Thursday, March 29, 2012

Weekend at Wellington

As my first post for the Equine Research Blog, I’d like to start by introducing myself, Kimberly James, the new National Sponsorship and Ambassador Manager. I help manage Purina’s relationships with some of the best athletes, horses, events and sanctioning bodies in the equine industry. While our research team creates products to serve the needs of our equine ambassadors and their performance horses, I have the privilege of seeing them in action. And this is what brought me to Wellington, Fla.

Our first order of business was a photo shoot with national ambassador, Chris Hickey, and his KWPN gelding, Witness Hilltop. Chris is the director of training for Hilltop Farm in Colora, Md., and together with Hilltop Farm, represent Purina in the dressage arena and the world of elite sport horse breeding. As many of you can probably attest to with your own horses, one never knows what to expect from our equine friends in front of a lens. I know my horses tend to take to unauthorized dozing and snacking every time I go to snap a picture. Not surprisingly, Witness handled the session like the professional he is, from the flash to the repetitive posing. He is clearly ready for whatever fame has to throw his way. And I should mention Chris was equally dashing and brave in front of the flash!

After the photo shoot, we headed over to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center to catch the USEF National Show Jumping Championships, which also served as a selection trial for the U.S. Jumping Team. Purina national ambassadors, Laura Kraut with Teirra, and Beezie Madden on Simon and Cortes “C,” battled a tough course in round one and two monster courses on day two. Fitness and fuel were large factors for the competing horses as was recovery after jumping. After a demanding day two, all the trial competitors had a day of rest on Friday before heading into Saturday’s final round.On Saturday, we headed over to the International Horse Sport Champions Cup to catch Chris Hickey’s Grand Prix class on Douglas Hilltop. I’ve decided that every Saturday morning should start off with good weather, good coffee and high level performance horses doing what they do best. Douglas looked fantastic, and Chris turned in a class-topping 67.872 percent. There’s a large contrast in the work these horses do within different disciplines, but there are similarities in what it takes to garner success: talent, breeding, training and nutrition. When all this comes together, I can’t help but be incredibly proud of Purina and its role in supporting these athletes and their success.

The final round of the selection trials turned in a stellar performance from Laura Kraut and Teirra with a near clear round catching the last rail of the final jump. Beezie and Simon had a great run as well with just one time fault, and Beezie and Cortes “C” really turned it up with the fastest clear round of the night. While the championship title went to Margie Engle and Reed Kessler in a tie, Laura and Teirra were confirmed to the U.S. Team long list as was Beezie with both Simon and Cortes “C.” We’ll be watching all the Purina riders and their horses as the U.S. Team whittles down to the short list.

Sunday morning we made a quick visit over to our friends at Kiaran McLaughlin Racing who were also wrapping up their stay in Florida for the season. It was my first trip to a top racing barn and what better way than to make introductions with the McLaughlin team! I was very impressed with the meticulous care and training each of the McLaughlin horses receives. Once again I was able to see a shining (and shiny) definition of equine athleticism. This year looks to be another exciting one for Kiaran and his team as they work to capitalize on the potential of their young contenders.

After Florida, I headed home to gear up for my next jaunt and spend some time with my own horses. My hope is to continually provide you with a glimpse into how Purina products are put to the test at some of the most elite competitions in the industry. I look forward to sharing more throughout the year and highlighting the results of our research and development in the field with all of our readers. Purina is sponsoring a great lineup of events throughout 2012 across the country in several disciplines, so stay tuned. It’s a tough job traveling around to events and horse shows, and getting to know the best in the business but someone has to do it. I’m delighted and fortunate to be that person, and hope to provide some insight and behind-the-scenes access to all our blog readers. Until next time, take care and best of luck to you and your equines!

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