Winner Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class
1. Derek di Grazia designs cross-country courses that require brave, accurate riding. My definition of “brave” is to gallop into a 6-foot-6 drop into water with a very big corner three long strides after the landing on a horse who has never been to a four-star event. Eventual Kentucky winners Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class (Coolio) are shown here at Fence 18AB, the Land Rover Head of the Lake, the signature cross-country jump at the Kentucky Horse Park. Ollie knows the distance in the water is long and he has selected the brave option by approaching the question at an open gallop rather than a slower and more controlled canter. In the air, Ollie is already planning his line to the corner and Coolio looks like, “That all you got?”
2. Ollie’s lower leg is in the right place and Coolio is going to land in balance. However, you are about to see why I disapprove of cross-country riders with longer stirrups. All of Ollie’s angles are correct and his touch on the reins is just right, but he has allowed his weight to settle onto the saddle. In a split second, Coolio’s hind end will deliver Ollie a monumental kick in the seat of the pants.
3. This is why riders need shorter stirrups when landing over a big drop. Certainly four-star speed is a factor in riding shorter, but the essential reason for shorter stirrups is that big drops cause horses to lift their hind end to clear the obstacle on the way down. Look back at the previous image and imagine that Ollie had kept the same exact angles, but shorter stirrup leathers had raised the points of his knees an inch or so higher in the saddle. His seat bones would then be a commensurate amount above the saddle and Coolio would have room
to use his back without disturbing Ollie’s balance. This is not Ollie’s first rodeo and he is catching his balance with his knuckles against Coolio’s neck while keeping his eyes on the next jump.
4. There is not enough room between the obstacles for Ollie to get his reins back. Instead, he has opened his arms to lift his hands, bring his elbows back and maintain contact and control. (I want my one- and two-star riders to get their reins back before five strides while three- and four-star riders have four strides to get their reins back.) Coolio is already measuring the next obstacle by lifting his head and Ollie has a straight line between his elbow and the bit. The stability of his upper body here is based on his lower-leg position. Ollie is a clever rider—he knows Coolio sprawled a bit on landing, but the striding is long and he has used that to cover the distance. One stride later, he has Coolio on a balanced, open gallop with his horse’s hocks well under him and ready for the next fence. 5. “When in doubt, wait it out,” is the experienced cross-country rider’s maxim. Ollie makes sure Coolio actually jumps before he bends over. He is soft with his reins but slightly behind the motion. It is better to be a second behind the motion than a splitsecond in front of it. Most glance-offs at upper cross-country levels are caused by riders assuming that because they see their stride, their horse will jump. I call this mistake “riding off your eye, not your leg.”
6. Coolio is landing well beyond the maximum corner and Ollie is already planning his turn to another obstacle. Riders finish Derek di Grazia’s courses and remark on the relentless nature of his designs, which are both physically and mentally challenging. At the four-star level, you can’t afford to take a break. Ollie is still taking care of business. This pair will gallop on to come home inside the time, setting themselves up to win the 2018 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.
If ever there were a sport designed for live television, it would be eventing. After the dressage and cross-country phases, riders enter the show-jumping arena in reverse order of standing. This means that those who do best in the first two phases must wait the longest to jump. If riders have any tendency toward nerves, a long, suspenseful wait does little to assuage them.
The tight scores were guaranteed to produce a nail-biting finish, and the last few rounds were jumped in an eerie silence in front of more than 10,000 spectators. Jumping last, Germany’s Michael Jung and fischerRocana FST (Roxie) were in first place—until Michael made a slight miscalculation at the big triple bar. The four faults dropped him to second place. Minutes earlier, Great Britain’s Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class
had jumped a clear round. With Michael’s rail, Ollie had won this year’s prize.
As if this weren’t exciting enough, it also meant that Ollie now had two legs on the Rolex Grand Slam, awarded to the rider who can win Kentucky, the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials and the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in sequence, but in any order. Ollie won Burghley last fall and was the winner here in the U.S., which gave him two legs on the trophy. After Kentucky he was off to Badminton the following week to see if his luck would hold for one more weekend. It didn’t. Winning the Rolex Grand Slam is one of the most difficult feats in the horse world, and Ollie came as close as possible to winning it, finishing second at Badminton.
The crowds at the Kentucky Horse Park are special. More than 70,000 people attended this year, and this is an event where everyone is in a good mood, everyone is having a good time and that just makes the atmosphere all the more special. One new thing in 2018 made a real impression on me. The opening ceremonies in the main arena featured a dynamite singer, Dr. Everett McCorvey from the University of Kentucky, who sang our national anthem.
Next thing you know, the entire audience—sky boxes, main stands, cheap seats and the SRO (standing room only) folks outside the arena watching it on the Jumbotron—joined in and sang along with him at full volume. I can’t remember the last time that has happened at any sporting event, and it really gave me a lift. I hope it is a new tradition for the Best Weekend All Year.
Based at Fox Covert Farm, in Upperville, Virginia, Jim Wofford competed in three Olympics and two World Championships and won the U.S. National Championship five times. He is also a highly respected coach. For more on Jim, go to www. jimwofford. blogspot.com.
7 The brushes at 21C and 21D are 4-foot-7 while the solid rails are “only” 3-foot-9. Riders learn from experience and horses learn as well. This is not Roxie’s first experience with brush and she is stepping through it without expending much effort. Obviously, if there is a problem here it will be that horses will tend to duck out to the right. While something might be an obvious problem, it is still a problem. Michael knows this and has opened his left rein to remind Roxie to stay straight.People think that brush fences are easy, and in many cases they are, but when Derek builds two in a row, it gets complicated in a hurry, as you’ll see in the next photo. When horses brush through a fence, they tend to land a little short. This makes a long distance really long.