‘It’s a battle; the terrain is brutal’: early riders give their reactions to Maryland 5 Star cross-country

  • The Maryland 5 Star cross-country course is proving easier than riders expected for the first competitors.

    Six of the first seven horses out have put in jumping clears, with two inside the 11-minute optimum time.

    Buck Davidson was the pathfinder on the first of his three rides, but only made it as far as fence 10a, where Carlevo hit the angled brush shoulder hard and fell.

    Fellow US rider Will Coleman was the first to finish the course, on Dondante. The horse looked tired in the final minute of the course and Will took the long route at the last combination, the Brown Advisory Oriole Bird Water (fence 27ab), but came home with just 3.6 time-faults.

    “It’s a battle – the stamina, the questions themselves, everything felt like a war,” said Will. “You have to listen to your horse, there are places where they need a minute. My horse definitely got tired, it’s his first five-star finish and the hardest fitness test any horse has encountered in the short format era.

    “It was a bit rough in places, but I think that’s what it’s going to be, you’ve got to go out and fight and hope your horse fights with you.

    “The terrain is just brutal. Near the end of the course the combinations test your adjustability, which is difficult on a tired horse, especially when you’re throwing terrain into it too. Burghley is the one we’ve all compared this to, but I think we’ll see more worn out horses here than Burghley.”

    The fourth pair out, Lauren Kieffer and the experienced Vermiculus, were the first to make the time.

    “He was super – I was definitely very happy to have that Arabian in him today and it’s the first time I’ve felt him be kind of tired, but he was still running home,” said Lauren.

    “He’s an old pro now, so it’s more about not making a mistake he has to save and making it as easy as possible for him. It’s a real five-star.”

    Lauren was chased home round the Maryland 5 Star cross-country by Phillip Dutton, who also made the time on Sea of Clouds.

    The first of the horses who have flown over from Europe to tackle the course was Babylon De Gamma, ridden by France’s Astier Nicolas.

    He had a good round, with just a couple of worrying moments when he slipped coming to The Fair Hill Flier, a corner in a ditch at fence 17, and also when he had a slightly dicey jump taking the bird on the direct route in the water at fence 27a. But they finished clear with 3.2 time-faults.

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