Winning an Advanced division anytime is a big deal. It was even bigger for Canadian professional Sara Sellmer, who did so at the Spring Event at Woodside aboard Jill Walton’s PDQ Leigh. In 2016 at the same venue, Sara’s horse, TF Kreisler, died following an incident on the CCI3* course and Sara hadn’t been back since.
“I wasn’t sure how I would handle it,” the rider acknowledged. “To be doing Advanced again and to win today is amazing. The support of the community here has also been amazing. All weekend I’ve been getting pats on the back in the warm-up ring and everybody telling me that I can do it.”
Sellmer has had the ride on PDQ Leigh just under a year and describes him as an especially “kind, generous and honest” horse. The pair started the weekend on a 33.80 dressage score from judges Valerie Crail and David Schmutz. On Saturday, they were one of just two pairs, out of 11, to go double clear on cross-country, putting them in Sunday’s catbird seat. They had a rail in hand and needed it. “It was totally mine,” said Sellmer of the downed pole in the triple element on a Chris Barnard track that used every inch of the Horse Park at Woodside’s big Grand Prix arena.
The win seals their qualification for the Rebecca Farm CCI4*-L in July, the next stop for the rider who is based in Langley, British Columbia.
Lauren Billys and her 2016 Olympic partner Castle Larchfield Purdy continued their return to West Coast prominence, finishing second after their 35.50 dressage score started them tied for fifth. Conscious of Purdy’s 17 years and with the Tokyo Games in her sights, Billys did not put pedal to metal on cross-country, so penalties there moved them down to sixth. An exuberant clear jumping round with only .40 over the time moved them into second. Billys is thrilled with Purdy’s fitness and finishing so well was “icing on the cake,” she said. Next up is Rebecca Farm, where she hopes to earn an Olympic-worthy score.
Frankie Thieriot Stutes and Chatwin led after dressage with a 27.30, but took their time Saturday morning to sit fifth coming into the Grand Prix arena. They jumped clear with a .8 time fault, to leave Woodside with a yellow rosette and great prep for Luhmühlen Germany in June.
Fans of James Alliston’s popular palomino-colored mare, Pandora, were disappointed not to see her contend show jumping. She and James were second after cross-country, but James withdrew her after “being a bit banged up yesterday.” It was nothing serious, he assured. “She just seemed a little bit stiff last night.”
Advanced prize money was $500, $375, $300, $225 and $100, respectively, for first through fifth. As the winner, Sellmer also earned a Western Saddlery halter, certificates from Ride On Video, Marcus Green Photography and Devoucoux, plus gear and goodies from Professional’s Choice, Hilton Herbs, SmartPak, and Smartlyte, which also provided prizes to second and third place finishers.
James Alliston’s other colorful star, Cassio’s Picasso KD, was in fine form Sunday to win the Intermediate division, the 7-year-old’s second run at this level. The Paint Trakehner’s characteristic elegance in dressage earned the stallion a 22.20, and a confidence-building pace on cross-country added time penalties to put them in second coming into show jumping, where they were easily fault-free.
Pouring rain arrived about halfway throughout the 21-pair Intermediate field at the end of a weekend otherwise graced by mostly sunny skies and cool weather. The day-two leader, 15-year-old Jordan Crabo, could have blamed a first fence refusal on the downpour, but she didn’t. Riding the seasoned upper lever campaigner, Over Easy, Crabo blamed herself. The mare is a reliable, yet tricky ride, she explained. “I have to really be kicking but also leaning back and give her just the right approach to the jump.” Rather than get rattled, however, the NAYC-bound Area X rider piloted the mare onto their first clear jumping round at the Intermediate level. Their previous two Intermediate outings, they’d had two rails, so Crabo was pleased about the round.
Crabo’s 25 dressage score put them in third on Friday, then they flew fault-free around a cross-country track she described as “so much fun.” Many pairs had time faults, but Over Easy’s efficiency and agility enabled them to make the time easily.
Kelsey Holmes and NZB The Chosen One also jumped in the deluge, but keep their cool and their third-place position, finishing on Friday’s 30.30 dressage score.
Intermediate top finishers earned $300, $225, $180, $135 and $60, respectively, for first through fifth, plus several items from much-appreciated Spring Event sponsors.
A Sold-Out Weekend
Sunday concluded three days of competition ranging from Intro to Advanced and featuring Saturday’s special event, the Preliminary Challenge. Now in its 11th year, the Challenge drew a record number at nearly 50 participants, all vying for $30,000 in total cash and prizes divided equally between the Rider and Horse divisions. The Challenge concluded with show jumping Saturday night in the Grand Prix arena in front of a full house and in an electric atmosphere. On the rider card, Meg Pellegrini took top honors aboard her veteran star, Ganymede, and finished third with her new horse, RF Eloquence. The Horse division was won by Penhill Celtic, piloted by professional Bec Braitling.
Organizer Robert Kellerhouse was very happy with the weekend. “Even the things we can’t control – like the weather – went well,” he said. All tolled, 450 horses/rider pairs enjoyed a sold-out weekend of competition, furthering The Spring Event’s reputation for top sport in a beautiful environment.
Upgrades to stabling, cross-country, infrastructure and in other areas were appreciated by all from visiting dignitaries, like US Eventing CEO Rob Burk, to first-time exhibitors. Saturday night’s Preliminary Challenge Dinner Gala crowd was treated to a down-to-the-wire finish and a new cross-country VIP viewing tent was well received. As always, volunteers – about 125 through the weekend – made the Event work, and sponsors were equally critical to its success.
For those that compete in a Hylofit USEA Classic Series Three-Day Event, what truly sets the competition apart from a regular horse trials is endurance day, where, in addition to cross-country, riders have the chance to experience the two roads and tracks phases and the steeplechase phase.
“We need to back up and look at the gut,” said Dr. Maureen Kelleher before diving into an explanation of the many different oral joint supplements on the market. “Digestion begins in the mouth. Salivary secretion starts to break things down as the horse chews things up and then swallows, and it ends up in the stomach. We’ve got more digestion occurring in the stomach and the small intestine, and absorption starts to occur in the small intestine and continues in the large intestine.”
The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Three-Day Event (FHI) will host the U.S. Equestrian CCI4*-L and CCI3*-L Fall Eventing Championships along with the USEA Young Event Horse East Coast Championships presented by Dubarry, October 17-20 at the Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area. The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International will award $50,000 in prize money.