Have you ever had one of those days where you just absolutely loooooovvve your life? Where everything is sunshine and ice cream and pink and blue bunnies? That was this past Saturday at the Olympic Observation Event at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair.
Originally, I’d been scheduled to go to both Observation Events. I was so excited for Thursday night’s Wells Fargo Grand Prix of Devon and Sapphire’s retirement ceremony I couldn’t contain myself. Sophie, my daughter, had packed her Sapphire Breyer horse in my bag hoping that I’d meet McLain Ward and get his autograph. Sadly, I didn’t get to go. Nope. I got the flu. My daughter and I watched the retirement ceremony from our couch. The only upside to all this? I lost 4 pounds.
Fast forward two days. My friend Marissa and I drove the two hours from our homes in New Jersey to Devon, PA, the heart of Philadelphia’s Main Line (think Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and The Philadelphia Story) for the second selection event on Saturday.
Making the trip with us was the venerable Sapphire, who had been carefully buckled into the back seat by my daughter. Sophie had also included a bale of hay, water, and a tack trunk filled with any necessity the great mare might need. I was told to take good care of the Olympic Gold Medallist, to make sure she had access to hay and water at all times, and if I stopped for donuts, I was to get her a Boston Creme. Finally, I was not to let the Great One out of my sight, and if I saw McLain, I was to “please, please, pretty please” do everything in my power to get his autograph on Sapphire.
Upon our arrival at the horse show, we found our way to the Press Box. Sara Cavanaugh, the show’s Public Relations Director, graciously took me under her wing, handing me a press kit, a program, an Order of Go and course diagram. I left my notebook and bag, with Sapphire carefully tucked inside, grabbed my camera and went off to check out the course walk for the $50,000 Idle Dice Open Jumper Stake and Olympic Selection Event.
Minutes later I’m at the side of the Dixon Oval (the Dixon Oval!!) and am 10 feet away from Laura Kraut, Stacia Madden, Jessica Springsteen, Beezie Madden, Mario Deslauriers, Chris Kappler, and other leading lights of the show jumping world.
I managed to snap a few pictures of the riders walking the course – Massive fences! Gulp! – and then sprinted back to my vantage point in the press box to watch the action.
Beezie Madden led off on Coral Reef Via Volo and was the only clear round in the class. However, Madden could only qualify two of her three mounts for prize money; as Via Volo had spent some time off recently with a skin ailment, Beezie nominated Simon and Cortes C. However, as Via Volo was the only horse to go clear in both Devon observation events, odds are she impressed selectors George Morris, Chris Kappler, Peter Leone, and Susie Hutchison.
McLain’s ride was the stunning Antares F, the gorgeous grey he rode to victory in Thursday night’s Wells Fargo Grand Prix of Devon after he retired Sapphire. “Andy” is a much different ride than the ‘smooth as glass’ Sapphire, and he and McLain had a few ‘discussions” as they tackled the course.
The crowd may have been hoping for a repeat of Thursday’s form, but it was not to be, as the pair lowered a rail at fence 11, the liverpool. (You may be wondering where Sapphire was during the class? I kept her tucked away in my bag, as I thought seeing McLain riding in a big competition without her might be upsetting. She had looked a bit confused during her retirement ceremony on Thursday night, as if she were wondering why she and McLain were walking by the fences in the Dixon Oval and not going over them.)
Laura Kraut came next on Cedric, then Margie Engle on Indigo (three greys in a row!), Beezie on Cortes ‘C’, and Jimmy Torano on Walk About. Jimmy, one of the nicest guys on the tour and a regular at the Vermont Summer Festival, gave the ring crew a workout as he and Walk About left a lot of lumber on the ground. For a while it seemed as if we weren’t going to see a clear round, and then Charlie Jayne and the Pony Lane Farm entry Chill R Z entered the ring.
The handsome dark bay is a bit of a Who Dat? entry on the London selection scene, as he’d missed the trials in March due to an injury. Luckily, the 9 year-old Zangersheide stallion is peaking at the right time, coming in 3rd at the $50,000 Hagyard Lexington Classic in May and 3rd in Thursday’s $100,000 Wells Fargo Grand Prix of Devon. Charlie and Chill had a fabulous trip, resulting in a clear round with 1 time fault, which was good enough for the win.
