File this under “(Extraordinary) Postcards Home.”
Two weeks ago, Manchester local Cornelia Dorr, 21, realized a longtime goal by successfully competing in one of most prestigious — and challenging — equestrian competitions, the 2019 Blenheim Horse Trials in Woodstock, England.
The world-class competition is notable for its intensity, in which riders compete with just one horse over four grueling days of judging in three very different types of events — dressage, show jumping and cross country. To the outsider, it might seem downright “decathlon-esque,” requiring extensive and expansive training for both horse and rider. So, not surprisingly, it’s very a tight roster at Blenheim, with only 85 riders from around the world invited to compete. All are at the top of their game, which, in part, helps explain why it’s such a well-respected event.
Dorr grew up in Hamilton and Manchester and has been riding competitively since she was eight years old. Highly focused, she has a track record in eventing that is prodigious and belies her young age. When we spoke to her on the phone, Cornelia told us competing at Blenheim has been a goal for about two years. She took a gap year at age 18, she said, because she loved to ride, she enjoyed competing and wanted to do more of it. She said one year turned into three, and she has never looked back. It all sounded so relaxed.
What Cornelia didn’t say was that by age 18, she had already won team gold and individual bronze at the 2016 CCI*FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships and that was the catalyst for deciding to “take a gap year.” Then, in 2017, Cornelia participated in the USEF Emerging Athlete Eventing Program as one of only two riders “talent-spotted” (selected to participate without having previously competed in a CCI2* event). Later that year at the Jersey Fresh International, Cornelia not only competed in her first CCI2* but took home the blue ribbon — “edging seasoned veteran Boyd Martin out for the win,” according to a profile of her in Sidelines Magazine. And just last year, Dorr was named the U.S. Equestrian Association’s “2017 Young Rider of the Year” and selected by Sidelines as a “rising talent” in U.S. eventing. In short, Cornelia’s a total star in her field, something of an equestrian phenom.
So, yes, Dorr has had her sights on Blenheim for a while. In the years leading up to the competition, she kept to a full-time training schedule, she said, riding eight horses a day from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and competing. In the summer months, she trains in Berryville, Virginia. In the winter, she and her team move to Ocala, Florida and train there. Hugo, her selected horse for Blenheim, is her beloved 13-year-old with a lineage of warm blood crossed with a thoroughbred.
When Cornelia and Hugo were called to compete at Blenheim, it was a dream come true. But nothing could prepare them for the four-days-each-way journey, with Hugo quarantined (as is normal procedure) in New York and then in Amsterdam before arriving, finally, in the U.K. (The jet lag must have been intense for Hugo.) In Blenheim, Hugo competed under his legal name, “Sir Patico” (deriving from his lineage, which is apparently how it’s done in equestrian competition). This year, the world’s best equestrians were among the 85 competitors at Blenheim, including Zara Tindall, a granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth. Cornelia said, in the end, she was surprised that it wasn’t as intimidating as she thought it might be. Perhaps that’s because Cornelia has trained so hard. Or perhaps it’s because she’s had a lot of experience competing, successfully, at a high level. Still, it was a surprise that it all “felt very normal,” she said.
In the end, Cornelia finished in 42nd, and she is very happy with that. So are her parents, Glenn and Eleanor Dorr, who reported in from Manchester.