Jennie Brannigan and Cambalda. Photo by Jenni Autry.
Pennsylvanians dominated at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International CCI3* in Elkton, Md., taking home four of the top five spots, with Jennie Brannigan taking home the big win aboard Cambalda, a 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Tim and Nina Gardner.
Redemption proved to be sweet for Brannigan, of West Grove, Pa., who led after dressage at this event last year only to pick up 20 jumping penalties with a refusal at the big double corner combination on Derek di Grazia’s notoriously challenging cross country course.
She conquered the corner combination this year and then some, jumping one of just four double clear show jumping rounds on the final day to clinch the win on 48.2 after Boyd Martin and Master Frisky dropped a rail as the final pair to go.
Her win on a score of 48.2 officially signifies the end of a bad luck streak for Brannigan, who has struggled in the last few years to reproduce the consistent top placings she enjoyed when “Ping” first began competing at the upper levels.
“When Ping first moved up to Advanced, he was on a bit of a hot streak, so I thought, ‘Alright, here we go,’” Brannigan said. “But it’s been a couple years of some disappointments. At this point, I realize I was lucky as a Young Rider to have the horses I did.
“I realize that this is a heartbreaking sport, and everyone has to pay their dues,” she said, admitting she couldn’t watch Martin’s show jumping round, as he came into the ring holding the overnight lead. A rail down would give her the win, and that’s exactly what happened.
Martin Looks Ahead with Master Frisky
Though he ultimately finished in second place on a score of 51.4, Martin, of Cochranville, Pa., said he was extremely pleased with Master Frisky’s performance in his first CCI3* considering the Irish Sport horse gelding, owned by Steve Blauner, is still learning at 10 years old.
“He’s young and green, and this was his first time at the three-star level, and I don’t think he looked out of place here,” Martin said. “The fastest way is to go slow with him, keep chipping away … I think he could be a really good horse.”
It’s a natural next step after success at Fair Hill to look ahead to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event next spring, and Martin said he will give the horse a few more runs at the Advanced level in the spring before making that decision.
“He handles the cross country well, which is a factor that makes you take him or not take him to Rolex, and he’s pretty brave,” Martin said. “In the back of your mind, you start thinking about the Olympics in a couple of years.”
Allison Springer and Copycat Chloe enjoyed a healthy jump up the leaderboard over the weekend, moving up from 22nd place after dressage to ultimately finish third on 54.8 thanks to a fast cross country trip with just .4 time penalties and no rails down the next day.
“This summer I talked to Kevin Keane about how to get a warmblood horse fit — she’s Trakehner/Thoroughbred — so I stuck to his plan and got a heart rate monitor,” Springer said.
Thanks to Dr. Keane’s fitness advice, Springer, of Upperville, Va., said she felt confident Chloe was fit enough to tackle the course. “About halfway she slowed down,” she said. “In the past, I would have thought she was tired, but I said, ‘Come on, Momma, you keep going,’ and she did.”
Silliman Stages Her Comeback
Martin’s assistant trainer Caitlin Silliman, born and raised in Malvern, Pa., staged a comeback of her own after falling from Remington XXV in the CCI2* last year and battling runouts this season with Catch A Star, a 14-year-old Holsteiner/Thoroughbred mare she owns.
Sitting in third place after a cracking cross country round with just .8 time penalties, Silliman and Catch A Star dropped one rail in show jumping the next day to ultimately finish in fourth place in the CCI3* on a score of 56.
“She’s a very good cross country horse. If I ride her well, she goes well. If you give her confidence in the first five fences, she builds the whole way around,” Silliman said. Buck Davidson and The Apprentice rounded out the top five on a score of 57.4 with a clear cross country and one rail in show jumping the next day.
Though Davidson, of Riegelsville, Pa., had originally intended to take the horse to Les Etoiles de Pau CCI4* in France, he decided to keep the horse stateside for Fair Hill with his impending nuptials in mind. He tied the knot with Andrea Leatherman on November 8.
Richards Back in the Spotlight
It’s been 10 years since Georgia native Julie Richards won a team bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, and she burst back onto the international scene with a win in the CCI2* aboard Urlanmore Beauty.
The 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Asa Cooper, previously campaigned as a Young Rider horse with Sarah Kamensky, “jumped his heart out” on the final day to leave all the poles in the cups, giving Richards the win on a score of 43.6.
“The horse is so generous; it’s just a really super animal that way,” Richards said. “I knew he would try. He touched one or two, and that always gives you heart palpitations, but sometimes it goes your way.”
Though it’s been many years since Richards participated in the High Performance program, her win at Fair Hill landed her a spot on the 2015 Eventing High Performance Training Lists, and she said she’s definitely open to returning to the top levels of the sport.
“I love High Performance, and it’s what I did before I had all my children and during my children, so, absolutely, I would love to go into the top level again on my own time and with the horses I believe in, not just on any horse, because I have two very small children who depend on me,” Richards said. “Everyone is cautious about what they do with their life. I don’t feel like I have to go and do it again unless it works out.”
Future Stars for Severson and Little
Richards finished just .6 penalty points ahead of Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border, a 7-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by the Cross Syndicate, putting some demons to rest after the horse struggled with runouts on cross country after moving up to the two-star level in May.
“I have spent the last few weeks jumping and galloping oxers in the field and getting my eye back,” Severson, of Charlottesville, Va., said. “He’s such a good boy as long as you tell him what to do.”
Marilyn Little and RF Quarterman, a 6-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Raylyn Farms, rounded out the top three in the CCI2* on a score of 46.6 in the horse’s first attempt at the level.
Though Little, of Frederick, Md., originally imported the horse as a show jumping prospect, she found when schooling the horse over cross country jumps that he naturally took to the sport.
“He was the one who made the decision,” Little said, adding “just because you buy a horse for one thing doesn’t mean you should close the doors to what might be the right road for them. If it’s what’s right for the horse, it’s what makes the journey the most fun in the end.”