Charlie Jayne and Chill R Z in Thursday’s Grand Prix
Katie Dinan, Best Child Rider on a Horse at Devon in 2009, and Nougat du Vallet gave us one of the most entertaining rounds of the afternoon and showed us why she won that title when “Nugget” let out a hellacious buck in the first line just before the second element, an imposing oxer. Katie recovered as if nothing untoward had occurred, set him up for the fence, and they popped over the oxer just as easy as you please. This kid has crazy talent (and really nice horses)!
From inside my bag I heard a throaty rumble and the pithy comment, “If I had been in the class, I would have won it.”
“Yes, Sara,” I replied. “I have no doubt that you would have. Would you like me to find you a donut?” (Gotta keep those chestnut mares happy!)
In between classes we did some sightseeing, some shopping, and grabbed a bite to eat. Sapphire joined us, of course. Now that she’s retired, she doesn’t need to be as careful about her diet, but we kept things light as we girls can’t let ourselves go completely, can we? A little turkey meatloaf, some snow peas, and a shared glass of Pinot Grigio and it was off to check out the course walk for the next class on the program, the $15,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic.
Once again my friend and I stood by the Dixon Oval watching the course walk, gobsmacked that we were so close to the likes of McLain Ward, Kevin Babington, the Leones – basically a Who’s Who of the Hunter Jumper world.
I was keeping an eye out for an opportunity to approach McLain, ever mindful of my mother’s warnings to “Let famous people be — they have a life, too, and don’t need us bothering them.” (Sweet irony coming from a woman who once leaped a table to get Harry Belafonte’s autograph.) However, I had a 10 year-old girl waiting at home and I was not altogether sure she’d let me back in the house without a signed Saphhire. So, when my moment came, I took it!
McLain was crossing the schooling ring, heading back to his barn for some last-minute prep before the class. I took off after him, my friend’s “Don’t run!” echoing in my ear. I don’t know if she was reminding me of my manners or telling me I looked like an idiot, and frankly, I didn’t care.
I was on a mission. McLain turned as I got close, and I’m not sure if this was because I shouted his name or he heard what he thought may have been the Wells Fargo Wagon bearing down on him. Either way, he stopped, and stood smiling patiently as I skidded to a stop and blathered out an introduction and my reason for accosting him.
Let me tell you, this man is a Class Act. If you didn’t know that from seeing the way he handled himself after he and Sapphire were unfairly eliminated from the 2010 FEI Rolex World Cup, you may have seen it at Sara’s retirement ceremony in the way he thanked every one in his team or brought her over to meet her youngest fans, or after awards ceremonies when he hands his ribbons to his youngest admirers.
I saw it when he graciously signed his famous mare’s Breyer replica for my daughter despite the fact that he was coaching riders in the next class. He took a few minutes to ask about my daughter, commented on the purple silk halter she’d placed on Sara, gave me a message to take home to my daughter, and then took a picture with me. He then took a picture with my friend, wished us well, and headed off. I called home immediately to tell my daughter what I’d accomplished, and she squealed so loudly I’d bet McLain heard her as he walked away.
I’m pretty sure as we watched the A-O Classic we were floating about 6 feet over the bleachers. Well, maybe not that high, as we were pigging out on funnel cake and fried Oreos. It was an exciting class, with fabulous rides by Alison Leone on Annie 66 (what a hind end on that horse!), Katie Dinan on Sandro, Kelsey Thatcher on Klotaire du Moulin and Callie Smith on Upstaire.
The jump off was amazing and kicked into high gear when Kelsey nailed a heart-stopping inside turn to the liverpool to take the lead. Katie followed Kelsey’s lead and also left out a stride to the final fence, moving ahead of Kelsey by just over 2/10ths of a second.
Finally, Callie Smith entered the ring and bested them all with the gallant Upstaire, taking the blue ribbon and the Good Enough Challenge Trophy, donated by Wendy Chapot and presented by the Galloping Grandfather himself, Harry de Leyer, rider of the famous Snowman, who inspired the recent book The Eighty Dollar Champion.
We ended our glorious day by watching the Saddlebreds and the adorably frenetic Harness Ponies, followed by the absolutely electrifying pony cart races, which was an attempt to replicate the challenges of combined driving within the Dixon Oval. Somewhere around 10PM we wandered back to the car, packed up Sara, and headed north. When I arrived home, I crept into my daughter’s room and left her new treasure on her dresser. Sure enough, it was the first thing she saw in the morning, as evidenced by the squeal that woke me long before I was ready. Yep, thanks to McLain, I now have a good shot at that elusive ‘Mother of the Year’ title.