Jun 08, 2023

2023 Classic Series Calendar Kicks Off in Style at IEA

The first USEA Classic Series competition of 2023 at the IEA H.T. in Edinburgh, Indiana, from June 2-4 brought out the best in event horses with different breeding, backgrounds, and sizes. There was Primrose BMD, originally bred for dressage by a Dutch Harness Horse stallion out of an Andalusian dam, showing how much she relishes jumping by finishing on her dressage score 31.8 to win the Training Three-Day (T3D) with Anna Banks aboard. Then, April Hays and her Holsteiner gelding Anteros HSH won the Novice Three-Day (N3D) with a score of 26.7 despite not knowing if they’d be able to make the competition until the last minute. And, Halley Widlak and her 14.2-hand Connemara pony mare Starscream captured the Beginner Novice Three-Day (BN3D) with a score of 25.7 for the third blue ribbon the pair has earned in four USEA-recognized events together.

Training Three-Day

Anna Banks and Primrose BMD won the IEA Training Three-Day. Xpress Foto photos

Primrose BMD (C-Galaxy x Anna) caught the attention of officials in the T3D.

“All the judges and Dorothy [Crowell, the clinician for the classic series event at IEA] were asking, ‘What’s her breeding? Does she have a ton of Thoroughbred in her?’” Banks said. “She’s less than 25 percent Thoroughbred, I think. They were a little bit surprised.”

Although Banks said that “Prim” was originally bred to be a dressage horse, the 10-year-old gray mare relished the additional jumping elements and endurance aspects of the long format.

“She blew me away; it was the most confident she’s ever felt,” Banks said. “She’s got a lot more in the tank.”

Banks said that the success she and Prim had in the Training Three-Day is making her consider moving up to Preliminary at the Fox River Valley Pony Club H.T. in Barrington Hills, Illinois, on June 24-25.

This was the second classic series event in which Banks and Prim have competed. Coincidentally, they finished on the same dressage score of 31.8 in the N3D at this event in 2021 for fifth place. Back competing in the long format two years later, they were second after dressage and moved up to first as the only pair among the four entries for the T3D to go double-clear in both the endurance phase and show jumping.

“She’s incredibly enthusiastic,” Banks said. “She gives 110 percent into everything she does. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad some days.”

Banks and Prim have finished on their dressage score in 15 of their 23 USEA-recognized events, quite a testament for the unique breeding lines the mare possesses within the sport.

“She’s definitely a little bit of a mutt, but it went right,” Banks said. “It was a breeder up in Michigan that bred her, and he bred her for his son. The son decided she was a little too much for him and sold her to the trainer I was training with, and I ended up with her after she got hurt. So, it just kind of happened that I stumbled upon this horse that was supposed to be a dressage savant and didn’t love dressage straight. I started jumping her and we loved it, and the rest is history.”

Novice Three-Day

April Hays and Anteros HSH won the Novice Three-Day.

On Sunday night, just days before she was meant to leave for IEA to compete in the Novice Three-Day, April Hays was certain she wouldn’t be taking Anteros HSH.

The 6-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Adagio de Talm x Celavie) had been dealing with the effects of a hot nail for two weeks, and Hays, holding out hope she’d make it to the event, had only been tack walking the week prior.

“He was dead lame [in trot] on Sunday, and I was like, well, now I'll just have to make that email that we're out, and I went to bring him in on Monday, and he trotted sound, and I was like, ‘Oh!'” she said.

Hays packed up her trailer and headed from her home base in Lexington, Tennessee, on Wednesday. She and “Nacho” took the lead after dressage in the Novice Three-Day and never looked back, taking home the win on a 26.7.

Hays, who works as an anesthesiologist, grew up riding several disciplines, including western, English, saddle seat, and driving. She and a friend would ride their ponies around the outside course at the U.S. Air Force Academy Equestrian Center in Colorado Springs, jumping banks, ditches, and stone walls, which is where she found a passion for eventing.

Once she was married to her husband, Phillip Hays, and living in Tennessee, she started breeding warmblood sport horses for eventing. Though April is always hoping to breed the perfect event horse, she finds appropriate homes for them in whatever discipline they excel at. She adds her HSH, or Hays Sport Horses, suffix or prefix to any horses she owns or breeds. She tries to breed between one and three foals a year and has about 12 horses at her farm now, including some broodmares.

April was on the hunt for her next event horse a few years ago and didn’t have any of her own homebreds ready to compete, so she enlisted the help of her trainers, Alex and Ellie O’Neal, to find her a young horse. She found Nacho on Facebook and showed it to them, then imported the 4-year-old from England.

“He is absolutely the easiest, most fantastic horse I've ever sat on,” she said. “Everybody that ever comes in contact with him just cannot believe how kind he is. He's that horse that everybody wants—a professional wants because he's so talented; an amateur or young rider wants because he's so easy. He gives you no trouble. He never argues; he always wants to do exactly the right thing. And if you can make it clear to him what it is that you want, he will do it without question, ever. That's the horse that everybody wants.”

