The 2014 USEA Young Event Horse East Coast Champions were crowned today at Fair Hill in Elkton, Md. after a jumping test that included both show jumping and cross-country fences.
Judges Cathy Tucker-Slaterbeck (Md.), Bea di Grazia (Calif.), and William Micklem (IRL) were looking for athletic, elastic moving horses with promising jumping techniques that, with correct training, will develop physically and mentally into strong upper-level mounts. The jumping and galloping portion is weighted the most heavily of the three sections at 50 percent of the total score.
William Coleman, of Gordonsville, Va., brought three horses to the 5-year-old Championships, and all three finished in the top ten in a field of 24 starters. Vagabon de Champdoux, a former French racehorse, was third after the conformation and dressage sections of competition, but a jumping score of 41.05 pushed them into the top spot with a total score of 81.5. They barely edged out Reserve Champions Landmark’s Jungle ROC (ROC USA x Jungle Tale) and Lauren Kieffer, who had an overall score of 81.2.
Coleman said courses are that have a lot of changes of direction like today's YEH course, which is very centralized so that the judges can see every fence, can be difficult for young horses, but they do show which horses are forward and braver than others.
“The young horse classes around the world are a bit of an imperfect deal,” Coleman said. “This event and the way we do the young horses here in the States is the best of any other programs I’ve seen in the world… I think we do a really good job and the judges this year were excellent.”
As the winner of the East Coast 5-Year-Old Championships, Coleman is now in the running to receive the Turner/Holekamp YEH Lion d’Angers Grant. Timothy Holekamp, of New Spring Farm, and Christine Turner created this grant in 2013. It is awarded to the highest scorer of the YEH 5-year-old champions between the East and West Coasts and enables them to travel to the FEI World Young Horse Championships at Le Lion d’Angers in France for the 7-year-old two-star Championships.
“I would have come [to Fair Hill] anyways even without the chance at winning the grant,” Coleman said. “It was important for the people who own these horses with me and important for me to get them out. It’s a good experience for them to come here and be alongside the older horses.”
He will have to wait until after the West Coast Championship at Galway Downs in a couple of weeks to find out if he and Vagabon de Champdoux will win the grant, but the existence of such an opportunity is a great step forward for the U.S.
“You look at the leaderboard over there and all the top riders are there from around the world, so I think it’s important that we start sending Americans over there. As we start to produce more horses in this country, it’s important to see how we measure up.”
The third place finisher in the 5-year-old division was one bred by Holekamp and owned by Turner themselves. Tupelo (Baron Verdi x Thabana), a striking Trakehner mare ridden by Michael Pollard, had one of the highest dressage scores in the division but showed real skill over fences. She scored a 40.45 in jumping to finish with an overall score of 80.6.
Pollard, of Dalton, Ga., began breeding sport horses several years ago but never had the opportunity to come to the Young Event Horse Championships. “[Turner and Holekamp] are so involved, I felt obligated to do my part and try to qualify [this year],” said Pollard, who made the YEH Championships Tupelo’s main goal for the year. “It’s nice when your horse is looked at by good people and they think your horse is as nice as you do.”
Pollard looks forward to hopefully bringing his own four- and five-year-old homebreds to the championships in 2015.
Former FEH Champion Wins Again at Four
It is always exciting to see horses come through the ranks of the Future and Young Event Horse programs, and it is especially thrilling when one succeeds repeatedly along the way. Rule of Thumb (Royal Appearance x Nadia VT), a Warmblood/Thoroughbred bred by Virginia Tech and owned by Dawn Erdman, was an FEH champion last year and was the judge’s top choice after all three sections this week in the 4-Year-Old Championship.
“We had one moment coming out of the water,” said rider Melissa Hunsberger, of Lovettsville, Va. “He slipped on take-off and stepped all over it, but like the good event horse he is he kept going. He’s very smart and bold. I’m lucky to have the ride on him.”
“Roy’s” owners flew to Maryland from their home in Alaska to watch him and Hunsberger compete. Bred by Virginia Tech, Roy had passed through several hands and was in bad health when he finally found Hunsberger. When Erdman bought him, she left him with Hunsberger to produce through the levels.
“They’ve been very gracious. They want whatever is best for the horse. I think he would go around and jump Training now, but I don’t think he needs to do that. He will probably grow a bit more, have an easy couple of weeks and go to Aiken with me. Hopefully he’ll start Training in the spring. I’ll take it slowly and see what he does.”
Hunsberger has several young horses to compete in the East Coast Future Event Horse Championships at Loch Moy in two weeks.
“It’s great to get young horses out and exposed, have atmosphere, and teach them to behave,” she said.
The 4-year-old Reserve Champion earned the highest jumping score (42.1) of both young horse divisions. Twilightslastgleam (National Anthem x Royal Child) a Thoroughbred owned and bred by Nina Gardner, impressed the judges with his boldness, cleverness, and ability. Rider Jennie Brannigan, of Kennett Square, Pa., grinned from ear to ear over every jump.
“He was getting broke this time last year,” Brannigan said. “And he proved to be quite difficult to get going.”
“Comic” was started—and even evented—by top jump jockey Willie McCarthy and brought along further by Waylon Roberts. He was originally intended to race, but it was not in the cards with his personality. When Brannigan met him, she fell in love immediately. “I love quirky horses,” she said.
Comic is spirited to say the least, but Brannigan said he loves the game. “I’m so pleased for Nina, who is such a huge supporter of the sport. I told her she bred a horse I’d go to Europe to buy.”
Comic will be turned out for the winter and come back slowly in the spring. “I love the young ones, making them,” Brannigan said. “He could go Training, but I’ll take my time. I’m in no rush.”
Treasure the Spirit of Young Horses
Internationally renowned breeder, coach, and judge William Micklem was impressed with the young horses in this year’s championships, in particular the 4-year-olds.
“I think they compare with the best internationally,” he said. “The 4-year-olds were a group that in six to ten years’ time could come back and be a U.S. team at the Olympics.”
Breeding programs in the U.S., Micklem said, are on track. He was pleased to see horses ridden in a free, balanced way, and said the key is to develop three correct paces, good jumping, and good brains. “The type of riders that are producing these young horses can continue getting support and direction without taking away from their ability and flair."
Producing young horses is a long process and requires the right package to begin with. Horses cannot be weak in any area, Micklem said. So even though Brannigan’s Comic was a difficult horse to start and is still fairly “buzzy,” he has a good gallop, goes well within himself, and has the right mindset for the job.
“So often spirited horses come to the top. They must have the right brain. Comic is courageous and aware of what’s going on. He’ll work for you,” he told Brannigan.
Spirit, Micklem explained, is the side of riding and breeding that is vital to develop. “There is no point in a flashy horse that can’t look after itself.”
Spirit means several things; it means a horse has good instincts, can look after and develop a partnership with its rider, and is full of life. Spirit is just one part of the package, but it is the easiest part to destroy, Micklem said.
“Treasure the fun, treasure the spirit. Treasure the fact that fundamentally, at the heart of this, there are human beings and horses who have to have their natures looked after and be treated in a humane and spirited way.”
About the Young Event Horse Series: The USEA Young Event Horse Series may be best described as an equine talent search. The Series gives owners and breeders the opportunity to showcase the potential of their four- and five-year-old horses while encouraging them to produce top-level event horses for the future. Young Event Horse classes focus on education and preparation of the event horse in a correct and progressive manner. We thank our Series sponsors Standlee Hay, Fleeceworks, and Weatherbeeta for their support.
Learn more at www.useventing.com/competitions/yeh.