Six more champions were crowned today at the 2017 USEA American Eventing Championships Presented by Land Rover and Nutrena at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, N.C. As each of the riders cantered into the George Morris Arena the pressure was definitely on as they looked for the best chance to top their respective division, take home a slew of money and prizes and earn a place in history.
Sunny Courtwright and her 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare, Around Midnight, were crowned the final champions of the 2017 AEC. Courtwright lead the Junior Novice division from start to finish on her dressage score of 23.5.
Courtwright, 15, got her mare, affectionately known as “Marbles”, last year. “She’s gone up the levels before, so this isn’t her first time – but she can be tough sometimes. It’s fun when our hard work pays off. We’ve been working on cross-country, I’ve had a lot of nerves on cross-country and show jumping and it’s nice to have a horse you can rely on.”
She said, “She was really good today. I liked the course, I was really worried about number three and number seven because I saw a lot of the adult riders take rails, but it went well. I had a fun really fun experience here – it went by really fast.”
Courtwright and third place finisher Suzanne Stevens both ride out of Mike Huber’s Gold Chip Stables in Fort Worth, Texas. “It’s really fun to be here with Sunny and my other barn mates from Texas,” commented Stevens.
Rails were definitely falling in the massive Junior Novice division so the rest of the standings were scrambled. Kira Cibak and her own October Tryst had a clear round in the show jumping to move them from fourth to second. She and the 11-year-old Morgan gelding finished on their dressage score of 27.8. Cibak said, “This was my first AEC so I was really happy with my horse. We are going to try to move to Training, we are going to try to move up and see where that goes!”
Suzanne Stevens and her own Smokin’ Boots, a 7-year-old Thoroughbred mare (More Smoke x Miss Boot Scoot) ended in third on a 28.8. “This is the biggest show my horse has been to, so it’s been a great experience for the both of us. She’s come so far,” Stevens concluded.
Bailey Snyder and Corina. Amber Heintzberger Photo.
With the lowest final score of all the Novice divisions, Bailey Snyder aboard her own Corina, a 7-year-old Holsteiner mare by Acorino out of Phaedre, finished on her dressage score of 20.5, to win the Amateur Novice Championship.
“I got her three years ago as an unbroken 4-year-old and my trainer Angela Bowles and I have taught her everything. I’m going into my senior year of college so my goal is to keep her happy and healthy and confident,” said Snyder, who attends Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, where she is studying Political Science with a minor in French, and is planning to go to law school. Two years ago she started the club level eventing team and they went to the Virginia Horse Trials for the Intercollegiate Championship last May.
“It’s definitely been a challenge balancing school and riding, but my trainer has helped tremendously; I try to schedule Fridays without classes so I can go to events,” she said. “I’ve been riding since I was 4 years old and competing since I was 11, and I’ve been with my trainer since I was 12. I block out three hours to go to the barn each day, and during finals week my trainer, who’s always been a proponent of school coming first, really helps me to keep my horse going.”
Reserve Champion Savannah Welch also hails from Texas. “My horse is young as well and it takes him a while to get used to everything but he went out there and did everything right,” she said. “We bought him as a 4-year-old that barely knew anything, along with Brooke Baker from Freedom Farm eventing we’ve brought him along slowly.”
She said, “I’m also in college so it’s hard to keep a full competition schedule, but I plan to finish my fall season strong with some Novices. I go to Texas A&M University, where I’m majoring in nursing and hoping to get at least my master’s degree; I want to get my P.A. so I have quite lot of school ahead of me!”
She said it’s been hard to focus on the competition with the floods back in Texas. “My mom had to drive to Dallas to fly up here because the airport in Houston is still closed,” she said.
Savannah Welch and her own Langcaster, an 8-year-old Oldenberg gelding (Languster x Galiffi), claimed the Reserve Championship on 21.8 followed by Krissy Smith Shellenberger and her own Invictus, a 7-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Ibisco out of Viness H. They had one rail down but maintained their third place on a score of 27.3.
Megan Northrop and Fleur de Lis. Amber Heintzberger Photo.
Master Novice Amateur
Show Jumping was influential in the Novice Master Amateur division, though the overnight leader kept her cool to claim the championship title. Megan Northrop and her own Fleur de Lis, a 7-year-old Thoroughbred mare, jumped around clear and in the time to finish on their dressage score of 24.5.
