It was a damp and drizzly morning at the MARS Great Meadow International as 39 horses and riders set out to impress in the dressage phase of the CCI4*-S competition. While several horses were shaken by the overnight drop in temperature, Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous set the score to beat early in the order after putting in a test judges deemed worthy of 23.4.
“At this point, Kitty and I know each other so well that dressage day of the competition feels a little like going dancing on a Friday night - you don’t always know what’s in store but you know you’re going to have a good time doing it!” Little shared.
Little and the 16-year-old Oldenburg mare (Carry Gold x Richardia) owned by Jacqueline Mars and Phoebe and Michael Manders are known for producing consistently low scores in the first phase. In 2020 the duo broke the longstanding lowest dressage score record at Great Meadow after they earned a 21.8 on the first day of dressage competition.
“This is Kitty’s [RF Scandalous] first outing since the Kentucky five-star so given the rain, ringside cameras, the ring setting in the middle of the cross country course, and general exuberance from all the horses, I knew I had to manage my expectations,” Little said. “My hope was to put in as correct a test as possible but keep a lid on any excitement that can sometimes sneak into the ring with the horses on a day like today!
“Unfortunately, that’s a different strategy than riding for the ‘brilliance’ that has the ability to earn big scores on the right day,” she continued. “When you’re talking about an excited event horse in a dressage ring, sometimes that’s just the luck of the day and you have to try to make the best decisions you can in the moment. Kitty stayed responsive and focused and it was wonderful to feel her relaxation improve steadily through the test, but truthfully I know we lacked a bit of the spark that is fun to play with when the moment is right. But, that’s horse sports! Every day is different and timing is everything. Even on a day that doesn’t feel like our best, there’s no dance partner I’d rather have heading down centerline and we enjoy every minute of it. She loves the sport, tries her heart out, and I’m always proud of her.”
Halfway through the lineup, only three riders had joined the under 30 score club. Sitting just behind the leader was Lauren Nicholson and long-time partner, the 14-year-old Anglo-Arabian gelding Vermiculus owned by Jacqueline Mars (Serazim x Wake Me Gently). The pair gained high marks for their transitions and harmony throughout the test, resulting in a score of 27.7 and placing them in the second-place slot.
Returning 2018 Great Meadows Champions, Will Coleman and Off the Record (VDL Arkansas x Drumagoland Bay), put in an elegant test receiving seven scores of 8 on their test for various movements. Hoping to improve upon their 2020 second-place finish and add yet another Great Meadows win to their roster, Coleman and the 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse owned by the Off the Record Syndicate, sat in the third place position throughout the day.
The leaderboard would not be shuffled until Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Singapore, owned by Tom Tierney, David W. Vos, and Ann L. Jones, entered the ring as the fourth to the last to go. The 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding's consistency throughout the test would garner the duo a score of 27.6, just edging Nicholson and Vermiculus out of the second-place seating and pushing Coleman and Off the Record into fourth. The day would wrap up with Little in the pole position leading into the second day of competition with Dutton and Nicholson following close behind.
Twelve horses made their four-star debut Friday, with two of those horses being piloted by four-star first-time riders as well. Of the 12 first-timers, it was the Hyperion Stud owned entry Chin Tonic HS (Chin Champ x Wildera) who would have the lowest score of the pack. Also piloted by Coleman, the 9-year-old Holsteiner gelding sits in fifth place going into the show jumping phase after delivering a test worthy of a score of 28.2.
Riders will aim to shake up the standings across Chris Barnard’s track on Saturday, August 21st as show jumping gets underway at 3:22 p.m. EST.
You can access the event live stream through Horse & Country TV. Don’t forget! USEA members receive 15% off of their H&C TV subscription. Learn more and stream the action here.
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