Riding Rolex with Hannah Sue Burnett

September 13th, 2012 3:53 PM | Comments Off on Riding Rolex with Hannah Sue Burnett

by Kim MacMillan, MacMillan Photography & Media Services, photo@looncreekenterprises.com, 260-468-2392

Photo: Dee Kochensparger/
MacMillan Photography

Eventer Hannah Sue Burnett was born to horses. The 25-year-old was in The Plains, Virginia, and Ocala, Florida, riding with David and Karen O’Connor from 2008 until 2011 and lived on their client Jacqueline Mars’ farms. She grew up in the Midwest in Shelbyville, KY, so riding at the Rolex event was a homecoming of sorts for Burnett. In 2012 she decided to try her own wings and open HSB Eventing in Ocala (www.HSBEventing.com), with the blessing of her mentors the O’Connors.

“My mother, Sue, has always ridden so I grew up riding also. I can’t remember the first time I sat on a horse, it’s always just been natural and a part of my life since I can remember. My mom taught me up until I turned 13, because I was turning into a rebellious teenager and was difficult to teach, but also because I had reached a level that she was uncomfortable teaching on her own. I did my first Preliminary event when I was 13. I took lessons from a few local instructors including Martha Lambert, Susan Harris and Cathy Wieschhoff before Cathy introduced me to my current coaches and employers, Karen and David O’Connor,” explained Burnett.

Burnett’s mother competed through Preliminary in eventing, so she naturally gravitated to the sport too, “My mom is an eventer so that has always been my main focus. I have also dabbled in hunter/jumpers (which I really liked and hope to do more of), mounted games [She earned her United States Pony Club ‘B’ rating with the Long Run Pony Club.], galloped race horses and steeplechase horses and tried polo, but was terrible at it,” she said.


Photo: Shannon Brearton/
MacMillan Photography

Her 2011 Rolex Kentucky mount St. Barths, a 16.1-hand chestnut Thoroughbred gelding (Salty Shoes x Canadian Red Lady), owned by Richard Thompson, came into Burnett’s life in 2008 when she was asked to condition him while Karen O’Connor was away in England preparing for the Hong Kong Olympics. “I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Thompson (Dick) while competing his horse and he and Karen decided that ‘Nike’ and I were really getting along. I got the ride on him for good in the spring of 2009. Dick Thompson has been an amazing supporter and owner for me. He is so kind and generous. I’m so blessed and honored to be able to ride for him.”

Though the 2011 Rolex Kentucky Event was St. Barths’ first four-star, Burnett had been there once before on her own horse Keep the Faith, a.k.a. Ben, “I completed Rolex four years ago as a 20-year-old on my first ‘big-time’ horse, Keep the Faith. Benny was a saint and we moved up the levels together, starting when I was 14 and going Preliminary, all the way to the four-star level in 2007. I owe him the world.”


Photo: Jen Emig/
MacMillan Photography

St. Barths and Burnett began their Rolex competition as the first to go on the second day of dressage in the huge, new outdoor arena, completed in the spring of 2009. They finished with a score of 53.3 putting them in twentieth out of 45. “Dressage is the most difficult phase for Nike and me. He tends to get tense and act out by leaping around and not being obedient. We had been working very hard on our trot work and that was the best it’s ever been, so I was thrilled with that. The canter work wasn’t up to par, but with more work, can be easily improved.”

Going into Saturday’s cross-country over a newly re-designed course by Derek di Grazia (who inherited the job from 19-year Rolex course designer Michael Etherington-Smith, who retired after the World Equestrian Games in 2010), Burnett was thoughtful, but confident, commenting that cross-country was Nike’s favorite part, “When I walked the cross-country this year at Rolex on Thursday, I was surprised at how straight-forward it looked. I also figured that although it looked on the ‘softer’ side, it probably wouldn’t ride very easy. That was definitely proven by all the trouble riders were having that Saturday. We had had a lot of rain leading up to Rolex and the ground was extremely deep and holding. The horses were getting tired and riders were caught off guard at seemingly simple combinations. Luckily, I was able to watch some before I went, so I could see where the difficulties were. Nike is a fiery little Thoroughbred, with a lot of gallop, so I was pretty excited that everyone was struggling with the ground. I knew he is a ‘mudder’ and that he would skip across like it was nothing. The course rode exactly how David and I had planned.”

