Kristi Nunnink & R-Star
After taking the two-phase lead in the CIC3* at the Galway Downs International Horse Trials, Kristi Nunnink said that she planned to gallop fast enough around the cross-country course to win, and she did just that. She rode R-Star across the finish line 14 seconds slow, and those 5.6 time faults kept her just in front, with a total score of 57.5.
The event was held March 28-30 at Galway Downs in Temecula.
Nunnink and R-Star finished fast enough to defeat John Michael Durr on Esprit De La Danse (58.4) and Hawley Bennett-Awad on Gin 'N Juice (60.3).
Durr, of Woodside, finished the cross-country course two seconds slow to climb from third place, while Bennett-Awad, a Canadian Olympic veteran who lives in Temecula, recorded one of the only two fault-free cross-country rounds to climb from fifth place.
"Usually I kind of start off a bit slow, but today I went fast enough early that I could take time to set her up for the last two combinations," said Nunnink, of Auburn. "I think that was the best round I've ever had on her. I was very happy with her ability to go forward and come back to me."
Nunnink, 52, didn't let her broken right thumb slow her down. She'd fractured her thumb two weeks before Galway Downs while dragging in her ring—the tractor's front tires got stuck in the arena footing and then suddenly came loose, roughly spinning the wheel with her thumb stuck in it. The first doctor she saw told her she shouldn't ride for five to six weeks, so she went to another doctor.
"Every doctor I saw had worse news, so I finally stopped going and then just cut the cast off," Nunnink said. "I could feel it on the drops, but otherwise I was fine in my own little zone."
John Michael Durr & Esprit De La Danse
With first place in the CIC3* worth $2,500, show jumping course designer Sarah Dubost set a track with a very tight optimum time. Nunnink was one of only three riders to finish without time faults (but with one rail down for 4 faults), while the other 12 finishers recorded between two and 13 time faults. No horses finished with both zero jumping and zero time faults.
GoodKnight and Jolie Wentworth lowered one rail for four faults and added four time faults to hold second after two phases. Esprit De La Danse finished three seconds inside the time to avoid time faults but lowered one fence along the way. Gin 'N Juice and Bennett-Awad, the 2013 Galway Downs CIC3* winners, also finished inside the optimum time but lowered one rail, to jump from tenth to fifth.
"I had no idea that they were going to make the time quite that tight. It was almost impossible to get," said Wentworth.
Matt Brown & Happenstance
Nunnink said she suspected the time would be tight because she'd heard other riders talking about making tight turns. But she also had the advantage of being the second-last starter, thus knowing how important time faults had become.
"So I tried to shave time off every turn, and I could do that with her because she jumps anything in front of her," said Nunnink.
Since she held a lead of 5.7 points after show jumping, Nunnink would have had to finish 15 seconds slow on Saturday's cross-country course for Wentworth to overtake her. She finished 14 seconds slow, and Wentworth gave her more room by not starting GoodKnight, saying she didn't think he needed another cross-country run before their next start, the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event on April 24-27.
Nunnink was ecstatic about her round on the gray Holsteiner mare, by Riverman, whom she's competed since 2006.
Alexandra Ahearn & Mai Baum
"It really is almost euphoric every day that I ride her, because she does everything so well. And she jumps so soft that she makes things you'd never ever think of doing look easy. She is truly a blessing to ride everyday," said Nunnink.
Durr, 26, began his climb to his best finish ever in a three-star event with a determined show jumping ride that resulted in one of only four rounds with no time faults. "I thought back to all my jumper work and went for it, like there was big money on the line," Durr.
He's been riding Esprit De La Sense, 10-year-old Canadian-bred mare, since owner Ruth Bley bought her for Durr to ride in June 2013. He's now aiming her for the CCI3* at Galway Downs in November. Bley rode her own horse to victory in the CCI1* at Galway Downs in November 2013.
"Ruth is such a supporter of West Coast eventing, so it's really important to her that I aim for that event and support the wonderful effort Robert Kellerhouse has made here at Galway Downs," said Durr.
Although time faults were far less decisive in the CIC2* show jumping, the leaders said that finishing within the optimum time was a stretch. James Atkinson, of Ramona, increased the lead he and Man On A Mission II grabbed in dressage, by adding no faults to their score of 47.3. Emily Pestl-Dimmitt, of Renton, WA., climbed one place with Airlington by finishing with one time fault, for a score of 53.0. Matt Brown and Happenstance were third (59.5) after two phases.
