The USEA Area Championships are held every year in each of the 10 USEA Areas where the best horses and riders have the opportunity to be crowned the Area Champion at their level. Each Area maintains slightly different qualification requirements for their respective Championships, and that information can be found here.
It was a busy weekend at the Poplar Place Farm Horse Trials in Hamilton, Georgia as the event hosted 11 different divisions for the Area III Championships. Riders needed to earn one first through fifth-place finish with no cross-country jumping penalties at one event during the qualifying period from May 15, 2019 to September 15, 2020 in order to be eligible to compete. Riders from the Beginner Novice level to the Intermediate level had the chance to compete for the title of Area III Champion in their respective division.
The sole competitor in the Area III Intermediate Championship was Melanie Smith and her own Shakedown Street (Survivalist x My Dear Rose), a 10-year-old off-the-track Canadian Thoroughbred gelding. They added just 1.2 cross-country time penalties to their dressage score to finish on 40.7. Smith whips in professionally for the Bear Creek Hounds, and “Mouse,” as he is known in the barn, has been fox hunting for seven seasons. “The hunting is the reason why Mouse is such a phenomenal cross-country horse, nothing phases him,” Smith shared. “And through the hours we have spent together out in the woods and trails, all over North America, our partnership is just awesome.”
“My weekend went very well on the whole,” Smith said. “I felt that Mouse and I were very prepared for the competition. I was pleased with Mouse's mental and physical relaxation in the dressage phase. This is always a ‘work in progress’ for us, so to speak . . . cross-country was fantastic, like always for us. Mouse was excellent at the start of the course and even more brilliant at the end of the course. His recovery afterward was super, like normal. The footing on course was great and the course rode to plan. Show jumping on Sunday went very well too. The weather was perfect all weekend and the show ran like clockwork.”
“I just love spending time with Mouse, whether it be grooming him or riding him,” Smith continued. “So being able to put all the pieces together with my favorite horse and finishing with a win is definitely a win in my book . . . completing my show jumping round with zero faults was definitely a favorite part too. I actually had tears in my eyes when I went through the finish flags. I then decided to do my own victory gallop, which made me smile big too. This horse deserves this win SO much. He always shows up with a smile on his face and always tries his hardest. To cap it all off, competing and winning at Poplar Place Farm was special too. I have been training full time with Werner Geven for many years now, so Poplar feels like home. Launa DesPortes has done a wonderful job giving the whole facility a lovely facelift.”
“I would like to thank all the volunteers who helped out over the long weekend at the show,” Smith concluded. “It is so very much appreciated. I definitely would like to thank my longtime trainers/coaches Werner Geven and Jim Graham, my sponsors Albion Saddlery and Kim Benson with Flying Star Saddlery, my friends, and family who helped me at the event and from afar, as well as my awesome veterinarians and farrier. And I DEFINITELY would like to thank the Joint Masters of The Bear Creek Hounds who allowed me to have the weekend off so I could compete!”
In the Area III Preliminary Championship, Karl Slezak and Hot Bobo (VDL Arkansas x Taneys Leader), his own 7-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare, took home the win on their dressage score of 28.7. Second place went to Samantha Erwin and Conquistadora (Confusion x Jalna des Hayettes), her 15-year-old Holsteiner mare, on their dressage score of 37.8. Rounding out the top three in the Preliminary Championship was Ella Kay Lane and her 16-year-old Thoroughbred mare Double Dare (Silver Charm x Do It) on a score of 38.1.
Julie Richards and Sonja Cooper’s 6-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Fernhill Seven C’s (Sibon W x Sarah’s Glory) took home the win in the Area III Training Horse Championship, adding a single rail to their dressage score to finish the weekend on a score of 28.3. "The staff, officials, and volunteers at Poplar Place did an awesome job at the Area III Championships," Richards said. "It was an awesome event."
Lauren New and Molly Adam’s Paulank Pepper Pot (Pointillliste x Calendar Girl), a 7-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, were second on a score of 29.9. Finishing in third place on a score of 30.4 was Megan Stauch and Full Gallop’s Woo Pig Sooie (Storm and a Half x Satatoga Sparkle), Lara Anderson’s 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding.
