Congratulations to Boyd Martin and On Cue on winning the 2021 Land Rover/USEF CCI5*-L Eventing National Championship. Boyd and On Cue placed fourth and were the highest placed American team at the Land Rover Kentucky 5* Three-Day Event.
The 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event is one that we’ll remember for a long, long time. It’ll be memorable due to the fact this competition happened in the middle of the pandemic and somehow, with a huge push from the American public, the organizers managed to run this great event. I absolutely live for five-stars; as a competitor, this is all I care about in my equestrian dreams. This is the pinnacle of the sport and the hardest level of competition, and the best horses and riders all seemed to end up at one event this year.
Building up to this big event, you have dreams and aspirations and goals of getting the very best out of each horse. I went to the Kentucky five-star with three of the best horses I’ve had in a long time: Tsetserleg TSF and On Cue, both owned by the Turner family and myself, and Long Island T, owned by a syndicate. I felt like I had a wonderful build-up to Kentucky, basing in Aiken, South Carolina, over the winter and doing a couple of lead-up events, including Tryon, and I arrived in Kentucky nervous, terrified and optimistically confident.
The long and short of it is the horses all did great dressage tests, and then I really knew it was going to be an interesting competition after walking the cross-country course. It was big, bold and technical, and quite tricky.
My first ride was Long Island T, who started off really well. Then I got to the Head of the Lake. Coming out of the water to the hedge out was quite a tough line, with either two big or three small strides to the hedge. I opted to go for two big strides with Ludwig and he gave a massive effort, but sadly couldn’t make the width: He clipped the back end and came crashing down. I remember lying on the ground and looking up, thinking, This was not the start I dreamt of!
I went back to the barn with my tail between my legs and then had to ride my greenest horse, On Cue, who had been training well in the lead-up but had the least experience of my group, having never competed at the five-star level. I had every reason to play it cautious and just get her around safe. But I thought to myself, Who knows when I can ride at another five-star — I’m going to have a crack at it! She went around like a rocket. She was a bit tired and inexperienced toward the end of the course, but to her credit, kept fighting the whole way. We were one or two seconds over the time but it was a great effort. All of a sudden my spirits were high again and I really felt confident getting on my top horse, Tsetserleg.
Thomas has been around this level many times and I really felt that he should go for it. As I was warming up, I heard the announcer calling out the scores to the other riders and I realized if he went clear and in the time, he’d be in the lead, so I went for it. He gave me an incredible round; it was like he’d walked the course the day before. He was jumping every fence out of stride and ripping around, hitting all the minute markers.
The last combination had caused some trouble earlier in the day and the horses weren’t jumping it very well. I must admit, our round had almost been going too well; I was thinking about the time and the line to the next fence, instead of focusing on that challenging combination. We jumped the big log and sadly, Thomas misread the jump, flicked off and crashed. I lay there on the ground for the second time that day, not believing what had just happened! Sadly, that was the end of my chance at winning Kentucky.
On Cue was tired and less experienced, so during her round I was riding every step. Thomas was going so sweet, it kind of caught me off guard. Hindsight is really a wonderful thing. If I had to do it do again, I’d have leaned back and wrenched him into the air and kept him on his feet!
To me, the event was a very different feeling this year with no crowds or spectators. I admit part of me liked it, because with this great event, as a rider you’re often pulled in every direction when you’re trying to focus on the competition. Obviously we love our sponsors and the fans, but it can be a challenge balancing autograph signings and other obligations with focusing on the competition. But I also have to say in dressage and show jumping, even thought there was a little less atmosphere, the horses were still nervous in the big stadium and as a rider I had the same feeling of nerves and pressure, no less than if there was a crowd there.
I think I’ll be buying my photos of the presentation with masks on and of the show jumping in front of an empty grandstand. In decades to come, we’ll look back and remember how unique an event this was. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated how everyone pulled together to make this happen.
Photos by Ruby Tevis