The championship title came down to a single rail in the show jumping phase of the 2020 Buckeye Nutrition USEF CCI4*-L Eventing National Championship on Sunday at the MARS Tryon International Three-Day Event. With the top five combinations finishing cross-country within four points of each other, the pressure was on for overnight leaders Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z. They almost had the win in the bag until that one costly rail on the final fence.
Halliday-Sharp’s loss was Boyd Martin’s gain, as he and Christine, Thomas, and Tommie Turner’s 12-year-old Trakehner gelding, Tsetserleg TSF (Windfall x Thabana), turned in a double clear round to take over the top spot and the National Champion title with a final score of 28.10. As the top finishing U.S. competitor in the CCI4*-L Eventing National Championship, Martin is awarded the Guy V. Henry Memorial Trophy and Martin and the Turners are awarded the Gladstone Challenge Trophy.
Watch Tsetserleg TSF's show jumping round:
Martin had three horses in the CCI4*-L, and after disappointing rounds with his first two, Thomas’s honest go around the course was an extra sweet victory.
“I had the old campaigner last, and Thomas went in and jumped like a champion,” said Martin. “The show jumping has been his weak phase over the years, and we’ve worked pretty hard at it. It’s very satisfying to get a good round out of him under pressure. I think that Thomas performs better when there’s pressure. I’m not sure if he knows which events are important, but he seems to do really well in dressage, cross-country, and show jumping when we need him.”
Phillip Dutton and Z, a 12-year-old Zangersheide gelding (Asca x Bellabouche) owned by Thomas Tierney, Simon Roosevelt, Suzanne Lacy, Ann Jones, and Caroline Moran, also produced a double clear show jumping round to maintain their score of 28.8 and move into second place.
“I’m really pleased with Z,” said Dutton. “He tends to get a little wound up in the ring, but we spent a lot of time doing jumper shows and figuring out ways to kind of settle him down. I thought he was spectacular today.”
Woods Baughman and C’est La Vie 135, last year’s CCI3*-L National Champions, were double clear on cross-country and show jumping, adding nothing to their dressage score of 29.10 and clocking a third place finish.
“The horse is amazing,” said Baughman of the 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Contendro I x Annette) he co-owns with his parents, Kim and James Baughman. “He just comes out in all three phases and I can really trust him. I just point him and he never lets me down. Start to finish, he just came out swinging and really hung on to it.”
Martin and Dutton, who are veteran Olympic and World Equestrian Games competitors, both said that the pressure of being at the top of the leaderboard heading into the final day of competition doesn’t faze them too much. But Baughman, a relative rookie at the CCI4* level, admitted that he had some nerves before entering the ring on Sunday.
“I was definitely pretty nervous this morning. I skipped breakfast,” Baughman said with a laugh. “But I know if I just let [C’est La Vie] do his thing, stay out of his way, and keep my position, he’ll pull it out.”
The MARS Tryon International Three-Day Event came about after the cancellation of other events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and all three top finishers expressed their gratitude to the Tryon International Equestrian Center for hosting the event and ensuring a safe venue for their horses.
“I think they did an amazing job,” said Baughman. “I showed up here on Tuesday and it was down pouring and flooding. I thought, ‘they’re going to cancel cross country.’ By the time we actually ran, the footing was great.”
“It’s so great for the sport and the riders and the horses that Tryon stepped up and did this,” said Dutton. “This is a very unique venue and we’re lucky to have it.”
Martin expressed his hope that the event becomes a permanent addition to the fall eventing calendar.
“I think Tryon is one of the best venues in the world,” said Martin. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate all the guys out there making the cross-country course as horse-friendly as possible. I’ve been lucky enough to compete all over the world, and I’ve never seen so many people pull together to make the conditions fair for the horses.”
Watch the 2020 Buckeye Nutrition USEF CCI4*-L Eventing National Championship on-demand on USEF Network.
Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS sailed to a win in the CCI 3*-L Division, holding the lead all the way for a final score of 25.70 with the 8-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Chin Champ x Wildera) owned by Hyperion Stud LLC. In second, Boyd Martin piloted Contessa, the 11-year-old Holsteiner mare (Contender x Veritas) owned by Club Contessa, to a score of 25.90, adding nothing to their score all weekend, while Leslie Law improved from fourth place third with Lady Chatterley, the 9-year-old Holsteiner mare (Connor 48 x Jucy) owned by Lesley Grant-Law and Jackie and Steve Brown, walking away with a score of 27.80.
