Leesburg, Va.—Oct. 13—With a strong third place finish in their first CCI4*-L together this spring at Tryon (Mill Spring, North Carolina) and a win in their most recent CCI4*-S outing at the same venue, it might be tempting for Boyd Martin to target a fall five-star with Commando 3, but he says he’s planned for 2023 to be a building year for his newest top talent.
Purchased by Yankee Creek Ranch LLC earlier this year, the 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Connor 48 x R-Adelgunde) was campaigned by Sweden’s Louise Romeike from a young horse through his first CCI4*-S last year.
Martin and “Connor” haven’t finished outside the top seven in their four international starts this year, and they’re off to a great start this weekend at the Morven Park International CCI4*-L, leading the 15-horse field on a score of 26.2 in front of judges Peter Gray (CAN), Christina Klingspor (SWE), and Robert Stevenson (USA).
“I'm thrilled with Connor,” he said. “I've only had him a year, and it's just these last couple of months we started to really gel and click, and I was thrilled with his performance today.
“The horse has just got amazing quality,” he continued. “For so many years, I've always tried to take average horses and make them better, and now it's the opposite where he's just a phenomenally talented animal, and now it's more just a matter of presenting him well and showing him off to the judges. I still think that there are miles to go of improvements, and I’m just so fired up for next year. We've just started to get to know each other. We've come a long way so far, but what an excitement for the future.”
Martin said Connor’s flying changes aren’t perfect yet, but gave credit to Romeike for giving him a strong start. His wife, Silva Martin, his “secret weapon,” hasn’t been able to ride Connor at home this summer while she was pregnant with their third child, born two weeks ago, so it’ been up to Boyd.
“He’s been stuck with me trying to figure out the changes, and you know, last couple events, we've started to really get consistent there. And I think next year when we take him five star, he'll be solid,” he said.
Boyd wasn’t in a rush to get such a talented horse to the top of the sport, and he’s appreciated his owners for allowing him to take the year to get to know him.
“One of the things I had to assure them is that it's going to take time, and I really wanted to only run hard one once or twice this year, but make sure that it's a building year,” he said. “The major goal was this event at the end of the year to go for it and so far, we're off to a good start.”
Boyd’s had a look at Derek di Grazia’s cross-country course, and he’s excited to tackle it. Rain is in the forecast for Sataturday, but organizers moved the CCI4*-L and CCI4*-S divisions up so they can go first at 9 a.m. before the rain gets worse.
“It’s a brilliant course,” he said. “This this place is an unbelievable venue for a long format four-star three-day event—they could even do five-star. To have Derek di Grazia and [his assistant Jeff Kibbie] design a really big, bold grueling, old school four-star long track—I'm shocked that more American horses aren't here because I really feel like this sort of cross-country course would undoubtedly build your horse up for a five-star next year.”
Caroline Pamukcu and King’s Especiale, an 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Connect x Cha Cha Cha Special) owned by Redfield King’s HX Group, slotted into second place on 28.2.
Pamukcu and the gelding completed a CCI3*-L this spring, and while this will only “King’s” fourth Advanced, she thought it would be a good course for him and her other CCI4*-L horse She’s The One, who’s currently in fifth (31.1)
“I think with him and ‘Gemma’ I wanted proper track,” she said. “I've had King since a 5-year-old and put a lot of energy into developing them, and I wanted to give them a good, decent track. I really like Derek, and these horses both have, I think, a huge future for us. I want them to start doing championship courses at a young age. I don't want to just do 3 ½ -stars. I want them to do a proper course.”
King was fresh this morning since Pamukcu had to do a pre-ride on She’s The One and only had 15 minutes to warm up.
“I was like, oh my god, he's spicy, and we've been working so hard on his relaxation,” she said. “I have a really good rider at home, Mason Reidy. He's helped me a lot with the relaxation. It's just keeping King happy. This horse tries 250 percent. He tries so hard every day he comes out, and he gets so upset if he doesn't do exactly what you want right away, so every day when we ride him, it's just telling him, ‘you're doing a good job. You're a good boy, everything's OK. Just take a breath.’ He’s a very special animal.”
