The 2017 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Land Rover and Nutrena ® concluded today with the Beginner Novice and Boehringer Ingelheim Open Intermediate divisions riding over Chris Barnard’s show jumping courses in the George Morris Arena at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, N.C. The 2017 edition of the AEC will go down in the history books as the largest event in U.S. history – 755 horses left their hoofprints on the facility and will forever be AEC competitors.
Beginner Novice Rider
Kathleen Bertuna maintained her lead aboard her own Millye's Mojave, a 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Mojave Moon x Slew the Dragoness), to finish on top of the Beginner Novice Rider division. It’s Bertuna’s first time competing at an AEC, and her first year back in eventing in 19 years. Her partnership with “Miller,” an OTTB that she’s been riding since November, has been a long time coming – she has been saving to buy her perfect horse for the past 12 years.
“I stopped eventing because of school, a career, husband and kids… but it was finally time. I had to sell my horse to pay for medical school, but as soon as I got my first job I started putting money away,” she said. “At the beginning of the season, cantering over very small fences seemed really, really big, but I progressively, slowly got better, and my horse is just a prince. If I get it wrong he just says ‘try again,’ and he’s a wonderful partner.”
Mills Maloney and her own Primo Valentino, a 16-year-old Andalusian gelding, improved their second-day rank by two to finish in second after putting in a clear show jumping round.
“The week started out pretty well,” she said. “Dressage is not my favorite, but cross-country was really good, and he rocked around that course, and then we put in a good stadium, so he was a good boy and had fun. He really likes [eventing],” said the first-year AEC attendee.
“I’ve been looking forward to riding in the George Morris Arena all weekend – it was fun. I expected him to be a little more scared of it, but he liked it. We started eventing together at the beginning of this year, and he used to fox hunt a little but he likes doing this better. He likes to go fast,” she concluded.
Sierra Simmerman rose from seventh place throughout the competition to claim third place aboard Elizabeth Mackie’s Indian Summer Sage, a 12-year-old Connemara mare (Aladdin's Denver x Auntie Margaret). The pair have been together since February, and this year was Simmerman’s first year back into eventing after competing in jumpers for the past six years, she said.
“The cross-country course was perfect—it was simple but difficult for my little level getting back into it. It’s so exciting,” she said. “This is my first time at the AEC . . . it’s been my goal for a while.”
Leah Backus and Diamond of Truth. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Beginner Novice Amateur
The Beginner Novice Amateur division was championed by Leah Backus aboard her own Diamond of Truth, a 5-year- old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Salute The Truth x Mainways Queen of Diamonds), as the duo added nothing to their original dressage score of 29.3 to finish atop the division. Nicole Thomas guided Here N’ Now, an 18-year- old Canadian Sport Horse, to second place on a 30.8, while Hannah Fearing and Roll ‘Em Easy, a -6- year-old Percheron gelding, collected third place with their final score of 31.0.
“Going into the stadium round I was pretty nervous. It’s probably our weakest phase and I heard his feet ding a few times on the poles, but I was proud of him and we didn’t have anything down,” said Backus.
“I bred him myself, and just started competing him this year,” she continued. “He’s learning slowly but surely, and we are trying to teach him the right stuff. I want to hopefully move him up the levels.”
Nicole Thomas jumped from fifth place after dressage, up to second place after their cross-country round, and were able to maintain their top three placing after a strong show jumping round. The pair, who normally struggle with nerves in the show jumping portion of competition, found their stride in the George Morris Arena.
“Stadium always makes me really nervous. Thankfully my horse knows the deal and was able to pick up my slack when I made a few errors. I was really thankful to be sitting on him this afternoon,” commented Thomas. “I’ve had him for about two and a half years now. I bought him to be a schoolmaster and confidence builder. He’s a little older, but my goals is, as long as he is happy and healthy, to keep competing him. I owe him everything and he owes me nothing!”
Fearing also found herself at the top of the leaderboard after a consistent week of competition, moving up from ninth place after dressage to third following both a fantastic cross-country and show jumping round.
