In the days leading up to cross-country at the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day presented by MARS Equestrian, riders were saying this year’s courses looked big and bold. Derek di Grazia is famous for creating cross-country courses that generally give the riders a spook when walking around for the first time, but are optimally designed to reward a forward, galloping horse, inevitably building their confidence as they go around.
As riders crossed the finish line today, for those who fought hard enough to finish, they explained that the CCI5*-L course rode even tougher than they had originally thought. Karen O’Connor, who was commentating alongside John Kyle for the USEF Network’s live stream, stated that she had spoken to many riders who went in the first part of the day, and their general feeling was “that was a lot more work than expected because it just doesn’t let up.”
The USEA caught up with many riders after they crossed the finish line today, so read along for their thoughts on how it all went and check out the LRK3DE Rewind to find out what happened where.
Jonelle Price / Grappa Nera
First pair on course. 7.6 time faults. Current score: 43.2 - 23rd place
It felt like I was working a bit in the earlier stages. She’s only a 10-year-old, she’s done a couple of four-stars but they haven’t been the biggest four-stars in the world. She’s very honest, she looks for the flags, she’s so clever, and she’s brave - she’s a little fighter, and she really showed that today. I thought the water jumps were quite strong. He had three pretty big drops in by the time you get to number 11. She was a little surprised at the first one, and I had to change plans at both the second and third waters, but after that, she was able to regain momentum and came home really well. The plan with the next two is to go out straight and deviate if you need to.
Buck Davidson / Jak My Style
13.6 time faults. Current score: 48.1 - 28th place
The course rode harder than I thought it was going to ride. My little horse was absolutely amazing. He never waivered off the line, even when I jumped the table going up to the quarry, and you go past the four-star corner, he sort of went, ‘oh we’re going there,’ - I said, ‘no Jak, we’re not going there!’ I couldn’t be happier with him though. Getting held where I got held is not easy because that’s just where you start to get into a rhythm, and then you’ve got to hang out, and then pick up your gallop going downhill, and you have to get him ramped up going to that jump. Then I had to get him relaxed heading to the head of the lake. Nothing rode according to plan. When I was turning for fence number seven, the infield water, I was thinking four and three strides, and as I turned I was like, there’s no way! At the quarry, I jumped the table and I was going to go around, but he jumped perfect there, so that was a change of plan mid-air. But you’ve got to keep changing and keep reacting here - it’s not easy. The conditions are perfect for cross-country this morning though, the ground is fast and good, and cool temperatures. No excuses there, that’s for sure.
Doug Payne / Vandiver
2.8 time faults. Current score: 37.3 - 14th place
It was awesome – it suited him really well and frankly, he’s pretty catty, he backs off quick and is adjustable. It worked well in our favor. It’s never going to be perfect the entire way around, that’s for sure. Crossing the finish line is a great feeling, obviously. I’m very, very lucky having such an incredible partner to navigate this sort of stuff on – the course suited him really well. Cross-country riding is trying to figure out how to get yourself out of trouble quickly.
Phillip Dutton / Fernhill Singapore
15.6 time faults. Current score: 50.6 - 33rd place
It was a lot of work! It’s his first five-star, so I expected him to be green, and he was. You have a plan to start off, but you’ve got to be able to abbreviate that plan too. A couple of jumps I had to change what I was going to do. He didn’t give up, he kept fighting all the way around, so it was a great first five-star for him. At the head of the lake, I got him too close to the jump in, and then at the second water I ended up adding there as well. The jumps aren’t backing them off quite as much as I expected.
Emily Hamel / Corvett
8.0 time faults. Current score: 46.1 - 26th place
It feels amazing to cross the finish line! The whole time around I was like, ‘I’m doing it, I’m doing it!’ And at the end I’m like, ‘I did it!’ So that was just so awesome! Barry just felt on it, I just showed him the way, and he was so good. I’m thrilled, it doesn’t actually seem real. I’m on some kind of high, and I’ll probably be that way for a while. He’s catty and able to keep a short step if he needs to – he was fantastic, I’m just thrilled. He felt a little tired near the end of the course, but still willing to go. He loves to jump.
