This past weekend, the Texas Rose Horse Park hosted a landmark event for Area V – the debut of the first Advanced horse trials in the Area. With no other active Advanced course competing in the Midwestern states at this time, Kathy and Kim Brunson, mother and daughter owners of Texas Rose, plan to make this course an opportunity for riders needing to reduce the time and distance required of Midwestern riders who aspire to the highest levels of eventing and to help grow the skill and depth of Area V competitors.
The Brunsons were committed to the Advanced course on behalf of Area V from their first development of the Texas Rose Horse Park. Seizing the opportunity to host the Nutrena USEA American Eventing Championships, presented by VTO Saddlery, from 2013 through 2015 was an added benefit of building at the Advanced level, one the Brunsons embrace to offer a great experience to all visiting competitors. You can read the story of the building of the Texas Rose Advanced course at this link.
As the Advanced division got under way this weekend, some spectators who were not familiar with the seven entrants held a secret worry: with no Area V or nearby Advanced-level course to gain competition experience, how prepared would Area V riders be to gallop over big tables, corners, and drops? But in fact, all of the seven riders and horses entered for the inaugural run are seasoned competitors with many runs over various Intermediate courses. All but two, Ellen Doughty and Samantha Garbarino, had completed at least one Advanced competition in other parts of the country. Six have just recently returned from a winter in Florida where they could take advantage of the early upper-level events at Ocala, Rocking Horse, and Red Hills. The division entrants came well-prepared for the course designed by Capt. Mark Phillips.
This preparation, of necessity so far from home regardless of the season, is a prime motivator for the Brunsons to create this Advanced course out of the rolling green pastureland in the northeastern corner of Texas, within a day’s drive of several Midwestern and Southeastern states. Bringing the course to the riders opens doors for those who have the skills and the horse, but not the time or the budget to train and compete for many weeks far from home. For this year the course has debuted and will be closed in preparation for the AEC in September, but now Area V and other Midwestern riders have a new location to include in their plans and goals for their eventing future.
The Advanced Division Debut
On Saturday, March 30, Ellen Doughty and Sir Oberon, in their first Advanced competition, sprung to the early lead on the strength of a lovely 33.8 dressage test that carried forward to a well-executed double-clear show jumping round. Ellen said “I am honestly surprised to be in first at this point. I expected him to do well, but I didn’t expect to be leading.”
Ellen had originally planned to “do Florida” to reach her first Advanced this winter, but once the Texas Rose course-building was announced, changed her plan to come to Texas Rose instead. Ellen and Sir Oberon, a 9-year-old dark bay Thoroughbred gelding, have come a long way together since she found him four years ago in a small Texas town through a Dreamhorse.com ad, the horse having been lightly introduced to dressage and low jumping. She hopes to take Sir Oberon to Rebecca Farm in July, Richland Park in August, and Fair Hill this fall.
Just behind Ellen on Saturday was Jacob Fletcher on The Prof, on a 35.3 dressage score. “I was really happy with Theo’s show jumping round, but he was quite hyper and naughty in the dressage, which he has never done before,” Jacob said. The pair brings a clean-and-clear three-event winter jumping record to Texas Rose, including their first Advanced at Pine Top. Just three weeks ago they finished in the top half of a world-class field in their first CIC3* at Red Hills, finishing in 15th place.
The Advanced field finished dressage less than ten points apart, and the top five all went double-clear in show jumping, making it anyone’s game for Sunday’s cross-country. Many Advanced riders agreed that the course is “good and fair,” and that a soaking Friday night rain has assisted the good footing. Unfortunately, nature is not always up-to-speed on the promotional material for the great day of a new endeavor. Mid-morning, before the Advanced division was scheduled to go to the start box, the horse trials were temporarily interrupted by a crashing storm complete with thunder and lightning. The dark, massive clouds dropped a brief but thorough deluge on the grounds.
The storm moved off in less than an hour, and the sandy soil promptly absorbed the gift from nature, showing very little mud on the course. Ironically, the superbly-presented arenas had the puddles, while after a short time the cross-country course did not appear visibly much different than it had before the storm. There was little effect on the Training division that ran later in the day with primarily clean rounds, and a fair few who made the time, but the Open Intermediate and the Advanced divisions that commenced immediately after the rain saw the majority of riders withdraw, electing to save their horses for another day.
Only two Advanced division riders ventured out: Julie Norman on Consensus and Ellen Doughty aboard Sir Oberon. Both turned in positive, forward, clean-jumping rides. They put a safe, confidence-building ride ahead of beating the clock and accumulated considerable time faults. At the end of the day Julie Norman ended up top of the leaderboard with the fewest time faults, adding 20.8 to her dressage of 40.3 to finish with a total 61.1 score.
“I think Capt. Phillips did a great job with the course,” Julie said. “He had a lot of the questions we saw on the east coast and Florida this year. It rode great; my horse just kept going forward to it. It was fun. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
“My first Advanced was at Rocking Horse in February. This course at Texas Rose I think was more challenging. Here the questions come up very fast, and they were a lot bigger. You have to be smart and think about making the tighter turns to save time. There weren’t very many breathers on the course. It was big table, big question, big table, big question. At Rocking Horse they had some jumps where you could think ‘these are my easy ones, let me think about the question coming up.’ Here you had to ride all of them.”
As for Julie’s preparation team, “I train with Regis Webb [at Holly Hill Farm in Benton, Louisiana, owned by Bobby and Tracy Hewlett]. Last week I did a clinic with Karen O’Connor at Holly Hill. While I was in Florida over the winter I rode with Clayton Fredericks. I’m very fortunate that I get to train with some great people. They have all really helped me and Consensus.”
Ellen Doughty, second place finisher, had said on Saturday after show jumping that, in spite of her early lead, she did not plan to ride for time in this, the first Advanced outing for both herself and Sir Oberon. “He’s good, careful, and scopey, and I’m not worried about making the time.” After her neat and smooth cross-country round added 53.2 time faults for a final score of 87, she admitted “I didn’t even start my watch.” It was Ellen who broke in the course with the very first competitive ride out of the start box.
Area V Pro Pony Challenge Championship Fundraiser
Friday night was a lively fundraising gathering, thanks to the great humor and good sportsmanship of 21 Area V professionals. After the Easter bonnet contest, won by Heather Morris, the pros were provided with ponies for a bareback game, courtesy of Kim Brunson of Brunson Equestrian Center. Riders had to retrieve Easter eggs from buckets fastened to the fence in the indoor arena. The timed event inspired some brinksmanship riding to claim the first-place prize basket of goodies that included pez and Easter candy treats. The ponies, of course, were not fully on board with the plan, and required a high degree of horsemanship to survive some bucking and unruly behavior. However fiery the ponies were, the crowd was even rowdier. Everyone survived and it was an entertaining and successful evening.
Keep up with the Texas Rose Horse Park as it prepares for the 2013 Nutrena USEA American Eventing Championships, presented by VTO Saddlery, on the Texas Rose Horse Park website and the North Texas Eventing Association Facebook page. Learn more about the AEC and how you can be part of it here.