Apr 23, 2021

LRK3DE Rider Talk: What Are They Saying About Cross-Country?

By Kate Lokey - USEA Staff
Erin Gilmore Photo.

Riders at the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian are saying that this year’s cross-country courses look big. Some say this is the largest five-star track they’ve seen here, by longtime course designer Derek di Grazia. “It’s big, it’s bold” and “Derek is a genius” are common statements to be heard around the horse park this week.

The USEA caught up with many riders after their dressage rides yesterday and today and asked what their thoughts about Derek’s courses are this year. Read along below for some interesting insights, preparations, and strategies the riders shared with us, leading up to both the CCI4*-S and the CCI5*-L cross-country.

CCI5*-L Cross-Country

Cross-country will kick off at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday for the CCI5*-L. Preview the course here.

Boyd Martin / Long Island T – 28.2

The cross-country course looks like the biggest thing that this horse will ever see in his career so far, so I’ve got a mission ahead of us. Going early, the ground should be nice, and I spent years and years getting him to this point, so we might as well have a crack. You always get wound up about dressage, but the cross-country will be the deciding factor.

Liz Halliday-Sharp / Cooley Quicksilver – 33.2

He thinks he’s brilliant, he rates himself a lot, which is probably a good thing when we have a tough course ahead of us. Everything we’ve thrown at him, he’s eaten it up, but he’s never seen a course like this, he’s never faced terrain like this before, so it’ll be a steep learning curve for him. I feel he’s fit and ready, and he’s telling us he’s ready for the next step up. I think he’ll learn a lot, so we’re going to give it our very best.

Lauren Kieffer / Paramount Importance – 32.5

I took a walk around the cross-country course, and it looks good. It’s a proper five-star – you’ve just got to go out there and attack it. My two horses probably couldn’t be more different. Paramount Importance is a 17.3 warmblood, and pretty beasty, and Vermiculus is a little 15.2 Anglo Arab so they couldn’t be more different to ride, but they have similar personalities in that they both want to do the job, they’re both super brave and clever. They’re very different but pretty straight forward to ride. It should be fun on cross-country.

Oliver Townend / Cooley Master Class – 24.1

This is one of my favorite events in the world, and it puts a lot of places to shame how purpose built, how immaculate, and how fantastically organized the whole thing is. I always love to come to Kentucky.

The first water comes at fence 4 for the CCI5*-L. USEA/Rob Burk Photo.

Will Coleman / Tight Lines – 31.9

I’ve looked at the course a couple times and I think it’s a tricky track, actually. There are some very clever lines and just so many places where Derek can kind of check you out. I think it’s a lot slower than in times past. In the weather, it might be even more so. It’s a great course, there’s a lot to do, it kind of builds all the way around. Tight Lines is like a rocket ship, and Dondante is 18 something hands, and Off The Record is somewhere in between the two, he’s sort of a maniac in his own right. They’ll be all very different, but I’ve had them all since they were young, I know them well, and I’ll try to make a plan for each of them individually and hope it works!

Meghan O’Donoghue / Palm Crescent – 32.8

I walked the course twice. It looks challenging, there’s plenty to do. It’s a long way around, it will be a true five-star test, and depending on what the weather does too, it could make it more challenging, but it looks like a great Derek course.

Hannah Sue Burnett / Harbour Pilot – 28.8

I’m glad that the forecast has changed yet again, hopefully it stays the way it is so we shouldn’t be getting quite as much rain as they originally thought. Either way, I’m happy to be on the horse I’m on, he’s a long striding, bold horse and this course is quite challenging. I think it’ll require a horse that really wants to do it, and I’m going to go for it – all out.

Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride / Favian – 34.8

He’s ready to jump! I think I’m going to smile and have fun – that’s the theme of the weekend. He’s a cross-country machine – obviously he’s never gone for 11 minutes, so that will be a big test, but I know he’s game to do everything out there. It looks beautiful, and a fair test, and I hope that we really rise to the occasion.

Daniel Clasing / MW Gangster’s Game – 29.8

Cross-country looks big, I think some of it will depend on conditions – they’ve been calling for rain, but we’re not sure if that rain is going to come or how much. My horse is inexperienced, so I think certainly the first priority is to give him a good experience. You try to build the horse’s confidence and education. It’s also important for him as a warmblood horse to build a depth of fitness, so it’ll be important to get through the finish flags. He’s a very kick-horse.

