The final day of competition at the 2018 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena® Feeds at The Colorado Horse Park (CHP) saw 10 new AEC Champions take their victory lap around the arena. In addition to the Adequan USEA Gold Cup Advanced and Open Intermediate divisions, which concluded earlier in the morning, four Novice divisions and four Beginner Novice divisions took their turn around Marc Donovan’s show jumping courses, fighting for the right to carry home the title of National Champion.
Colorado native Erin Contino maintained her three-phase lead, concluding the week with a blue ribbon in the Novice Amateur division aboard her own Handsome Ransom (Desert Warrior x St. Casmir’s Secret), a 6-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, on their original dressage score of 25.8.
“My plan going into stadium was to be patient and keep my nerves under control,” Contino commented. “But in warmup I didn’t have very much horse, everything was just really dull, almost overly quiet. I just had to focus on keeping him in front of my leg, even if I didn’t see my distance. I just had to focus on keeping him coming while I was sorting it out. I guess it worked out, I got a little lucky, but sometimes luck goes your way. He’s ready to go home and take a long nap!”
Michelle Meghrouni and Swizzle. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
Michelle Meghrouni and Swizzle (Blauer Vogel x Swiss Detail), a 7-year-old Holsteiner mare, maintained her grip on second place from start to finish on a score of 27.0. “This AEC has been a good challenge,” Meghrouni noted. “It was good, it’s all been very fun. We had more trouble on cross-country than I expected, but overall my mare was good. She got over everything, and she really stepped up.”
Savannah Welch and Langcaster. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
Third place was awarded to Savannah Welch and her own Langcaster (Languster x Galiffi), a 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding, who climbed up the leaderboard from eighth place after dressage to end on 29.8 penalties. Of her final show jumping phase, Welch elaborated: “My horse likes to get a little wild in show jumping and he likes to drag me down the lines. So, getting a nice, steady rhythm, that was even throughout the course was really important, and he did that, so it was great.”
Anna Howell and Bodacious Affair. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
Anna Howell and her own Bodacious Affair (Kaeson’s Tuxedo Affair x Exclusive Ballerina), a 15-year-old Thoroughbred/Shire gelding, steadily climbed the leaderboard all weekend, sitting in third after dressage on 25.2, adding nothing to their score on cross-country to move into second, and finally jumping double clear this afternoon to take home the win in the novice rider division.
Howell was one of the competitors who was unable to ride at their scheduled time on Friday due to the rain delay and ultimately performed her dressage test on Saturday morning. “It worked out for us,” she stated. “He’s pretty easy. He’s kind of the same every time he comes out. I think he would have put in just as good on Friday. I was a little upset with myself in dressage. My canter departs weren’t great, so I got a little bit hard in my hands. He reacted worse to that, instead of me softening. I would have ridden a little bit better in our dressage test if I could do something differently.”
“The cross-country course was awesome,” she continued. “I loved it. I liked the variety of the terrain. I was fun to have more of a challenge with going up hills and down hills, and using the terrain, versus an open course.”
“My favorite part about the AEC was all of the people that I met,” Howell shared. “I was on the Adult Team Challenge. For being at the bottom of Area IV, I actually don’t compete in it very often, so I don’t know many people in my Area and [this weekend] I got to meet so many people from my area and make new friends. “Obviously the win is great, but everyone was so friendly, and [I enjoyed] the camaraderie.”
Julie Kuhle and Orion. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
The Reserve Champion title in the Novice Rider division went to Julie Kuhle and her own Orion (JS Ebony N Ivory x Lucinda), a 10-year-old Appaloosa Sport Horse gelding, who finished on their dressage score of 26.0. “It’s been so much fun,” said Kuhle of her AEC experience. “This has been on my bucket list for two years with him. I’m going to retire him after this, so this couldn’t be better.”
