There were four teenaged riders in Sunday’s Grand Prix, three of them from California, though the one from the East, Katie Dinan, 18, has this country’s — and some would say the world’s — best rider, McLain Ward, as her mentor.
Busy winning horse shows wherever he goes, Ward has very few students. When asked how he had come to be her trainer, Dinan, who debuted at the Hampton Classic in a pony class as a 10-year-old, said, “His farm is near ours and I’ve always been a huge fan. I’ve been working with him several times a week for the past 11 months. He’s very articulate, very nice. I go to the competitions with him and he gives me advice.”
Even, as was the case in Friday’s $50,000 Spy Coast Farm Grand Prix Qualifier, when it could be to his detriment.
Nine of the 55 starters wound up in the jump-off that day, including Ward, who was riding Antares F — the horse with whom he was to win the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix two days later — and Dinan, who was riding Vancouver, a 13-year-old Warmblood gelding from New Zealand.
When it came time for the jump-off, Ward, who had in his customary fashion walked the first-round course and the pared-down jump-off course with her, discussing their fine points, was the fourth to go. And, as is often the case, Dinan said “he set the pace. . . when he goes fast, he’s hard to beat. I went seventh, and he said, ‘Here’s the plan, if you want to beat my time.’ ”
From the third obstacle Ward had swept in clockwise fashion around a black vertical fence (the final one on the jump-off course) to get to a double combination. In order to challenge his time, Ward told Dinan that she and Vancouver would have to cut a tighter corner there and go in front of the vertical to get to the double combo.
“There wasn’t much room, but we got over it,” said the young rider. After doubling back toward the tall black vertical, she “had to balance his front legs,” which she did, “but he hit the rail with his back leg. . . . It was a little frustrating, yet I was happy that he had cleared such huge jumps and had gone so fast. . . . Thirteen’s a good age for a show jumper. He’s got experience and he’s still improving. And my relationship with him is getting better.”
Consequently, Dinan and Vancouver placed seventh in the big money class, winning $2,000. Absent the fault, they would have bettered Ward’s time by a fraction of a second.
Three weeks ago, the duo won the North American Young Rider championships in Lexington, Ky., and in Sunday’s Grand Prix, while they didn’t go clean, they were within the 86-second time limit and had two jumping faults — at the seventh fence, “the bridge,” reached after a 270-degree turn over worn ground in front of the V.I.P. tent, and at the first effort of the triple combination just before the final FTI oxer.
“I’ve been working hard, and a lot of things have been coming together,” said Dinan. “I have a great trainer, great people at the barn [Staysail Farm in North Salem, N.Y.], and my parents have been very supportive.”
For her first Hampton Classic Grand Prix, Ward said later that his student had “had a great run,” and a very good show.