Brayden Edmonds and Jay of Diamonds, Denise Rath’s 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare by King of Diamonds, were the winners in the Area III Junior Training Rider Championship on their dressage score of 29.5. “Jay and I had an absolute blast competing at Poplar this past weekend,” Edmonds said. “Not only did we have a ton of fun on the cross-country course, it was such a pleasure competing against such great riders with our sand dancing (my mom’s term for dressage).”
“I’ve been so lucky to build such a great relationship with my saucy mare,” Edmonds continued. “While it may be based on the amount of peppermints I give her, she’s has become so loving towards me and it’s really strengthened our riding as a team. My phenomenal trainer, Jill Hennenberg, made the connection for me to buy Jay from Joe Meyer, which has been such a blessing. Jill has done a great job training us through the levels the past year and continuing to coach us in our advance to Preliminary.”
“My absolute favorite part from this weekend, riding aside, was getting to celebrate mine and a teammate's birthday collectively over a night of charades and BBQ while overlooking the sunset on the cross-country course. It was such a pleasure competing here and I can’t wait to be back!”
Ella Kay Lane took home second place in the Junior Training Rider Championship on Dark Shadow’s (Mr. Executioner x Wild Bargain), her 13-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, on a score of 30.2. Amelia Kremer and Amy Kremer’s 13-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Delgado (Tejabo x Moonland Princess) were third on a score of 35.6.
The Area III Senior Training Rider Championship went to Amelia Ebhardt and her own Fernhill Celebrity (Ampere x Djolie-AL), a 9-year-old Westphalian gelding, finishing on their dressage score of 24.1. An active-duty U.S. Navy pilot, Ebhardt has lived and competed all over the United States. “Honestly, this was the biggest win of my life and the only Championship I have ever won!” she said. “I have always dreamed of riding Preliminary and making FEI levels. Last year I finally bought my dream horse, Fernhill Celebrity, aka ‘Liam,’ who had the talent and scope to do it. It has taken a while to get to know Liam and develop a partnership with him.”
“The weekend was amazing,” Ebhardt continued. “From the time I trotted around the dressage ring, I knew Liam was ready to perform a really good test. He was focused and ready and I couldn't have been more proud. Scoring a 24.1 and the lowest score of the Championship divisions - wow! Tears came to my eyes when I saw my score. All these years of hard work is finally paying off. Cross-country he was stellar. He is a very forward riding cross-country horse and is so brave. We are really developing a great trust between one another and it was such a fun course to ride on him. Stadium I was a bit nervous waking up on Sunday morning. I have had trouble with this phase, like many eventers . . . I have lost so many shows in this phase and it's always been such a disappointment for me. But for some reason, I was calm and focused. I said to myself, ‘What's the worst that can happen? I can lose another show, but chances are I still come out with a ribbon and I'm okay with that. Just ride and do your best!’ . . . and I came out with a double clear to finish on my dressage score. I couldn't believe it! What an amazing feeling and I couldn’t have been more proud of Liam and myself!”
“I would like to thank my trainer Alex Green Kerby for always believing in me; Fernhill Sport Horses for sourcing Fernhill Celebrity; Julie Ann O’Neill who does Performance Bodywork on myself and my horses, always making us feel incredible; our amazing farriers Greg and Ory Dortch; our outstanding vet Dr. Phil Hammock; for all my barn friends at Dry Ridge Farm and beyond; and finally to my boyfriend, Mark Buckner, for always telling me, ‘You are more capable than you think you are, just believe in yourself.’ It truly takes a village and I am so thankful and proud of the amazing people I’ve gotten to know because of the sport of eventing . . . From past trainers, friends, and every person I have been connected through this sport, I can’t thank everyone enough. All of these people have truly made me into the person and rider I am today . . . Your highs are really high and your lows are really low, that’s the sport of eventing. But the community and camaraderie are the things that keep you going and keep you motivated. I look forward to many more successes with my incredible partner, Fernhill Celebrity! What a horse and an amazing partner. I am so thankful to have him!”
