Price gets it done at Southern Pines

Christy Price had been having a wonderful Southern Pines Horse Trials so far. She and her big gray gelding Grey Sprit II had been second after dressage, and inherited the lead overnight when dressage winners Gayle Molander and Sir Nicholas had acquired 30.8 time penalties on the cross country. Her 14.4 time penalties on the cross-country had given her two rails to spare over 2nd placed Ian Roberts and Mata-Riki. But then disaster struck-as she approached the huge oxer at number 3 and gave a tug on the reins, her right rein detached from the bit and flew up to meet her. But Price gritted it out, and put in a double clear round with one rein to clinch the blue in Advanced, division 4.Christy Price had been having a wonderful Southern Pines Horse Trials so far. She and her big gray gelding Grey Sprit II had been second after dressage, and inherited the lead overnight when dressage winners Gayle Molander and Sir Nicholas had acquired 30.8 time penalties on the cross country. Her 14.4 time penalties on the cross-country had given her two rails to spare over 2nd placed Ian Roberts and Mata-Riki. But then disaster struck-as she approached the huge oxer at number 3 and gave a tug on the reins, her right rein detached from the bit and flew up to meet her. But Price gritted it out, and put in a double clear round with one rein to clinch the blue in Advanced, division 4.

Story originally posted by: Heather Bailey

Christy Price had been having a wonderful Southern Pines Horse Trials so far. She and her big gray gelding Grey Sprit II had been second after dressage, and inherited the lead overnight when dressage winners Gayle Molander and Sir Nicholas had acquired 30.8 time penalties on the cross country. Her 14.4 time penalties on the cross-country had given her two rails to spare over 2nd placed Ian Roberts and Mata-Riki. But then disaster struck-as she approached the huge oxer at number 3 and gave a tug on the reins, her right rein detached from the bit and flew up to meet her. But Price gritted it out, and put in a double clear round with one rein to clinch the blue in Advanced, division 4.

"Cantering to number three I took a tug and I had nothing on the right side. I thought, ‘what do I do?’ I decided to keep going because I thought that way I’d at least have a chance to finish," said Price. "But you know he jumped better in there than he usually does, maybe I should try that more often.

"Luckily, he turns right better than he turns left, since I still had my left rein," she finished with a laugh.

Price has owned the big gelding for nearly four years, and he came to her with quite a resume of accomplishments, including completing the Badminton and Burghley CCI**** in his native England. Though he’s always an extravagant cross-country performer, Price decided to spend this winter working on her other two phases. She moved with her horse to West Palm Beach, Florida and worked with dressage trainer Jane Savoie, and show jumper George Morris.

"It was amazing, they were both so helpful. He’s much more up and not laying on my hand, and is moving from my leg and seat, and it carries through all three phases," said Price, who credits these improvements for her one-reined victory.

Price has spent considerable time training in England with the 16-year-old, including last summer with Rodney Powell before tackling Burghley. This year she hopes to spend the spring working with Australian Phillip Dutton, and then going to compete at the Badminton CCI****.

"It’s a childhood dream," said Price. "My horse isn’t generally overly competitive at that level-he’s a bit heavy, and it’s tricky to make the time-so if there’s no chance for a high placing why go around Rolex Kentucky again? He’s done that well already.

"I’m 22, he’s my first advanced horse, and it would be a great experience," she finished.

Another experienced pair hoping to go to Badminton this year is Canadian Bruce Mandeville, and his "Iron Lady" the 14-year-old Trakehner mare Larissa. This pair has been the anchor of the Canadian team for years, and the mare looked as strong and keen as ever as she flowed around the cross-country, adding only 5.2 time penalties to her winning dressage score of 30.83, and then skipping over the imposing show jumping track double clear to clinch the win.

"She was great, she feels good, she feels really on. She’s been that way all week, she likes this English rainy weather," said Mandeville referring to the torrential rains and unseasonably cool temperatures that hit just in time for the competition.

"Since I’m trying to get to Badminton [in England], I hope that bodes well," he said with a laugh.

Mandeville felt the course at Southern Pines with its excellent footing and wide-open galloping lanes suited his mare perfectly.

"She needs open spaces to get her gallop stride open and her rpm’s up. She covers a lot of ground, but her rpm’s aren’t quick. Here she had room to gallop and get her confidence back," he said, referring to their outing at Red Hills two weeks earlier where they retired on course. Mandeville believes the Red Hills course was a little too much for their first outing of the year, and that it’s more upright and twisty track didn’t suit Larissa.