Lucienne Bellissimo, riding for Great Britain, is in third place (28.5) on Dyri, an 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Diarado x La Calera), owned by Horse Scout Eventing.
Dyri is contesting his first CCI4*-L. “Overall I was pleased with the relaxation of the test—at home he’s starting to gain the confidence in his lateral work,” said Bellissimo. “I’ve certainly had a lot more ‘wow factor’ in practice and warm up, but for this season I really want him to learn to breath and be rideable. It’s improving all the time, and it’s a personal best for us at this level.”
Bellissimo is looking forward to cross-country tomorrow, describing the course as big and bold and a British. “I will learn a lot about where his brain is by tomorrow afternoon,” she said. “This is his first time at CCI4*-L, and my goal is to keep him confident for now, and I’ll step up the pressure in 2024.”
Di Grazia said the track is relatively similar to last year over Morven Park's rolling terrain. The optimum time is 10 minutes 21 seconds over 25 numbered obstacles. He noted the small field of horses and the busy fall calendar.
"It'd be nice to have more horses in the long format; you have this event, and then you have Maryland [5 Star] next week, and then you've got TerraNova [Myakka City, Florida] with a long format, and you have Galway [Downs (Temecula, California)] with a long format, and I think you end up just splitting all those with our limited pool of horses in this country. Plus you pull five horses to go to the Pan Ams [Chile] and another five or six to go to Boekelo [the Netherlands] and horses going to Pau [France] and all these things going on, so it's just something that maybe the powers that be need to really think about. I think this is probably one of the best sites probably anywhere in the world."
For tomorrow, di Grazia will be watching the combinations with interest, like the famous Leaf Pit drop at 9abcd and the Two Ponds water jump at 4ab.
"That's always interesting to me," he said. "And then obviously you always see how the shifting of the jumps affects how the time rides because the time has always been the very difficult here. I think that's always sort of interesting to see how that all plays out."
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This afternoon, USEA President Louise “Lou” Leslie welcomed U.S. Eventing Association (USEA) Board of Governors members, USEA staff, and USEA Annual Meeting & Convention attendees to the first of two Board meetings which will take place during this year’s Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, with the teaser that 2024 is going to be full of initiatives for more opportunities to access the eventing experience, some of which attendees might get first wind of during this year’s gathering. The 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention takes place Dec. 7-10 at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel.
Welcome to the Show Me state and to Area IV USEA members! The 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention kicks of tomorrow and features four full days of educational seminars, committee meetings, and social gatherings all with one aim—to bring the eventing community together to continue to improve upon and celebrate the sport that we all love. This year’s Convention takes place in St. Louis, Missouri, at the Marriott St. Louis Grand in downtown St. Louis from Dec. 7-10, and we have rounded up everything you need to know to make the most of your time in the heartland.
To accompany the 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention, USEA Educational Partner STRIDER has prepared Digital Resources to Maximize Education & Access for the Eventing Community. In keeping with the USEA’s mission to expand the sport of eventing, this webinar outlines ways in which digital tools can be leveraged to increase access and education across equestrian opportunities. As part of STRIDER’s popular Professional Development Webinar Series, this presentation aims to provide a quick overview of best practices and digital tools used across the equestrian industry to boost growth.
Every horse who participated this year in the USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) program has a story—a background that involves a breeder who labored over bloodlines, veterinary care, initial training, and so much more. This year’s highest-placing U.S.-bred horse in the 5-year-old division at the Dutta Corp./USEA Young Event Horse Championships, Arden Augustus, is no exception. His breeder and owner, Anita Antenucci of Arden Farms in Upperville, Virginia, started her program nine years ago and said that the Warmblood gelding was a more emotionally driven breeding for her than others due to his connections with Antenucci’s long-time friend Sharon White.