“Neither of us have competed in an AEC, so we came to Parker,” Kuhle continued. “We’re from Iowa, so it was close enough to go. I’ve had horses qualify before, but then something would happen, as it does with horses. We came out on Tuesday. That was a really smart decision. We worked lightly on Wednesday, a little harder on Thursday, and by Friday, both of us were okay. Adding that extra day was really important.”
“The cross-country course was fun and exciting,” she commented. “My strategy going into stadium was to try and keep him under control and be smart. Try to ride smart. I wish I hadn’t had to circle three times on cross-country to get him under control, so if I could do something differently, maybe I’d only have two circles. We’re going to do fun stuff in his retirement, but he’s done competing.”
Cassie Boehm and Alera Imperia. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
For Cassie Boehm, traveling to compete at the AEC with her mother’s Alera Imperia (A Prayer for Peace x Tequila), a 10-year-old Canadian Thoroughbred/Clydesdale mare, was the trip of a lifetime. “This mare was bought to be my mom’s trail horse and maybe a Starter level packer,” Boehm said. “When I took over the ride we thought, ‘Oh, maybe it’ll be fun to do some Beginner Novice, maybe Novice on her.’ She just has more heart than any horse I’ve ever sat on in my entire life.”
Amanda Boyce and Mercury. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Amanda Boyce and Mercury, her own 12-year-old Welsh Cob gelding by Machno Carwyn, went into today’s show jumping round sitting in second place and maintained her competitive edge to finish on top of the Junior Novice division. “My trainer and I have a system, which is zip (which is forward), counter bend, steady, and then quick. We’ve been practicing that a lot,” stated Boyce.
She continued, “This is my first AEC and my first time at the Horse Park. It’s a really huge facility and I love it. My favorite memory of the AEC is everything about it! My horse was perfect throughout the whole show. We met a few of our goals, and the victory lap was really cool!"
Julia Brittain and Haiku. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Julia Brittain aboard her own Haiku, a 6-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Sir Donnerhall, fell from their first-place rank coming out of cross-country to finish in second. “I think it was the best he’s jumped all year,” Brittain described. “There was definitely a lot of pressure going in, but he’s jumped incredibly so I was happy with him. We did have a rail, but it happens. He was forward and he was focused and he was attentive so I was happy with the outcome.”
Madison Boesch and Seamless. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Madison Boesch and her own Seamless, a 2009 Warmblood mare, moved into third on 33.3 with a clear round after Cross-Country, and conclude their weekend in that position. “It was my whole crew’s first time here,” Boesch said. “It was a really cool experience coming here. My favorite memory of the AEC is how hard my horse tried for me. Even though sometimes I got her into some harder spots, she tried her hardest and jumped out of it. Today, I just tried to keep Felicity in a spot that she could jump out of, and if we get in a hard spot, just trying to help her out as much as I can. To make her job as easy as possible.”
Tamra Smith and MB MaiStein. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
The Novice Horse division welcomed yet another victory for Tamra Smith, as the fierce competitor took to the final show jumping phase with the MB Group LLC’s 5-year-old Oldenburg gelding MB MaiStein. The duo scooped up the tri-colored ribbon after landing on 28.1 total penalties.
“The stadium round today was fantastic,” Smith said. “He’s a little over-qualified for the show jumping because he’s so good at it. He was a little up in there and the lines are almost a little tight for him, so I had to kind of wrangle him in. His stride is naturally huge, but he’s so careful and such a good boy. I think I cross cantered a few turns, but he’s five so it happens. I was just really pleased with how he handled the pressure. He’s just a good boy.”
Smith intends to move him up to Training level after the conclusion of the AEC and said she will end the year on that note. “Next, he’s going to go compete at Training level, and then he’ll do the USEA Young Event Horse East Coast Championships at Fair Hill, and then probably finish the year with a Training Three-Day."
