The very first USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) was held 16 years ago in 2004. A total of 413 starters competed in the first AEC and since then, it has become the pinnacle for eventing in the U.S. This year’s AEC will be held in two months on August 25 – August 30 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
Starting with the inaugural AEC, many milestones have been made over the past 16 years of running the event. In 2006, Beginner Novice was introduced into the AEC; in 2014, the first USEA Adult Team Championships (ATC) was run in conjunction with AEC; in 2018, the first (and only time) ‘festival classes’ were offered to run alongside championship divisions; and the first Modified/Training level division was introduced in 2019. In that same year, the AEC had 925 starters, making it the biggest event in North American history.
The AEC has been held across the country at seven different venues with each venue being on a three-year rotation (with the exception of the unique partnership with Tryon International Equestrian Center and the Colorado Horse Park). The first AEC was in Raeford, North Carolina at the Carolina Horse Park in 2004 and it stayed at the Carolina Horse Park until 2006. Out of the three years at Carolina, the largest year was the third year (in 2006) with a total of 496 starters. From 2007 to 2009, the AEC was held in Wayne, Illinois at Lamplight Equestrian Center, and the biggest year was the first year with a total of 518 starters. From 2010 to 2012, the AEC was held in Fairburn, Georgia at Chattahoochee Hills, and the biggest year was in 2010 with 647 starters. From 2013 to 2015, the AEC was held in Tyler, Texas at Texas Rose Horse Park, and the biggest year was also the first year in 2013 with a total of 408 starters. Three out of the four venues that have held the AEC for three years have had the highest number of starters in the first year.
When the AEC moved from Texas to Tryon, North Carolina, the starters doubled in size. In 2016, the AEC set the record of highest number of AEC starters with 665 starters coming to Tryon International Equestrian Center. The following year, in 2017, Tryon broke its own record to have its biggest year with 753 starters. In 2018, the AEC was held in Parker, Colorado at the Colorado Horse Park with 416 starters. This was the first year and only year where the AEC held ‘festival classes’ alongside the championship divisions. In 2019, the AEC moved to Lexington, Kentucky at the Kentucky Horse Park and had record-breaking entries with a total of 925 starters.
The Kentucky Horse Park saw the highest number of starters per level at Beginner Novice (234 total starters), Novice (253 total starters), Training (189 total starters), and Intermediate (65 total starters). In 2017, Tryon had the highest number of starters at the Preliminary level with 131. In 2010, Chattahoochee Hills had the highest number of starters at the Advanced level with 51.
The AEC has been running consecutively for 16 years and has been held in Illinois, North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Georgia, and Kentucky. The most represented state out of the 16 years of having an AEC is Texas. Since 2004, over 786 Texas riders have competed at the AEC. Three other states that have had a consistently strong presence at the AEC are Florida with 525 riders, Georgia with 691 riders, and Virginia with 630 riders.
In the history of AEC, championship competitors have set incredible records at every level. The most decorated AEC competitor in terms of wins is Tamra Smith. Since 2004, Smith has won AEC divisions eight times – the most wins out of any other rider. She has won the AEC at almost every level - she is just missing Beginner Novice. Her winning streak started in 2013 when she won the Training Horse division with Sunsprite Syrius. In 2014, she won the Intermediate Championship with Twizted Syster. In 2015, she won two divisions - the Novice Horse division with Favian and the Preliminary Horse division with Fleeceworks Royal. In 2018, she won three divisions – the Adequan USEA Advanced Final with Mai Baum, the Preliminary Horse division with Fleeceworks Ghost, and the Novice Horse division with MB MaiStein. Last year she won the Intermediate division with En Vogue.
In addition to Smith, only two other riders have collected more than five AEC wins: Heather Morris and Leslie Law. Morris has won an AEC division seven different times, and Leslie Law has won an AEC division five different times.
At every level, at least one rider has won the level more than once. Advanced has had two riders, Intermediate has had three riders, Preliminary has had eight riders, Training has had three riders, Novice has had one rider, and Beginner Novice has had two riders. For Advanced, Leslie Law and Becky Holder have both won the Advanced division twice. Jennie Brannigan, Heather Morris, and Tamra Smith have each won the Intermediate division twice. Doug Payne, Leslie Law, Lynne Partridge, Carrie Meehan, Heather Morris, Tamra Smith, Arden Wildasin, and Julia Spatt have all won a Preliminary AEC division twice. Karen O’Connor, Madeline Backus, and Heather Morris have won a Training level AEC division twice. Tamra Smith is the only rider to win a Novice level AEC division twice, and Lauren Weil and Alexa Ehlers have won a Beginner Novice AEC division twice.
The Intermediate division has seen the most one-two punches out of any other division. In 2016, Marilyn Little won with RF Scandalous and placed second on RF Overdressed. In 2017, Jennie Brannigan won on FE Lifestyle and placed second on Twighlightslastgleam, and in 2019, Tamie Smith won on En Vogue and placed second on Danito.
Eight horse and rider combinations have won back-to-back national championship titles: Leslie Law and Fleeceworks Mystere du Val (2008 Advanced and 2009 Advanced); Heather Morris and Charlie Tango (2014 Preliminary Horse and 2015 Intermediate); Julia Spatt and 5o1 Macintosh (2018 Preliminary Amateur and 2019 Preliminary Rider); Sarah C. Murphy and Flagmount’s Irish Riverstone (2010 Novice Junior and 2011 Training Junior); Carrie Meehan and Blue Devil (2010 JYOP and 2011 Preliminary Amateur); McKinsey Wickman and Dassett Profile (2015 Novice Junior and 2016 Training Junior); Logan Elliott and Cady O’Daly Michael (2011 Beginner Novice Junior and 2012 Novice Amateur), and Alexa Ehlers and Clear Laveer (2018 Beginner Novice Horse and 2019 Beginner Novice Horse).
In the most recent international team competition, the U.S. eventing team took home team gold, individual gold, and individual silver at the 2019 Lima Pan American Games. The four U.S. riders that made up the winning team have all won the AEC at least once in their eventing career. Last year, Boyd Martin won the $60,000 Adequan USEA Advanced Final, Lynn Symansky won the Intermediate Championship in 2010, Doug Payne has won AEC divisions four times, and Tamra Smith has won AEC divisions eight times.
The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds 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. The 2020 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds will be held August 25-August 30, 2020 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.
Having this historic competition close isn't the right result for the sport, and the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is working hard to find a solution. The organizer and landowners operate exceptional events on a beautiful piece of land. We are deeply sensitive to the history of the word "plantation" and its connection to slavery; however, this property has no known connections to slavery and was instead named after 'plantings' on the property.
After a quiet spring season due to COVID-19, the fall season is ramping up and this weekend we have the first of two West Coast CCI4*-S events taking place at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California.
Dawn Robbins is a current USEA Board of Governors member, Area VI adult rider, and a contributor to the development of the Event Management System (EMS). Note that this article was written more than a year ago and serves as a guide for future USEA software development.
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