Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive took out the CIC3* division of the Red Hills International horse trials in Florida at the weekend, securing the top spot by adding only .8 cross-country penalties to his dressage score.
The combination has been ultra-consistent in the lead up to the 2016 Olympic Games; out of their 22 total CIC/CCI starts, the pair has finished in the top ten in 16 of those competitions or 73% of the time.
The Tallahassee event featured new cross-country courses running in the opposite direction as in the previous year for the CIC divisions, with the CIC3* designed by Mike Etherington-Smith and USA Chef d’Equipe David O’Connor designing the CIC1* and CIC2*. Tyson Rementer and Levi Ryckewaert built the fences.
To feature the new courses, show jumping went first, followed by a cross-country finale later in the afternoon. The top three riders in the Adequan USEA Gold Cup Series CIC3* division remained atop the leaderboard through it all.
Showjumping course designer William “Fuzzy” Mayo made sure Red Hills would not be a dressage competition, as there was a substantial leaderboard shake up following dressage. Among the many challenges faced by the horse and rider pairs was a triple combination which headed directly towards the barns. Yet the most complicated part was that the triple was within only a few feet away from a line of spectators. That proved enough to knock a few of the competitors out of the top of the leader board. Among those caught by the triple was the Hannah Sue Burnett riding Harbour Pilot “William” the 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, who ultimately finished third.
Burnett chalked the rail up to it being William’s first big event after a recent time off. “William is really excited to be here and he got a little flat. I tried to hold it together throughout the course and that last line got a bit strong,” she said.
Jennifer Brannigan took second with the up-and-coming Catalina. This was the third run at this level for the Oldenburg mare. “I have really, pretty much taken this horse and threw her in the deep end,” laughed Brannigan.
Etherington-Smith said the focus was on finding new lines and developing the quality of the ground whilst ensuring that the course is as competitor, spectator and horse-friendly as possible.
“There are a few really key elements to designing any course regardless of the level, two of which are footing and flow, the ability to be able to get in to a good rhythm which gives confidence to both horse and rider. No matter if the fences are fantastic and look great, if the footing and flow are not as good as they can be the end result is always disappointing and the pictures that we shall all see will not be as good as we would all like them to be.”
David O’Connor said 2016 was the first of a multi-year program “to bring the course up to its maximum potential for horses, riders and spectators alike”.