Coleman was piloting Chin Tonic HS through his first CCI3*-L this weekend and noted that he was still quite fresh after cross-country yesterday: “The show jumping went well, and my horse jumped great. He was looking around a bit when the wind started blowing and things like the flowers and fillers were moving. He still felt pretty fresh after yesterday!”
Though they led from start to finish, Coleman was most excited about the educational experience his up-and-coming star gained by competing in a big environment, albeit sans spectators. “There’s always a tremendous atmosphere here at Tryon. They get a taste of what the big time will be like – and is like. I thought that the cross-country course was solid. It wasn’t overly difficult, yet it was still a great education for him,” he reported. “It was his first three-star long, and it was an almost nine-minute course. There’s no question that it was a huge experience for him and I think it’ll serve him very well going forward.”
Coleman concluded, “I’m thankful for this weekend and that we’re still able to compete during this time. I’m also very thankful to Hyperion Stud and Vicky Castregen and the whole team. I’ve got a wonderful group of people helping me. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am. I’m very lucky!”
Holding onto second for the entirety of the weekend with Contessa, Martin called the mare “just a fantastic jumper, who’s all class and quality. She’s full of energy after yesterday’s cross-country, and put in a great round of jumping.”
Though Martin has mostly been working with Contessa at home so far, he reported that he has high hopes for his mount: “I think this weekend she not only performed well and got a great result, but she got a great education of things to come. The stadium feeling in the dressage and show jumping is definitely a lot of pressure and atmosphere, and the cross-country course is obviously a real test and sign of a horse for the future.”
Rounding out the podium, Law and Lady Chatterley finished on their dressage score, which Law called a “very good test for her,” and ended up being a great learning experience for both his three-star mounts, he shared. “We’ve been quite fortunate that once the events got started again, we were able to put a program together and stick with it in the second half of the season.”
Like many of his peers, Law emphasized the dedication of the TIEC staff to making the event happen, both before the date and once the course was damaged just before the start of competition. “I think everybody that’s involved here at Tryon obviously have gone above and beyond, first to get it off the floor, and get it to happen. Probably the bigger challenge, though, was all the rain when we got here and all that had to be done. And that [credit] goes to the management here at Tryon and the staff. [Technical Delegate] Andy Bowles and [Course Designer] Mark Phillips… I think what they did was incredible,” Law continued. “They might not have been able to do it without the hands that are available here, but for Mark Philips and Andy Bowles to put something together which looked impossible and pull it off, I think hats off to those two and everyone who supported and helped them.
“The ground on the day [of competition] was good ground,” Law continued. “We had to look after our horses for a little bit on that short stretch coming back across the road, but as long as you rode sensibly, it was good ground. Obviously, I’ve been doing this for quite some time now, and it is not long ago that we consistently were running in a lot worse ground than this, even at places like Badminton,” he noted.
Law concluded, “I’m really thankful to everyone who put this event on, and hopefully we see it here again and again; that would be a nice thing. It is a great venue, the facilities are fantastic, the rings are fantastic and the cross-country course is top class. Mark Phillips, I think, is like red wine, he just gets better and better. The courses were super, they really were.”
Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp prevailed in the Guardian Horse Bedding CCI2*-L Division with Cooley HHS Calmaria, ending on their dressage score of 28.30. Elizabeth Bortuzzo and Belongs to Teufer, the 11-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Teuflesberg x Belong To Me) owned by John. A Witte, held steady to their dressage score to end up in second on a score of 28.60, while the weeklong leader, Sara Kozumplik Murphy and Otta B Quality, Edith Rameika’s 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, dropped just one rail on course to land in third with a score of 29.20.
Halliday-Sharp and the 7-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Cyrano 145 x Chester Lass) owned in partnership with Cooley Farm have only been partnered since June of this year, she revealed, and found the win to be “a nice surprise” but one that only confirms the quality of the up-and-coming mount.
