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Montgomery Wins CIC***-W at Rough Red Hills
Tallahassee, FL, USA
by Amber Heintzberger
Photos: Anthony Trollope/
Clark Montgomery (USA) and Up Spirit
Clark Montgomery had never won a three-star before, and he put his name on the map this past weekend by winning the CIC3*-W at Red Hills in at Elinor Klapp Phipps Park in Tallahassee, Florida riding Holly Becker's Up Spirit. The event is a World Cup qualifier and part of the USEA Gold Cup series and offered a total of $54,500.00 in prize money. Montgomery and Up Spirit started out in third after dressage, with Corinne Ashton and Dobbin taking the early lead. In spite of 12.8 time faults on cross-country and two rails down in stadium jumping, Montgomery rose to the occasion on what would prove to be a physically and psychologically challenging competition.

"He's a laid-back horse so the atmosphere on Friday helped give him some energy he doesn't have in schooling," he said. "A lot of people don't like that about Red Hills but it worked to my advantage. I think the cross-country was hard but I don't think it was unfair. Show jumping was not as difficult as I've seen it in the past, but Saturday takes it out of the horses."

Ashton recently won the Advanced at both the Pine Top Winter and Pine Top Spring Advanced horse trials, and she seemed to be on a roll. But on Sunday her hand played out differently than she hoped on the challenging cross-country course.

"I went out looking forward to it, thinking that I'd whip around and it'd be great. I made a bad mistake at fence two and went for a long stride, but in retrospect it was a stride and a half out and he nearly clipped the top of the fence. He hates that - it backed him off and worried him. If it had been an easier course I could have gotten away with it but he lost confidence as we went around. He ran past a couple of fences and then I just walked off the course."
Boyd Martin (AUS) and Neville Bardos
The cross-country at Red Hills was like a battlefield, claiming more casualties than many felt it should have. Out of two three-star divisions, an advanced horse trials, a two-star World Cup division, intermediate and several preliminary divisions, only two people all day finished inside the time, and only two horses were clean around the three-star course.

"I know if my horse is stopping or running by something then he's not happy," said Ashton. "I'm not blaming anyone but myself for the mistake I made on course but looking at the other riders it was a course that continually chipped away at their confidence. I feel that needs to be addressed."

Australian competitor Boyd Martin, who finished 7th on Neville Bardos, agreed, "It wasn't a forgiving course. I had a glance-off at the mushroom on Neville. The farther you got in the course the more punishing it was to the horses. It was a World Cup three-star, and people should be prepared and have fit horses, not run their first Advanced there, but the results showed that there was a problem with the course, too. The dressage and stadium were also as hard as they could be and I think the three-star was pushing four stars."

Eventing is known to be a risky sport, but tragedy struck hard at Red Hills. Longtime US team member Darren Chiacchia ended up in the hospital in critical condition after a rotational fall of his horse Baron Verdi at a fence on the preliminary cross-country course. According to the latest official news Chiacchia remains unconscious but in stable condition after suffering head injuries, broken ribs, contusions to both lungs and a partially collapsed lung. Updates on will be posted on this website as they become available.

Two horses died at the event: Jonathan Holling's Olympic prospect Direct Merger collapsed and died near fence 8 on cross-country in the three-star division and Missy Miller's Leprechaun's Rowdy Boy fell at fence 17 on the Advanced course. Direct Merger's death was immediately believed to be the result of an aneurysm or heart failure; according to USEF President David O'Connor, Leprechaun's Rowdy Boy, also apparently suffered an aneurysm according to the results of a necropsy performed at the University of Florida. Neither Holling nor Miller was injured, and Holling went on to coach Darren Chiacchia's students through the rest of the weekend. Incidentally Miller is a student of Chiacchia.
Mike Winter (CAN) and Wonderful Will
Much criticism of the cross-country course design has flown around, and while the statistics show that the course proved difficult for many competitors it seems that both horses that died were predisposed to the conditions that ended their lives, and that it was likely just a terrible coincidence that they both died that day. A general movement for improving the safety of eventing in general continues.

In a statement, Holling thanked organizers and veterinary staff of the Red Hills Horse Trials "for their quick response to the tragic events that occurred today," and said, "The accident was in no way related to a jump on course. I would like to thank everyone for their concern and friendship during this difficult time. I lost a great partner in Direct Merger today, and he will greatly missed."

Amidst swirling emotions and a lot of media attention on Sunday Montgomery kept his cool in the final phase of the event. Allison Springer and Arthur had two rails down on the stadium course plus four time faults, dropping from second to third place and making room for Karen O'Connor to step in behind Montgomery. In reward for his efforts Montgomery took home a pile of prizes, the keys for a one-year luxury car lease, plus the winner's share of the $18,000 prize money awarded in that division.

"Everything went pretty good for me," said Montgomery modestly. "Everything that could go wrong in eventing went wrong over the weekend, but you can't blame it on one thing. I think after Darren fell it got in peoples heads - it's always hard to make the time on cross-country, and I think whoever's fastest and goes clean is going to be ahead on Sunday."

Having spent the winter on the USEF Winter Training List, Montgomery asked Chef d'Equipe Mark Phillips if he could suggest a place to go in England to gain some international experience. Phillips invited Montgomery to train out of his yard there, so Montgomery and his wife Jessica plan to move to England for six months or so after The Fork CIC***, taking four horses with them.

"I've never competed overseas so I'm really excited about it," he said. "I am going to compete in the three-star at Saumur (France) - the horses' owners are excited too and already planning trips over there."

In the CIC** Gold Cup division Young Rider Jennie Brannigan and Cooper finally had their Fall '07/Spring '08 winning streak broken by Phillip Dutton and Bailey Wick, owned by Acorn Hill Farm. Brannigan took the early lead but time faults on cross-country dropped her to second place and opened the door for Dutton to move into the lead. Though Cooper jumped clear on Sunday and Bailey Wick knocked one rail out of the cups, Dutton finished two points ahead on 49.6 to Brannigan's 51.6.  Dutton also finished third in the two-star riding Mighty Mangaroo and eighth in the CIC***-W on Nina Gardner's Loose 'N Cool.

Canadian Mike Winter and Sher Schwartz's little black gelding Wonderful Will had a less than auspicious start to the event, tied for thirteenth after dressage. The many faults racked up by other competitors proved to their advantage; Will jumped around like a deer, clear in the cross-country and show jumping and in spite of 23.3 time penalties on cross-country made a tremendous leap in the standings to win the division. Amy Tryon's Leyland, who led after dressage, also jumped clear but had 37.2 time faults, so he finished second overall.  Brit Leslie Law was eliminated on Fleeceworks Mystere du Val, who was second after dressage, but had some consolation when he moved up to third on Anne Glaus' Private Heart.

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