Elkton, Md. – The 2023 edition of the MARS Maryland 5 Star presented by Brown Advisory came to a close on Sunday as the competitors in the CCI5*-L and the USEF CCI3*-L Eventing National Championship took on the show jumping courses designed by Michel Vaillancourt. Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Connor were the wire-to-wire winners for the three-star national championship, while Ireland’s Austin O’Connor ended a long five-star drought for his country by clinching victory in the CCI5*-L. Hannah Sue Hollberg and Capitol HIM ended their week at Maryland as the top-placed American combination in the five-star.
2023 USEF CCI3*-L Eventing National Championship
Caroline Pamukcu (Springtown, Pa.) was undoubtedly the busiest rider at this year’s Maryland 5 Star, with three rides in the CCI3*-L and another five horses competing in the Young Event Horse divisions. But her results with HSH Connor (Connor 48 x Galwaybay Merstona), a 2016 Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Pamukcu, Sherrie Martin, and Luann McElduff, showed nothing but a laser focus on the CCI3*-L National Championship title. The pair was foot-perfect, going double clear in both jumping phases to finish on their winning dressage score of 25.4. And while Pamukcu is no stranger to wins on big stages—this one was her 11th victory in the FEI levels this year—this win was special.
“I was emotional because I’ve had the horse since he was a 4-year-old, and I have this big community behind me,” said Pamucku. “He was sourced by my business partner, Kelly Hutchinson, and her family are here cheering me on. It was just emotional for me to remember his first jump schools and then all the way to this moment. We were so close last year to winning the Young Horse World Championship that for him to win the USEF National Championship in the three-star is amazing, and hopefully it’s a good last show before Pan-Ams!”
While Pamucku is bound for the Pan American Games this week as part of the U.S. Eventing Team with HSH Blake, “Connor” will get to enjoy a winter vacation before she starts to plan his 2024 season.
“Next for him is he’s getting his shoes pulled right now,” said Pamucku. “He’s gonna go out in the field with his buddies and have about two months to get furry and fat and have a good time.”
Lauren Nicholson (The Plains, Va.) secured the Reserve Champion title with Larcot Z (L’arc de Triomphe x Kocote de la Londe), a 2013 Zangersheide gelding owned by Jacqueline Mars, with a double-clear show jumping round. The successful partnership was the result of a lot of persistence and some fortunate timing for Nicholson, who had been following Larcot’s career since the beginning when he was owned by Reagan LeFleur and trained by Will Coleman.
“Coleman is such a classical trainer and rider, and our programs really mirror each other in that way,” said Nicholson. “He’s committed to the fundamentals with the horses and producing them so correctly and classically from the beginning and really following the training scale. So it’s very easy for me to pick up the ride from him.
“[Larcot] is very much my type of ride. He’s very light and careful and he rides quite forward to everything,” said Nicholson. “I’ve never been able to pick a type of horse—Woodge and I were laughing about that earlier. We’ve never been able to pick a type of horse because we’re always just riding what we’ve had or bred. It’s a luxury when you start to discover you have a type and get to ride that type.”
Woodge Fulton (Finksburg, Md.) had an excellent week with Cash Point (Cash and Carry x Up to Date 15), a 2015 Holsteiner gelding owned by Nelson Warnell. The pair climbed from eighth place after dressage to third with two double-clear jumping rounds.
“I’ve had him since he was four. I feel like with this sport it’s really hard to put three things together, all in a weekend, especially with a baby,” said Fulton. “The goal for the weekend was just to make the time cross-country, so today was just nice. I’m not going to say the pressure was off, but yesterday was just fabulous. If he came out this morning really tired and feeling sorry for himself, I would just be proud of him for doing that yesterday. So the fact that he was able to jump well today and finish well was really exciting.”
MARS Maryland 5 Star CCI5*-L
The show jumping phase proved to be influential for the CCI5*-L, with only one combination going clear and inside the time. That was Ireland’s Austin O’Connor with Colorado Blue (Jaguar Mail x Rock Me Baby), a 2009 British Sport Horse gelding owned by The Salty Syndicate, and it was enough to move them from fourth place to first. Not only was it O’Connor’s first win at the level, but the first for any Irish eventing athlete in 58 years.
“Salty” is a homebred for O’Connor, and he’s worked with the athletic gray gelding for his entire life.
“He’s an unbelievable horse. He’s a proper, proper five-star horse. He likes to climb,” said O’Connor. “He always looked a good horse, but with age he’s just gotten better. He’s 85% Thoroughbred. He’s all class. He’ll try and try until the bitter end.”
Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht (Birkhof’s Grafenstolz x Nachtigall), a 2012 Oldenburg mare owned by Amanda Gould, had a single rail down in the show jumping phase but held on to their second-place position. Overnight leaders Oliver Townend (GBR) and Cooley Rosalent (Valent x Bellaney Jewel), a 2014 Irish Sport Horse mare owned by Paul Ridgeon, had two costly rails in their show jumping round, but managed to stay on the podium, finishing in third place.
Adding just 0.4 time faults in the final phase, Hannah Sue Hollberg (Kennett Square, Pa.) and Capitol HIM (Con Air 7 x O-Heraldika), a 2007 Holsteiner gelding owned by Christa Schmidt, jumped from sixth place after cross-country to fourth place at the end, finishing as the highest-placed U.S. competitors.
Hollberg got the ride on “Chito” after he proved to be “a little bit too much horse” for his owner.
“We didn’t have extremely high expectations for him starting out,” said Hollberg. “I brought him up the levels, and every time I asked him to do more, he would step up and answer the questions, and he’s gotten better and better. I wish I’d gotten him as a young horse—he’s 16 now. But he is incredible. Every time I ride him really well and ask him to do the right things, he does everything, which is so nice. And also when I mess up, he still somehow does it right.”
This marked Chito’s first completion at the five-star level. Hollberg had decided to step him back to the CCI3* level at last year’s Maryland 5 Star, and he was diagnosed with PPID (sometimes referred to as equine Cushing’s disease) shortly after. With that diagnosis came treatment and medication that put him back on the five-star track.
“He jumped better than he’s ever jumped in his life today,” said Hollberg. “Just amazing. Fresh as a daisy. He felt like he hadn’t run at all. The biggest thing I wish I had done better was that on cross-country, I didn’t know if he would go the distance. You don’t really know until they do. And I held him back a little bit before the corners at the top of the course before the big crab water. I think I could have been inside the time if I’d just let him go. I was worried about him getting tired, so it’s nice to know that he’s so able and eager and can do it.”
US Equestrian subscribers, and members can watch the on-demand replay of the 2023 MARS Maryland 5 Star and USEF CCI3*-L Eventing National Championship on USEF Network powered by ClipMyHorse.TV. Not a member? Join now.