"You definitely had to land and move to make the time," said Atkinson, who rides for Canada.
But the cross-country course was the decision maker in the CIC2*. The third water complex ended visions of blue for both Atkinson and Pestl-Dimmitt, as Brown and Happenstance emerged the winners (59.5), following a fault-free performance, defeating Canadian Leah Breakey on Master Plan (60.5) and Martha McDowell on Nabuco De Lessay (64.0).
Leah Breakey & Master Plan
Atkinson said he didn't know why his horse stopped twice before jumping into the water. Airlington refused once for Pestl-Dimmitt.
Since the riders in all three international divisions started on course in reverse order of their two-phase standing, Brown, 37, didn't know he was riding for victory while he was on course. But he knew that going fast was his only chance to move up from third, and he did just that.
"He was awesome. That horse is a galloping machine," said Brown of Happenstance, an 8-year-old California-bred Holsteiner who finished 12th in the CCI1* at Galway Downs last November. "I could just gallop that horse every day."
Brown, of Petaluma, has been riding Happenstance for a year for owner May McKee. "And I'm just feeling he's starting to trust me enough to ask him for things," said Brown. "Just in the last three shows, he's stepped up in a way that made me say, 'This is a serious horse.' Mary has ultimate faith in him that he could go all the way, and after these last few shows, I'm on board with that."
Breakey, 20, said she was "hoping to move up, but it's such a fast course that I didn't think time faults would be much of a factor." Since she trains with Atkinson, it was ironic that his misfortune aided her ascent in the rankings, as she finished with no jumping or time faults.
"To finish on my dressage score was great, and he felt amazing all weekend," said Breakey, who lives in Calgary, Alb.
Alexandra Ahearn kept the lead she took in dressage throughout the weekend to win the CIC1*. She and Mai Baum finished both jumping phases fault-free (43.0) to better Tamra Smith on Sunsprite Syrius (47.0) and Lauren Billys on Jitter Bug (49.3).
Ahearn and Pestl-Dimmitt share a coach: Emily's mother, Michele Pestl. Ahearn tied for first in dressage with Smith, scoring 43.0, but she took the lead when Smith lowered one fence in show jumping.
Ahearn, 18, was the last starter on the cross-country course, at 4:42 p.m. "It was very nerve-wracking to wait all day, but I felt strong about my ride before I went," said Ahearn, a senior at Bear Creek School in Redmond, Wash. Mai Baum is a 7-year-old German Sport Horse.
"This was my best test I've ever had, and he was great in the show jumping," said Ahearn, of Newcastle, WA., after topping the 37-horse field. "I felt really good after my test, but I was very shocked when I saw the scores. This is a fabulous surprise to me!"
"I just really like this show," said Ahearn. "There is always a good course, and I like the trade fair. Plus, everyone is so nice, and the weather is nice here. It's nice to get away from winter in Washington."
The Adequan/USEA Gold Cup Series, CWD, Devoucoux, Equine Insurance of California, the PRO Tour and Sunsprite Warmbloods are the Presenting Sponsors of the Galway Downs International Horse Trials.
The Gold Medal Sponsors are: California HorseTrader, MD BarnMaster, Ian Stark Equestrian Centre and Professional's Choice.
The Silver Medal Sponsors are: Charles Owen, Embassy Suites-Temecula, Holiday Inn Express, SmartPak and Temecula Creek Inn.
The Bronze Medal Sponsors are: American Medical Response, American Horse Trials Foundation, Auburn Laboratories, California Riding Magazine, The Chronicle of the Horse, Dean and Co. LLC, Freedom RV Rentals, Geranium Street Flowers, Majyk Equipe, Point Two Air Jackets, Ride On Video, San Luis Rey Equine Hospital, Triple Crown Nutrition and Voltaire Design.
The Friends are: Brewens Empire Trolley Company, Copper Meadows, Eventing Training Online, and Success Equestrian Pads.
For more information on the Galway Downs International Horse Trials, visit www.galwaydowns.com or call 951-303-0405. To learn more about eventing, visit the U.S. Eventing Association's website (www.useventing.com).