Fence 7ABC on the CCI5*-L course. USEA/Rob Burk Photo.

Jesse Campbell / Diachello - 29.1

My plan tomorrow? To survive. Jump the jumps. I think in all seriousness, you’ve got to take care of the jumping, and then you can put an eye on the clock. It’s fully testing us the whole way, right up to 9.5 or 10 minutes is full on question after full on question so who knows how it’s going to ride. Is there a particular combination I’m worried about? All of them. #7, the second water is going to really set the tone for your round, if you can get a good ride through there, really positive, that will set you up, get your horse confident, and hopefully you should have a good ride the whole way then. I think the coffin after 9 minutes is going to be incredibly tough.

Anna Siemer / FRH Butt’s Avondale – 28.1

Five years ago I was here, watched the course, and I was like ‘I really want to go here with this mare’ because this is what she likes, I think – like up and down hills, she’s a very fast horse, and she loves to gallop and this is like, yeah, I think we can do this tomorrow. First fence, and second fence, and all of them are all five-star fences. There’s not a four-star fence, I could not find a four-star fence, it’s all five-star fences (she said jokingly). It’s my first one, I tried once, 12 or 15 years ago, and it was not as big as this [course] is. She is a small horse, and she’s got skinnier legs than me. She is like a skinny, skinny pony, but if you ask her if she’s the biggest, boldest horse – of course. ‘All the other horses should be afraid because she is coming!’ but in the end, it’s good when you have a small horse with a big heart.

Tim Price / Xavier Faer – 28.2

He’s a gelding, he’s got all the scope and power and desire to do the job on cross-country, and you come into something he’s got this alertness because he imagines he’s never seen it before, even though he’s seen 100 ditches or 100 corners and he looks at it like ‘whoa look at that thing, do we jump that?’ and I’m like ‘yep, just like last week buddy!’ Goal is to jump all the jumps, in numerical order, at my first time of asking, and that they come in the time. They’re both experienced horses, I just want to have a good trip on both of them. Of course, you want to jump all the jumps well but I also want them to feel that it was really easy, so they can come out feeling really fresh and happy to work with me on Sunday – so that’s a little bit about how you start to look at things as they get a bit more experience, versus a “new to the job” horse when you really have to be on your game at every fence. I just want good, smooth rounds, and a good result at the end.

Tamra Smith / Mai Baum – 21.8

The cross-country looks like a five-star. It looks better today, I walked it yesterday and wasn’t sure how I was going to jump the hollow, but today it looked really good. I think he’s up for the challenge – he’s been wanting to be here and we haven’t let him, but now he’s out of his cage and ready to run. I almost cried after my dressage test because we’ve been keeping him, after he got injured right after Rio, we wanted him for an Olympic Games, and we just wanted to make sure he was good for something like this, so it’s just so special to have him and have my whole team part of it.

It's a steep climb up to the Hollow at 17. USEA/Rob Burk Photo.

Liz Halliday-Sharp / Deniro Z – 27.4

I’m going to do everything I can to have two really clear rounds. My other horse is a young horse, so I’m going to listen to him around the course, and if he needs a little bit of help I’m going to give it to him. I’m hoping that’ll set me up for a great round on Deniro. I think it’s a serious track, and I think he’s ready for it and we’ll do our very best.

Jonelle Price / Grovene De Reve – 30.1

I think the cross-country is big. Grappa Nera is a first-timer at this level. She’s not very big, but she’s quite a gutsy little thing, but you never quite know until you step them up and ask the question, and it’s certainly a big step up from the four-star for her. Classic Moet comes in with a wealth of experience, but she hasn’t run much over the last two years with the lack of events and lack of the top ones, and then Grovene De Reve had a great run at Pau last October so we’ll be looking to cement that five-star partnership. I think it looks fairly relentless all the way around. For me it’s getting through those first two waters, I want good shots through those first two waters and I think if you can do that it should set you up for what’s to come.