Cindy Phillips and Third Times The Charm (DeCaprio x Gossip Time), her 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding, placed second in the Senior Training Rider Championship on a score of 26.0, and third place was claimed by Dorothy Dreelin and her own 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding MSH Cooley Twilight (Zidane x Wadermie) on a score of 29.7.
In the Area III Novice Horse Championship, Mary Bess Davis and Deborah Grosenbaugh’s 8-year-old Warmblood gelding Starry Night (Indian Art x Kip Win) were crowned the winners on their dressage score of 27.3. “Starry Night is quite a fancy horse with a terrific work ethic,” Davis said. “He came out and worked hard all weekend. He performed to his best in all three phases, and I was very proud of him. He was so much fun in all phases.”
“Poplar Place Farm did an amazing job of making it a special weekend for all of my clients and myself,” she added. “I think Starry Night’s show jumping round was the most fun part of the weekend. He made me look great! Another favorite part of the weekend was my clients’ support and cheering section! They really are the best and I am so lucky to have them all!”
Brooke Kahl and her 7-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Nata Montada SCF (Baldev x Whinny II) were the only other competitors in the Novice Horse Championship, finishing in second place on a score of 36.9.
The Area III Junior Novice Rider Championship saw 15-year-old Marissa Griffin and Conguistador finishing at the top of the leaderboard. Griffin and “Bear,” her 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Van Gogh x Wisconsin), finished on a final score of 25.4. “After rough dressage warm-ups with Bear being very sensitive and us just not clicking, he really proved what he was made of and scored one of our best dressage scores!” Griffin said. “Cross-country he was very excited and loved all the fun galloping paths and the faster speed, and in show jumping he again proved to me that he just loves to compete.”
“He truly is one of the greatest jumping horse with so much talent and attitude for it!” Griffin said. “Bear is a very weird and a little bit of a crazy horse, but he has the biggest heart I’ve ever met. I don’t think I will ever ride another horse that will live up to him.”
Finishing on a 26.0 in second place was Tessa Geven and her own 6-year-old Connemara gelding Big Bear’s Cepheus (Cor De Lux x Big Bear’s Esther). Abigail Gallagher and Ellie Bizot’s Ziggy Stardust, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Magon, finished just behind Geven in third place on a score of 26.2.
In the Area III Senior Novice Rider Championship, Anna Bosworth and her own 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding Galapagos (Graf Top II x Kamet) finished out the weekend in first place on a score of 27.9. “The weekend at Poplar Place Farm was fantastic - beautiful venue, beautiful weather, and a fun competition!” Bosworth said. “Galapagos put in a really nice dressage test to start off the competition, but riding cross-country was the best part of the weekend. Galapagos has never had such a good time on cross-country - it was challenging but fun, and there was plenty of space for a good gallop! We are grateful to have the opportunity to compete, and thankful to all the wonderful staff and volunteers who made the weekend possible!”
Jenny Brinkley and her 21-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Guinness X and Emily Cardin and Daniela Theurel’s 8-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Hacker both finished on a score of 31.9, but Brinkley and Guinness were closer to the cross-country optimum time to beat out Cardin and Hacker for the second-place spot.
Chelsey Sawtell and Toto’s Weather Tamer picked up the win in the Area III Beginner Novice Horse Championship on their dressage score of 29.0. Toto’s Weather Tamer is a 4-year-old German Warmblood stallion by Totilas and out of Baquette, owned by Deb Warner.
“I had an incredible weekend,” said Sawtell. “Getting the ride on this young stallion has been such a gift. His brain is phenomenal. I ask and he answers, every time. This weekend was no different. The cross-country course was fun and challenging for the level, I had a blast out there! Poplar did an excellent job with the setup and execution of the event, it’s always a treat to show at this venue.”
