byNina Fedrizzi| May 31, 2017
One of the things that has made the Devon Horse Show such a standout event in its more than 120-year history is the vast array of classes it offers under one roof. In an era when riding disciplines have become more diverse and segregated from one another, Devon provides a place of common ground for the country’s top equestrian athletes in hunter/jumpers, carriage driving, breed classes, and beyond. And last weekend, for the first time, Devon opened its doors to yet another discipline in a format that was thrilling for participants and spectators, alike: The $50,000 Devon Arena Eventing competition.
Though arena eventing classes are held often in Europe, it’s rarely seen on this side of the Pond—and certainly never before in Devon’s Dixon Oval. Designed by Captain Mark Phillips, the two-round, 1,000-meter-long track crisscrossed the Gold Ring and the famous Dixon Oval and featured a range of show jumping and cross-country jumps, 1.20- to 1.40-meters (with brush) in height, many pulled off the nearby Fair Hill course. The class was created in consultation with U.S. Olympians Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton, and drew a host of top-level eventing names, including Boyd himself, Colleen Rutledge, Ryan Wood, Jennie Brannigan, and Holly Payne Caravella, to name a few.
But at the end of the night, the arena belonged to just one talented pair: Sara Kozumplik Murphy and her 11-year-old Selle Francais gelding, Rubens D’Ysieux (you can watch their exhilarating round at the end of this post!). We caught up with Sara to learn more.
1. NF Style: What was it like competing under the lights at Devon—have you ever ridden here before?
Sara Kozumplik Murphy: No, no—obviously I wouldn’t be good enough [laughs]. I’ve never competed at Devon but I’ve always wanted to go. I think someone mentioned to me that they were holding the class this year while I was at the Wellington Eventing Showcase. [Rubens D’Ysieux] has had a really good spring, so I figured we might get an invitation, and I was really excited when we did.
2. He seems like such a cool horse. What can you tell us about him?
“Rubens” is actually from a friend of mine [Michele Kuchta] who brought him up and did the three-stars on him, but didn’t really want to ride at the upper levels anymore. She rang me up over the summer and asked if I would be interested in him, and I actually rung my husband [show jumper Brian Murphy] straight away, and I said, “Hey, can you have a look at this horse on YouTube?”
Brian looks for really sensitive [horses] as a show jumper—he’s a very good judge, and he likes maybe two event horses in the world, so when he said this was a really good horse, I got excited!
[Michele] did such a great job on the flat with Rubens—he’s beautiful trained in dressage and he’s naturally a really great jumper. He was bred as a show jumper but he’s really good in all three phases.
3. Have you ever competed in an Arena Event like this before?
No, I haven’t. I’ve seen the ones they do in Europe, like Hickstead, and I was not really sure what to expect—maybe a little bit more show jumping then cross country? But it was cool that we got to do the corners and narrow [jumps]. It wasn’t cross-country, but it was a good school.
4. In your experience, what can you generally expect from a Captain Mark Phillips-designed course?
You can almost guarantee you’re going to have some kind of turning corners combination, where the corners are a little bit faced away from you—at least on a proper cross-country course. He didn’t do that at all at Devon; he’s a very smart man, he knows how the horses think, and he also understands what a showcase [like this] is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be fun and show off our sport, it’s not supposed to stress the horses or cause a fall or anything like that. The horses knew where they were going every single time, and the combinations, the narrows, and the corners were all very friendly for them. Usually, on a proper cross-country course, they would be much harder.
5. Was there anything in particular walking into that course that you were worried about?
No, but I’m on a very good horse! He’s experienced, he’s confident. The only thing I was careful about was the three strides, which I thought would be a little long, so I gave him the extra time to go around so he could see it. But everything else was pretty straightforward.
6. Rubens really looked like he was having a blast out there! Is that just him?
He is pretty funny, actually, because he’s not like that at home! You can put anyone on him, he’s extremely safe and pretty chilled out. When he gets into the atmosphere [at shows like this], he turns into a little circus pony! Between the first round and the second round, I felt so bad for him, because he knew that he wasn’t finished, and he’s walking around and every time the stadium would erupt, he would think it was for him, and would start to get excited again. He was pretty up for about three hours. He’s a very smart, very funny horse.
7. The crowd really seemed to be having a good time as well…
Yes, the atmosphere was fantastic. One of the really important things for us as event riders is to showcase our sport, and anything we can do to keep it alive is important. But from a training perspective, any time you get to ride in that kind of atmosphere is great, because we don’t get it very often in this country. Let’s say you don’t have a lot of cash and you can’t get to Europe to compete, in this country, you can literally get to the four-star at Rolex before you see that kind of atmosphere. You go down that shoot into the stadium in Kentucky, and it’s like the gladiatorial coliseum in Rome.
8. Does that seem to be changing at all?
It does, and that’s one of the main reasons why Mark [Phillips] has done this—he’s done a lot of great things for eventing in this country and we owe him a huge amount. That’s also why we’re pushing places like Wellington and like Tryon, to get these horses out into this atmosphere. But Devon is a little bit special because the crowd really does cheer and sigh if something goes wrong—it’s a lot more like it is in Europe. I rode in the World Cup in France a long time ago, and that crowd was very similar.
You feel like you’re at a football game. It was like that, which is really cool!
-Photo credit: The Book LLC courtesy of the Devon Horse Show/ US Equestrian.
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