Madeline Backus and Reflektion's Rio. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Madeline Backus was named the second-place winner after she rode Lynn Roberts’ 11-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding Reflektion’s Rio (Reggasoni x L.A. Baltic Reflektion) through the timers to also end on their Dressage score of 29.5. “We love the AEC,” Backus commented, “I’m from Colorado so it was wonderful for it to be so close to home this year. Thanks to everyone for having it here, and for running such a great event.”
Backus has been competing in Enlgand for the past six months but was thrilled when she discovered that the timing would work, and her AEC schedule was set. “This horse has been in training with my mom for about three years,” she explained, “and I’ve been away in England for the last six months, so I hadn’t ridden him in a little while. My mom kept him going and it worked out timing-wise for me to bring him here. He’s been a really fun horse to work with. He came from a dressage background and then seemed keen about the eventing and really took to it. It’s been great working with him.”
Whitney Tucker Billeter and Bill's Midnight Magic. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Third place was rounded out by Whitney Tucker Billeter who also kept a tight grip on her dressage score of 31.0 as she galloped to the finish aboard John Herich’s 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding Bill’s Midnight Magic (Espri x Rena Ramzi). “It’s been a super fun weekend here at AEC,” concluded Tucker Billeter. “I just want to thank this horse’s owners for allowing me to compete him here this week. It’s been wonderful to have the ride on him and get to learn from him and play with him. He’s just a really cool horse.”
Beginner Novice Amateur
Cami Pease and Vibrant. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Cami Pease came all the way from Washington D.C. and represented the East Coast well as she held her own throughout the entire Beginner Novice Amateur division, ending in first place with 24.5 penalties aboard her own 18-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding, Vibrant. “You can’t ever count on anything,” stated Pease, “But we are both very comfortable in the arena and I could tell that he was having a lot of fun. If I ride fine, he’ll take me around. Cross-country is our hardest battle. Both of us started out in the equitation ring, so we can do flatwork, that’s all fine, but cross-country still makes us a little nervous.”
When asked what her favorite AEC memory has been, Pease concluded: “A clean cross-country round, that has to be my favorite take-home memory!”
Kelly Green and Woodstock Classic Rock. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Second place finisher Kelly Green piloted her own Woodstock Classic Rock, a 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Rock Slide x Sally Q) to a score of 28.5, but did not echo Pease’s cross-country memory. Instead, Green will fondly look back on her final show jumping round. “My favorite moment here this week,” she said, “happened today! I thought it was one of my best rounds, and jumping the last fence was great.”
Green got “Theo” a little over a year ago from off of the racetrack. “We’ve grown together,” she continued. “We both had confidence issues out on cross-country and we’ve worked through those. My trainer is Angela Bowles, and we worked really hard and are just so pleased that our effort is paying off!”
Erin McLeod and My Maria. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Erin McLeod and her own My Maria (Maria’s Mon x Steppin Early), a 20-year-old Thoroughbred mare, moved up from sixth place after dressage, to fourth after collecting zero penalties on cross-country, and finished their weekend with the yellow ribbon and a score of 30.5. “I’ve had Maria for about 12 years,” noted McLeod. “We’ve had a lot of injuries. I’ve always wanted to get to the AEC, and I’m just so excited to be here. We made it, and it’s all come together. We’ve worked so hard to be here.”
Beginner Novice Rider
Tricia Leslie and Inate Dignity. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
The Beginner Novice Rider division was championed by Tricia Leslie of Colorado and her own Inate Dignity (Subordination x Indygo), a 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, as the duo finish atop the division on a score of 27.3. Area V rider Patti Champion guided Invincible, her 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding to second place on a 32.2, while Lindsey Kahn and Seoul Sister (Firebee x Limerick Lace), an 8-year-old Thoroughbred/Connemara mare, collected third place with their final score of 33.3.
“I was not expecting this victory, but it’s really wonderful,” exclaimed Leslie, who lives just down the road from CHP. “It was so nice to have the AEC in our backyard! It’s hard for us to get out East, so it was fun for us to have the opportunity to do this. I just got back into eventing!”
