Memorable Memorial Day Weekend at Woodside.
With 400 horses accepted and 100 on the waitlist, there were enough exhibitors and support team members at The Spring Event at Woodside to make it seem that spectators were once again fully allowed to come. Especially for the Preliminary Challenge, a popular West Coast tradition that draws all to the Grand Prix ring Saturday evening. But the spectator who mattered most to Preliminary Challenge Horse division leader, James Alliston, wasn't there for the show jumping finalé.
Having sustained a broken pelvis in an Advanced division cross-country fall earlier, James' wife and Alliston Eventing partner, Helen, was at the Stanford University hospital nearby. James withdrew his Advanced mount, Paper Jam, and three horses from Open Intermediate. Helen, however, was having none of the idea that James would also withdraw Get Wild, the client-owned horse on whom he was leading the Preliminary Challenge Horse division after dressage Friday and a clear go on cross-country that morning.
"Helen said 'Go do it!' and I do as I'm told," explained James, who represents Great Britain and is based in the East Bay Area. Event organizer Robert Kellerhouse Facetimed James and Get Wild's winning show jump so Helen could watch from the hospital.
Owned and developed by young rider Gabriella Ringer, the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood had been handed to James for a little fine-tuning in competition. Riding last in front of enthusiastic VIP tents and a berm filled with cheering exhibitors, James and Get Wild continued their fault-free jumping. That enabled a finish on their 28.3 dressage score awarded by Robert Stevenson and Vicky Matisi-Stasuk.
"He's an incredibly sweet horse," said James, who started riding Get Wild on the recommendation of his owner's trainer, Adrienne Hillas. "He's quite sound sensitive. When there is a lot going on, noises, traffic, etc., he gets a bit nervous. Like all the good ones, he's a bit sharper, so I just tried to put him in a situation where he could relax more."
Helen Alliston's Advanced horse, Ebay, had a big lead over that field after their 26.3 dressage performance. Her partner in Galway Downs CCI4*-S reserve in March, Ebay emerged unscathed from the Woodside fall. She is scheduled for surgery Monday and James anticipates he'll be riding her horses for a while. "I'll just try not to break them!"
"Everyone was awesome," he said of the crew at Alliston Eventing who stepped up in many ways. "It's the benefit of having such a big family barn. We have the goodwill of all the clients and friends, and people to help pick up the slack and give Helen time to mend."
Marc Grandia and Sunsprite Seryndipity had just 1.2 time faults in their show jumping to move up into reserve on a 32.7. Josey Thompson and Pistol Annie were third on a 35.4. Below James and Get Wild's consistent lead, there was a lot of movement in the standings for the 11-horse field.
Greengard Notches Another Goal
In the Preliminary Challenge Rider division, young professional Tommy Greengard and Joshuay MBF fulfilled a goal they'd set for themselves early in the year. "Andrea Pfeiffer (of Chocolate Horse Farm) and I joked about coming here to win it, but really we just wanted to have a good round and continue our strong spring," Tommy explained. They had three "good rounds" to maintain their dressage lead on a 30.2 throughout.
One year into his partnership with the 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood, Tommy praised the Preliminary Challenge's unique format of having cross-country and show jumping on the same day. "Especially for a young horse and, as a developing rider myself, to show jump at the end of the day, when you're a little bit tired and it's unfamiliar, is a great opportunity."
The electric Saturday evening atmosphere was new, too. "He really lit up in the best possible way. He jumped his heart out for me and I think he liked the crowd: I think it made him a little bit sharper." They didn't have a rail to spare and Tommy was happy about rising to the pressure that comes with that. It helped that he rode client Brooklyn Reis's FE Nikki Beach first over Chris Barnard and Kelly James' track. "He was phenomenal, and it allowed me to take a deep breath before coming back in with Josh." Finishing with just one rail, Tommy was fourth with the 10-year-old German Sporthorse on a 38.6.
In between Tommy's first and fourth finishes, Haley Dwight and WS Radagast were second on 34.9 and Taylor McFall and High Times were third on a 37.5.
