Mill Spring, N.C.—May 12—No one could crack Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Nutcracker’s score of 27.4 during the final day of dressage at the Tryon International CCI4*-L, but Jacob Fletcher and Fabian put in a strong test to challenge them.
Scoring a 31.2 from judges Peter Gray, Jo Young, and Polly Huntington, they’ll head into tomorrow’s cross-country in second place.
“I was surprised it was a spooky arena,” said Fletcher. “When there’s a few people in the grandstands it’s almost spookier than it being totally filled, so a few times when I was riding towards that he got a little spooky, but he was really good besides that.”
He and his dressage trainer Barend Heilbron have been working on Fabian’s frame since their sixth-place finish at the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S two weeks ago.
“We were really happy with his test at Kentucky, but it scored a little worse than we were hoping, so the last few weeks we were working on just getting him a little more up in his frame,” he explained, adding that the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood’s (Up To Date x Ineke) flying changes were the best they’ve ever been.
Fletcher has been partnered with Fabian, who’s owned by Fletcher Farms, since 2019. The gelding had been brought through the CCI4*-L level by British rider Millie Dumas, but after being at Fletcher’s farm for two months, he injured himself and had all of 2020 off.
Fletcher took his time getting him legged up in 2021, and in 2022, they finally had their first full season together, winning the Tryon CCI4*-S and the TerraNova CCI4*-S (Myakka City, Florida).
With his wedding to five-star rider Cornelia Dorr coming up in June on Bromont weekend, Fletcher chose Tryon for Fabian’s spring CCI4*-L.
“He’s a really good cross-country horse,” he said. “He’s very brave; even though he’s spooky with random things, he’s brave to the fences. As I’m getting to know him more and more, we’re picking it up and going a little faster each go.
“[The course is] classic Mark [Phillips]—a third of the jumps are corners and big distances!” he said. “We’re going to try to go a little bit faster than we did last fall. Hopefully we’ll get that done.”
Kaylawna Smith-Cook made her Tryon debut a strong one with her own and Gretchen Cook’s Passepartout. She’s tied for third with Boyd Martin (Commando 3) after dressage on 31.9.
Based in Southern California with her mother, Tamie Smith, Smith-Cook decided to bring “Pasco” east when her other upper-level horse MaiBlume had to reroute from the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S two weeks ago. She was grateful to receive a Rebecca Broussard National Developing Rider grant to help pay for the trip.
“The test was the best he’s been for me in the ring,” she said. “He just gave me a really supple feel. He’s a little bit quirky sometimes, so we just thought I could bring him along and do Tryon. I was checking off some boxes and making the time out here worth it. He was super. He’s a very big trier, and I’ve felt that our partnership is getting much better. My mom and Jo Hinnemann have really helped me along the way to really get that feel. He’s a long horse, so getting his hind legs engaged and having the softness through his neck and being uphill—it’s been a process to really learn how to feel that, but I feel that I’m getting closer and closer, and he’s reacting in the right way.”
Smith-Cook’s been partnered with the 14-year-old German Sport Horse gelding (Pasco x Preschel) for four years.
She briefly came east in 2021 for the first time with Pasco and a large group of horses, but it wasn’t as successful as she’d hoped.
“It was right after I had my daughter [Kennedi,] and I did a few events, but I wasn’t really set up for success,” she said. “I kind of came out on a whim with a 2-month-old and 20 horses. As difficult as it was, and it set me back quite a bit, it really forced me to take the time and revamp the way I was riding. [Olympic show jumper] Scott Keach took me under his wing because he was helping my mom, and he really helped me. We’re in a good place right now.”
Smith-Cook is looking forward to tomorrow’s cross-country course, which would be the first CCI4*-L completion for the pair (Smith rode Pasco to a second-place finish at the Galway Downs CCI4*-L in 2020).
“There’s definitely a lot to do and lot to think about. I think the focus and partnership with your horse is going to really come out tomorrow,” she said.
With her score today, Smith-Cook moved one place ahead of her mother, who’s now in fourth with Elliot V. While they’re competitors often, Smith-Cook says there’s no friendly rivalry, just support and lots of advice.
“She was super supportive and right there in the warmup helping me get the right positioning. I’m grateful she was there,” she said. “She has recently been telling me that my confidence has to be there, and trusting my feel and staying present is super important, and to trust my horse. The last couple competitions she’s like, ‘It’s time to go for it.’ Harden up and kick!”
Martin is also looking forward to his first CCI4*-L completion with new ride Commando 3. He’s tied with Smith-Cook for third place heading into tomorrow’s cross-country.
Martin was was happy with the 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Connor 48 x R-Adelgunde). “I was absolutely thrilled with the way he went. He’s been going from strength to strength, and I’m just in love with this horse. I think he’s got more natural talent than any horse I’ve had in a long time,” he said.
Martin paired up with “Connor” last year after trying him in northern Germany at Swedish rider Louise Romeike’s yard. She’d recently become pregnant and was considering selling the gelding, whom she’d had since he was a foal.
“I was very grateful that a horse of this caliber came on the market,” said Martin. “As soon as I tried him I fell in love with him, and I’m very lucky to have fantastic supporters here in America that got behind this horse.”
Amber Clark and Dan Nutis, of Yankee Creek Ranch in Texas, stepped in to purchase Connor, and have shares in some more of Martin’s horses. Clark had purchased Martin's 2016 Olympic partner Blackfoot Mystery a few years ago as a lower level partner and fell in love with the sport.
“We’re still jelling our partnership and getting to know each other,” said Martin. “This is a huge event, and a massive task, and I’ve got medium-high expectations of a great result, but also thinking of this time next year when we should know each other really well and be at the five-star level. This is a real building event. [The course] looks fantastic. I love this place—good footing, good jumps, good course design. It’s a great first CCI4*-L for [Miss LuLu Herself, tied for 10th] and Connor.”
Martin’s also got some of his other top horses out this weekend, including 2021 Maryland 5-Star winner On Cue, who’s stretching her legs in the CCI3*-S after sitting out 2022 with an injury.
“She had a minor injury last year, but she’s been prancing around her paddock, so we’re giving her another whirl,” he said. “She’s getting a little bit old, but after seeing how good she looks, we’re just gently seeing if she’ll have another run towards a five-star.”
Cross-country starts tomorrow for the CCI4*-L at 9 a.m. EST.
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