DEVON, Pa.—Capt. Mark Phillips designed a diabolically ingenious and brilliant course that kept the large crowd of very enthusiastic spectators on the edge of their seats until the very last fence of every round on May 28 in Devon Horse Show’s inaugural presentation of Arena Eventing.
Eight of the 23 starters went clean over the first, long course that started in the Dixon Oval, continued in the Gold Ring and then came back into the Dixon Oval.
A great many competitors went clean until the last fence in the Dixon Oval, and there was an audible groan from the crowd as one after another clean rounds turned into five fault rounds.
Phillips almost chortled as, one after another, his strategic fence sorted out the horses.
The last fence was an oxer, with a very light colored rail, set in almost flat cups, in front to a hedge, with another rail in the back.
Horses looked at the hedge and missed the front rail, which came down time after time, both in the first round and in the jump off, in which only four were clean.
On a Sunday evening that historically drew a very small crowd, spectators filled the stands and stood three deep around the Dixon Oval despite the chilly rain.
Horses and riders had to have gotten a qualifying score in a CCI2* or be competing at 1.40m in show jumping to participate in Devon’s Arena Eventing class.
Kevin Babington had said he wanted to compete, but he had to go to Europe, so missed it, as did others like Phillip Dutton, who had a seven p.m. flight to Ireland.
Sarah Kozumplik Murphy of Berryville, Va., riding Rubens d’Ysieux, was clean in 75.03 to win over Jennie Brannigan of Unionville, Pa., on Cambalda, clean in 79.05, with Erika Nesler of Cochranville, Pa., on Right Above It, clean in 80.92 to place third.
"Obviously I'm delighted,” said Murphy. “I was really excited when I heard this class was being offered. I have a really cool horse. He's extremely careful. He's a good cross-country horse.”
“I started riding him in September,” said Murphy. “He's so careful, smart, happy and just a really wicked horse.”
“Devon is just an incredible place and it's an honor to ride here,” said Murphy. “I've always wanted to ride here but I'm not good enough in dressage or show jumping.”
“THIS IS a great way to advance the sport,” said Phillips, an Olympic eventing gold medalist for Great Britain and former chef d’equipe and coach of the U.S. event team. “This can get more sponsors and more owners involved.”
“It was a magnificent class,” said Devon Chairman and CEO Wayne W. Grafton. “The spectators enjoyed it.”
“This was the first time we’ve had a class like this, but this is going to continue as part of the Devon program,” said Grafton. “The crowd was overwhelming. The Sunday night before Memorial Day usually draws a very small crowd. This was quite a change.”
“The sponsors seemed very satisfied,” said Grafton. The Eventing competition was presented by Mid-Atlantic Packaging and had other sponsors as well. “I couldn’t have hoped for a better night.”
“I loved it,” said co-manager Peter Doubleday. “It hit a home run. It was a great class, but we’re going to tweak it to make it even greater.”
“This was the largest Sunday night crowd we’ve ever had,” said Doubleday.
"SINCE I moved to Pennsylvania, Devon has been an illustrious thing that, when you're on the West coast or in the midwest, you don't know anything about it,” said Brannigan. “It's very cool to be able to compete here myself. Cambalda won the Virginia Horse Trials CIC2* just yesterday. I didn't want to run him crazy hard and was a little bit on the fence about doing this, but he pulled up great and was totally fine. He jumped great today. This was really a cool weekend for him. He's just a horse I love, and I'm so happy that I get to ride him and keep him in my barn." Brannigan steadied Cambalda going towards the last fence. "I looked at the clock and knew I wasn't going to beat Sarah's time, so I wanted to be second,” said Brannigan. “I knew I was at 75 seconds two strides out, and I also watched the first six people, who I respect, go full force down to the last jump and knock it. I just wanted to make sure I jumped that final jump clean." “Really, you looked at the clock,” said Phillips. “Well, it’s right in front of you (going to the last fence),” said Brannigan. “You can’t miss it.” “I'M SOMEWHAT speechless to be sitting next to these two ladies,” said Nesler. “I grew up around here. I used to work the press box (when Sarasan handled the P.R.) and would go down and collect all of the hunter and jumper riders and bringing them up to the press. I never thought in a million years that I'd have the chance to sit on this side of the table."
"Right Above It is amazing,” said Nesler. “I actually owe a lot to Jennie. She started him as a youngster, and we've had him for about two and a half years. What he's done for my riding, along with jumping with Boyd Martin and Scott Keach, is unreal. It feels great, and he was spot on tonight. I know him really well. I know if I kick and point he's going to go. He's a game little horse. It's exciting."
“He saved me there tonight,” said Nesler, who found a bad distance to a fence which made a really bad distance to the last corners, but Carter (Right Above It’s barn name) somehow didn’t stop and managed to get over it.”
“It made him careful to the last,” said Phillips.
"It was a narrow oxer after a long gallop and it came up both times after this little 'S' turn of cross-country jumps,” said Nesler. “Jumping into all of this, that's stuff they don't always get to see so they're not used to it."
"I figured, why not come here and get some more mileage under the pressure,” said Nesler. “Now I'm thinking maybe I should go do some show jumping, this is kind of fun. Two years ago I didn't think I was going to be past a Prelim rider. Now I'm sitting here thinking, 'Bring it on. Let's go Rolex.' My horse likes the atmosphere. The bigger the crowd, the higher he jumps."
THERE HAD been some questioning before the class about why Phillips had started the course with jumper fences instead of eventing fences, which the competitors are more used to jumping.
The first round took horses and riders through both the Gold Ring and Dixon Oval over 25 obstacles, and faults were given for knockdowns and exceeding the maximum time.
About 15 fences were obstacles found on a cross-country course, and were brought up to Devon from Fair Hill, while the remaining were show jumping fences.
Fences were up to 1.20m in height, brush up to 1.40m and spreads up to 1.60m.
The top 12, which turned out to be the eight clean, one with a time fault and the three fastest five faulters, competed in a jump-off over a shortened course in the Dixon Oval.
Phillips said that he made the first three fences jumper fences because he was concerned that event horses, used to galloping in big, open fields, might look at the crowds surrounding them instead of at the fence, so he wanted the first fences to be ones where the rails came down instead of an event fence, where a mistake could cause a fall.