“It’s a mare that I’ve only had since June, and she only did her first Preliminary in July,” Halliday-Sharp revealed. “She’s one of the trickiest horses I’ve ever had and one of the most talented, and I was absolutely thrilled with her this weekend. She definitely did the best dressage that she’s done, which has been our trickiest phase, and she was so perfect on cross-country and exceptional today. She’s very pleased with herself, and I’m really excited about her for the future. I think there is a lot more to come from her, and she’ll be a horse that everyone’s looking up to,” Halliday-Sharp predicted.
Echoing the remarks of her peers, Halliday-Sharp believes “this is an outstanding venue, and I’d say it’s one of the best in the world, undeniably. I can’t think of anywhere better. The efforts that everyone put in was truly Herculean to make everything run,” she continued. “I was the 78th horse out of the box on the 4* and actually, the ground wasn’t that bad. I felt like the ground continued to improve as the day went on, which is incredible.
“I’ve not actually ever experienced any event that put that much true grit and effort into making things run the best they could for the horses,” Halliday-Sharp concluded. “And in terms of the arena, it feels like you’re at a championship here, so I truly hope [this is a regular] event going forward; I cannot think of anywhere that could deliver it like Tryon did.”
Bortuzzo acknowledged that while cross-country felt “easy” for her horse, show jumping tends to be “quite an effort” and she was pleased to keep her dressage score the whole weekend through. “We had a consistently decent dressage test, and he was phenomenal out on cross-country. It felt easy, and I think we were going a bit too fast, but he was just traveling around and it felt great. For him, show jumping is quite an effort. I was very surprised but very happy about it. So overall, I couldn’t be happier about how we did across all three phases.”
Bortuzzo is a first-time competitor at TIEC and shared that she was originally uncertain about making the trip from Pittstown, N.J., but now plans to return if she’s able. “I haven’t ever been to the venue and it is quite gorgeous. I brought the horses on quite a few trail rides across the whole property, and it is lovely. For not being quite perfect condition-wise, the cross-country course was lovely, too. I had no intention of coming all the way down to North Carolina, but we are very glad we came!” Bortuzzo admitted.
“It was a little bit of a year full of ups and downs. But hopefully, this horse will get going next year with some intermediates and a 2*-L at some point. But, we hope to be back here next fall. Hopefully, we can pull off a great result again! We are very thankful for you guys for hosting such a lovely event, and even in these challenging times it all came off with any hitches,” she concluded.
After a heartbreaking touch that dropped a rail, Murphy remained in third place with Otta B Quality and conceded that it was a great result for the gelding’s first FEI competition. “I was disappointed, obviously. He’s a very clean show jumper generally, and he just touched the middle of the triple, which wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s just how it goes. Coming into the competition I would have certainly been happy with third place, but it’s hard when you drop from first to third! That’s just how it goes. That’s why it’s three phases and you have to pull it out on every one of them.”
Most importantly, Murphy commented was that her horse gained strength and experience from his time at the venue and will only come back next season a stronger, more powerful ride. “He tried very hard and it’s been a very big year for him. As he’s moving up the levels he’s getting a lot stronger. He’s trying very hard and will certainly come away from this event a much better horse. He’s going to go have a big holiday now! I’ll let him completely down and then bring him back up again. My goal is to be here next year in the three-star.”
Her three-star goals don’t mean that she will rush “Otter” in any way, Murphy added. “He doesn’t need to do a three-star in the spring, but I think he should just keep picking away and gaining experience [where he’s at now] while working all year to do the next level up [in the fall]. That should be the goal. This horse is a slow grower and needs time to make sure he’s strong enough. When they’re big and loose movers like he is, you have to be extra sure that they’re really strong.”
Murphy concluded, “I think he’s pretty special. I didn’t have exactly the weekend that I wanted, but my horses did well in every situation, and the venue did everything they could to pull this off. This wouldn’t have been possible without Tryon because there was nowhere else that could’ve done it. It’s nice for us to be able to get out and keep our sport going.”
Jenny Caras and Trendy Fernhill carried their lead through to the finish in the CCI4*-S division, adding 20.80 penalties for time to their cross-country run and still keeping the lead score of 47.80. In second, Joe Meyer and Clip Clop, the 17-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Crosstown Dancer x Wolverlife) owned by Madison Foote, Theresa Foote, and John Meyer, cleared the White Oak Course with 12.40 time penalties for a total score of 48.50. Rounding out the top three, Nobie Cannon and Bust A Groove, her own 16-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Busterwaggley x Groovy), were by far the closest to making the time on a muddy course, adding only eight time penalties for a total score of 52.20.