Patti Champion and Invincible. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Champion also echoed Leslie’s compliments about the excitement of a Midwestern AEC. This was the mother of four’s first time competing out of her Area, and the weekend ended on a high note for her and her mount. “Vince and I have been together for two years, so we’ve worked really hard to get here. We’ve just had so much support from the kids and my trainer and my husband,” she said.
Champion continued, “This is my first AEC, and the first time I’ve ever competed outside of Area V! The whole trip has been incredible with the weather, the facility is great. It’s just been an incredible weekend, and I appreciate Vince for taking such good care of me.”
Lindsey Kahn and Seoul Sister. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Kahn also found herself at the top of the leaderboard after a consistent week of competition, moving up from eleventh place after dressage to third following both fantastic cross-country and show jumping rounds. “It’s just been an awesome journey learning to trust each other. She’s a very brave mare, so I always have fun with her at competitions. Riding her here is a huge honor,” explained Kahn.
Junior Beginner Novice
Ella Robinson and Fernhill Fearless des Terdrix. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Ella Robinson and Fernhill Fearless des Terdrix (Nabab de Reve x Untouchable), her own 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, waited patiently in the wings all weekend on their dressage score of 30.3, moving from equal third to equal second after cross-country and taking home the win with the cross-country time closest to the optimum.
Thirteen-year-old Robinson said that cross-country is her favorite phase “because it’s so much fun. I love all of the different jumps. I really liked this course. It was way different than what we’re used to. It was really fun. My favorite part of the course was going down the hill to the log jump.”
“Stadium went really well,” Robinson reflected. “It went really smoothly. I did everything according to plan. We are moving up to Novice at the next show, so I’m really excited for that”
Maya Pessin and This Bird. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Maya Pessin and This Bird, her own 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, sat tied with Robinson and ‘Fearless’ all weekend but were nearly 40 seconds faster on cross-country, putting them in the Reserve Champion position on the leaderboard at the end of the competition.
For Pessin, this weekend was one of firsts. “My favorite moment was realizing that we went double clear for the first time. This is our first time at an AEC. I hope to come back, we’ll see. I wouldn’t really do anything differently. I felt really well prepared for the AEC, my trainer made sure we were on our A-game this entire weekend.
Haley Miller and Mr. Melvin. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Haley Miller and her own 7-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Mr. Melvin (Compromise x Leona's Hope) held the lead through the first two phases of competition but a single rail in show jumping dropped them back to third place. “I thought the course today was really good,” she said. “I liked it. I wish I wouldn’t have held him back so much, so he had to exert himself to get over the jump and knock it down.
What’s next for Miller and Mr. Melvin? “After AEC, our plan is to practice harder and to come back next year. I’m probably going to do Novice next year.”
Beginner Novice Horse
Alexa Ehlers and Clear Laveer. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
Alexa Ehlers and Clear Laveer (Rascalino x Hauptstutbuch Wincenta 2), her own 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding, led the Beginner Novice Horse division wire-to-wire on their dressage score of 27.4. “I have loved the AEC [this year] because I’ve been able to spend time with my family and my friends,” Ehlers shared. “I grew up in Texas and then I moved to Kentucky, so I haven’t seen a lot of people in five or six years. This is my first AEC! When I was in college, I went to try and go, I had a Preliminary horse that was actually here [this year] with a Preliminary junior rider, but I broke my back the day before we were supposed to leave. It just never worked out. It’s cool that it finally worked, and it worked like this.”
Ehlers said that she thought Marc Donovan’s Show Jumping course “was perfect for the level. The ring has a little bit of a slope and so you had to think about how the terrain was going to affect their step and there was enough room to make choices, whether you added or took one out. But you had to take into consideration what the terrain was going to do.”
Clear Laveer is heading to Atlanta next to be with Ehler’s older sister. “I was always chasing her as a kid,” said Ehlers, “and then she went to college and rode and then got a little bit tired of it (it’s a lot!). She’s been adulting and she just graduated from Law School, yesterday was her last day of classes, so we’ll take him down to Atlanta and let her have some fun with him.”