Matt Flynn / Wizzerd
14.8 time faults. Current score: 47.7 - 27th place
He was great. You couldn’t ask for better footing right now, the ground felt great. There’s a lot for them to look at out there. He added up in some lines where I was not expecting, but as long as he was able to read it, he stayed straight on the line. He just kind of had a peek in some places, but overall thrilled with him. It’s a shame we don’t have the crowds that we did before, but there’s still definitely support as you go around, there are still some people out there screaming, which makes you dig deeper. It’s an amazing feeling to come through and be home, you want so badly to get home.
Tim Price / Bango
1.2 time faults. Current score: 32.7 - 9th place
I know this horse really well. This guy’s a fantastic cross-country horse, he’s got scope and can gallop – he’s a proper Irish Thoroughbred. He can get a little bit onward with me, so that’s my job is to manage him. That has cost us some time faults in the past, so I’m really pleased to keep the round happening with the clock, and get close to the time. He’s one of the few horses I could say could suit a six-star track if that existed. He still finds this [five-star] quite easy. It’s difficult because normally the fence matches the horse’s ability, if you’re maximizing their ability over a maximum fence, so the fences look after you a little bit, you know, you can ride it and the horse backs off as you’re galloping in, but he keeps on. So I’ve just got to manage that a little bit with him. But he was great, he listened to me.
Sharon White / Cooley On Show
6.8 time faults. Current score: 42.4 - 21st place
It’s always such a nice feeling to cross the finish line. Such a sense of relief. My horse was super, he kept trying the whole way. Some sticky moments, but not really – like, he was always going, so that’s a wonderful thing. He’s such a good jumper, and good-doing soul. I had a lot of “come on Lou!” moments. You have to be there for them the whole way around, and if you let off for a second, it’s hard. Especially with a horse like that, who is I mean a lot of horses are easily trained, but he does exactly what I tell him to do, so if I stop telling him . . . [he’ll stop!]. I loved the course. I think Derek is a GENIUS! I think it was certainly enough to do, it kept you thinking. There was a gallop fence, and then a combination, then a gallop fence, and a combination – the entire way around. So, over 50 percentile steering, technical questions. So you’ve got a gallop fence, make them go think, make them work, gallop fence, got to go think and make them work, and so on, without let-up, the whole way round. So that takes a lot of mental stability. I went for time and did not quite get that, but was close – I went as fast as I could, so that’s all you can ask for.
Marilyn Little / RF Scandalous
28.4 time faults. Current score: 50.1 - 32nd place
That was a big test out there, there was a lot of jumping to do. A lot of ad-libbing, because it certainly didn’t ride to plan. I took my pedal off the gas in the middle thinking she might need to catch her breath and so, she caught her breath. Hindsight is 20/20 and I could have kept going, but the horse has to come first. She’s very proud of herself. I do think it’s attainable [to make time], it has its own flavor with so many combinations. Number one thing while you’re trying to be quick is you do have to get them all jumped – it’s not a course that lends itself to running right through it. You have to solve it.
Meghan O’Donoghue / Palm Crescent
6.8 time faults. Current score: 39.6 - 20th place
Oh my gosh, there’s nothing like it! It’s been six years since I’ve been back [to LRK3DE]. My horse just gave me an amazing feel. I was up in the rider’s tent watching this morning, and it was just one fall after another, and also every line was riding differently. People were really having to go off of instinct. It looked like everybody had a plan, but the horses were all reacting differently – so the watching didn’t do me really any good. But man, my horse was just phenomenal out there, he just wanted to get between the flags for me. He was full of run at the end. In hindsight, I’m kicking myself a little bit now because I was on a blood horse, but next time I know he’ll be up for the challenge. But still one of the fastest times so far, I think.
Boyd Martin / On Cue
0.8 time faults. Current score: 27.8 - 2nd place
It’s a huge relief [coming through the cross-country finish line]. I crashed my first horse sadly, which doesn’t give you a world of confidence getting on the next. But On Cue is such a class animal, she’s a real trier, she’s a great galloper and she’s got a heart of gold, so I was just thrilled with her round. I was surprised she got a little bit tired early, but she’s just a fighter and she kept digging deep, and she sort of got a second wind after the quarry. I think I was pretty close to the time, but just missed it.