"I was a bit discouraged, but that’s the sport, you have a bad go, but then suddenly everything is OK," he said with a smile.

Though Mandeville isn’t considering anything past Badminton at this point, he doesn’t rule out trying for the Athens Olympics in 2004. The secret to his mare’s longevity, he believes, is found in her breeding, and her easy way across the ground.

"She’s easy on herself, but she’s also a Trakehner, and those horses are tough as nails," he said. "But when she gallops, her muscles do most of the work, not the tendons and joints, so they have less wear and tear."

Compared to the time Mandeville and Larissa have had together, Linda Dahlgren and her mount Cameo have been together a mere 2 years, but their partnership is solid enough to have won the blue in Advanced, division 1. Cameo, the former top-level mount of Abigail Lufkin, had come in to Dahlgren’s trainer Phillip Dutton’s barn for sale, and it was Dutton who encouraged Dahlgren to try the big bay Thoroughbred.

"He encouraged me to ride him, and thought we would be a good match," she recalled. "And I thought, there’s a lot worse things you can do than take Phillip’s advice."

Dahlgren is an equine surgeon from Dryden, New York, who just finished a Ph.D. in tendon healing at Cornell University. She’s an amateur rider, but at the moment is taking some time off just to ride, and decompress from the stress of finishing the Ph.D. and thesis. She then plans to do research work.

Southern Pines was her third Advanced competition with Cameo, and though she appreciates that her partner has "been there, and done that" she hasn’t found him particularly easy or push button to ride.

"He’s very opinionated and he’s taught me a lot. He’s a little lazy and he doesn’t give anything away. It’s hard because people expect you to be 100%, but I’m not that experienced," she said.

Dahlgren says this was her first outing at Advanced where she forced herself to ride competitively for time on the cross-country (she had 0.8 time penalties, the fastest in her division, moving her up from 9th after dressage). "I have a partner now, and I can trust him to go forward and let him do his job, and he appreciates that, so he listens more, and we are really finally figuring things out. But, some of those jumps look big and scary to go that fast to," she finished with a laugh.

They did have one rail down and 7 time penalties in the show jumping, the phase that has always been Cameo’s Achilles heel, but Dahlgren feels they are improving, and that coach Dutton was pleased with how the horse had jumped.

Though Stuart Black’s name is a familiar one in the eventing world, his victory aboard Elkins Wetherill’s Midnight Magic in Advanced, division 3, was a comeback of sorts. After being a top international rider for many years, Black was struck with Crohn’s disease, a serious bowel disorder. After struggling for several years to compete with the ravages of the disease, Black decided last spring to under go major abdominal surgery, and have the diseased section of bowel removed. He has been on a mission ever since to regain his strength and health and return to the top of his game.

"It wasn’t much fun," said Black of riding while ill. "The disease makes you so dehydrated, that I’d get about halfway around, and just be hanging on. I have good horses, they were sweethearts for carrying me."

In addition, Black says the medication for the Crohn’s affected his eyesight, making it difficult to see distances, and by extension, have the confidence to go quickly. Now that’s he’s off the medication, his eyes have returned to normal, allowing him to ride confidently.

Though Black says the surgery was the only option, it carried it’s own risks and challenges. "The biggest worry is that if it’s active when the surgery takes place, it can reactivate from the surgery, and you’re back to square one," he said.

Though he was lucky in that regard, he wasn’t prepared for the after affects of a major abdominal surgery that involves cutting all of the stomach muscles and diaphragm. Luckily, he had help from friend and mentor Jim Wofford.

"After I fell at Burghley last year, Jimmy basically said, you need to get a physiotherapist, change your diet, and work with a personal trainer," said Black. "I had to re-do all my muscling and strength, I had nothing to hold myself in the saddle. He set me up at his gym, where I work with a personal trainer. I started with a physiotherapist, to get me to where I could work out with the trainer, and now I do weights and stretching four times a week, and run the other days.

"I’m fitter than I’ve been in a long time," he finished. " It’s good to be enjoying [the sport] again."

Midnight Magic, a 10-year-old English-bred gelding came to Black three years ago after some success in top British rider Pippa Funnel’s barn. With Black, he won the CCI** at Bromont, in Canada, and was 17th two years ago at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****. Black is aiming him for Rolex again this year.

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