Orange Goes Perfect at Starter Horse Trials
To fully appreciate a score of 15.0 in a horse trials dressage phase, a little perspective is helpful. It's gymnastics' perfect 10. Golf's elusive 59. Baseball's no-hitter.
Nadia Comaneci, Gary Player, Nolan Ryan meet Orange.
The buzz began circulating moments after Southern Pines' Doreen Schlicht and Orange completed their novice dressage test at the Carolina Horse Park's inaugural Starter Horse Trials last Sunday. In her first competition with the 20-year-old veteran event horse, Schlicht had scored a staggering 15.0 in dressage, putting her 12.5 points ahead of three riders at 27.5 going into the two jumping phases. After a double clear stadium round, Orange incurred only 1.2 time penalties on cross-country to finish with a winning score of 16.2.
In the other novice division, local Olympic veteran Bobby Costello debuted a promising new mount in 4-year-old thoroughbred gelding Dynamite King. After scoring an impressive 25.5 in dressage, the sporty chestnut dropped a rail in stadium but navigated the cross-country course like a seasoned pro to finish with a score of 29.5. Costello's student, Kate Echeverria, of Cary, finished her dressage with a score of 28.5 to win the division with Womble.
Perhaps the happiest person on the grounds wasn't even riding in the one-day event. Jane Murray, executive director of the Horse Park, also owns Orange, an Irish-bred gelding who most recently was competed by two different young riders, including Costello's former pupil, Kylie Lyman. Murray won a handful of intermediates with Orange and competed him through advanced.
Murray was delighted with the number of riders (102) that turned out for the day of lower-level competition, which comprised novice, beginner novice, maiden and green-as-grass divisions.
"We had close to 50 people on the waiting list to get in," Murray said. "We're limited by the amount of daylight we have this time of year and really wanted to make it a fun, educational experience. We were thrilled with how smoothly everything went."
Schlicht is no stranger to Area II events. Her 18-year-old Trakehner gelding Classico has virtually dominated the local senior novice division, and Schlicht never really entertained the possibility of moving up ... with another horse.
"Jane mentioned a few months ago that she had an old horse she wanted to move down a level," Schlicht said of Orange, who had been carrying young rider Emily Gemeren around at preliminary. "I had never thought about it, but then I started thinking it was a pretty good idea. He did prelim and now his job is to move down and teach me how to do the training level."
Schlicht said forging the new partnership with Orange was easy, once she learned to relax and let him be in charge. "It took me a few times to learn to jump him without getting in his way," she said. "Classico is more laid back, and I have to make his motor go."
Costello acquired Dynamite King, a son of 2002 Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Orientate, through his partner, local event rider Mark Weissbecker. "Axel" arrived at Costello's Tanglewood Farm in January and was promptly turned out with Costello's mount from the 2000 Sydney Games, Chevalier.
"When I got him I thought he'd be quite sharp," Costello said of Axel, who raced twice at Colonial Downs. "I took him along really slowly this year. I think it was good that I did that."
While the starter horse trials were Dynamite King's first competition, he has traveled to a few events with Costello's other horses.
"I didn't think he'd be a wild man, but I wasn't expecting him to be as laid back about the whole thing as he was," said Costello, who plans to compete Axel in "one or two novices" before moving up to training level next year. "It helped that he's been to the horse park a few times to hang out and walk around. But he's never been in a warm-up with all those horses. He's got a great mind."
While Axel fits the physical profile of Costello's ideal event horse, the veteran rider says it's the "intangible qualities" that make him special.
"I do like the 16, 16.1 hand, short-coupled variety," Costello said, laughing. "But it's something about him that's hard to describe. He's not dull at all. Every day I ride this little guy he's so gung ho about learning new things. That's what's makes the young horses fun. And if you're doing it right it should be that way."
If Chevalier, now 20, has been privately mentoring Axel, Costello isn't saying.
"He still gets ridden, just for exercise and fun," Costello said. "He's lovely and quiet enough that if I have friends from out of town they can take him into the foundation for a ride."
Full results can be found at www.carolinahorsepark.com.
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