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Jersey Fresh 2007: Turning Up The Heat
Allentown, NJ
by Karen Briggs
Penny Rowland and Eric
Three divisions, 120 competitors, and almost 100 cross-country fences spread across 80 acres of the Horse Park of New Jersey:  that's only part of the story at this year's Jersey Fresh CCI***/**.  The most important numbers the weekend of May 30-June 3, 2997 are undoubtedly those describing the soaring mercury, heading perilously close to the 100 degree mark (Fahrenheit).  The oppressive heat and humidity are making riders drip, horses sweat, and course designers scramble to redraw their cross-country tracks so as not to toast some of North America's finest three-star, and upcoming two-star, horses, especially those on their way to the 2007 Pan Am Games.

Jersey Fresh is hosting an Advanced Horse Trials division this year in addition to the CCI*** and CCI** divisions it has offered for the past two years.  It's a "mandatory outing" (or, in the case of the Canadians, a "strongly suggested outing", in the words of Team rider Penny Rowland) for horses and riders qualified for the Pan Ams, and designed to prove each partnerships' fitness to run in Rio de Janeiro.  Nineteen combinations are contesting this division, which ran its dressage phase on Wednesday afternoon, after the first veterinary inspection.  To no-one's surprise, Darren Chiacchia and Better I Do It are comfortably in the lead, with a stellar score of 32.5 pp.  "It's still a young partnership – I've only had him about a year now.  I was a little disappointed with his test at Rolex (Kentucky CCI****) in April, so it's nice to have it come together better here."

Close behind are Emilee Libby and Cahir, with 33.1, and Canada's Penny Rowland, with Don Good's Connemara/Thoroughbred, Windswept, along with Jonathon Holling and Lion King II, are tied for third (33.9).  

Other Canadians in the Advanced Horse Trials division are Mike Winter and Kingpin (36.7, good for 12th place), Sandra Donnelly and Buenos Aires (42.2, 14th), Kyle Carter and Madison Park (42.5, 15th), 18-year-old Waylon Roberts on Paleface (44.6, 17th), and Sam Taylor aboard Livewire (48.6, 19th).

The CCI*** division ran its dressage phase on Thursday, May 31st, in temperatures which reached the mid-nineties.  Overcoming the oppressive heat, and a recent fractured splint bone which put her horse on the injured list for a few months, was Mara Dean aboard Irish-bred Nicki Henley.  Their score of 42.9 pp put them on top of the leaderboard over Will Coleman, aboard Icarus, a new ride acquired less than three weeks ago from Nathalie and Mike Pollard, whose new business venture is limiting their riding time at present.  Bonnie Mosser, who was third here last year on Close the Deal (running this year in the AHT division), slipped into third after dressage aboard Merloch, a striking 10-year-old NZ-bred.  

Top Canadian in the CCI*** division was 25-year-old Lisa Marie Fergusson, from Langley BC, on her own Uni Griffon, a Welsh Cob/Thoroughbred cross.  Her score of 49.6 was good for 7th place.  

Friday's schedule featured dressage for the two-star division, a great chance to witness eventing's future stars – for those who could stand the heat!  Riders were visibly wilting by mid-afternoon (Penny Rowland, aboard her two-star entry, Eric, couldn't even wait till she left the ring to remove her stifling shadbelly), but several riders still managed to pull off respectable scores.  Will Coleman dominated this division as well, this time with another catch ride, Ret Mercury (46.4 pp), followed closely by veteran Stuart Black on one of his recent French imports, the Selle Francais, Fleeceworks Mystere du Val (47.2) and Clark Montgomery aboard Up Spirit (47.6) and Holly Hepp on Benwald (47.8).  Rowland and the afore-mentioned Eric managed 56.4 and 10th position, despite their close call with heat stroke!  Close behind was fellow Canadian Kerri Short, on her Oldenburg mare Fantasia.

Tomorrow's conditions promise to be much like the past two days – in other words, bordering on infernal – and that promises to be the most influential factor for the cross-country phase, which is not to negate John Williams's demanding courses.  Said Dean, "Any time you add this kind of heat, it makes it more technical," to which Mosser added, "Staying on your game will be the hardest part!"  

In consideration of the extreme conditions, the organizers have reduced the length of both CCI courses by 450 metres, reducing a loop which would have taken riders into a new section of the property.  Said Mosser with a laugh, "It was a good idea to take that loop out, but I kind of felt, 'damn, the footing in that field is the nicest on the course!'.  But something needed to be done, and anything is better than nothing."

The Jersey Fresh organizers have also shifted all of the start times earlier, in the hopes of avoiding the worst heat of the afternoon.  If all goes smoothly, cross-country should be over by 2:30 pm.  At a Friday afternoon rider's meeting, riders were also encouraged to cool their horses "aggressively" (in the words of David O'Connor) both after their warm-up, and after the finish, using the 10,000 lbs. of ice which will be made available near the finish flags.  No doubt more than a few of the spectators will be coveting that mountain of ice, but cold drinks and lots of shade trees on course should make things pleasant enough for those on foot.

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