“Show jumping tends to be my weakest phase, and I felt a little rattled coming in on the top. My mare jumped so great yesterday,” she said. “She has grown so much this year. I knew she was brave and I knew that if I just left her alone a little bit, she would go. She got a little too forward on me a couple of times today, and I had to correct that, but for the most part, she did what I asked and I’m really proud of her for that.”
Sarah Wildasin and James Wildasin’s Totally Awesome Bosco, a 17-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, improved their third-place spot to finish in second. “I was just very happy to remember where I had to go,” she commented. “My horse is amazing and does everything. I just have to steer and go along for the ride!” Totally Awesome Bosco previously competed from beginner novice to the Advanced/CCI2* level with the Wildasins’ daughter, Arden before Sarah took over the ride in 2014. Previously she had fox-hunted but never evented.
Jenny Brinkley and her own Guinness X, a 17-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, rose from fifth place after cross-country to collect third in the division final. “I have one of those once in a lifetime horses,” she said. “I did the first AEC that they ever held, and then topped out at Preliminary level with him. He was so talented that my trainer took him through Advanced, and then my daughter took him out at Intermediate and was very successful at Young Riders with him,” she continued. “[My daughter] went off to college and then I got him back, and my goal was to get back here to AEC. Now, I’m just happy to be here.”
Ryan Bell and Way Jose. Amber Heintzberger Photo.
Ryan Bell and Way Jose, a 14-year-old Thoroughbred (Jose x Riverside Charmer) owned by Karen Czarick, climbed to the top of the leaderboard in the Novice Rider division. Bell, a dressage competitor that recently began eventing, won the division on his dressage score of 25.8.
“I was a dressage rider and I got bucked off a couple of dressage horses, so I got a little nervous riding my own horses and I thought ‘Okay, I really need to push myself out of my comfort zone.’ So, what’s more out of a dressage rider’s comfort zone than eventing? So here we are,” commented Bell. “It feels amazing,” he continued. “I’m a little shocked because I didn’t think it would happen. I think I got lucky, but I tried really hard and did the best I could, so I’m really happy that it all paid off.”
Lenora Evan Hollmann moved up in the standings following cross-country and rode a double clear round aboard her own Christian Grey, a 7-year-old PMU gelding. “He’s such a trier,” said Hollmann, “He’s always there for me. I want to move up to Training with him, but for now we are just having so much fun together enjoying the moment.”
Hollmann adopted the gelding as a 3-year-old from LastChance Corral in Ohio. “LastChance Corral got him at about a week old and so he was a bucket fed baby, and he was sold to me only with the description, ‘has done parades.’”
Liza Bunce and Gail Bunce’s 17-year-old Appendix Quarter Horse gelding, Chance, started out the competition in ninth and made a climb throughout the weekend to end up in third place, adding nothing to her dressage score of 27.3. Of her experience at AEC, Bunce said, “It’s been a great weekend. It’s wonderful for my horse to get this exposure. The course was incredible; the footing was amazing. We really don’t get too much of the opportunity to go from the arena to grass back to the arena. It was so different but so worth coming here to compete.”
Booli Selmayr and Kildare's MHS Tampa. Amber Heintzberger Photo.
The Novice Horse division saw Booli Selmayr and Thomas Duggan’s Kildare's MHS Tampa, a 5-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Quintender x Lady Ligustra) remain in first place throughout all three phases of competition to finish on top of the division.
The course today was so nice,” said Selmayr. “It flowed so nicely, made you think a little and not just gallop around. It tests the obedience and the stamina of the horse.”
Despite only working with this horse since the spring, Selmayr says that the young mare has taken to the atmosphere of Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) remarkably well.
“I’ve been working with this mare since spring and we were always hoping to get her to the AEC, but her owner just wanted to do what the mare was comfortable with,” she said. “We got here Monday after about a 15 and a half hour drive from New York and she’s just been so calm the whole time, she’s such a competitor and such a work horse. She doesn’t get flustered, she’s like riding a much older horse.”
Next, the pair will finish off the year with Young Horse Championships at Fair Hill. “After that we will take her down to Aiken, and I definitely think she can do a 1* next year. She’s a classy mare and she has the breeding to be a top-level horse, and as long as she’s still happy doing that, that’s what we are going to do.”
Ashley Giles riding her own Chayenne, a 6-year-old Trakehner mare by Elfado out of Charima, also finished on their dressage score, 24.5. Giles bought mare last November after a three-year eventing hiatus; then in March she fractured the L1 vertebra in her back and had to take another three months off.
