Danny Warrington usually takes part in the prize-giving ceremony at the Groton House Farm II Horse Trials in Hamilton, Mass., by presenting the trophy honoring his late wife, international event rider Amanda Warrington, who died in a 1997 riding accident, to the winner of the advanced intermediate division.
But instead of giving away an award this year, June 29-July 1, Warrington took one home by winning the open intermediate division on his 12-year-old, Thoroughbred gelding, Discover The Power.
While Warrington, from Elkton, Md., has partnered Discover The Power to lots of upper-level completions, dressage has been a nemesis for the pair until this spring. Recent work with international dressage judge Linda Zang, whom Warrington met at a clinic in March, changed his approach to the horse’s flatwork training.
“Tell everyone to watch out; I’ve been practicing,” said Warrington of his eighth-placed dressage ride, which left him just 5 points behind dressage winner Jennifer Tucker, of Canton, Conn., and Elenor Smith’s 11-year-old, Irish-bred gelding, Berkley.
“I told Linda that I had a lot of tension issues with the horse, and she said, ‘Well then, stop kicking him,’” Warrington explained. “Now I’ve learned that you have to just sit chilly, relax and allow him to move forward freely instead of demanding he get his hind end in gear, the way you would with a warmblood.”
Warrington’s new training philosophy paid off by producing a steady, accurate test that he thought was the horse’s best effort to date, with only one mistake, a break in the trot lengthening. “I didn’t panic, and I wasn’t in a hurry to fix the problem. I just stayed calm and thought ‘hey, it’s just one movement,’ ” Warrington recalled.
Discover The Power jumped clear cross-country and added 7.6 time faults to his score, taking over the lead with the fastest round of the division. Fifth after dressage, the venerable combination of Corinne Ashton and her 13-year-old, Thoroughbred gelding Dobbin—who won the Amanda Cup here in 2004 and 2005—also jumped clear but accumulated 9.6 time faults to move into second.
Others among the top-placed dressage horses, however, encountered difficulty on the testing Groton House track. Tucker and Berkley enjoyed a textbook round until the big gelding missed his striding and hooked a leg at the corner at fence 13, depositing Tucker on the ground. She quickly remounted and finished the course without further trouble.
Second after dressage, Carol Kozlowski and Lynn Blades’ 14-year-old, Connemara-Thoroughbred gelding, Take Time, retired at fence 10, a ditch and bank combination set on a steep uphill. Of the 27 open intermediate competitors, 15 accumulated jumping penalties, most frequently at the downhill drop at The Glade (fence 9), a narrow and wider drop at Setters’ Run Glen (fence 15), and the double water combination at 24ABC.
No such problems befell Warrington. “He’s such a good cross-country horse,” Warrington said. “He doesn’t question me if I just ride him right. He came right back to me after the corner and was brave at the ski hill narrow.”
Cross-country expertise comes naturally to Warrington, who jockeyed steeplechase horses before turning to eventing a decade ago. He first saw Discover The Power, then 3, in 1998, while the colt trained at Suffolk Downs (Mass.).
“He was running off the wrong way at a trot, but something about him caught my eye,” Warrington explained. A few weeks later, he purchased the horse in a claiming race at Rockingham, N.H.
Embarking on an eventing career, he credited Donnan Sharp for his early dressage training. “She took a jump jockey and made him sit up straight,” he recalled.
Warrington rapidly climbed the ranks with Discover The Power and established his own teaching and training business along the way. He placed sixth at the 2005 Jersey Fresh CCI** (N.J.) and completed three advanced horse trials in 2006, winning at Wit’s End (Ont.) last August.
A Daring Dash
Local show jumper Susie Banta, from Topsfield, Mass., traditionally designs influential courses at Groton House, and this year proved no exception. When Discover The Power entered the arena, only three riders before him had achieved double-clear rounds, Dobbin among them, giving Warrington a scant .10-point lead to uphold.
“I was scared to death,” admitted Warrington. “That Dobbin is a fantastic show jumper, and there wasn’t a time fault between us.”
Discover The Power jumped carefully all the way around until Warrington, knowing he couldn’t finish even 1 second over the time, flapped his elbows and jockeyed the horse into a daring gallop through the final turn.
“I knew he’d jump the liverpool well [going into the last line] no matter how you got to it, so I figured I would gallop on in,” Warrington recalled. “But I stuck to my six-stride plan for the final fence. When in doubt, take it to the bottom of the jump.”
Warrington’s audacious feat earned him a double clear and secured his victory. But, ironically, he didn’t win the Amanda Cup because the advanced intermediate division wasn’t held this year. Instead, he won another memorial trophy, this one honoring the memory of Hamilton eventer Jim Stamets, who died in 2001 from a heart condition.