On the final day of competition for the Preliminary Rider division at the 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds, Sallie Johnson and her Irish Sport Horse gelding, Fernhill DiCaprio (Finnanloon Flight x Finnan Scarlet) were named the reserve champion combination after an intense three-day event period in which the pair managed to come in only 0.3 points behind the winner. In March of 2021, Johnson was making an impossible decision – whether or not it was in his best interest to put the gelding to sleep.
According to Johnson, an aggressive bout of acute enteritis, either having presented bacterially or virally, landed the gelding at the University of Georgia (UGA) equine medical center for an undetermined amount of time as he was placed in what the clinic deemed to be supportive care.
“One morning I went out to get him and he was just thrashing around in the field in so much pain,” Johnson recalled. “We rushed him to UGA where they recommended we might have to put him down but I just couldn’t, he is everything to me.”
The members of the UGA veterinary staff were left with a difficult puzzle to try and solve. The gelding was not suffering but at the same time, doctors were unable to come up with an aggressive treatment plan. Performing surgery was a last resort option for the medical staff as they were worried it would lead to worse illness but with Johnson refusing to quit, the gelding was placed on a series of IV antibiotics with round-the-clock care and still no promise of recovery.
Two grueling weeks later, Johnson saw her first glimmer of hope.
“We really had no hope that he was going to get better but we kept on with treatment so long as he wasn’t suffering and then miraculously one day he just started to get better,” she said. “He was skinny and he couldn’t even eat hay, but he could have grass so when we finally were able to bring him home we made him the biggest, grassiest pasture we could.
Assembling a makeshift turnout, Johnson allowed the gelding as much grass as he would eat and slowly began to reintroduce additional nutrition from grain and hay back into his diet. A mere month later, she swung herself back onto his back for the first time.
“The feeling of my first ride with him again was incredible,” she remembered. “I truly thought I was never going to be able to get on him again.”
In a truly unbelievable rebound, Fernhill DiCaprio won his very first return to the show ring and like a fairytale, Johnson soon found herself back on the way to the AEC.
It’s a reality Johnson feels is almost too good to be true.
“I can’t believe we are here. Less than six months ago I was trying to even contemplate what I was going to do if he didn’t make it, but I never even dreamed I’d be at a championship with him, especially this soon.”
Three clear show jumping rounds in the CCI4*-S at the Plantation Field International Three-Day Event have placed Allie Knowles in first, third, and sixth place with Ms. Poppins, Morswood, and Business Class all owned by Katherine O’Brien. Phillip Dutton and Quasi Cool, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Quo Vados I x B-Estelle) owned by Caroline Moran, kept their cool to put in a double clear round and move up to second from overnight third place.
It was a historic week for U.S. Eventing as American athletes achieved their best results ever in the CCIO4*-S at CHIO Aachen. The Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team of Will Coleman and Off The Record, Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire, Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan, and Tamie Smith and Mai Baum took second place in the FEI Eventing Nations Cup – the highest result by a U.S. team at the prestigious event.
Perhaps one of the best reasons to be a member of USEA is the opportunity to qualify for and participate in the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds. This year there was a record 1,178 entries and a waitlist of over 150. There were 1,009 pinnies handed out and 939 horses started the competition. All combined it made for the largest horse trials in USEA history. Competitions ran in all USEA divisions and additional prizes were given for teams, incentive programs, amateur, and young rider divisions.
The 2021 Plantation Field International Three-Day Event kicked off yesterday with the CCI2*-S and CCI3*-S dressage, and culminated with the CCI2*-S, CCI3*-S, and CCI4*-S dressage today.