Tryon International’s George Morris Arena set quite the stage for the Nutrena USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Land Rover (AEC) as the first of the 2016 Champions were named. From the first Preliminary Horse at 8:00 a.m. to the final Broadstone Beginner Novice Horse under the lights at 8:00 p.m. riders tackled Marc Donovan’s courses in an effort to take home top honors and a slew of prizes!
Professional's Choice Training Horse
The title of National Champion for the Professional’s Choice Training Horse division was hotly contested this weekend as the top eight all finished on their dressage scores. Because of this, Courtney Cooper put herself in a very advantageous position right from the get go, scoring a 22.5 in dressage with Tender Bravissimo. The Dare to Dream Team’s 7-year-old Holsteiner then produced two double clear rounds which earned him a victory gallop.
There’s no doubt that Cooper has a very talented ride on her hands, but that doesn’t come without it’s challenges, including an unfortunate ending to their last prep event earlier this month. “We went to Millbrook and he was in third going into show jumping. He ticked the last fence before I went into the arena and the pole jumped up between his legs. Then he and I landed on our faces because the pole locked his legs and so that was three weeks ago,” she explained. A little bruised, but no worse for the wear, they withdrew from competition.
The young horse definitely seems to have learned from that mishap, and he didn’t put a foot wrong this weekend. The future looks bright for this partnership. “He has a lot of talent, and now we are talking to Boyd [Martin] and Richard [Picken] about the talent of this horse and we really want to put the education on him,” she explained. “I’ve put together a group of people, and the goal is to get to Rolex [Kentucky Three-Day Event].”
Lynn Symansky and her own and SpectraVET’s SpectraVET Cohiba (Con Spirito x Lea) were hot on their heels, finishing only .2 points behind the leaders. The 6-year-old Wurttemburg mare ended the competition on her dressage score of 22.7 for second place. Third place went to Lucia Strini and Plain Dealing Farm’s MTF Cooley Classic (ARS Viviendi x Unknown), a 6-year-old Irish Sport Horse. This pair finished on 23.6 penalty points.
Maya Black has been one to watch in eventing for the last few years. Named the traveling alternate to the 2016 Land Rover U.S. Olympic Eventing Team, she’s most known aboard her pocket-sized partner Doesn’t Play Fair, but this week proved she’s got a very strong string coming up the ranks. One in particular is Mowgli (Our New Recruit x Night Siren), with whom she won the Preliminary Horse division this morning.
Starting the competition in eighth out of fifty-five on a score of 29.2, Black was pleased with her 6-year-old off-the-track-Thoroughbred. She continued to be impressed with his efforts as the weekend progressed. “Coming into the weekend I felt a little behind the eight-ball preparation-wise, but we took it one step at a time,” she smiled. “There’s nothing like running cross-country on an OTTB.”
Overnight leaders Boyd Martin and Barry had a disappointing rail in their round today to unfortunately drop them from the lead. Windurra USA’s 7-year-old Thoroughbred concluded the competition on a score of 30 for the reserve champion title.
Allison Springer and The Lord Willing Syndicate’s The Lord Willing (Lord Z x Legende IX) finished in third place this weekend adding six points to their dressage score for a total score of 31.3. Springer and the 8-year-old Holsteiner haven’t been together very long, but their partnership is already blossoming. He was originally destined to be an amateur’s horse, but Springer saw the potential and scooped him up first. “He’s certainly a relationship horse. He likes a girl ride, but you have to be very clear with him you can’t do any of his cheeky stuff,” she said. “I do have big hopes for him. He’s certainly fast and fancy and fun.”
Californians Ruth Bley and Rodrigue Du Granits (Robin II Z x Delight Gree) made a cross country drive to compete in North Carolina this week, but all the miles we’re worth it because they pulled off a wire-to-wire win in the Preliminary Amateur division today. The 11-year-old Selle Francais finished on his dressage score of 27.2 after three brilliant rounds.
Bley’s goal was simply to “get through the weekend,” but she exceeded her own expectations by leaps and bounds. “He was super relaxed in his dressage and dressage is his worst phase it’s very hard for him. But he did great I couldn’t have asked for any better, and then the cross-country made me nervous because we don’t run on grass all the time. He can be a little sticky, but he didn’t [this weekend]. He really did not back off at all. He got way into it. And in the stadium, he was excited but he did great.”
“I made [AEC] my year’s goal,” she explained. “You have to have a bucket list, and the stars aligned and he was ready. It was a perfect storm.”
Elle Strote made a huge climb up the leaderboard this weekend with her own England Calling, a 14-year-old Thoroughbred. They began the competition in tenth place after scoring a 33 in the dressage. Their double clear cross-country run scooted them into sixth place, and a double clear show jumping finally gave them the reserve champion position.
After Kathy Cain and Legal Limit (Secret Prince x Cheese Blintze) added .8 time penalties to their dressage score (32.2), they saw a drop in their status on the leaderboard, but after an influential show jumping today, their double clear round pushed them into third place. The 13-year-old Thoroughbred finished on score of 33 for a yellow ribbon.
Professional’s Choice Master Training Amateur
It was a heartbreaking show jumping finale for the Professional’s Choice Master Training Amateur division when overnight leader, Sandra Holden missed fence five and had to circle back resulting in her crossing her tracks and adding time penalties to her score. Holden’s momentarily lapse opened the door for Ruth Bley to secure her second 2016 AEC Championship title, this time aboard Spartacus D'L'Herbage, her own a 10-year-old Selle Francais gelding. The pair had a bobble in the USEA double resulting in a rail down, but had enough of a lead over third place to move up into the top spot.
Reserve Champion honors were won by Nanette Schumaker and La Cosa Nostra who also had just one rail down on Marc Donovan’s course. Brie Murray and Fernhill Disco laid down a double clear show jump round to move up from sixth into the third placed position.
