Sponsored Rider, Ariel Grald, Reflects on 2019 and Sets Her Sights on 2020

Following a successful 2018 season at the 4* star level, Leamore Master Plan, Simon, was qualified to compete at the 2019 Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L. I set that as our ultimate spring goal but I promised myself that I would only go if I truly felt that he was ready. He’s a relatively young horse and we only had one season at 4* under our belts. As the early 2019 months passed, Simon was feeling great and our preparation was going to plan. He ran incredibly well in the CCI4*-S at Carolina International and in the Advanced at The Fork. My coaches and I decided he was up for the challenge of 5*. Simon absolutely loves to gallop, has great stamina and will jump anything I point him at. While I never doubted Simon’s ability, I was amazed at how confidently he cruised around the cross-country course at Kentucky. He was full of gallop at the end of the over eleven-minute cross-country track.

Simon recovered well from the Kentucky 5* and after passing all of his vet checks, I started to plan for the rest of our season. I rely on my coaches to advise me which events to target and they all said to take Simon to Burghley. He competed in the Advanced at the Millbrook Horse Trials in early August and then shipped overseas. I was fortunate to receive the USET Foundation Jacqueline Mars International Travel grant which enabled Simon and I to spend about a month in Europe. First, we traveled to Ireland to compete at the Millstreet CCI4*-S. Simon performed well in all phases at this event and most importantly had an excellent cross-country run. We shipped to England to finish preparing for Burghley.

Simon settled in quickly at Burghley.  We spent our first riding hacking around the venue. It’s a stunning place! (see photo of Burghley House) There was a large group of Americans competing there, so we had a whole barn just for the American horses. It was amazing to have so much US support. After the initial trot-up on Wednesday, I immediately set out to walk the cross-country course. I knew it would be massive, which it certainly was, but I was amazed at the varied terrain. The galloping lanes were always going up or downhill, with turns and undulating ground.

US coach Erik Duvander helped me prepare Simon for the dressage. Simon schooled well that week and felt super in the final warm-up prior to our test. While the test didn’t go as well as I hoped, it was a positive experience overall for me and Simon. He still needs to build strength and we both need more experience at large venues. Once the dressage test was behind us, my focus was solely on creating a plan for tackling the cross-country. Erik Duvander and Bobby Costello walked the course with me, and I felt a little more confident in my plan each time around. I walked the course a total of 6 times that week! I’m often asked if I’m able to sleep the night before cross-country. Surprisingly, I can sleep well and I think all that walking helped me get a decent night’s rest.

The morning of cross-country, I did a final course walk at daybreak. I took Simon out for a hack and light work to warm-up his muscles. He was remarkably focused (Simon is known for his enthusiasm and antics!) so I knew he was ready. There’s a viewing tent for riders near the start box so I went up to watch the first few combinations. I like to watch a rider or two jump the combinations to get a sense how they’re riding and to solidify that I have the right plan for my horse. But I only watch a few and then I head back to the barn to quietly focus. I don’t like to watch too much and I benefit most from talking to other riders about their rounds. I was relieved to ride fairly early in the order, so didn’t have too many hours to wait once the first rider headed out on course. Simon warmed up well and before I knew it, we were galloping out of the start box. He can be strong on course, so I started out steadily to ensure we jumped well through the first couple combinations. After he jumped through the Leaf Pit successfully, I knew he was focused and I let him gallop on. He continued to sail through all the combinations. After the seventh minute, there’s nearly a full minute gallop uphill to the Cottesmore Leap. Simon charged up the hill and sailed over the massive ditch and brush. There was a final and very difficult combination (the Dairy Mound) after that. Simon jumped in very boldly but locked on to both of the tables and then our only focus was to gallop the last couple minutes to the finish. There were still plenty of big jumps and water complexes, but Simon felt great and he was looking for the next jump. I felt an incredible rush of relief and happiness as we crossed the finish line!

Simon passed the final jog on Sunday morning and show jumped in the afternoon. Although I was disappointed to have a pole down at the second jump, he really jumped well and remained focused in the large grass stadium. We finished in 10th place and received the award for the top placed first-timer.

We’re currently in Ocala, FL preparing for the 2020 season. While I love competing, I enjoy the quiet winter months to focus on training and developing the horses. Simon is practicing lots of dressage and works on a water treadmill twice per week. He’ll do some show jumping at HITS, in addition to a couple dressage shows. At this point in his career, he doesn’t need to run a bunch of horse trials but I’ll focus on improving his strength and further developing our technical skills. The goal is to head back to England this spring to compete at several events over there, and ultimately the Badminton CCI5*-L. But as I’ve done all along in Simon’s career, we’ll take one task at a time and only do what he’s ready for.

While Simon is the superstar of my group of competition horses, I’m excited that the other horses are coming along well. BGS Aurora and Caballe gained mileage at the preliminary level this year and successfully completed their first CCI2*-Ls at the Ocala Jockey Club. Thanks to the generous support of owner Annie Eldridge, there are several other young horses who have exciting futures ahead of them. They’re all lucky to benefit from the support of the Emerald Valley Natural Health products. Our team’s success is due in large part to all these fantastic products, from Fibre-Beet to Formula 4 Feet to the Orange Oil shampoo and Soothex, plus our favorite tack cleaner, Smart Leather! THANK YOU!





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