Oliver Townend / Cooley Master Class
6.4 time faults. Current score: 30.5 - 8th place
I feel relief crossing the finish line. The ground comes up a lot softer than you imagine. I can guarantee you, it’s hard work. It’s soft ground in some places, soft in a lot of places actually, it’s testing. Nothing went to plan really. Everything slightly went against him – he lost a back shoe early on, which was I think very unfortunate because they were definitely tight before we set off. We lost that early, had a few good slips in places, and I had to add a few strides. When you’re slipping around a five-star like that, it drains confidence. It’s just my job to keep him on his feet and keep positive, keep giving him a pat and driving on. But he was really good.
Will Coleman / Tight Lines
1.6 time faults. Current score: 33.5 - 10th place
It’s the hardest Kentucky I’ve done, start to finish. Usually, you get to the hollow or the last water in the backfield and you might have one thing you really have to pay attention to – you always have to pay attention in a five-star – but, this was like, you were never done until you got to the finish line. It felt really intense. I was very proud of this horse, he’s a runner. When it’s technical like that, I don’t have his head, but today he just listened to me really well. He was keen coming home, I was really proud, I thought he was fabulous. I had different plans with all my rides. The first horse is very green, he just made a mistake and hung a leg getting wide-eyed looking at that water. I just rode my plan that I had last night and it worked with Tight Lines. I’m miffed that I had a couple of seconds, but it’s a sacrifice I was willing to make today because I just didn’t want a bigger error.
Jesse Campbell / Diachello
9.6 time faults. Current score: 38.7 - 16th place
He was fantastic, he didn’t stop trying the whole way. He was just with me. He still kept it going, still kept jumping and I’m immensely proud of the horse, it’s been incredible. To be honest I walked the course on Wednesday and I was absolutely sh*$$*%& myself. Getting through the finish flags, it was pretty awesome. I’ve been pretty nervous about the whole thing, but I set to jump all the jumps, and then worry about the clock after. I was basically on my minute markers up until that sixth minute, and then he just started getting tired, so I had to spend more time setting up. But I’m incredibly proud of the horse. I think some things like coming out of the [Head of the Lake] is a combination you can’t really plan for – you’ve got to take what you get, and you’ve just got to ride what you’ve got. That was probably the only real one that wasn’t quite what we formulated. The plan that Tim and Jonelle sort of came up with through the discussions we had, everything else rode exactly how we planned it, so it was great. I was really happy with that.
Harry Meade / Superstition
Double clear! Current score: 29.6 - 4th place
It felt brilliant! He’s a game little horse. This is his first five-star. He’s not an overly big striding horse, so I just thought you know what, sometimes that makes it simpler, makes you slightly have to force the issue. The theme of the course was big, bold, attacking, jumping, plenty of really decent jumps into the water. He’s not had a great run-up, obviously many events were canceled in England. I thought I’ve got to fill him with confidence and pump him up, and he got jumping really well and felt super. He grew in confidence, and went out a boy and came home a man. He was great and was up on his minutes the whole way. He’s never gone this distance and never been around something as mentally exhausting as this. But, we hopefully have a good system. I was confident he’s done the work. I was up on my minute markers, so when I got up that hill out of the main bit of the park and jumped those two corners before the triple bar, I just eased off a bit, and let him take his time around there. Once I got through the coffin, I let him get his breathing back, and I knew then he was going to be comfortable inside the time unless something stupid happened. So when I came to that last combination, the two logs to the corner, I just thought ‘pop it like a schooling, stay outside the tree, take the long route,’ because he’s going to get home as long as he stays on his feet. That was my plan, and I was just delighted with him. But you get out there, and I had no idea whether he’d get around, and no idea if the time would be possible or doable, so I just set out with a positive mindset and it sort of luckily stayed on that.
Liz Halliday-Sharp / Deniro Z
2.8 time faults. Current score: 30.2 - 5th place
He’s such an incredible horse isn’t he? He’s just amazing. Isn’t he wonderful he just fought for me and picked up all the lines – I’m just over the moon with him!
Oliver Townend / Ballaghmor Class
0.8 time faults. Current score: 27.3 - 1st place
He’s very, very special. Again, [like Cooley Master Class,] we lost a shoe. He lost a shoe at fence seven, and it’s slippery out there. I was slow down the hill after the hollow because he kept slipping. I had to use my brain, but every time I said ‘go’ he put his ears back and went as fast as I’ve ever gone cross-country. He’s very special. It just shows how tough he is. The theme? Enjoy today. He’s pure class, it’s a privilege to be here to start with. Well done to America for getting a five-star done. I’m enjoying today.