April spent a couple of months in Ocala, Florida, this winter with the O’Neals and gets the occasional lesson from them during the rest of the year, but tends to ride mostly on her own or in a clinic here or there or uses Ride iQ at home.

She’d done an educational Beginner Novice three-day event in November at Barnstaple in Florida and was inspired to try the recognized one at IEA.

“He ended up second, and it was just really fun,” she said of the educational three-day. “I had a great time. I definitely learned a lot about my horse and how I needed to be riding him better. The steeplechase part was so eye-opening to me with the different feel that I got on cross-country. Like this is the way it's supposed to feel. And so, it really carried over into regular horse trials, because now I had a feel for how it was supposed to feel. Forward, gallop to your fence, not picking him to the base, letting them figure it out on their own a little bit.”

At IEA, where April was competing without any help, the pair picked up 1.6 time penalties on Phase B, the steeplechase, but she'd planned to go a bit slower to take care of Nacho's foot.

“He had a great time. He's tired, absolutely tired. But he definitely answered every question,” she said. “There was never a concern that he was not wanting to continue.”

April said she was shocked to win and was particularly proud of her 25.1 dressage score, despite Nacho bucking in one of the movements and getting a 2 and a 4 from the judge. She hadn’t been to the venue in more than 10 years after moving away from the area.

“It was just really a great group,” she said. “It's run so well. Mary Fike, Erin Murphy, and all the people that organize, everybody was wonderful. They had it pretty much down to a well-oiled machine, and everybody's so nice. It's really one of the nicer venues to go to. The stalls are pleasant for the horses, and they just really did a great job. It was a great group of riders—really friendly. I don't know how many people that were like, ‘Hey April, great ride!’ And I was like, ‘Who are you? I didn't even know.’ But the eventing community is so amazing like that.”

As to the rest of the season, April’s hoping to continue competing at Novice since Nacho is still green and occasionally likes to have a look at things on cross-country.

“He’s not one that wants to stop ever. But he just sometimes isn't sure what the question is, and he'll take a hard look at stuff,” she said. “Hopefully we can let him get his feet a little more solid about that on the ground there. We'll move up to training next year.”

Beginner Novice Three-Day

Halley Widlak and Starscream topped the Beginner Novice Three-Day.

Winning the BN3D wasn’t the only reason for Widlak to celebrate with her 7-year-old Connemara pony mare Starscream (Woodchuck Kirby Brown x Renny) over the weekend.

“I have been trying to breed her for the last two years, and the day before we left, I found out she was pregnant,” she said. “So, it was kind of a really tough decision if I should even go this past weekend or not, but I kept her at such a nice condition this whole year. This has been our goal this whole year to compete at this show.”

Starscream is in foal to the new 8-year-old Hanoverian dressage stallion Fürst Gribaldi (Fürstenball x Etched in Black). Fürst Gribaldi is 16.1-hands; Starscream 14.2-hands.

“She’s the best little pony ever,” Widlak said. “She’s teeny tiny. I thought she would grow. I got her when she was 3, and I thought she would grow a little more, and she just got fatter,” Widlak added with a laugh.

In their first classic series event, Widlak and “Star” were one of only two pairs out of the 17 entries in the BN3D to finish on their dressage score. To do so, Widlak said she had to account for "Star’s" size.

“She’s got such a little pony trot that it took us a little to figure out the speed,” she said. “I know I should know speed by now, but having just done Beginner Novice [on her], I just understand how to get around a cross-country course without time [penalties]. So, when you had those longer speeds, that was kind of a learning experience for us. Is that a trot for her? Or a little bit of a canter because she’s got such short little stubby legs?”

Widlak expressed her appreciation for the educational aspect of the classic series.

“Dorothy Crowell was amazing,” Widlak said. “I loved all the educational opportunities. She just carted us around in these trucks to look at the roads and tracks. We had a bunch of rider meetings where we could ask all these questions because I think a lot of the riders were there for the first time.”

A first time for Widlak, who said she has been eventing since she was 12 years old in 1998, but not the last.

“I just can’t stop smiling,” Widlak said.

For full results, click here.

About the USEA Classic Series

The USEA Classic Series keeps the spirit of the classic long ­format three­-day events alive for Beginner Novice through the Preliminary levels, now including the Modified level too. Competitors can experience the rush of endurance day, including roads and tracks, steeplechase, the vet box, and cross­-country, as well as participate in formal veterinary inspections and educational activities with experts on the ins and outs of competing in a long ­format three-­day event. Riders who compete in a USEA Classic Series event during the year will have the chance to win a variety of prizes at the events from USEA sponsors. Click here to learn more about the USEA Classic Series.

The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, FITS, SmartPak Equine, Parker Equine Insurance, and Stackhouse & Ellis Saddles for sponsoring the USEA Classic Series.

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