After Selena O’Hanlon and her horse Foxwood High made history as the first Canadian winners of the Fair Hill International CCI***, she and the horse’s owners, John and Judy Rumble, were flying high. Or at least they expected they would be.
Since 2013, the previous Fair Hill CCI*** winners – who were all American – have received a free return flight to Europe for their horse, courtesy of title sponsor the Dutta Corp., whose business is horse air transportation. But last week, six weeks after her historic win, O’Hanlon and John Rumble learned they would not be receiving the flight, and were advised that it was actually a “grant” that was awarded only to the top American finisher. They also learned that their share of the prize money – announced as $15,000 USD – would instead be just $11,000 USD.
O’Hanlon, who is based in Kingston, Ontario, says while the decreased prize money is disappointing, what is most upsetting is the loss of the flight (approx. value $20,000 CDN). She says the ultimate dream for John Rumble, 84, of Schomberg, ON, who was a member of Canada’s Eventing Team that won bronze at the 1956 Stockholm Olympics, is for ‘Woody’ to compete at the Badminton CCI****. They planned to use the free flight to transport Woody to England to compete at Badminton in the spring of 2018.
“We love Selena, we love John Rumble, we love Woody,” said Fair Hill competition manager Ann Haller, who explained that the ring announcer “unfortunately went off script” during the winner’s presentation (skip to 15:45 for the announcement here) and announced that the free flight would be part of O’Hanlon’s prize package. Neither management nor Dutta Corp corrected the statement which was later repeated at the press conference when O’Hanlon was asked several times by the media about what she planned to do with the flight. It wasn’t until the end of November that Rumble was advised that the prize was reserved for the US National Champion, not the winner of the CCI3*.
Haller says the arrangement has always been that the flight is for an American rider, but she was unable to provide any printed material outlining this and it’s not mentioned on the Fair Hill website or show materials. Directly contradicting this claim, however, is a 2015 post on Fair Hill’s website specifically stating that the winning rider “earns a free flight anywhere in the world”. (See screenshot at right.)
Despite providing the prize, Tim Dutta, CEO of the Dutta Corp., says he has no control over how the flight is gifted, only saying that it’s a grant and the USEA high performance committee gets to choose who gets it. “I am a title sponsor, not the organizer. Fair Hill is a national American championship and it has to be for an American rider. I have no say in who gets it. It’s up to the United States Equestrian Team.”
“I wish it was Selena,” added Dutta, whose company also sponsors the Bromont CCI3*. “She is a dear friend, the Rumbles are amazing people and it’s a worthy horse, but I’m in no position to comment or recommend who gets the flight.”
Julian McPeak, director of marketing and communications for US Equestrian (United States Equestrian Federation) said the flight is not a grant, but part of the sponsorship agreement with the Dutta Corp.
“US Equestrian’s contractual agreement with the Dutta Corp. states that the trip will be presented to the winning rider of the USEF CCI3* Eventing National Championship,” said McPeak. “Only a U.S. rider can be declared the winner of this USEF National Championship.”
As for the decreased prize money, Haller discovered an FEI rule after the event that no more than 30 per cent of prize money can be offered to the winner in any division. While total prize money for the event increased substantially over previous years to $50,000, the prize money for the CCI*** portion was $35,000, thus the winner’s share came to just under $11,000 USD.
Haller said this is her first year as competition manager and “some of the details were a little obscure and there was disappointment on my part [that the first place winnings were less than expected]. There is no one more deserving than Selena.” She said it’s unfortunate that O’Hanlon suffered a “double whammy” of missing out on the flight and less prize money than anticipated. Haller said she has offered free entries to Fair Hill events next year to O’Hanlon and offered to help connect her and Rumble with people who might facilitate them getting Woody to Badminton.
Despite the setback, the prospect of his horse competing at Badminton has excited Rumble so much that he’s decided to undertake the cost of the flight on his own.
“I had trained at Badminton for weeks before both the 1952 and 1956 Olympics as guests of the Duke of Beaufort and was looking forward to returning to see Woody compete there, “ he said. “I was out of horses for 40 years and I’ve dreamed and told many people over the years that I would love to have a horse at Badminton. I was disappointed to lose the free trip, but decided that if nobody will help me I will help myself so Jimmy [Elder] and I are looking forward to attending!”
The confusion of the prize aside, O’Hanlon and Foxwood High remain the champions of this prestigious show and their performance over the year also earned them another honour. The 17h Canadian Sport Horse, bred by Seymour Epstein, was named the USEA Advanced Horse of the Year in early December. In addition, Woody is also on the top 12 list for the EquiRatings 2017 Horse of The Year – voting starts next week.
There are some behind-the-scene discussions between the Canadian and US federations, but for now the victory, awards, and recognition will have to be sufficient for O’Hanlon and Rumble.