Burnett looks back at her ride around the course on Nike in 2011.

The HSBC Water Park, # 5, a,b,c: 3’8″ logs then down into the water to jump a 4’5″ brush and logs in the water then out of the water to #5 d the HSBC Curving Brush


Photo: Margaret MacGregor/
MacMillan Photography

“He jumped really big into the first water jump and it made the turn to the brush corner a little tough, but once he saw it, he drew right to it.”

The Bridgestone Park Question (the Coffin), # 7, a,b,c: a set of 3’8” rails, then down to jump over a 5’3” ditch – this year also filled with water because of the heavy rains – then up and over a 3’10” high cabin with a 3’5” base spread and The Sunken Road, # 11 a, b, c, da 3’9” rail to a 3’ 7” drop down into a sunken road, then up a 3’ 7” bank, to a 4’ 7” brush on the other side

The Coffin and The Sunken Road rode like I was expecting.”

The Land Rover Hollow, # 13 a,b,c a 3’9” log into the hollow, then over a 4’9” brushed chevron with a 5’10” base, then up out of the hollow and over a 3’10” sod cabin with a 5’11” base at the top of the hill

“My favorite combination was the Hollow, where many had trouble. I think that the Hollow was my best combination and my biggest concern.”

“Following that combination, I was held for about 5 minutes before fence 14 The Sheep Shelter, a 3’8” high table with a 6’ 7” spread) for the jump crew to repair a corner The Double Corners, # 15 a and b, [a pair of 3’11” high open corners that caused a number of problems including two eliminations and three refusals] that had been broken by a previous rider. I had not ever been held on course before, and I didn’t know how Nike would handle the break. I honestly wasn’t too worried about it, he’s so easily re-focused when it comes to running and jumping. I could tell he was a bit confused about why we were starting up again and drifted over the (first) corner and took out a flag [they dislodged the right flag and sent it flying, but were not eliminated since they stayed to the left of it], but right after got back on track and focused again. That was probably the hairiest moment on course for us.”

The Head of the Lake, a complex of several jumps: # 18 a, b: the entrance into the lake was a maximum 6’6” drop with the 3’11” frog jump as they come up the hill out of the water; # 19 a: 3’ 7” rails back into the water, and # 19b and #20: 3’10” offset wooden ducks


Photo: Dee Kochensparger/
MacMillan Photography

The Head of the Lake wasn’t as smooth as I would’ve liked, with Nike hitting the frog [#18 b] out of the water and then being a little sticky on the birch rails [# 19 a] back into the water.”

The HSBC Classic Series Normandy Bank, # 22 a: a 3’9” ditch up bank, b – a 3’ pine rail, and c – a brush corner

“The Normandy Bank rode perfectly. He jumped up [the bank # 22 a] and powered over the bounce rail [# 22 b] and four steady strides to the left handed corner [# 22c].”

The pair finished cross-country day as one of only three double clear rounds for the day and moved up 15 places to finish in fifth. As she finished cross-country Burnett remembered St. Baths’ owner, “I just want to say that I wish his owner Richard Thompson could have been here. He couldn’t because he is sick. St. Barths is the last horse that he and his late wife, Vita, bought together and I was thinking about him the whole way around.”

Sunday brought the final horse inspection and stadium jumping, “Show jumping is my favorite phase. We didn’t have the best round of our career at Rolex this year, but I was still happy with him having (only) two rails after being one of only three horses to run around the cross-country the day before inside the time.”

They finished in the top ten in eighth place as the second best American finish of the weekend taking home $7,500 and a large number of gifts from the various sponsors. Their finish got them noticed and in June of this year, Hannah Sue was named to the United States Equestrian Federation Eventing High Performance list, a list of riders to be watched, invited for further training and to be considered for representing the U.S. in international competition.

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