Second to Sawtell and Toto’s Weather Tamer was Susan Thomas and FGF Cantankerous Woman (Here’s Zealous x Debtcollector), Leslie Allen’s 5-year-old Thoroughbred mare, on a score of 31.9. Sandra McDonald and her 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Dun It Again (Templebready Fear Bui x Reboloiane) also finished on 31.9, but were further from the cross-country optimum time to finish in third place.
Sidnee Milner described her win in the Area III Junior Beginner Novice Rider Championship with Tawn Edward’s 16-year-old Welsh mare My Valentine as “pretty epic!” They finished on their dressage score of 28.1 “I had lots of fun and honestly I didn’t think I was going to win,” she said. “I was on my second pony warming up for dressage when I heard over the announcement the person in first (the only one ahead of me) had some trouble on cross-country. I was super bummed for them when I heard it, but then I got REALLY nervous because I hadn’t gone cross-country yet. Lucky for me my pony is a rockstar and skipped around for me!”
“It was really cool to meet some of the other girls at the top of the leaderboard,” Milner reflected. “They are fun to talk with and I am looking forward to seeing them at future events!”
Samantha Clayton and her own 10-year-old Oldenburg mare Lawless (Landsong x Bantry Bay’s Tara) finished second in the Junior Beginner Novice Championship just one point behind Milner and My Valentine on 29.1. Riley Jones and Señor Santana, a 15-year-old Quarter Pony gelding, finished in third place on 29.4.
Last but not least, Tiffany Stewart and her 9-year-old gelding of unknown breeding Crimson Clover won the Area III Senior Beginner Novice Rider Championship on their dressage score of 29.5. “The cross-country course was a blast!” Stewart said. “We have competed at Poplar many times over the years and this weekend we got to gallop on a part of the property that we had never been on before. The course rode very well with two lovely gallops through the woods. We finished with no penalties and maintained our first place standing. We finished the weekend doing stadium jumping on Sunday. We went reverse order of go, so I was last to go. My horse jumped around great and we were double clear. This was a very proud moment for all of us! The women I was competing against were great sports and genuinely congratulated me. It was nice to be in the ribbons with some really amazing riders and people.”
Malin Eriksson and her 8-year-old Oldenburg mare WHF Wilhelmina (Withages x WHF Luna) wrapped up their weekend in second place on a score of 32.8, followed by Bryant McKee and his 7-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Handsome Jake (Fort Prado x Ellie’s Rose) in third place on a score of 35.0.
For full results from the Area III Championships at the Poplar Place Farm Horse Trials, click here. Congratulations to all the Area III Championship competitors!
Stay tuned this fall to find out who finishes on top of the other USEA Area Championships! For additional information about the USEA Area Championships, click here.
The USEA Annual Meeting & Convention is an event that many USEA members look forward to year after year to catch up with their fellow eventing enthusiasts and stay up to date on all the latest work happening on the USEA Committees and Task Forces, but there’s so much more to explore. The educational opportunities offered at this year’s Convention, which takes place on Dec. 7-10 at the Marriott St. Louis Grand hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, are endless and afford members with the opportunity to expand their horizons through a full schedule of seminars and events. Plus, each day of the Convention counts as one ECP Continuing Education credit for those in attendance!
Each year every member of the USEA receives a nomination ballot to submit nominees to the Board of Governors and during the Annual Meeting of Members, all members are invited to vote for those individuals nominated to serve. All members receive a proxy to vote for their chosen representatives for those unable to attend the Annual Meeting of Members. The only restriction for Board membership is that they must be USEA members. There are 10 positions representing each Area of the country and 11 at-large positions with no other restrictions.
Effective Dec. 1, 2023, USEF rule EV145.8 will require, whenever possible, new cross-country obstacles (for which frangible devices are appropriate) to be constructed with FEI approved frangible technology for the Training level and above (previously it was Modified and above).
The Ram Tap Horse Park Horse Trials hosted the final USEA Classic Series Event of the year this past weekend in Fresno, California. The event offered three traditional long-format divisions at the Beginner Novice, Novice, and Training levels. Meet the final USEA Classic Series champions of 2024 below.