Monday, September 18, 2017

Blenheim Palace CCI*** is a wrap!

Blenheim Palace International CCI*** is a wrap, and as I sit on the plane returning to the US I figured it’s time to look back and review what was learned from the experience. I was lucky enough to receive a travel grant from the USET Foundation and Jacqueline Mars for Vandiver (aka Quinn) to compete at Blenheim. I can’t thank them enough, during every international trip a lot is learned and hopefully I can apply what was gained here to earn a US team medal in the near future! 

We were meant to depart from Miami direct to the UK on the Wednesday prior to the start of competition. At the time, I was frustrated to hear there was not enough cargo to warrant a flight which would have delayed Quinn’s departure to Friday. This would have been too close for comfort with dressage starting on Wednesday, so we opted to reroute via NYC. Horseflight, our shipping company, was a lifesaver in replanning the logistics needed on such short notice. 

Courtney Carson our extraordinary groom left our farm in Aiken, SC with Quinn on Tuesday and headed head north. In hindsight, this was such a blessing being that had our flight actually left on time our rig would have been stuck in Miami just in time to be flooded by hurricane Irma!

Courtney and Quinn took off on Wednesday without trouble. I too hopped on a plane to meet them at Jesse Cambell’s yard on Friday. Quinn handled the trip with unexpected ease. He’s the most genuine creature you’ll meet. Along with genuine nature and willingness to please, he’s an internalizer and worrier. Usually he’s attached to whichever horses is shipping next to him. I think this time around, Courtney was his traveling security blanket. Jesse’s place was a great resting spot before our move to the show grounds on Monday. Day one I just took him for a light hack, followed by flat work on Sunday and a final gallop Monday before heading out. Check out my instagram for a blow by blow here: 

Moving into the show grounds was uneventful. He’s generally much better day 2 or 3 in a new place so I was very happy to hear of our Thursday dressage time. We had 85 starters in the CCI*** at one of the most beautiful venues you could imagine, pretty much walking through a Disney movie set. 

photo by Richard Payne

Quinn was as relaxed and confident in the first phase as he’s been yet. He continues to improve and with a 46.6 this was his best CCI*** or **** score to date. I would expect this improving trend to continue as he gains more strength and confidence. The first few minutes of warm up were about as good as he’s ever been. Two weeks earlier I had planned for 25 minutes in warm up at the American Eventing Championships. In the end I think it was just a bit too long, we cut that down to 20 this time around. I think this too was a hair too long, he was in perfect shape to head in as the horse before us cantered down the center line. Next time around we’re going for 15 mins. Regardless, in a venue with lots of atmosphere I couldn’t have been much happier with him. 

Now to the best part, cross country of course! The track is beautiful and the ground was about as good as you could expect with the amount of rain we’d received. The time on the course was set at 10:12 so just about a minute shorter than Rolex, but with the rolling terrain it was expected to take a fair bit out of them. The course itself was quite good, with a lot of flowing lines. There were certainly a number of very good questions, but nothing that kept me up at night. Thankfully for me, Quinn is essentially a seeing eye dog. As long as you get him roughly in the vicinity of a jump he'll try is best to make it happen. I went out with the goal of coming home double clear or as close to the time as I could manage. I was on the clock or up slightly early in the course, and based on my experience with him at Kentucky the previous couple of years I expected him to get a little tired at the end so I didn't press him in the first half. I kept expecting the other shoe to drop and the gas light to come on. Apparently he was far fitter than I knew! To my shock, I asked him to move on after the last water, maybe 2 mins from the end, and he absolutely took off! By that point was nearly 20 seconds down, he closed on the time, but just not enough course left to make it all up. I finished up clear with 5.2 time penalties. I was annoyed not to have made it, but frankly it was comforting to know he came in with more in the tank. He's an incredible horse, by far the best cross country horse I've ever ridden. I did wear my Cambox Sport helmet cam, check it out below:

photo by Richard Payne

photo by Richard Payne

Quinn recovered quickly and looked to be in great shape for Sunday. Jess, my wife, of course putting the the final touches prior to the jogs. He passed the final horse inspection with ease, on to Show Jumping. 

photo by Richard Payne

Coming off of the AEC's where Quinn was the first of only 5 double clears under the lights 2 weeks ago and the fact that he's only had 2 rails total in the past 15 advanced events I was pretty confident heading into the final phase. In walking the course it looked to suit him well. I personally love when the time allowed is tight. Quinn is agile, quick and careful. The time was tight on Sunday and rails were flying. We chose to keep the same studs as used on XC the day before. In warm up that seemed to be a good decision. He jumped very well and we headed into the main arena. We ended up having the 5th fence down. I did take an aggressive line in the turn, I'm 100% confident it would work on an artificial surface. Quinn's achilles heel is if he loses traction behind. When it happens he becomes a lot more cautions and tends to get more up and down rather than active and forward with his hind end. He did slip slightly in the turn for the first rail. I was kicking myself for not being a little more conservative and giving him a step or two more in the approach. Into the triple I saw the exact same distance I'd seen at an option the 2 weeks prior, I went to steady and he trotted behind!! Certainly doesn't give you the warm and fuzzy feeling heading into the triple. We had the A & B down, from that point on I made sure not to rush him in the turns by choosing a conservative approach. He finished the course in great form. 

Experience is what you gain just after needing it.  Uuuuggghhh too frustrating to convey here, I should have recognized the difference and compensated. It's a tough and annoying as hell lesson, but one that will certainly stick. We dropped 2 places to finish in 14th. While I will continue to kick myself, it's comforting to know that we are now qualified for the WEG's next year. With the knowledge gained, we will undoubtedly be better off. Thinking back on it, we've not jumped on a natural dirt surface since my second event on him ever at Richland Park 2 years ago in the CCI**.

photo by Richard Payne

Blenheim was the best option for Quinn and I being the earliest CCI*** on the fall calendar he can now enjoy a very well deserved vacation before starting back up in preparation for next year without being rushed at all. 

I want to again thank USET Foundation and Jacqueline Mars for their generous grant, Joanie. Morris for all of her help managing the team, my parents Marilyn and Dick who came to support (mom's invaluable advice and my dads photos all above), Jess my wonderful and 6 months pregnant wife, Debi and Kevin Crowley (Quinn's breeders and owners), Courtney our groom & life manager as well as our crew back at home (Little Courtney, Hunter, Adrianna, Holly and of course Joan and Carl Hampf!). Can't also forget our many sponsors and partners which allow our horses to preform at their best! 

We'll back stronger in the spring and far better off for the experience gained here. 

Upon our return we'll be in Aiken for a few days then off to Kentucky for Quincy's (Quintessence owned by Jane Dudinsky) shot at the 6 year old jumper finals as well as Marshal's (Marshal M Dillon owned by Wendy and Fred Luce) shot at the $35k grand prix on Saturday morning prior to hopping on another plane for Flynn (Getaway owned by Olivia, Lisa and Bob Wall) to jump in Central Park Saturday night! 

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Site Updates - Sponsor Discount Product Codes!

We've made a number of tweaks to the site, but the most exciting is a list of discount codes which could be used with nearly all of our sponsors! Check them out below or visit the sponsor link here.