“He was so good today. Stadium jumping is my worst phase, so I was a little nervous going in to that big ring. He rocked it out on cross-country yesterday,” she explained. “This has been pretty cool. I have never competed anywhere this big or this nice before, so it’s been cool for him to take this in and get that experience. I think he really liked it and I hope that we can come back here and show at some point in the future.”
Carrie Griffen and Feuertanzer ES. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Beginner Novice Master Amateur
Carrie Griffen maintained her three-phase lead, concluding the week with a blue ribbon in the Beginner Novice Master Amateur division aboard her own Feuertanzer ES, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Nicholas x Daybreak) on their original dressage score of 23.3.
“This entire week has been such an amazing opportunity for us,” Griffen commented. “Dressage is not our strength, and I’ve had a really bad back for the past two weeks, so we couldn’t really ride for the two weeks leading up to this. He really did very well in dressage though, he relaxed and he’s a pretty mover and he just got it together and did a nice job. He loves cross-country, he’s very excited when he gets out there. He is very exuberant, and he’s very proud of himself,” she continued, “Today, it was a fabulous course, I loved the design, and it asked a lot of questions of the rider and the horse.”
Cindi Moravec and her own OTTB, Holloway moved up the leaderboard from fourth place after dressage, clinching second on their dressage penalties of 27.3. “This is my second year here at AEC,” said Moravec. “I came last year and my goal this year was to place top 10. Last year I was out of the ribbons, I was 14th. This horse is an OTTB, I bought him sight unseen from a picture and a video, on a big leap of faith I purchased him. He’s a phenomenal horse, I just love how he’s coming along.”
Third place was awarded to Briana Stolley and her own Balmullo’s Catfish, a POA-Connemara pony, that she originally bought for her daughter to move up on. Stolley joked, “My daughter is never getting him! He has turned out to be a really special little guy.”
The pair maintained their dressage score of 28.0 throughout the competition. “I evented at the Preliminary level years and years ago, but I took nine years off so my first event was a few months ago. This whole experience has just been the best. I love this pony, and he gives it his all when he is with me,” she concluded.
Brynne Hershbine and Cadenza Aria. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Junior Beginner Novice
Brynn Hershbine and Julie Hershbine’s Cadenza Aria, an 11-year-old Oldenburg mare (Turnofthecentury x Whisper) went into today’s show jumping round tied for first, and maintained her lead to finish on top of the Junior Beginner Novice Rider division.
“This week was a lot of fun,” said the 15-year-old and first-time American Eventing Championship attendee. “With dressage I was really nervous . . . but she was really good and listened to all my aids, and when we went in I knew it was going to be a great test. For cross-country I just wanted to get over all the jumps safely, and she was very adjustable. In stadium jumping the pressure was totally on, because I knew if I knocked a rail I’d be out of first, but she was very good and listened to me, so I’m happy with her,” she commented.
Carson Birdsong and Brooke Birdsong’s Ballygrace Laralai, an 11-year-old Irish Draught Sport Horse mare (Glenlara x Significadre), improved their third-place rank to finish in second.
“She’s gone Training, but got eliminated every time, so we bought her and brought her back down to Beginner Novice, have gone Novice, and will maybe go to Training in the fall. She did really well this week,” Birdsong commented. This is her first time attending the American Eventing Championships.
Sydney Lee rode her own Sweet Georgia Brown, a 10-year-old mustang gelding, to a third-place finish, improving her rank by one. “This week has been really nerve-wracking, as being in an atmosphere this big has been a such a huge change for him, but I’m really proud of how well he performed, and we actually scored our lowest score here.”
The pair connected and discovered eventing together after the gelding had competed across multiple disciplines without really sticking to one, and Lee had competed in the hunters for ten years “without really going anywhere,” she said. “My trainer thought I would like eventing, and the first time I went cross-country schooling I was instantly hooked.”
