There was $300,000 at stake for the concluding Grand Prix competition in Bridgehampton on the final Sunday of the Hampton Classic. Thirty-nine horses and riders, the best in the world, were entered. They came from 11 different countries and one after another tried to jump over the 14 fences arrayed there in that center ring.
It soon became clear this was going to be very difficult. Sometimes, they rode too slow—the course had to be completed in less than 86 seconds. And sometimes they fouled when a hoof kicked down the top bar of a fence. The course, designed by Canadian Michel Vaillancourt, began to seem almost impossible.
But then, Devin Ryan riding Eddie Blue from Ireland, completed the course clean. He got a standing ovation from the nearly 15,000 spectators. And the talk was that if no one else could do it, he would win outright in this first round, without the necessity of the usual jump-off that has followed almost immediately the Grand Prix first round in other years, when multiple riders run clean.
No entries were able to join Ryan riding clean through 31 of the 39 entries. But then Mario Deslauriers, riding Bardolina 2 for Canada, did so. So there would be a jump-off. And then on the 39th and final ride, Deslauriers’ 20-year-old daughter, Lucy—a college student who only rides weekends—rode clean aboard Hester.
The jumps were re-arranged. Some were removed. Where there were 14 jumps in the first round, there would now be only eight. It was expected the new course could be done in 45 seconds or less.
The three horses and their riders were allowed to rest up for a while. And then the jump-off began. If all three rode it clean, the horse and rider with the fastest time would win. Devin Ryan aboard Eddie Blue came out first. The crowd quieted. He and his horse jumped the first fence slowly and carefully, but then, going over the second jump, Ryan’s horse kicked off the top bar as his hoof went over. The crowd groaned. Ryan and Eddie Blue finished the rest of the course without further incident.
“Four faults for the rail down and 42.66 seconds is the time to beat,” the announcer said.
Bardolina 2, a big mare, walked out with her rider, Mario Deslauriers, on board. Deslauriers took his time, and thoughtfully and carefully rode her through clean. Now the time would not matter. A clean ride, even with a slower time, wins.
“No faults and 42.82 seconds is the time to beat,” the announcer said.
Out rode his daughter, Lucy, aboard Hester. They are both small and slender. And they seemed very eager.
From the get go, Lucy Deslauriers rode Hester hard. She’d beat the time. She’d run clean. With huge jumps, Hester, entirely onboard with this program, responded to Lucy’s instructions, slowing down or speeding up as they approached a jump. The leaps followed, high and soaring. She was going to beat her dad, and the crowd was cheering her on. She cleared the seventh fence, ran to the eighth and last, seemed to clear that—her time would be about 39 seconds—but at the very end, a hind hoof clicked a bar and down it came. So she lost.
At the awards ceremony shortly thereafter in the center of the ring, her victorious father spoke to the crowd about his daughter’s effort.
“She knew what she had to do,” he said into the microphone. “But you know, she only rides weekends. So this would be hard. She pressed on and almost did it, but then you saw how it ended.”
Jumping horses is dangerous. Two days earlier, Kevin Babington, the winner of the Grand Prix in 2014, was leading his horse toward one of the last fences of the Grand Prix qualifier when he was thrown forward and out of his saddle to the ground.
The crowd hushed. Babington was taken from the horse show grounds by helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital and then transferred to New York University Langone Medical Center in Manhattan for further treatment for the spinal cord neck injury. We all hope he gets through this. A Facebook fundraiser for his medical expenses raised nearly $500,000 in the first 10 days after it was launched.