Mother & Son 1st & 5th in Advanced
The 16-year-old Thoroughbred Indy 500 has been going Advanced for nine years, but "Advanced never gets old," reports her owner and teammate in acquiring that mileage, Andrea Baxter. The pair topped the division after coming back from a COVID-related break. The "old pro" put in one of "her top cross-country performances" over an Ian Stark and Bert Wood track that "rode a little tougher than I thought it would," reflected Andrea. "Some of the drops and spreads were impressively big." They started in third after a 30.5 dressage score in the Advanced Eventing Test B judged by Amanda Miller. Cross-country added 2.4 time penalties, followed by the division's only double clear show jump for a 32.9 win.
Far less experienced at the level is Indy 500's son, Laguna Seca, the 17.1 hand, 11-year-old Holsteiner. Fresh from winning the CCI4*-S at the Baxter family's Twin Rivers Ranch in April, "Junior" brought his best mental game to the challenging dressage test. "For a green Advanced horse, this test is a big ask," Andrea commented. "It has two counter canters, four lead changes, a half pass, etc. It's the prep for the 5* test." While Junior's lead changes came a little late, the rider was thrilled that "he stayed relaxed and listening to me." A single rail in show jumping landed Laguna Seca four rungs below his mom, in fifth.
For second-place finisher Lauren Billys, Woodside was a critical comeback before the Tokyo Olympics. The Carmel, California-based pro, and Castle Larchfield Purdy will make their second Olympic appearance for Puerto Rico in August.
They had intended the CCI4*-S at the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day in April as their last major outing, but on that rainy cross-country, things did not go as hoped. "It was the first time I had to walk off the course with Purdy, and it was an eye-opener for me." The realization that "I should not be relieved to be done, I should be excited to go out" triggered a renewed commitment to bolder riding and a tougher mentality on course. "I really put the pressure on myself and I'm glad I did. It turned out to be a great weekend."
Erin Kellerhouse and Woodford Reserve had a happier outing at the Kentucky CCI4* and they continued their long string of progressive successes with a third-place finish in the Woodside Advanced.
Lauren Billys was also thrilled to top the Open Intermediate leaderboard with Can Be Sweet, a 9-year-old German Sporthorse. "We were always the second and third-placed pair last year, and with this and winning the CCI2* at Galway Downs it seems like we have broken that curse."
She had high praise for all aspects of the show. "In both divisions, the courses were really good, the ground was well prepared, it was well organized and everything was really spot-on." The cross-country courses were just what was needed. "At Intermediate and Advanced, they were enough of a challenge that you really had to put your leg on and make things happen. The horses gave positive feedback to that and both came off more confident. I'm really happy about everything."
Can Be Sweet finished dressage with a 27.1, second only to James Alliston and Nemesis' 24.5, which led the 27-pair division on Friday in front of judge Amanda Miller. James maintained the lead with Nemesis after fault-free cross-country before withdrawing to accompany his wife after her fall. A few cross-country time penalties and .4 in show jumping resulted in a Can Be Sweet's 33.5 to top the day.
One of Lauren's coaches, Bea DiGrazia, finished second on Ringwood Isabell, on a 35.2, and amateur Lauren Burnell and Counterpoint made big move-ups after dressage to stand third on a 38.
A Full House
Like the riders of 400-plus horses competing over the holiday weekend, organizer Robert Kellerhouse was happy to be back at the beautiful Horse Park at Woodside with his Kellerhouse Presents crew. The hub of Northern California equestrian activity for many years, the venue has undergone continual upgrades in footing, stabling, and other areas. It continues to be an in-demand destination for eventers throughout the West.
Exhibitors and members of their support teams made it feel like there were more spectators on hand than COVID has allowed over the last 14 months. "We are really looking forward to inviting spectators to our events here in August and October if all goes well with the pandemic," Kellerhouse said. "Meanwhile, we are very appreciative of the support of our riders and we are very happy to have put on a great event."
As The Spring Events sponsors, Uvex, Voltaire, Equine Insurance, and APF are equally important and much appreciated.
Next Up for Kellerhouse Presents
Aug. 12-15: The Summer Event at Woodside
October 7-10: The International Event at Woodside
Nov. 3-7: Galway Downs International CCI4*-L at Galway Downs in Temecula
For more information on eventing competitions at The Horse Park at Woodside, visit www.horsepark.org. For more information on eventing competition at Galway Downs in Temecula, visit www.galwaydowns.net.
Photos courtesy of Tina Fitch Photography, complements of Kellerhouse Presents.
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