Originally created 02/29/04

Trials test riders, horses for future



AIKEN - Lucia Strini, 16, was nervous before getting on her horse, Addis Abba, at the Aiken Horse Trials at Paradise Farms on Saturday afternoon.

Although the young rider was participating with the most experienced class of riders at the event, the cross-country race, a 13-mile course complete with 27 jumps, had her worried.

"The horse hasn't seen the course, and there are a few jumps that I'm concerned about," said Lucia, who came with her mother from Scottsville, Va., to compete. "I've been training every day after school so I hope to do well."

Lucia, along with about 250 other competitors, many of them Olympic hopefuls, participated in the weekend event, sanctioned by the U.S. Eventing Association.

The event includes dressage, which requires a horse to make a series of moves, testing its obedience and precision, a cross-country race and a show jumping competition.

"It's the equivalent of a triathlon for horse riders and trainers," said Lellie Ward, who played host to the event at her 110-acre farm. "People come from Canada, Florida, Pennsylvania and everywhere to participate in the event. It's a training exercise for people competing in the international and Olympic events."

Lucia and other riders had to watch out for blind, steep jumps with names such as "Willie's Key Hole" and "The Coffin." If a horse refused to jump, points were deducted from the rider's score. Riders needed the fewest penalties from the combined three events to win. The show jumping competition will begin today.

Ian Roberts, 44, came from Ontario, Canada, to get his horse ready for future competition. He said he hopes to qualify for the Olympics and said the event provides an excellent chance to warm up and practice with his horse, Napalm.

"It's a great place to train your horse because there is no snow on the ground here, and the footing is good for the horses," he said.

Mr. Roberts' wife, Kelly Plitz, participated in the Olympics in 1984. She said while the cross-country event often draws the biggest crowd, the most difficult event is the dressage.

"It's harder because the horses are always turned on and ready to go, but the dressage requires so much control," she said. "Sometimes the horse isn't thinking about that."