Caras mentioned that it was only the third Advanced competition for the 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Ars Vivendi x Cruising Girl) owned by Elyse Eisenberg, and that the atmosphere only added some nice spark to an already nice Dressage test. “I was going for consistency and no mistakes, and I was happy with him overall,” she recalled. “He couldn’t have been better in the Show Jumping. I know that it can be hard to make the time in that ring, and he has a long stride and can be a bit slow, so I went in and rode forward. He’s such a great jumper and it’s nice to be able to just focus on the riding and the plan.”
Caras ended up walking the White Oak cross-country course many times due to schedule changes that occurred throughout, and said that the Tryon team “made cross-country happen in impossible circumstances. I couldn’t be happier with the way he handled the course. He was a little spooky in the first combination and so I just put him on his feet and kept him together. He finished well and confident, which I think is the most important thing.”
Caras concluded, “I think all of the riders are very grateful to Tryon for stepping in to host this event. All of the effort that they put in to make it so we could run cross-country was appreciated from all sides. It’s truly a privilege to be able to compete here.”
Meyer rose from 15th after Dressage with Clip Clop, who he called a “super quirky” ride but one that has serious talent. “He’s an awesome horse. I was originally sent him to be sold. He’s super quirky and has thrown me off time after time. He’s gotten better and better, and we’ve formed a partnership. Now, he’s done five-star competitions!”
The nearly-17-year-old acts more like a 4-year-old, Meyer revealed, and has recently found a new level in the show jumping phase: “He’s fantastic. He’s always been a good show jumper, but now that he’s gotten older he’s awesome. It gives you an amazing sense of confidence as well. He’s hot on the flat, and that’s his only drawback. I do think that if he could do Dressage as relaxed as he does at home, I would have an Olympic horse. I guess that’s just how it goes. There are only certain people that can ride him.”
Like many competitors, Meyer and Clip Clop found the Chimney Rock Combination to be a bit trickier than expected, in part due to Clip Clop’s drive to get through the flags at a faster pace than Meyer intended. “It’s funny, because I watched and watched yesterday, and had an idea in my head of what was going to go on, but it didn’t work out that way. I thought for sure I’d just pop down the Chimney Rock combination in five strides, and then another four [to the third wedge]. I went quiet to the top and saw a going distance, waited for one stride, he popped in, then just rocket-shipped down the hill,” Meyer recapped. “He landed and balanced and knew what he was doing because he’s experienced. He did one stride, slipped, but then picked himself right back up and looked for the flags!
“I want to thank everybody at Tryon: the organizers, officials, volunteers, and everyone else, for the effort that they put into getting the Cross-Country running,” Meyer concluded. “What they did was unbelievable! The course is beautiful. A massive thank you to everybody.”
Cannon and “Busta” were the fastest pairs on course Sunday, and she reported that she felt comfortable with the footing even after a full day of competition running on the course the day prior. “Boy, the crew at Tryon did a crazy job getting the course back to where the footing was runnable,” she emphasized. “It was muddy in spots, but nothing that I felt was dangerous. We just went for it! He didn’t slip or anything. I was actually surprised when I looked down at my minute marker and wasn’t as far off as I usually am. It was exciting!”
Cannon is carefully considering when to retire her mount, and says that his performance this weekend couldn’t have been any better. “The dressage is never our strongpoint. We’ve been working really hard on it this year, since there haven’t been a ton of shows. He put in a really good test. He tried and he really stayed with me. With the show jumping, I got nervous in that atmosphere, to be honest. I could’ve ridden better to avoid those two rails that we had, but such is life! I think he could go a little longer, but I think we’re pretty close to the end for him because he’s done everything I could’ve asked from him. It was really cool that we got to end this way.”
A frequent competitor at TIEC, Cannon and Busta contested their first Advanced together at the Blue Ridge Mountain Horse Trials last September, and it felt fitting to conclude his career – for now, at least – at one of their favorite venues. “We keep coming back. The footing is great and the courses are always challenging, but ride well. I like that we can go eat at the restaurants. Tryon is a fun destination.”
To view full results from the MARS Tryon International Three-Day Event, click here.
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