Americans Phillip Dutton and Karen O'Connor are riding horses that are true sentimental favorites in this year's Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event.
Fernhill Eagle, Dutton's horse, and Quintus 54, O'Connor's mount, are part of Team Rebecca, named in honor of the late Rebecca Broussard of Kalispell, Mont., and both horses are competing in their first four-star, or Olympic-level, competitions.
Broussard, who died Dec. 24, 2010, has been hailed for her efforts to develop eventing, especially out West, where she founded The Event at Rebecca Farm, now a three-star competition in Montana.
"My mother was an owner of numerous horses, including the two competing here now," said Sarah Kelly, Broussard's daughter. "One of the things I told my mother before she passed away was that I would continue to have horses running in her name, somehow, some way."
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Kelly and her father, Jerome Broussard, formed Team Rebecca to take over the ownership of Rebecca's 17 horses.
Wednesday, just before the start of the Rolex Kentucky, the Broussards announced $250,000 in grants to the U.S. Event Association for rider development over the next five years.
"We want to continue her legacy and her vision for what she saw in the sport of eventing," Kelly said Thursday. "One of the things she really wanted to see was the U.S. represented at the top, worldwide."
Eventing, sometimes called the equine triathlon, combines the disciplines of dressage, cross-country jumping and show jumping.
Kelly said that although both horses competing this weekend are young, both have come a long way in the past year.
Dutton, who rode Thursday, scored a 55.2 in his dressage test, putting him in 11th place going into the second day of dressage.
"I feel very privileged to have known Becky and to ride for her," Dutton said. "It really became a friendship rather than me riding for somebody, and in that sense you always want her to be proud of you and the horse."
O'Connor, who rides Friday, said her horse is "very green at this level, but is a very talented horse. I believe him to be the best jumper I've ever evented. For me that's a big statement."
O'Connor's previous horses include Olympic team silver medal winner Biko and Rolex Kentucky winner Prince Panache. She said she has high expectations, but doesn't think Quintus has the dressage skills to finish first this weekend.
"He's not there yet," she said. "But he's got tons of power."
In the lead after day one of dressage, in which dancelike maneuvers of the horse are controlled by subtle cues from riders, was American Allison Springer on Arthur, with a score of 42.3, followed by British rider Mary King on Kings Temptress with a score of 47.7. In third is American William Coleman on Twizzel with a score of 48.2.
Springer won a Rolex watch in a drawing at the riders' welcome dinner.
"So far, so good," she said Thursday. "I do want to win one of these the hard way, though."