When Zachary Brandt first heard the news of the EHV-1 outbreak spreading throughout the western United States (see sidebar), he was unsure whether his entry to the Woodside Pre-liminary Challenge should stand.
“It scared me and was nerve wracking, but as time went on, and it didn’t seem to be spreading, we decided to go for it,” Brandt said.
By Saturday night he was glad he did. He put in a clear show jumping round to top the preliminary rider division on his dressage score of 33.7 with his 9-year-old mare Cavallino Cocktail.
“[Cavallino Cocktail] was absolutely amazing. She surprises me more and more each time out. We’ve been really working on dressage, and she’s been getting better, but this time she knocked it right out of the park,” said Brandt, Temple-ton, Calif. The Horse Park at Woodside in Wood-side, Calif., hosted the third annual Preliminary Challenge May 27-29.
Organized by Robert Kellerhouse, the challenge offers a rare opportunity for professionals and amateurs alike to compete for $30,000 in cash and prizes split between horse and rider divisions at the preliminary level.
Brandt, 18, a senior in high school, has only ridden Cavallino Cocktail for 31⁄2 months. Before she was imported from Denmark, the gray Irish Sport Horse mare competed through grand prix jumpers and three-star level eventing.
The Preliminary Challenge was their fourth show together and first win, besting Kaitlin Veltkamp, Los Gatos, Calif., on Flashpoint D, who finished second on her dressage score of 41.1, and Dana Estes, Liverpool, Calif., on Worthy Opponent V.E., who added 1.2 cross-country time penalties and a rail to finish third (41.1).
Though there were scratches across several divisions of the competition, 31 horses started the Preliminary Challenge this year, up from last year’s 26. Brandt’s preliminary rider division was the slightly larger of the two with 17 entries, while the preliminary horse division, won by Kellerhouse’s wife, Erin, had 14.
Erin has had the Preliminary Chal-lenge as a goal for Roxabelle, an 8-year-old American Sport Horse mare owned by Cheryl Reynolds, since last year.
“We were competing in a training division while the Preliminary Challenge was going on last year, and Cheryl asked me if I thought we could do it next year. We decided then to make that our goal,” said Erin, 33, Temecula, Calif., who won divisions on four of her six mounts over the weekend.
She and Roxabelle (Sharp Victor—Christie) took the lead after dressage on their score of 30.9 and never looked back, jumping clear rounds in cross-country and show jumping to guarantee their win over second-placed Jennifer McFall, Wilton, Calif., on High Times (34.1) and third-placed Sandra Donnelly, Calgary, Alt., on Babe Ruth (36.1).
“She’s such a good mover and so obedient, and I decided I really wanted to go for it in the dressage this time—and it paid off!” Erin said.
“Roxie” just moved up to preliminary in February, but she tackled the course like an old pro.
“I was ecstatic with her because she can still be a bit green, but she just went out there and did her job,” Erin said.
A Grand Finale
The Challenge’s finale came along with Saturday evening’s show jumping, where Robert estimated more than 1,000 spectators were present. A tent housing a gala dinner was set up ringside, where the $55 price of admission bought dinner, drinks, music and decorations.
“It was a party, but as it got closer to the top of the division, the crowds got quieter and quieter. By the end, you could’ve heard a pin drop,” said Robert.
The weather added to the mix: It was windy and misting, though before the competition’s end, a rainbow had spread over the arena.
“It was an electric atmosphere and a mental game to go in there with the crowds, and I think it was a similar atmosphere to how it will be in Ken-tucky and a good prep for young riders,” said Brandt, for whom the Preliminary Challenge was the final competition before the Adequan FEI North American Junior and Young Riders Championship in Kentucky this July.
If all goes well there, Brandt, who trains with Gina Miles, plans to finish his fall season with a run at the two-star level. He’ll attend California Polytechnic State University this fall and plans to continue riding with Miles. For Erin, the show jumping offered a unique experience.
“It’s really fun to be doing a prelim class in that atmosphere and to have that opportunity at that level. I was feeling the pressure because if we dropped one rail, we’d move down to second, and two rails, we’d move down to seventh! But Roxie didn’t even notice the crowds until we went in to get our awards,” she said.
Her plan is to continue competing Roxie at preliminary and finish the year with the one-star at Galway Downs (Calif.) in November. For a weekend originally threatened by the outbreak of EHV-1, all the horses and riders went home happy and healthy— though Brandt and Erin perhaps hap-pier than most: Each won a check for $2,500, a custom saddle, saddle pads, stall plaques and, according to Erin, “a whole lot of loot!”