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.
“My goal was to win the Amanda Cup, and I’ll be back next year to do that,” Warrington explained.
Ashton didn’t begrudge her loss to Warrington. “Danny has presented the Amanda Cup to me twice before, and I joked with him that I ought to be the one to give him the trophy this year,” she quipped.
Besides, Ashton was pleased just to compete her long-time partner, Dobbin, who developed a mysterious lameness just a week before Rolex Kentucky this spring.
“I stopped off in Virginia to school on my way to Kentucky, and he dragged his left hind leg off the trailer,” she said. “We gave him every scan and test under the sun, and no vets could find anything wrong. The final guess was he pulled a groin muscle.”
After an eight-week break, Dobbin returned to work and competed at Groton House for the first time since the injury. “Our dressage was not up to his usual standard,” she explained. “But he jumped well. When the crowd cheered for Danny, [Dobbin] went wild; he thought the applause was for him.”
Orange Back At Groton House
When Kylie Lyman and the 18-year-old Irish-bred veteran, Orange, strode into the ring to receive their blue ribbon for the junior/young rider open preliminary division, the gelding knew his way around. He had won here with his owner, Hamilton event rider Jane Murray, two years ago.
Now he’s enjoying new victories with Lyman, who leases him from Murray and lives in Southern Pines, N.C., where she works as Robert Costello’s barn manager and attends Sandhills Community College. She won the junior/young riders division from start to finish, one of only three among all 40 preliminary competitors to finish on her dressage score. She was also the lowest-scoring competitor in the entire event.
“Orange just likes to perform, and he loves the crowds,” Lyman said. “When he jumped into the water on cross-country, you could hear him say, ‘Well, everyone’s here to watch me back at Groton House Farm.’ ”
Lyman, 21, grew up in West Hartford, Vt., and learned to ride under Laurie Hudson’s tutelage at Hitching Post Farm in South Royalton, Vt. She’s worked for Costello since 2005 and acquired the ride on Orange last summer. She established a solid partnership with the experienced gelding, whom Murray competed to the two-star level; she won preliminary divisions at Poplar Place (Ga.) and The Fork (N.C.) earlier this year.
“This horse is just perfect; he’s the most precious jewel,” she said. “He’s broke on the flat, careful, fast, and if I do my job most of the time he’s always going to do his.”
Lyman said her biggest accomplishment at Groton House was what she managed not to do. “Usually I’m overcritical, and I worry about when that bad jump will come, then I fall apart when it does,” she said. “But this time I went into the show jumping arena excited instead of worrying. I knew that there was no reason to go in there and not put in a good round.”
Small Mare, Big Win
Eventers used to seeing Clarissa Wilmerding on her enormous, English-bred advanced horse, Mystery Man, might look twice when she rides by on her 15.2-hand mare, Poppet. “He’s my Bentley, she’s my sports car,” she said.
But the 8-year-old, Irish-bred mare gained stature by winning the 21-horse open preliminary division at Groton House. Wilmerding acquired the former show jumper in England last year and competed her at training level before moving her up to preliminary this spring.
“This dressage thing is still new to her, and I was so pleased with her this weekend,” Wilmerding explained.
Wilmerding, of Far Hills, N.J., tied for first after dressage with Costello and Leila Clay’s 7-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, Dustin.
Poppet finished under the cross-country time while Dustin came home 1 second late, enough to give Wilmerding the lead by a scant .4 points.
“The double water was a lot to look at—she’s never seen a tent and crowds like that on course before,” said Wilmerding. “But she was so brave and confident, you’d never know she was a young horse. You don’t have to convince her of anything.”
Costello gave her some breathing room in show jumping when he guided Dustin to a smooth but careful round, picking up 4 time faults.
Wilmerding, who trains with Laura Chapot and Bruce Davidson, shaved every turn and jumped clear on Poppet but nevertheless picked up 2 time faults, which she could afford for the win.
“She’s such a flamboyant jumper that I had to land and regroup out there,” said Wilmerding. “There’s always a fine balance with her. She’s full of beans, but you have to quietly ride forward so she doesn’t get distracted by the crowds and the tents.”
Dustin’s second-placed finish pleased Costello, who has brought the Thoroughbred along slowly since purchasing the former steeplechase horse two years ago.
“He is immensely talented but fragile mentally, and I have taken it very slowly with him,” said Costello. “This was the first event where I considered letting him make the cross-country time, and he kept waiting for me to slow him down. I think all the settled, patient work before now has really paid off.”