Phillip Dutton and Mr. Candyman, credit Leslie Threlkeld
Upper-level event riders from around the country travel to Unionville, Pa. to compete at the Plantation Field International Horse Trials and Country Fair, but this year three local riders bested a competitive field of entries.
Team USA’s Rio Olympic Team members, Phillip Dutton, of West Grove, Pa., and Boyd Martin, of Unionville, stood on the podium as the top finishers in the CIC3*. Dutton won first and third riding Mr. Candyman and I’m Sew Ready, respectively. Martin was second on Cracker Jack.
After a top finish at Galway Downs last November, Dutton thought he had a “world-beater” on his hands with Mr. Candyman but that the horse hasn’t had the best year due to Dutton’s focused preparation for the Olympics. “Now is his turn,” Dutton said.
Mr. Candyman, owned by Ann Jones, Bridget Colman, Caroline Moran and Tom Tierney, was placed second behind his stablemate I’m Sew Ready after dressage and show jumping. A fast, clear cross country round moved them up to win.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with what he did this weekend. It raises my hope for him. He’s a horse that is quite quick to lose his confidence and I have to be sure I do a good job to keep him confident all the way,” Dutton said. “Hopefully he will have a good performance at Fair Hill International [USEF CIC3* Championship in October] and build on it better than I have done so far this year.”
Dutton led the 33-horse field with I’m Sew Ready, owned by Kristine and John Norton, for the first two phases of competition, but without the intention of running quickly on cross country, they picked up time penalties that dropped them down to third.
Dutton won the Carolina International CIC3* with I’m Sew Ready in 2015 while his usual rider Kristin Bond was pregnant with her first child. Kristen is expecting again and so “Jackson” returned to Dutton’s barn only days before Plantation Field began. Despite having less than a week to get reacquainted, Dutton and Jackson performed beautifully in all three phases.
Martin and Lucy Boynton Lie’s Cracker Jack were clear and fast on cross country, producing one of only four rounds in the division without jumping or time penalties, moving them up from seventh after dressage to finish second overall. Martin hopes to travel with “Crackers” to France this fall to contest the Etoiles de Pau CCI4*.
Lauren Kieffer, a third member of Team USA at the Rio Olympics, won the CIC2* with Jacqueline Mars’ homebred Landmark’s Monte Carlo. Allison Springer and Lord Willing led the CIC*-A division from start to finish, and 16-year-old Haley Carspecken won CIC*-B riding her own True Grace.
Erin Sylvester, of Cochranville, Pa., led the Advanced division from start to finish with Frank Macentee’s Paddy the Caddy. The Irish Thoroughbred has struggled with nervousness at events despite schooling well at home, but at Plantation Field, a venue characterized by its vibrant atmosphere, something was different. “He was super calm on Wednesday. There was no reason for it, but he was ready to perform and so nice to ride. When he is relaxed he wants to show off in the ring,” Sylvester said.
Sylvester and “Paddy” took the lead early on and celebrated a clear show jumping round. On the final phase of cross country, Sylvester was prepared for the 9-year-old to be green, but he locked on to each question and finished without too many time penalties to remain ahead of second place Ryan Wood (of West Grove) and McLovin.
“He’s in a good place mentally now,” Sylvester said. “He felt like he gained confidence as he went around. He liked the questions being asked of him and was really locking on.”
While the skies opened up the day after the event, the Unionville area had gone weeks without a measurable amount of rain, and the hardness of the cross country footing became a concern. Groundsman Jamie Hicks and his crew worked tirelessly all week, aerating, aggravating and watering the galloping tracks to provide the best possible condition for the horses to tackle the track set by course designer Mike Etherington-Smith.
As top event riders as well as members of the Plantation Field Board of Directors, Dutton and Martin are keen to offer a course of such high-caliber that can be designed by Etherington-Smith, whose design resume includes the 2000 and 2008 Olympic Games and the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
“You can’t get a much better course than this to educate riders and horses,” Dutton said. “It’s not always about knocking the field out, it’s how they come away from it...He’s got a great vision and I think it’s incredible for our sport to have him here.”
“There is no question he’s one of the best course designers in the world,” Martin echoed. “This is a big event on everyone’s calendar, and it’s also more important as a preparation event for CCIs at the end of the year. We want this event to be a stepping stone.”
Plantation Field, commonly referred to as the Best. Event. Ever., brings in an enthusiastic community audience. Fans can watch cross country from a vantage point that offers a nearly full view of the course. Spectators line the arena fence rail to watch the show jumping phase and later a thrilling bareback puissance. Tailgating is popular, but one could also enjoy a malty refreshment from Victory Brewing while listening to live music and snacking on lobster rolls or wood-grilled pizza before hitting the vendor village to shop.
This year attendees were treated to a special ceremony at the conclusion of competition on Sunday afternoon. Charles Owen sponsored a presentation celebrating Dutton’s bronze medal winning performance in Rio de Janeiro. Dutton’s mount for the Games, HND Group’s Mighty Nice, made a special appearance, donning a commemorative blanket and posing for photos with fans.