Unionville, PA local Bruce Davidson, Jr. has represented his country riding on numerous three-day eventing teams, competed at the world’s most renowned and challenging competitions, and long been considered one of the sport’s elite riders. “Buck” had not, however, managed to clinch the three-star win at his hometown event, Plantation Field International. Last weekend he finally claimed victory in Unionville, a success made all the sweeter by its close proximity to his family’s hallowed Chesterland Farm.
Buck has ridden Copper Beach, an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse, since he and Carl Segal bought him at the prestigious Goresbridge Go for Gold Sale in Ireland when the gelding was just five. Buck has taken his time with “Sean,” owned together by Carl and Cassie Segal and Sherrie Martin, to preserve his soundness while giving him a solid education at every level.
“He’s still a young horse, but he’s been going for so long. I’ve been very fortunate to have [owners] that let me do what I need to do and take our time. We didn’t go fast at all at horse trials at least until he was ten,” Davidson said. “The most important thing is keeping them sound so they can be trained. That’s kind of been my theory. The owners have allowed me to do that and I think it’s been really good for Sean.”
There was no time to waste on the cross country at Plantation, with time penalties proving to be a significant factor in the final phase. Running in reverse order of standing, the pressure was on Buck and Sean, who had moved up from third after dressage to first after show jumping, when Jennie Brannigan, also from Unionville, and Canadian Olympian Selena O’Hanlon crossed the finish line without penalties. With only five time penalties in hand, Buck knew he had to put the pedal down.
“I’ve lost to Jennie so many times! When she came to the finish, I told Sean, ‘We gotta go!'” The moment the starter released them from the box, they were off on a mission to make it home clear and quick. Mike Etherington-Smith’s cross country course was built with substantial terrain and no shortage of technical questions, but the track was well balanced with areas of intensity broken up by long gallops.
“It wasn’t max height but it gave the horses confidence, hopefully. It asked every question but if you wanted to go get the time, you had to go,” Buck said.
With Sean’s tail snapping in the wind, the pair attacked the course. They finished 12 seconds under the time and Buck, pumping his fists above his head as they crossed the line, knew the careful development of this horse had paid off. “I really trusted him [out there]. I could completely count on him to go that little bit faster.”
Segal said, “It’s a great feeling because Buck has worked so hard with Sean. They have similar personalities in that they both try so hard and no matter what, they’re going to give it their all.”
Coming second by a mere 2.3 penalties were Brannigan and Tim and Nina Gardner’s 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse, Cambalda. They were seventh after dressage but were the only pair in the division to finish without any additional jumping or time penalties. Brannigan, whose routine includes galloping racehorses, set a blistering pace on cross country, finishing 21 seconds under the optimum time.
“I didn’t mean to go that fast!” she said. Brannigan had broken her hand just two weeks prior and had surgery to repair the injury on Tuesday before Plantation. While she rode through the pain during the USEA American Eventing Championships in Tryon, North Carolina on Labor Day weekend, she was frustrated that she hadn’t gone quickly enough to win the Advanced division at the time. She said, “I think I was probably thinking about that a little bit [at Plantation] going out of the box.”
Cambalda has found his niche at the three-star level, with seven wins under his belt since 2010. “It’s exciting to have a horse like Cambalda,” Brannigan said. “There’s so many feature events that make it possible for a horse like that to have a very cool career and it doesn’t necessarily mean that he has to be a CCI4* horse. I’ve tried to do right by that horse because I don’t think he wanted to play at that level and he doesn’t need to. He can have an incredible three-star career. He’s 15 and owes us nothing.”
O’Hanlon came to Plantation to win and while she would have preferred that over third place, she said she was “in great company.” Sitting in second after dressage with John and Judy Rumble’s 14-year-old Canadian Sport Horse, Foxwood High, a frustrating rail in show jumping cost them the win despite a superb fault-free cross-country round.
“I always hope that it’s a little bit of a tougher cross-country track so I can move back up the leaderboard, but it was a great test of his fitness,” O’Hanlon said. “I don’t have as many hills at home so I’ve had to ship him out and rely on friends who have been forthcoming with places to gallop. ‘Woody’s’ been prepped well... he was full of gas on the way home and really forward... cross country at this level is always a test so I don’t take it for granted until it’s over.”
Boyd Martin of Cochranville, PA was leading the CIC3* and one of the CIC2* divisions when he took a spill on cross country and was forced to withdraw the remainder of his horses from the competition. He fell from Barry on the CIC2* course when the horse ducked out at a wedge. Boyd smacked his right leg on the fence and then fell. Nothing was broken but he was taken to the hospital to check his leg and treat a concussion.
Alexander O’Neal, of Reddick, FL, riding for his wife Elinor on Sally Crane’s RF Eloquence, took the win in the CIC2* A division. Lynn Symansky, of Middleburg, VA, fresh off a sixth-place finish at Burghley CCI4* with her off-track Thoroughbred Donner, won CIC2*-B riding the Donner Syndicate’s RF Cool Play. Will Faudree, of Hoffman, NC, won CIC*-A with Sarah Pyne’s Quintessential. Manchester, MA’s Cornelia Dorr, the 2017 North American Junior and Young Riders Eventing silver and bronze medalist, led CIC*-B from start to finish with her own Sir Patico MH.
The 2017 edition of Plantation Field International was dedicated to ex-racehorses. The event partnered with the Retired Racehorse Project to showcase the versatility and potential of the American Thoroughbred through demonstrations and lighthearted competitions.
Plantation Field International remains a destination event for the country’s top riders and horses and is a critical preparatory competition for fall three-days. The continued support from the local community is appreciated and should not be underestimated as a major factor in the continued success of the “Best. Event. Ever.”