Boyd Martin / Tsetserleg TSF – 25.4

All three horses are pretty different. When I’m walking the course now, I’m thinking about my first horse, and once I finish that, I go back to the tack room, and chill out a bit and then sort of know the course and the distances, and how the fences feel. My second horse On Cue has a bigger stride, so you sort of got to make slight adjustments. It’s tricky, you know - you get very nervous and fired up and terrified on the first horse, and if you get around well there, it’s important you don’t relax and think it’s an easy go. I’ve made that mistake before. Vice versa, if something goes wrong on the early rides, you’ve got to put that behind you and pick yourself up and get on with the next one. Thomas is not that good at turning right, he’s good at turning left, so there’s a couple right turns I’ve got to watch on him. I’ve got them all very fit. I think they’re calling for a bit of rain tomorrow, but that won’t bother my lot – they’re good gallopers, and well-schooled, and I’ve just got to ride them perfectly.

Fence 11ABC "The Root Cellar" on the CCI4*-S course. USEA/Rob Burk Photo.

CCI4*-S Cross-Country

Cross-country will kick off at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday for the CCI4*-S. Preview the course here.

Jessica Phoenix / Wabbit – 41.7

I walked the course, it looks like a very good test at the four-star level. Hopefully, this rain won’t be as bad as they’re forecasting it, because that could definitely change the day a lot. But it’s beautifully presented, it’s got every single exercise that we need to practice, and like what a blessing to be able to come and do that course leading up to the Tokyo Olympics.

Tamra Smith / Danito – 28.1

The cross-country course looks big, and tough and serious, but we’re at Kentucky, so it should be.

Doug Payne / Starr Witness – 28.1

Derek does a great job, it’s right out there for the taking, certainly, there’s not a lot of room for mistakes but I think it’s a fair presentation and I really appreciate that.

Liz Halliday-Sharp / Cooley Moonshine – 28.1

The four-star looks proper, and is a real strong test. The five-star I think is a challenge. There’s a lot to do at the end, so it’ll take some management because the terrain will be trying as well, and Derek always does a great job.

Woods Baughman / C’est La Vie 135 – 35.8

I did walk the course, there’s quite a bit to do, but I think he’s up for it – he’s quite a sharp horse, so it’s game on. My plan is to stay out of his way – when you try to bring him back too much you get into trouble, so you’ve got to just guide him and let him go because he wants to.

Elisa Wallace / Riot Gear – 31.0

True to Derek’s form, the cross-country is big and bold, but Riot is a big, bold dude. He’s still green at this level, but he’s an honest horse and he wants to go at it for me, so I’m really excited. Tomorrow, again he’s green at this level but he’s a very honest and bold horse. I’m just wanting him to have a nice, confident go. For him, he’s such a big, strong horse, so again a different ride for me, so he’s just like, you aim him and kick him at it. I’ll give it our best tomorrow, and hopefully, we’ll really grow, which is what typically happens on Derek’s courses - they tend to kind of really scare us, but he’s a genius at it, so he knows kind of how to bring the horses along.

The final fence on both the CCI4*-S and CCI5*-L courses. USEA/Rob Burk Photo.

Lynn Symansky / RF Cool Play – 28.7

There is certainly a lot to do on both the tracks, and our four-star course is much shorter in distance, but mentally it’s very fatiguing.

Colleen Loach / Vermont – 27.0

He’s green at the level but he’s been a superb cross-country horse to date with me. He kind of looks for the flags, he’s got a great big stride and keeps a rhythm the whole way around so as long as he’s feeling like usual, I’m going to go for it!

Tamra Smith / En Vogue – 25.4

The cross-country is pretty serious, but we’re at Kentucky. It looks really challenging really, but I think all the horses are up for it. I’m going to go take another look this afternoon but I’m excited. We entered this to be competitive, but you have to kind of see how the horses come out of the box. En Vogue I think is ready to be competitive and go fast. Danito, I won’t know until I get out there – he’s quite green and young and I’ll see how it goes when I go out there.

Tomorrow, the CCI5*-L will tackle Derek di Grazia’s course first, with Jonelle Price leaving the start box at 8:30 a.m. aboard The Grape Syndicate’s and her own Grappa Nera. Buck Davidson will anchor the division with Katherine O’Brien’s Carlevo at 12:38 p.m. Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit should set out on Derek’s inaugural CCI4*-S course at 1:45 p.m., paving the way for the rest of that division.

From snow blanketing the grounds before the first horse inspection to windy days in the dressage arena, it’s only fitting that Kentucky now throws another weather discrepancy into play for cross-country day, with a 100 percent chance of rain.

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