Engle took over the ride of Royce five years ago, and has established a strong and trusting relationship with him, which was a major contributing factor to their win this evening. Engle, who is not easily deterred from laying everything on the line to earn a win, made a quick dash through the jump-off track set by Manuel Esparza from Mexico, ultimately proving that the gutsy and bold round was worth the risk.
“Both Michelle Grubb and Alison Robitaille told me that when they walked one to two of the jump-off, they thought there were seven strides there. I think most of the combinations did eight and I felt like there was nothing to lose because we’re in the jump-off,” she detailed. “I then decided to do eight up the middle. They raised the jumps a little bit for the jump-off, which helps him because he’s really a power jumper.”
“I am just so thrilled. He tried his heart out and I wanted to move it up a notch from what I did on Thursday here. I knew I had some fast combinations coming up behind me and I had to take the shot when we had the chance,” elaborated Engle. “This has been a great week for us and he’s jumped fantastic here. I’ve been so impressed with each part of this competition.”
The class featured 41 entries and saw eleven combinations return for the jump-off round, which proved to be problematic for many of those who advanced to contest the short course. Only Engle, Vanderveen, and Williams finished the evening with a double clear effort, while the other eight combinations accumulated faults.
“In the first round, I thought there were more clean than I had anticipated. The course walked hard enough. This was a nice break for Royce though, in a way, because he’s only been doing the CSI 5* shows in Europe,” commented Engle. “He was thrilled to be here on good solid footing and I was very happy with the way he went on Thursday too.”
Engle and Royce were selected as a potential combination to represent Team USA at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to be hosted later this summer, and Engle noted that Royce gained valuable experience competing at the observation events in Europe throughout the spring and summer. The stallion received a lengthy rest period after arriving back stateside and this week’s competition proved to be a welcome return back to the international ring.
“He’s been learning how to go faster and faster and I have to thank the owners of this horse, who have been very patient with us from the beginning. He’s always had all of the jump in the world, but we’ve really focused on rideability with him,” commented Engle. “We started working with U.S. dressage rider Lisa Wilcox this past winter to help us with the flatwork and the adjustability.”
“I haven’t pushed him in a jump-off since Europe, so I figured today I was going to go for it and that was fast for him. We left out strides in the first two lines and then he turned super for me to the Horseware vertical,” she explained. “To the skinny oxer I just kept squeezing and the distance was really far away, but I relied on his natural scope and he jumped it incredibly.”
This was Royce’s first trip to TIEC and Engle felt the pair was able to apply much of what they had worked on in Europe in their two appearances this week, which led to their top finishes. She stated, “He’s a horse that does better in a bigger ring, which is why he has done so well here. He’s naturally a little bit of a slower horse, so indoors is not his cup of tea. He’s really good in new places. This is his first time here and I have been so happy with how he feels and the way he’s been going.”
Engle has competed around the world and remains one of the most decorated riders of the sport, having made appearances for Team USA in nearly all of the major championship events during her career. Her return to the winner’s podium tonight elated the crowd, as many spectators have idolized and followed Engle’s lengthy and successful career very closely through the years.
“They had a great spectator turnout tonight, which always makes a class special. It is more fun to ride in front of a crowd that is engaged and energetic. I couldn’t have asked for a better result,” she smiled. “This is a spectacular venue all around, one of, if not, the best in the world.The rings and the footing are incredible and we’re very happy to be here. We’ll be staying next week for the CSI 4* and hope to continue with the success from this week.”
Engle’s longtime groom Joy Montgomery was awarded with the Groom’s Initiative Award presented by Mark Bellissimo and Tryon Equestrian Partners, for her commitment and care of Royce and the other FEI horses in Engle’s string. Montgomery has been a staple of Engle’s program for many years and her dedication and hard work continue to ensure their team’s success. Engle was presented with the Leading Lady Rider Award, presented by real estate broker Meg Atkinson, for her top performances in the FEI classes.