Liz Halliday-Sharp / Cooley Moonshine
14.4 time faults. Current score: 42.5 - 5th place
My goodness, that was some gritty stuff out there. But Cooley Moonshine, what a horse! He’s so talented and so brave. We had some hairy moments, I won’t say that we didn’t - it’s slippery out there. It was a tough four-star and the ground is definitely very slippery – much more so than it was during the five-star. I had gigantic studs in, and I still felt it was tricky. I actually had extenders in behind, and my horse was still slipping. I nearly fell at the finish, when I came through the turn, so it was tricky. But it was a tough course, and this is only a 9-year-old horse, this is only his third Advanced and my goodness he is a hero. He’s so brave. He’s a wild man – he’s very, very strong and I’m still kind of learning how to ride him. But I think this track was great for him because he had all the hills to run on. I’m thrilled, he will become a much bigger, better horse from this experience. My goodness, will he be a five-star horse one day. He’s only 9 years old, and he’s a freak.
Alyssa Phillips / Oskar
5.6 time faults. Current score: 37.9 - 2nd place
Oh my gosh, I’m watching everyone on the live stream earlier and seeing nothing is going to plan, so I was freaking out a little bit. But he was super. I jumped in, I showed him where to go, and he really fought for me. Sometimes we were off the corners and he just jumped them. That’s the hardest course I’ve personally ridden. I’m so happy to be done with it! As soon as I got through the corners, I told myself okay I have the water and coffin left, I can do it, I just need to get it done. He fought really hard for me. He’s not all that experienced at the level, but this is the toughest he’s ever seen. It wasn’t easy, it rode super hard, and Jennie Brannigan my trainer gave me some words of wisdom out of the start box. She said, “you know your horse, ride aggressively, just sit up and kick.” I couldn’t have done it without Jennie. I saw the first combination logs to corner – I saw people doing it in four strides. So I came in, and just rode it off my eye, I jumped it and thought ‘I have to do the three, I can’t be a chicken’ so that set the tone for the rest of the course. He was awesome, I couldn’t ask for more from him. I’m super happy.
Colleen Loach / Vermont
14.8 time faults. Current score: 41.8 - 3rd place
You definitely had to work for it. My reins got slippery, but he tried his heart out. He was great. I didn’t feel like I was riding very pretty, but I got it done. He kind of felt a little bit green out there – it was a tough course and difficult conditions. I don’t think he’s ever had to go in the mud before, and it’s difficult to see with the rain in your face. I think he felt a little unsure at times, but willing to trust me anyway, which was nice of him! I was coming around the corner to fence 4, and Lynn had just fallen off in front of him and he’s a bit of a spooky horse, so I was worried about turning to that big oxer, but he kept his mind on his job. It was definitely easier this morning on my other ride without all the rain!
Tamra Smith / En Vogue
9.6 time faults. Current score: 35.0 - 1st place
She felt amazing, she learned so much from going to Tryon last fall. I’m really proud of her because it was easy. You hope that from a horse that’s been around, and she was amazing, I’m really proud. I think we expected it to be challenging with Derek. I had trouble with my other horse who’s green, and it’s fun to be able to put them to the challenge and test and be able to ride in this mud and rain. She was so uncertain with herself last fall, but today she was just great.
Tomorrow, the rain will clear and the horse inspection will kick off at 8:00 a.m. The CCI4*-S division will show jump first in the Rolex arena beginning at 10:45 a.m., running in reverse order of standing. The CCI5*-L should begin at 1:30 p.m., also running in reverse order.
Don't forget to follow the USEA event coverage on social media!
The 18th annual Jersey Fresh International (JFI) gets underway this afternoon at the Horse Park of New Jersey in Allentown, N.J. The CCI4*-L is the final selection trial for the Olympic Games in Tokyo later this summer so all eyes will be on the stacked field.
This year’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5*-L was on April 21-25 and was the first five-star event to take place in the U.S. since 2019. The entry list had the best riders in the world, previous Kentucky champions, Olympic hopefuls, and horses who have been eventing in the U.S. since they were 4 years old.
US Equestrian is seeking applications of employment for their Director of Eventing Sport Management & Administration position.
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