Jersey Fresh in perspective

By Nancy Jaffer
May 22, 2016

A big crowd turned out for tailgating during the cross-country phase at Jersey Fresh.

There certainly was tragedy aplenty at last weekend’s Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event, and it can’t be forgotten. But there needs to be perspective in seeing the big picture while looking back at the competition, which was put together with a great deal of effort and drew a record crowd to the Horse Park of New Jersey.

The death of CCI 3-star competitor Philippa Humphreys, 33, whose horse was involved in a rotational fall at a straight-forward table jump, could only be called heartbreaking. At the same time, it was termed, “totally, totally a fluke accident” by Marilyn Payne, who will serve as president of the ground jury at the Olympics in Rio this summer.

 

A well-known eventing judge and trainer, she was on a panel tasked with investigating Philippa’s accident. She said the conclusion, from looking at videos and interviewing witnesses, was that Philippa’s horse met the table on a half-stride. That meant he would have had to stand way off in an attempt to clear it, or add a stride and get in close, which is what happened.

“He just happened to meet it wrong and didn’t get his legs out,” she said. The horse was uninjured.

Philippa’s husband, Peter Humphreys, issued a moving statement, which said in part, “Philly lived and breathed the sport. For her, the cross-country was it… She knew the risks. We talked about them often. She accepted them unconditionally. She went out the way she would have wanted, doing what she loved more than anything else in the world, on her most treasured partner.”

Those who would like to contribute to a memorial college fund for the couple’s six-month-old daughter, Millie, should go to this website: https://www.youcaring.com/millie-elizabeth-humphreys-570323.

Cross-country day also claimed an equine victim, Skyler Decker’s CCI 2-star entry, Inoui Van Bost, who was injured at a Trakehner fence. He was euthanized due to a leg injury.

There also was great concern over the total of 16 falls on cross-country, which had everyone searching for reasons why they happened at the event, which was an Olympic selection trial.

David O’Connor, the U.S. eventing coach and former president of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, complimented Jersey Fresh for “great atmosphere” on cross-country day, saying “as a spectator thing, I think it’s greatly improved with the effort they put in here.”

At the same time, he said, “there were quite a lot of falls that were unexpected, at fences horses don’t normally fall at.”

David continued, “The riders are all questioning what happened. So we have to sit down and really look at the factors that produced a day like” that.

“There were really too many horse falls, I’d say the same thing about Badminton (the British event the previous weekend).The priority for all of us in the sport is to not have horse falls.”

The situation will be examined not only by the organizers and course designer, but also by the USEF’s technical committee and the U.S. Eventing Association.

“I think there are several of us who will get down and have that conversation,” David concluded.

Marilyn agreed that there should be an inquiry into why there were so many falls, but she also mentioned that some horses weren’t fit enough, noting a CCI is a major challenge.

Some riders, meanwhile, suggested the difficulty may stem from the Horse Park having insufficient land to put on a CCI, which is longer than a CIC (Jersey Fresh offered 2-star and 3-star ratings in both.)

Boyd Martin, a Jersey Fresh regular, suggested part of the problem may be “a piece of land trying to run a CCI that’s not quite big enough and the course has to go up and back and left and right and twist and loop, here and everywhere. There were just too many crashes. I don’t know what the answer is.

“This is a great venue, a great event.” But he also cited problems with “so many holds and delays. It’s more than just bad luck. It’s hard to get a flow here or a rhythm.

“The horses are a bit bamboozled with all the rollbacks,” he maintained, and was not alone in that contention.

He also noted that “Jersey Horse Park is an important venue for us as event riders and improvements are made here every year. The footing (cross-country) was better than ever. The course design’s good. It just doesn’t have that three-day event feel, like Bromont (Canada) or Fair Hill (Md.)  where you gallop in straight lines…and the courses are bigger and it really backs the horses up.”

He believed that last year, the course was more difficult, but there were less falls. He couldn’t explain why.

“If it was something simple, I’d tell you. Maybe it needed to be bigger. There is such a thing as bad luck, but it just happened too much” on cross-country day.

“I’m sure there will be talk whether we should keep this a CIC or if we should try doing a CCI somewhere else, but people more important than me will make a good decision.”

Even if Jersey Fresh became just a CIC, he thinks it would draw.

“This time of the year, there are so many top level event horses that need a run, they’re always going to get numbers here,” he said.

Ironically, I remember that in 2015, riders had been very complimentary about the courses, saying they were much less twisty than they had been in the past. Over the years, more land has been added for cross-country, but there’s a question as to how much more will become available. A field once used for steeplechase under the old long format hasn’t been maintained and would require a great deal of work and money to become useful.

Event organizer Jane Cory said course designer John Williams “felt there would be little or no benefit” to adding that land if how much of it could be used was restricted by the state.

Responding to comments that horses could get distracted because the route led them toward the stables and then away again, Jane said, “these are horse that are trying to go to the Olympics–is that really a problem?

“I think we hire pretty competent FEI officials…not one single one of them has ever said `don’t do a CCI.’”

She pointed out that Jersey Fresh had three members of the ground jury, three technical delegates and four stewards. “All those people check everything.” and there also were two rider representatives to whom riders can go with concerns. There were no complaints before cross-country, and the ground jury just asked for a few small adjustments that were made.

“Something happened. I don’t know what,” said Jane, who explained the organizers will have a post-show meeting and also seek input from the ground jury.

She said there have been compliments in recent years about the courses, which makes her wonder why some people now are saying now it’s not appropriate for CCIs, noting it’s the first year she has heard that.

“We’re not ready to say we’re not having it,” she emphasized. “Jersey Fresh is not considering dropping the CCIs.”

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