“I didn’t know I’d broken it, and it was the day before an event, so I rode her and we won – then I was dancing at a friend’s wedding, and the next day I couldn’t move,” she said.
Chayenne had two hot nails when she was shod last Tuesday, so Giles didn’t get the prep she was looking for in advance of the AEC, but she said, “ She was fabulous, and the twisty cross-country course yesterday was really awesome. I’d never ridden in a stadium like this before and I was nervous going in there today, I’m not going to lie, but she was awesome! We’re moving up to Training in two weeks and I’d love to do Preliminary next year but the goal is to not leave any holes as we go up the levels – if it feels easy we’ll move up.”
Taylor Blumenthal riding Martha Woodham’s 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding, Saxon Mills (Fitz x Criss Cross) was in third place after cross-country but one rail down dropped her to 11th place and opening the door for Jennie Brannigan and Justine Dutton’s Arctic Tiger, a 5-year-old British Sport Horse. The pair moved up to third from their previously-held fourth place rank after posting two double clear rounds.
“Unfortunately Justine is hurt, so she asked me to take the ride. I had only sat on him twice before this week, and it’s his first AEC, so I know that she was really happy. I’m happy that she trusts me enough to take him out,” said Brannigan. “He’s a great mover, and this was a lot, since it’s a big atmosphere. He was a little nervous out on cross-country, but I was really impressed with him today. He went out and stepped up to the plate,” she concluded.
Jennie Brannigan and Balmoral Oakey. Amber Heintzberger Photo.
Jennie Brannigan moved up from second place to finish on top of the Preliminary Horse division concluding with a clear round in the show jumping phase aboard Grayson Wall’s Balmoral Oakey, a 10-year-old Australian Warmblood mare (Falchrich x Diamond Sea Road).
Brannigan explained that Balmoral Oakey is for sale, and that this horse has the potential to move past the Preliminary division. “I knew [coming into today] that she hadn’t had a rail in like two years or something like that, so I was a little bit nervous thinking ‘wow,’ I’m going to be the one to mess that up,’ but she jumped great. She’s obviously a super horse, so I just trusted her to do her job, and she obviously knows what that job is.”
Brannigan has been winning across multiple divisions this week and currently sits in second place in the competitive Adequan® USEA Advanced Gold Cup division aboard her longtime mount Cambalda. “I was joking around [earlier] because last year I brought a bunch of horses and I think only placed 15th with one of them, so I’d say this year has gotten off to a better start. I’m really grateful for that and I just hope that I can continue to keep things going in the right direction,” she commented.
Leslie Law and Beatrice Rey-Herme’s LCC Vogue, a 6-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Kroongraaf x Clear Cavalier), rode to a second-place finish, and he said that LCC Vogue has only done a handful of Preliminary level competitions so far. “We could have gone at this at Training level, but I thought that the Prelim would be a decent challenge for him, and would be much more educational,” he said. “He’s a lovely horse and he has an incredible future. I’m excited that he was second. I think that this facility is a wonderful experience for the younger horses, and I think in the end it was all done very well,” he noted.
Third place went to Alexandra Knowles aboard Katherine O’Brien’s Business Class, a 7-year-old Selle Francais gelding, moving up from sixth place after cross-country. Business Class was imported from Ireland at the beginning of this year.
“I actually haven’t done a lot with him due to an injury in March, but he’s an absolutely fantastic horse. He’s cool as a cucumber, and all of the pressure is on me to do it right because if I do it right, he’ll definitely step up to the plate. He cruised around cross-country this week, and was great. I really enjoy riding him and am looking forward to moving up to the next level with him,” she commented.
“I thought the course was very fun, and it was very different from anything that I have done before. I really enjoyed it. The facility is second to none – it’s been a great experience. I never want to leave! Everything you need is here, and it’s beautiful. It doesn’t get much better than this,” Knowles concluded.
With the crowning of the Preliminary Horse champion, the Preliminary level has wrapped up for another year.
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 2017 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Land Rover and Nutrena would not be possible without our wonderful sponsors: 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: Eventing Training Online, The Jockey Club, Ovation, Nelson Manufacturing, and Prize Level Sponsors: I Love My Horse, GumBits, Exceptional Equestrian, The Scoring Chix, Horse Hydrator, 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!