Sweet Georgia Brown, or “Trouble,” as he is called in the barn, is “super sensitive, but once he trusts a person and connects with that person, I wouldn’t want any other partner. He’s fantastic, and he has his issues, but we’re working on it and he’s come a long way,” she said. “His feet are incredible and he has a really thick mane and tail. That, and he’s really independent.”
Of their career in eventing thus far, Lee said, “when I started riding him we immediately saw that he had the talent for it, and I had just started eventing myself, so dressage has always been kind of an issue, but he’s really pulled it together recently so I’m super proud of him. And he can jump . . . I mean, he’s a freak,” she concluded.
Ashley Stout and Deo Volente. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Junior Beginner Novice 14 & Under
It was an invigorating finale for the Junior Beginner Novice 14 and Under division today when the three-day leader, Ashley Stout and her own Deo Volente, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding, picked up zero faults in the cross-country and show jumping phases, ultimately giving her the championship title on a dressage score of 19.8.
“I feel like our week here at AECs went really well. When we first got here he was a little spooky, but I felt like he was really willing to help me out. Our cross-country went so much better than I had anticipated, I was a little nervous at first but he was just on his A-game. I was just happy to conquer the cross-country course. I felt that stadium was one of our best events, and he was just so great in that arena,” commented Stout.
The duo came away with the lowest accumulated total at the 2017 American Eventing Championships. Stout was all smiles after her victory gallop. “Overall, I was very happy with how he performed.”
Avery Cascarino rode Gloria Cascarino’s Dudley Do Right, a 13-year-old gelding, had an incredible weekend, placing second after dressage on a 20.0, coming away with second place. “This whole trip was absolutely wonderful,” said Cascarino. “Dressage was fun, he was really listening and paying attention. He was a bit nervous at first, but his cross-country was great. He really listened to me with the stadium, and he was such a good boy.”
Viktorija Petraitis and Our Little Secret, a 15-year-old Arabian gelding owned by the Petraitis Family, held on to third place on their dressage score of 25. “When we got in those rings and out on that course, he knew exactly what he had to do. It was so much fun,” she concluded.
Holly Payne Caravella and Benjamin Button. Sportfot Photo.
Beginner Novice Horse
Holly Payne-Caravella and Benjamin Button rose to the occasion this week in the Beginner Novice Horse division ending on their original dressage score of 25.8. Payne-Caravella and the 4-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Classic Alliance x Lively Lady) owned by Kathleen Hall, completed a solid cross-country round and remained faultless in the show jumping phase of competition.
Of Benjamin Button’s first AEC experience, Payne-Caravella commented, “His week started off on a very exciting note. We got here on Monday, and he didn’t go into competition until Friday. It’s a big place and he was totally overwhelmed on the first day, I had to lunge him and let him buck and be crazy, he’s usually pretty calm, but this was a lot for him to take in. It’s been so good for him.”
Darrell Vaughn and Eluca claimed the reserve champion position. The 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Negro x Fabiola) owned by Deirdre Stoker Vaillancourt, was purchased primarily as a dressage horse, but displayed a love of jumping early on in his training career. Of the gelding’s performance, this week, Vaughn exclaimed, “Our dressage test was fun, and then we came to cross-country and again, beautiful day, the course was great, he was peeking at some things but he’s only been eventing for a short while, this is his fourth event. It was a big place for him, but after a couple of jumps he said ‘hey, I’m ok with this,’ and went around like a champ. Today he jumped his heart out, he was really great and very focused. He’s kind of a goofy guy sometimes because he is still young, but I couldn’t have asked for more from him.”
Third place was awarded to Kate Chadderton and her own Ff Valour, an Australian Warmblood mare (GNZ Calgary x Immenhof Landaura), who also ultimately earned their victory on their dressage score alone. “Julie Hoover and I imported her at the beginning of this year,” Chadderton said of the mare. “She’s only 4, and comes from the middle of nowhere in the Outback of Australia. Because of that, this is a lot for her to look at. I really think that she is going to shape into something. So far she’s been good on the flat, she’s got a great attitude toward cross- country, and she is bred to be a show-jumper. She’s just lovely all around, and she’s nice to be with on the ground. This whole week was exactly what we needed to continue on our way with competition goals,” she explained.
Chadderton also applauded the course designs, describing them as “building blocks” for the young horse competing at this level.
Jennie Brannigan and FE Lifestyle. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Boehringer Ingelheim Open Intermediate
Jennie Brannigan rose to the occasion once again as she took the Champion and Reserve Champion honors in the Boehringer Ingelheim Open Intermediate division. Brannigan and the 7-year-old Warmblood gelding (Leo Von Faelz x Berina A), FE Lifestyle kept a tight grasp on first place, as they captured the lead after dressage, and earned a final score of 30.3 to hold a slight lead over Twilightslastgleam, a 7-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (National Anthem x Royal Child) also owned by Nina Gardner, who received a 32.5.
“I’m super excited for the horses,” commented Brannigan. “I’m not on my best game at the moment because I do have a broken hand, but I’m so happy that they jumped well and that I was able to ride them half-way decently. I’m so excited for the Gardners, they are such amazing people. I’ve been riding Twilightslastgleam since he was a young horse and I haven’t even had FE Lifestyle for a year and it’s super exciting. I’m just trying to get him (FE Lifestyle) more experience, and I’m really happy with how he show jumped today. He keeps improving and the future is really bright for that horse, this is just the beginning of what he can do on the flat. I was just so excited.”
Charlotte Collier and Parker Collier’s Clifford M, an 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Cristo x Naomi IV), maintained their third-place positioning after finishing without penalties in show jumping on a 32.7.
Of the pair’s performance, Collier commented, “This is my second time here; I did Training level here last year and it’s a big jump to the Intermediate. He was awesome, he tried his heart out in the dressage, went down center line, flicked his toes and was a total super star. Cross-country he was a power house, and gave me his all. Show jumping, he was a super star. It’s usually his hardest phase so to have no rails and to go under the time, it was more then I could’ve ever asked for, I’m so proud of him.”
Collier, a student of Sharon White, plans to move up with the horse that “has her heart and soul.” She concluded, “I want to run Advanced with him in the spring, and then just see how far we can go from there. I only started riding him last spring, and I did my first Training level with him last summer, and now we’re here so it feels incredible.”
About the USEA American Eventing Championships
The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Land Rover and Nutrena® is the pinnacle of the sport for the national levels. Held annually, this event draws together the best competitors from across the country vying for national titles from the Beginner Novice through the Advanced level. This year's AEC is being held at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) in Mill Spring, N.C. August 30-September 3, 2017.
The USEA would like to thank all the AEC Sponsors, who the AEC would not be possible without: Presenting Sponsors: Land Rover and Nutrena, Gold Cup Advanced Title Sponsor Adequan, Intermediate Division Title Sponsor: Boehringer Ingelheim, Training Level Title Sponsor: Professional’s Choice Platinum Sponsor:Devoucoux Gold Level Sponsors: Charles Owen, Standlee Hay, Merck Animal Health, Noble Outfitters Silver Level Sponsors: VTO Saddlery, Point Two Air Jackets, Mountain Horse Bronze Level Sponsors: Back on Track, SmartPak, Chronicle of the Horse, Dubarry of Ireland, Stackhouse & Ellis, Auburn Laboratories, FITS, CWD, FLAIR. Contributing Level Sponsors: Horse Hydrator, Eventing Training Online, The Jockey Club, Ovation, Nelson Manufacturing, and Prize Level Sponsors: I Love My Horse, GumBits, Exceptional Equestrian, The Scoring Chix, , C4 Belts, Ride Heels Down, Ride Safe, LM Custom Boots.
*Many of these sponsors are in attendance at the AEC with vendor spaces in the USEA Sponsor Village, located directly next to the George Morris Arena at TIEC. Get ready to shop