Thirty-three horse and rider combinations went head-to-head in the biggest “Saturday Night Lights” event of the 2017 season at Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) in Mill Spring, North Carolina. On Saturday, October 22, 2017, the $380,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* competition took place in front of the packed stands of the George H. Morris Arena. Ultimately, the Longines FEI World No. 1 ranked rider Kent Farrington (USA) captured top honors aboard Gazelle, owned by Farrington and Robin Parsky.
“Gazelle is a very experienced horse, so I think that I have the advantage that she’s been around the world and seen a lot of things,” said Farrington. “They’d have to build something crazy that she hasn’t seen before.”
The jump-off brought back only three riders to contest the short course designed by Olaf Petersen Jr. (GER). Farrington and the 2006 Belgian Warmblood mare (Kashmir Van Schuttershof x Diva ‘Ter Elsen’), stopped timers after an incredibly quick round ending in 34.676s.
“The ring rides smaller than it looks. The jumps come up fast and with a lot of people I think it’s more difficult for the horses than you would expect when you first walk the course,” commented Farrington. “I think it was an excellent course, and Olaf is a very good builder. I expected five clear, and we ended up with three, so I thought it was a stronger course for a bigger money class, which was appropriate for today.”
Despite the tense competitive environment and exciting atmosphere, Farrington commented that Gazelle is a reliable athlete in these kinds of situation. “She’s a very sweet horse at home. She likes everybody and she likes attention, but in the ring she’s an unbelievable competitor,” he explained. “I don’t know how many grand prix classes she’s won this year, but I always can count on her and when she’s in the jump-off I can really call on her and take big risks. She’s incredibly careful, so I’m not worried about the jumps, but try to not make any mistakes and stay out of her way.”
Second place honors were captured by 21-year-old Eugenio Garza Perez and the 16-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Bariano (Jetset-D x Ulderina Van Westleven), who were the first to produce a double clear effort in round one. The pair entered the jump-off round as the first combination, finishing behind Farrington in 35.918s.
“He’s such an amazing horse, and has so much heart,” commented Perez. “I think he showed that tonight. He tried really hard and when we went clear it was an absolutely unbelievable feeling. Then we just hoped there weren’t as many clear. The course was great, and I really did have a blast. I couldn’t have hoped for anything more from him or my team.”
Third place honors were presented to Richie Moloney (IRL) and Carrabis Z, a 2003 Belgian Warmblood stallion (Canabis Z x Ma Pomme VD Zwarte Hoek), owned by Equinimity LLC. The pair were hot on Farrington’s heels until the final fence of the track, which was tipped from the cups and led to four faults. They finished on a time of 35.637s.
“It’s always nice to see riders go beforehand, and where most riders did five strides from fence three to four, I did six, and that was my plan from the start. It always helps to go later. In the jump-off, Kent is always very quick, so we tried to catch him, but not today,” commented Moloney.
Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Tryon Equestrian Partners (TEP), concluded the evening by discussing the incredible turnout of both top riders and spectators the venue sees with each passing competition.
“I think there’s a lot of great challenges with equestrian sport in this country, in terms of building a following of spectators,” said Bellissimo. “It was really amazing to see at the end a lot of people stuck around and people had a following for Kent as he rode around the ring. We’re pulling great crowds, which I think makes the sport much more interesting. It’s one thing to go out and see some world class competitors like Kent, Eugenio and Richie, but to see a crowd appreciate it means a lot.”
The full results can be viewed here.