Canadian combination Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice have proved they are among the best eventers in the world with seventh place at last weekend’s Rolex Kentucky Three-Day-Event.
Although Rolex is often pegged as one of the most difficult three-day-events in the world, Bennett-Awad, a Langley, BC native who currently rides and trains in Temecula, California, USA is no stranger to challenging courses, or challenges in general. She was part of the 2010 World Equestrian Games and Pan American Games Silver Medal Teams, and is a two-time Olympian in eventing, having been the leading Canadian rider at the 2012 London Olympics before an unfortunate fall cross-country resulted in elimination for her and Gin & Juice.
However, as her seventh place finish at Rolex proves, Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice, a 13-year-old American Thoroughbred mare sired by Audio and co-owned by Bennett-Awad and Linda Paine, are back at the top of their game.
“I wanted a top 10 finish. Gin & Juice has been going really well. She’s won three in a row, and she’s never been better. I just wanted to prove she is one of the best horses in the world. Considering what happened in London, I wanted the world to see her and I at our best,” she said.
Clayton Fredericks, an Olympic Team Silver Medalist and two-time World Champion in Eventing, who recently took over as International Technical Advisor to the Canadian Eventing Team, said he was pleased with progress so far of the Canadian riders. “We are two steps up the long ladder and hopefully we can keep steadily climbing.”
At Kentucky, Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice started out with a solid dressage test, earning a score of 59.8 penalties, which put them in 29th position after the completion of the phase. Next up was cross-country, featuring 28 difficult obstacles over 4.02 miles, including water tests, banks, and jumps in a variety of shapes, including ducks and geese. They put in a smooth performance adding no jumping faults and just 0.4 time faults, bringing their score to 60.02 and shooting them up the standings to 11th place.
During Sunday’s final show jumping test, Bennett-Awad rode for a sold-out crowd despite the cloudy sky and light rain. And she didn’t disappoint, being one of only four to put in a faultless performance over the course of 13 obstacles and 15 jumping efforts. By leaving all of the jumps up and coming in under the time allowed, Bennett-Awad was able to finish on her cross-country score of 60.02 and take seventh position.
“I was very happy with the jumping and cross-country,” Bennett-Awad said. “It couldn’t have gone any better, (Gin & Juice) was spectacular.”
She also gave thanks to her team. “Results are always nice, but I have an army that helps me get through these events; owners, sponsors, grooms, and family. I couldn’t do it without them. My mom hasn’t seen me compete since 2008. Her being there made it a very special weekend for me.”
Bennett-Awad also sees her RK3DE performance as a great foundation for the rest of her ambitious season. “Hopefully we’ll get some funding so we can go to the CIC 3* in France. It’s the same course designer who will be doing the World Equestrian Games next year, so it would give us an opportunity to experience a similar level track.”
She also hopes to attend the prestigious Burghley Horse Trials in Great Britain this September. “It’s one of the toughest competitions in the world. We made a couple of small errors there last time, so we’d like to go back and prove we are among the best in the field.”
The next Canadian on the leaderboard was Shandiss McDonald, who was competing at the CCI 4* level for the first time. Her mount was Rockfield Grant Juan, an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding sired by Don Juan de la Bouverie, and owned by Jorge and Amanda Bernhard. A stunning dressage performance put them in ninth place on a score of 45.7. They moved down to 20th position after a cross-country performance that added zero jumping faults, but 20 time faults. However, they climbed up the standings again after completing the jumping phase with just eight jumping faults for two lowered rails. This brought McDonald and Rockfield Grant Juan’s final score to 73.7 for 16th place overall.
Finishing just behind McDonald in 17th was 2012 Olympian Peter Barry of Dunham, Quebec. Barry was paired with Kilrodan Abbott, a 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Clover Brigade he co-owns with Susan and Dylan Barry. The pair received a dressage score of 62.8 for 35th place, but moved up a full 10 spots after incurring 11.2 time faults on the cross-country. They kept a final score of 74.0 after joining Bennett-Awad in the rare accomplishment of a clear jumping round on Sunday. This was the duo’s third time contesting the RK3DE, having placed 11th in 2011 and 25th in 2010.
Also finishing in the top 20 was Kendal Lehari of Uxbridge, Ontario, who took 19th with 75.2 penalties aboard her 15-year-old Canadian-bred Thoroughbred gelding Daily Edition, sired by Hotofthe Press. She was 36th after dressage, but rocketed up the standings to 16th place after putting in a faultless cross-country performance. A few fallen rails in the final jumping phase tacked on 12 faults for a final score of 75.2. Like McDonald, Lehari was also competing at the CCI 4* level for the first time.
Micheline Jordan of Ottawa, Ontario was another Canadian rider completing her first CCI 4* event. Riding her 15-year-old Canadian Thoroughbred gelding Irish Diamonds, sired by Diamond Sword, she finished on a score of 118.6 for 29th place.
New Zealand rider Andrew Nicholson and Quimbo were the 2013 RK3DE winners on a score of 41.0. Nicholson is currently ranked as the number one Eventing rider in the world and is in contention to win the 2013 $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing.