The decision to enter the Training Three-Day at the Hagyard Midsouth Three-Day Event & Team Challenge was a stepping stone in the career of Florida-native Hilary Irwin’s newest horse. Having competed at the Retired Racehorse Project Mega Makeover the week prior, Irwin decided to make her 12-hour trek from Ocala to Lexington, Kentucky worth it by staying and doing another event with her 5-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Fernhill Chili Martini (Chillout x My Golden Olive).
“Chili is just 5, and while he is pretty perfect and could move up to Modified, that didn’t make much sense to me. I figured I’d do something fun for both of us, while hopefully helping him learn to gallop and jump and start building a base of fitness,” she said of her decision to enter the young horse in a long-format event.
Irwin came across Chili earlier this year when she and her mom were looking for their first resale horse. Irwin connected with friend and fellow eventer Alex Green to see if she had anything that might be suitable for the job. Green had just brought over two young horses from Ireland, one of which was Chili, but Irwin wasn’t immediately struck by him upon seeing him in the barn aisle.
“When I got there she had this then 4-year-old gray pony-looking-thing all tacked up. I figured since she went to the trouble of having it ready for me I couldn’t be rude and not try it, but she was right. I think I was pretty much in love with him before I made it to the jump field. Just one of those things, when you know, you know, and I loved everything he did naturally that is very hard to teach, and everything I thought needed improvement I knew I could help with.”
Irwin spent their first few months together getting to know the young horse and preparing him for his first outing at the Rocking Horse Winter III H.T. in March where he placed fifth in the Open Novice. It didn’t take long for the gelding to continue his progression in his new career.
“He did his first Training in June and he just absolutely loves his job and the work,” said Irwin. “There is not a day that he doesn’t improve, he is so clever and loves to have a job.” The gelding often placed in the top five, has never had a jump fault in cross-country, and even finished on his dressage score to come in 14th in the Training Horse Championship at the 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds.
After such a great start to his career, Irwin was at the point of considering a move-up but felt as though the USEA Classic Series long-format might be a better fit for him developmentally. Looking back, she is confident in her decision.
“To be honest I think I may have created a monster,” joked Irwin. “He absolutely loved it and thought it was hilarious that he got to go so fast and have so much attention every day. Most horses are absolutely sick of you at the end of a five-day competition, but he just thought it was absolutely the way the world was meant to be - completely about him! I think going forward, it has given me the confidence in him that he has got a phenomenal gallop and is going to be such a fast horse.”
The traditional competition format gave Irwin the ability to see a more mature side in the young horse, and that side of him has her excited for the future, a future that Irwin doesn’t plan on missing out on now that Chili has transitioned from resale prospect to a permanent member of the Irwin family.
“We’ve labeled him the failed resale,” Irwin joked, “equivalent to the failed foster where you just end up keeping them!”
After earning a 28.9 from the judges in the Training Three-Day at Hagyard, Irwin and Chili sat in third, but double-clear efforts in the remaining phases would shoot the pair up the leaderboard to snag the win. For those producing young horses, Irwin thinks a USEA Classic Series event is a great way to continue a horse’s education and build a bond with them.
“It is a fun experience on so many levels, and it really helps you get to know your horse better,” she shared. “It makes you very aware of your pace out there on cross-country day and the dressage test was quite hard for training level, so I think that’s another fun part of it. It challenges you without moving up a level.”
As the Hagyard Midsouth Three-Day Event and Team Challenge is one of Irwin’s all-time favorite events, that made this experience even more special.
“Hagyard Midsouth is an exceptional event and I am looking forward to them getting back their CCI3*-L that they so generously hosted in 2020 when they were asked. To have the ability to continue on from a Training Three-Day to the two-star and three-star level at such an incredible venue is something that we all as riders look forward to. There are few places like the Kentucky Horse Park to go cross-country."
About the USEA Classic Series
The USEA Classic Series keeps the spirit of the classic long format three-day events alive for Beginner Novice through the Preliminary levels. Competitors can experience the rush of endurance day, including roads and tracks, steeplechase, the vet box, and cross-country, as well as participate in formal veterinary inspections and educational activities with experts on the ins and outs of competing in a long format three-day event. Riders who compete in a USEA Classic Series event during the year will have the chance to win a variety of prizes at the events from USEA sponsors. Click here to learn more about the USEA Classic Series.
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