Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rolex 2011: What just happened?

Icarus and Michael Pollard
Okay, some folks are tsk-tsking me for my last blog -- not for showing graphic footage (which I expected) but for quoting a friend who remarked that the x-country day was a "disaster" (which I didn't expect).   There were far more runouts/refusals, eliminations, and troubles on course than I've seen in year's past. Lots of horses looked REALLY tired at the end. Was it the course? Were that many riders just unprepared? Were the horses in the field out of condition?

My opinion is, well, I don't know. There were some great runs by experienced and inexperienced riders, but so many more had significant issues. Phillip Dutton and Mark Todd had runouts, and while even the best have bad days/inexperienced mounts, one wonders. Even those with successful runs were "climbing" some of the fences. What do you guys think and/or hear?

My videos: Hardships and High-fives

Here is a not-going-near-that-jump refusal from Exploring and Jessica Phoenix at fence eight. They had two stops prior -- before fence eight. Fence eight! Horse NQR?  Overfaced? Rider confidence issue? It looks like Jessica was smiling as her horse put on the brakes. Bless her good humor, thank heavens they're safe to ride another day.


Here is a pretty darn good run through the Head of the Lake by Shiraz and Colleen Rutledge -- not exactly a veteran pair, but a really agressive, scrappy round...


  1. I can't see the two videos as I'm at work, but did want to comment nonetheless.

    I think it was the weather/footing that played a HUGE part of it. Numerous horses lost shoes, two of them I know off the top of my head (Tipperary Laidnan and Wonderful Will) lost BOTH front shoes out on course.

    Even without the footing issues, the course was deceptively "easy" looking, lots of galloping fences, but the combinations that were there were tough, and with the footing, became very influential (such as The Hollow, I saw many horses slip coming down that hill after the A element and just not have the balance to jump the B chevron). At the end of the fence were three HUGE tables, especially that covered bridge, holy smokes.

    I don't think it was a disaster, I think the intense amounts of moisture and resulting footing just made an already imposing CCI**** course just that much tougher, hence all the extra falls.

    However, to point out. NOT ONE horse nor rider was seriously injured. I think the worst injury was a disslocated elbow. That, I think, especially considering all the falls and spills, speaks volumes.

  2. Cross country is supposed to eliminate those that are not up to the task - most horses cannot run Advanced and not all Advanced horses can run a 4*.
    The ideal course is easily jumpable by the very best, doable by the middle rank and will eliminate the rest. Run-outs, refusals and glance-offs are designed into difficult obstacles, inviting an unsure or unfit horse or rider to veer off at the last second rather than tackling an obstacle that is beyond their ability at that moment with disastrous results. If everyone got around cross country clean and within the time it would turn the sport into a dressage show, which it is dangerously close to doing anyway. The course designers difficult task is to separate the cream while allowing the rest to have the experience and if necessary, retire gracefully and intact.

  3. I just finished watching the finals on NBC, God bless 'em (though I could have done without all the stupid hockey commercials). WHOO-HOO Mary King!!! What a performance, especially just staying on board that crazy-jumping Tess! And what a wonderful surprise in Sinead, who I'd never even heard of before.

    We got to see a decent amount of footage from x-country, and I watched a bunch on the Net last night as well. To answer your question: I am NO expert, but IMHO I'm pretty certain the footing was the big issue yesterday, especially for later riders. The NBC commentators seemed to agree. It became deeper and deeper, and that was just totally draining to the horses. No matter how fit, having to pull your feet out of sucking mud thousands of times has got to take it out of you. And there wasn't much else they could have done to a course drenched with rain for weeks.

    Yes, only three double-clears all day IS very poor. Guess this one will be looked at as another valuable learning experience in how to make x-country safer in the future.

    Meanwhile, congrats to those who persevered! The Brits are REALLY celebrating now!

  4. Cross country certainly proves that there really is no need to jump ahead of your horse. Horses seem perfectly happy to carry the rider in a more defensive position, even a little behind the motion when the jump architecture makes it necessary.

    Keep the videos coming!

  5. And yet, Mary King finished with two horses essentially on her dressage scores.Third place horse was judged "Best conditioned."

    I also saw some tired horses. Hard to say. Maybe this dreadful winter put a lot of conditioning off. I would think for something like Rolex you would need more than a few months of good work to really prepare a horse.

    But what excuse do California or Florida riders have?

    Trouble is, with a course like that some of the horse/rider combinations make it look almost easy--well not quite, but certainly safe. So if it's a test of the best, then the best succeeded.

    Frankly, I prefer the runouts and refusals to the falls, as the horse is clearly saying either, "I can't or , I won't."

    Obviously, it's clear I don't have very many answers either.....

  6. Val, I am glad to see your comment. I also noticed the "back seat driving" going on, with the really long reins, and sort of marveled at how well it seemed to be working. I personally would never try jumping that way, but then, I've never jumped ANY x-country course, never mind a 4*! :-) I must say I didn't see this going on so much at the WEG; maybe it was because of the slippery/deep footing?

  7. I, too, was under the impression that a refusal is better than a failed jump. If that's the measure by which we judge a x-country course, then this one was a triumph. The jumps were just hard enough for the horses to say "um, no...I can't, and you're crazy to ask."

    Personally, I'm grateful no one was killed this year, not only because people and horses getting hurt sucks but also because death of any kind taints all equestrian sports in the worst way.

  8. I thought the course was excellent--it did a great job of really sorting out the riders and horses. Besides, I'm a big Mary King fan and any event that takes her combination of talent, experience and drive to completely dominate is a great event, imho.

  9. So many food comments! Barbara and Val, I couldnt agree more!

  10. I am in the camp with those that disagree it was a disastrous day at Rolex and am a bit unclear on why anyone woud say that. It is a competition and it is not expected to produce a lot of clear rounds. The footing, the course, the horse on that day all play a big part on the success in competition. Futhermore, Jessica Phoenix came 7th on Exploring at The Forks 3* and Jessica represented Canada on Exponential at WEG, so saying they are overfaced or out of their league is more than a bit uncharitable. Sorry, maybe my national pride is making me a bit testy!

  11. The USEF streaming video had riders dropping in and out to join the commentary, and they seemed to think it was a good course. It demanded rider accuracy but didn't punish the horse -- they actually seemed quite happy with the fact that the course invited run-outs vs. causing even more falls.

    Also interesting to note, they all accepted the run-outs at the brush fence as a matter-of-fact and several of them commented on the fact that it had to be ridden straight, no attempt at bending, etc. There were a couple other combinations (Head of the Lake, the corners) where they were all very forthcoming about how the lines changed the ride and how quickly it could cause problems.

    Also on and off comments about the need to know options due to footing concerns, particularly late in the course where the horses would be tired.

    My overall impression is that they thought it was a fair test that required the rider to be very alert to conditions, very accurate on the lines, and willing to use options wisely. And if the rider made a mistake, the course was generally set up so the horse didn't get hurt.

    I don't think that's a disaster in any sense. A difficult course, sure, but not a disaster.


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