“I definitely got the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows,” she concluded, “in here with this horse and out there with [my Advanced horse, Amistoso,] on the cross-country course. But that’s eventing!”
Sophie Mueller and 24Karat Magic. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
Sophie Mueller and Dawn Holmes’ 24Karat Magic, a 7-year-old Australian Stock Horse gelding by Icewood’s Cadabra, moved up from third place to second with a faultless round, finishing as the Beginner Novice Horse Reserve Champions on a score of 29.6. “The AEC were fabulous,” said Mueller. “They were a lot of fun and they were in my backyard, so I didn’t have to travel far. We live at 8,500 feet, so we didn’t have to do anything special to condition them, they are pretty fit naturally, and we’ve felt fine.”
“The biggest thing I would have changed was that I wouldn’t have picked [at] him down to a few fences,” Mueller reflected. “I probably should have just trusted him more and let him jump. But he got me around. He saved my butt.”
Nicole Hatley and Aspen. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
Nicole Hatley and Aspen (Levisonn x Cimberley), Cherye Huber’s 5-year-old Mecklenburg gelding, finished on their dressage score of 30.0, moving from fourth to third after today’s show jumping competition. “The AEC were a lot of fun this year,” she reflected. “It was a lot of fun to get to come. It was a long trip from Texas, but it has great scenery, the weather’s been great, it’s been beautiful, and other than the altitude sickness, everything has gone really well.”
Of all the challenges a rider can face at a horse show, Hatley said that the altitude was her biggest obstacle. “I’ve been sick all week and it’s been kicking my butt,” she shared. “I’ve been here to ski before and I had to be put on oxygen and put in the hospital. As far as the horses, we always keep our horses really fit, we do conditioning with them on a regular basis, even if we’re not going to be at altitude, we always make sure they are ready.”
Reflecting on her weekend, Hatley said she would have pushed for a bit more in the Dressage if she could go back and do it again. “I would have asked for one more step from that left front in Dressage, and we probably would have had it in the 20’s. We were so close to having a square halt, and we were just off by that much. But that was the only thing I would change. He was fantastic. He was actually locking on to bigger fences out there, he’s ready. My favorite memory is getting to go around in the victory gallop. This is the first time I was at the top of the pack at an AEC!”
About the USEA American Eventing Championships
The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) is the pinnacle of the sport for the national levels. Held annually, the best junior, adult amateur, and professional competitors gather to vie for national championship titles at every level from Beginner Novice to Advanced. This ultimate test of horse and rider draws hundreds of horses and riders from around the country to compete for fabulous prizes, a piece of the substantial prize money, and the chance to be named the National Champion at their respective levels. This year, the USEA American Eventing Championships will be held August 29-September 2, 2018 at the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, Colorado. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.
The USEA would like to thank the following sponsors for their support of the USEA American Eventing Championships: Presenting Sponsors: Nutrena Feeds; Gold Cup Advanced Title Sponsor: Adequan; Platinum Sponsor: Devoucoux; Gold Level Sponsors: Charles Owen, Standlee Hay, Merck Animal Health, Parker Equine Insurance; Silver Level Sponsors: VTO Saddlery, Mountain Horse; Bronze Level Sponsors: SmartPak, Dubarry, The Chronicle of the Horse, Stackhouse and Ellis Saddles, Auburn Laboratories, FITS Riding, CWD, Ovation, Acuswede, and Equipparel; Contributing Level Sponsors: Nunn Finer, RevitaVet, Emerald Valley Natural Health, CrossCountry App; Prize Level Sponsors: Ride Safe, GumBits, Equus Magnificus, Scoring Chix, Ride Heels Down, C4 Belts, A Little Pet Vet, ChubbyCov LLC, The Jockey Club, Absorbine, Arenus Animal Health, Equestrian Athlete Camps at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.