By Nancy Jaffer
May 15, 2017
Forget the rain. Things are looking brighter for the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event, which has had its ups and downs over the years. So give the dedicated workers and organizers applause for their efforts at the 15th renewal last weekend at the Horse Park of New Jersey in Allentown.
“They really stepped up this year and put a lot of work into the cross-country,” said U.S. Equestrian Federation Director of Sport Will Connell.
Despite that torrential downpour and chilly temperatures on cross-country day, riders were complimentary of the event, and the hardy tailgaters who came out equipped with umbrellas, tents and lots of hot coffee appreciated seeing the way athletes handled the considerable challenge.
Unlike last year, when competitors weren’t happy with the CCI cross-country courses (which are longer than CIC courses), there was universal praise for routes laid out by the new designer, Mark Phillips, who had the advantage of being able to use more land than was available in 2016. That made the layouts more flowing than they had been in the past.
The featured Jersey Shore water complex surrounded by tailgaters was completely re-designed to have a more user-friendly island than it did in the past, making it suitable for combined driving as well as eventing.
Californian Tamie Smith, who rode Dempsey in the CIC 3-star as a prep for the upcoming CCI 3-star in Bromont, Quebec, noted, “You can tell how hard they are trying to make it so much better and they’re listening to the competitors and making changes. It’s a testament to the organizers and people involved.”
She also cited Mark’s work, saying, “I think it has made all the difference, having him be a part of Jersey Fresh. He’s done a remarkable job. The courses were just enough to have some problems, but not overly tricky.
“Mark’s one of the best course designers in the world and he did such a phenomenal job with the terrain and the design,” commented Tamie, noting Jersey is an ideal spot for a green 3-star horse like hers to have a run.
The footing for cross-country has been considered a strong point of the venue in Monmouth County, where much of the soil has a natural sand element, and it held up well enough with concerted attention from a dedicated grounds crew. Mark did note, however, that by mid-afternoon when the Saturday competition wrapped up, the ground couldn’t have taken too many more hooves. But a less-forgiving surface would have deteriorated long before that.
Dr. Brendan Furlong, whose B.W. Furlong & Associates veterinary practice was the presenting sponsor, naturally would have preferred sunshine but noted, “under the circumstances, it was as good as it could possibly could be. We got very positive feedback on the course. I think it’s the most positive feedback we’ve had in many years.”
He added, “From the effort that the grounds crew went to, to keep it as safe as possible, and also from the design of the course from Mark’s perspective, it was a huge coup, making that happen. We came out of it with a good positive feeling this year and hopefully we can carry on with that.”
Debbie Adams, a founder of the event who is no longer associated with the organization, said she was “really impressed with Mark Phillips and what he did to make a nice galloping course, because then the horses get encouraged. Once they had a question, it was something they could easily see and understand. It wasn’t a blind approach and it made sense to them.
“It’s a struggle for any competition to keep going and make ends meet and keep everybody happy, and they’ve had some rough patches. But when they pulled it out (on cross-country) and made it right for the riders and horses, that’s a big statement for them.”
Debbie, whose DA Duras was ridden to first place in the CIC 2-star by Lauren Kieffer observed, “It’s almost better than if they had run in the sunshine. The competitors know what they put out, and it worked.”
Phillip Dutton, the 2016 Olympic individual bronze eventing medalist, is a Jersey Fresh regular. He won the featured CCI 3-star with Mr. Candyman, and said he’d come back next year.
“It sounds very simple, but if you’ve got a good cross-country course, everyone usually goes home happy. I thought, considering the conditions and the amount of rain, the course rode really well. I think it was a good education for horses and riders, and that’s basically what it’s about.”
Will Connell noted that “people need to learn to ride in the rain as well as in the sun. I was pleased. There were a lot of riders who would have come away having learned a lot about how to ride in difficult conditions.”
Marilyn Little, who won the CIC 3-star on RF Scandalous, considered it a good opportunity to practice for what she may encounter at the Luhmuhlen, Germany, 4-star, which is her next stop with the mare.
“I have a lot more confidence going into Germany, where it can also pour,” Marilyn said.
Buck Davidson had been critical about the CCI courses in 2016, even wondering whether Jersey Fresh should offer CCIs, but he liked what happened this year.
“I think it’s better. They’ve definitely opened it up with that front field (the extra land) a bit.”
He would, however, like to see some of the jumps changed.
“They’re a little boxy and not as horse friendly,” said Buck, who is in favor of more permanent fences, rather than those that are movable.
“The big oxer in the CIC over the ditch was a great jump, it makes the horses really get up in the air. Some of these corners are so vertical they just kind of push against them a little bit and the horses don’t seem to respect them as well.”
He was pleased to see improvements, however.
“It’s all small steps,” he said.
“Hopefully, they’re going to get these arenas better. Spend some money and get some good footing. Make this place awesome There’s so much potential here.”
Rob Burk, CEO of the U.S. Eventing Association, was impressed with what he saw at Jersey Fresh.
“I think this was an amazing weekend. The staff, the volunteers and organizers went over and above to make sure this was a safe and great experience. I think it will only build from this going forward.”
He commented, “I think a lot of good things have come out of this. We’ve already got some ideas on what can be done at the Horse Park to continue to improve the facilities, to improve the arenas, to bring them up to the point to where this continues and grows into one of the premier events in the country.”
Footing in the arenas is a key issue, and an effort by those connected with the horse park to raise money for a new surface in the grand prix ring hasn’t gotten very far. Rob said the USEA can help.
“I think we’ve already been connecting a lot of the right people with the leadership,” said Rob.
He noted that Jersey Fresh has “a pivotal date. There is a reason why people in the sport care about what happens here.”
(For more about Jersey Fresh, check out my article at www.practicalhorsemanmag.com.