she’s changed so much,” Little said. “I knew she was capable of putting in a great test today. She’s been steadily improving. We haven’t competed so much because we’ve been focusing on training. But I thought if she had a personal best she could be on top today.”
Burton was equally pleased with his ride aboard the leggy, bay, 13-year-old Hanoverian, Nobilis 18. “I was delighted with him,” Burton, 36, from Godalming, Surrey, England. “He stayed lovely and relaxed. Of course you always think or you wish something was better, but I was very happy with him. And, of course, with horses, things can always be worse.”
The riders are now turning their focus to tomorrow and the challenges posed by course designer Derek di Grazia’s Cross-Country track.
“There is certainly plenty to do out there tomorrow,” Little said. “Kitty is a great Cross-Country horse. She has great ridability and footwork and plenty of scope. The footing is nice, so I’m looking forward to a nice ride out there. It’s very fairly presented and horses that are well prepared should gain confidence as they go.”
Burton hasn’t been back to Kentucky since the World Equestrian Games in 2010, but says he is “delighted to be here. It’s a beautiful track and a beautiful place. I walked it yesterday on my own, thinking this is one of the best courses in the world. Your designer really is tops.”
Jung, 35, from Horb, Germany, is hoping to enjoy himself during Saturday’s round. “Everything is perfectly prepared. We have super ground and super weather for tomorrow. It’s a good course. It is tough, but really nicely built with many options. I will try to go fast and clear for sure, but in the end we get information from the horse in warm-up and fences 1, 2 and 3, and we have to be open in our mind which plan we go with on which fence. There are some tough combinations (toward the end) that need a lot of power from the horse, so (it’s important) not to start too fast.”
Fischerrocana FST is the defending champion of this competition, and has won each of the last three years. It’s clear the 13-year-old German-bred mare loves the Kentucky Horse Park. “I think she knows it here and she enjoys it,” Jung said. “When I walk around with her she feels happy here and relaxed. And not just for the riding, but also all the things around that are beautiful that she can look at. And, the stables are very quiet, and I think the horses can enjoy their time here.”
In the Dubarry of Ireland Nations Team Challenge, Team Germany/Great Britain/Australia/Poland (Jung/Fischerrocana FST, Burton/Nobilis 18, Oliver Townend/MHS King Joules, Pawel Spisak/Banderas) have a commanding lead with a score of 86.3, over Team USA (106.4) and Team Canada (113.2).
The 11,794 spectators who turned out to watch the final day of Dressage appreciated the near-perfect weather at the Kentucky Horse Park. Cross-Country kicks off tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. Please note this is a change to the start time.