Professional’s Choice Training Amateur
Anna Kristen Paysinger and her own, 8-year-old Oldenburg mare Luistana (Linton x Espersica) have been a force in the Professional’s Choice Training Amateur division as the duo finished the week on their original dressage score of 25.0, completing a fantastic competition in all three phases. Patricia Hidalgo and Sapphire Storm, a 8-year-old Thoroughbred mare (Orchard Park x Sailor’s Gold) finished in second place with a score of 26.4, while Natasha Erschen and 6-year-old Irish Sport Horse Emerald Lion (Keltic Lion x Unknown) collected third place honors with a score of 26.8.
“I thought my horse was amazing. I thought the atmosphere was really going to through her off and she was just on it,” said Paysinger. “There was a lot of pressure and I’m really proud of her. She didn’t want to go into the combination at 4ab, but listened to me really well.”
“This week I’ve learned to really keep my focus and not let all of the hustle and bustle of the venue get to you. You have to stay focused with just you and your horse and that really helped a lot and was something new for me,” said Hidalgo.
Second and third place were only separated by four tenths of a point, capping an exciting competition for the riders in the division. Erschen commented that she was particularly pleased with her mare’s ability to finish on their dressage score.
“I was proud to finish on her dressage score. This is her first year at Training and for her to come here and jump as well as she did, as well as put in a solid round in each phase, I was just really happy,” she concluded.
The Novice Horse division rounded out the final day of competition for the 35 riders entered in the competitive class, which was championed by Ashley Phillips and her own Bayani Slade with a final score of 25.3, to complete the week on her original dressage score. Dominic Schramm and Cooley Renaissance Man, owned by Stormy Crain, rode to second place, with a tied score of 25.3, but Phillips' cross-country round was closer to the optimum time, which ultimately gave her the win. Martha Lambert and her own Sutton finished the week in third place with a score of 26.8.
“He came out and he was very jazzed so I knew the atmosphere in here would get to him. He was a little bit fresh to begin with but really started to focus on me after fence three so I was proud of him,” said Phillips. “We’ve had issues with him not being able to focus at competitions
and this week he was really in the zone, which was really great.”
Schramm, who finished a successful week with Cooley Renaissance Man, was pleased with the progress and maturity the gelding showed throughout the competition and feels that he has finally solidified himself in each of the three phases.
“He doesn’t really pay much attention to the smaller jumps so the biggest thing is managing him and trying to keep his focus. We want to keep him fresh and towards the end he started to tap the rails, which was making me a bit nervous. He’s such a good horse and really knows and understands his job now.”
Broadstone Beginner Novice Horse
Doug Payne and Mr. Mitchel, a 4-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding rode to victory with a 28.3 in the Broadstone Beginner Novice Horse division, as the pair surpassed Rumsey Keefe and her own Eightofasttocatch, an 11-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Not For Love x Too Fast To Catch), who finished on their dressage score of 30.5, as well as Lauren Chumley and Nikolas, a 5-year-old Sport Pony Nikolas (Novalis T x Capina Mia), owned by Melissa Dowling, who completed the weekend on a 31.3.
Payne and Mr. Mitchel have just started their eventing career together, as the gelding was imported in late fall and began in full training with Payne in early January. The atmosphere of TIEC has been a major talking point for the riders, as they feel it helps horses of all ages and levels gain valuable experience.
“I think this particular facility has a distinct advantage over any of the AECs I’ve been to in that it’s such a big atmosphere and both of these horses will continue on to do big things. I think that placing them in a bigger environment will only serve them better in the future,” said Payne, who also sits towards the top of the leaderboard in the Merial Open Intermediate division and will pilot Vandiver around the Adequan® USEA Gold Cup Advanced Finals cross-country track tomorrow afternoon. “I think the cross-country course was an asset. I think having a tighter and more energetic environment really prepares them for the bigger things ahead overseas if they are able to get that far. If you can introduce young horses to that, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal down the line.”
“He’s been doing this for about a year after finishing on the track. He’s actually much better in this type of environment. He loves this atmosphere. He can be a little bit hot, but he can also be quiet sometimes so its about keeping a rhythm with him,” said Keefe, describing her ride and Eightofasttocatch, who earned more than $1,000,000 during his time on the racetrack. “He loves the galloping and running on cross-country and I really felt like he ate it up yesterday.”
Chumley, an established dressage rider who was nipped with the eventing bug, finished in third place after leading the division aboard Nikolas, as the pair dropped a single rail in stadium and placed them in fourth.
“He’s a green horse and this is only his fourth or fifth horse trial. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing in the stadium out there, but he was really focused for this big of an atmosphere. For being five and at his first AEC, I’m really proud. I’m excited to see what he can do in the future,” commented Chumley.
About the AEC
The Nutrena® USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Land Rover (AEC) 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 in Mill Spring, N.C. August 31-September 4, 2016.
The 2016 Nutrena® USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Land Rover would not be possible without our wonderful sponsors: Nutrena, Land Rover, Adequan, Merial, Broadstone Equine Insurance Company, Professional's Choice, Devoucoux,Merck Animal Health, Standlee Hay, Charles Owen, Fleeceworks, CWD, The Chronicle of the Horse, Noble Outfitters, Auburn Laboratories Inc., Smartpak, Stackhouse Saddles, Point Two, VTO Saddlery, FLAIR, Dubarry of Ireland, FITS Riding, Equine Art by Julie, Ride Safe, The Jockey Club, Ovation, Eventing Training Online, Kastel Denmark, Happy Saddle Treats, I Love My Horse, GumBits, Horse Hydrator, Phoenix Bodyworks, C4 Belts, The Scoring Chix, and more.
*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!