Area I riders got their chance to shine during the Area I Championships which took place in South Woodstock, Vermont during the GMHA September Horse Trials on September 10-11. The Area I Championships offered seven Championship divisions from the Beginner Novice to Preliminary levels. Hear from many of the Area I Champions below.
Preliminary Champions | Emily Van Gemeren & Winter Carnival | 41.3
Emily Van Gemeren describes her 14-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Winter Carnival (Black Tie Affair x Alex’s Hot Fudge) as “a quirky horse that only a mother can love on some days.” But in their ten years together, Van Gemeren and “Minnow” have grown solidly as a partnership.
“We have experienced many ups and downs in our confidence over the years, and it took a very long time and lots of help and patience for our partnership to develop to this point,” reflected Van Gemeren. “This year, he has been getting better and better each time out, and so I finally felt that we were ready to go out and try for some big long-term goals I had been saving. Minnow not only met but far exceeded my greatest expectations, making both his first CCI2*-L and his first Intermediate feel easy. We could never have had the fun and success we have had this year without our hard-earned partnership and resulting confidence steadfastly in place.”
Van Gemeren loves attending the horse trials put on by GMHA and had already earmarked competing at the September Horse Trials, so when she learned that she and Minnow were qualified for the Area I Championships it was easy to solidify that division. The pair started in first place on a dressage score of 29.1, but two rails in the show jumping dropped them down to sixth.
“Cross-country is the phase where Minnow really gets to be himself,” said Van Gemeren, “and he flew around like the athlete he is. I never expected we would move back up to first, especially when so many other excellent pairs were in our division, and so that was quite a pleasant surprise for us when the scores were posted! We wouldn’t do it any other way either- first to last to first pretty well describes our decade-long partnership of roller coasters of highs and lows and highs! I was happy with our weekend and with our season overall, but bringing home the blue ribbon was made even more special because it was the Area 1 Championships and was a great way to cap off a wonderful season.”
Training Horse Champions | Danielle Downing & Caribe PCH | 32.9D
Danielle Downing first picked up the ride on her friend Nancy Read’s 22-year-od Oldenburg gelding Caribe PCH (by Con Capilot). “I’d seen [Read] compete him over the years and do very well at the Novice level. He is a very talented horse and looked fun!” Downing shared. “Last year right before GMHA she asked if I’d like to take caribe training at the June horse trials. I of course said yes.”
Since partnering up in June of 2021, Downing and Caribe have never placed outside of the top three together- the pair even won their first horse trial together. At the 2022 Area I Championships, the duo sat in second on a score of 32.9. Double-clear rounds in show jumping for both Downing and the first place rider meant that standings would remain unchanged going into the final phase. While on cross-country, however, Downing heard an announcement that really put the pressure on.
“I was headed out onto the cross-country course and was following the person who was in first place. When I got to the second fence I heard over the loudspeaker that that horse had a stop at the fifth fence, so I was thinking, ‘we can do this.’ We just needed to be clear and inside the time. He was amazing! It was fast and clear. As we finished the cross-country course I knew he had the win! It is a pretty great feeling. I’m very grateful that I get to compete this amazing horse! We have a lot of fun together.”
Downing and Caribe finished on their dressage score to earn the Champion title.
Training Rider Champions | Eleanor Winter & Figlio | 27.9
In the Training Rider Championship, it was Eleanor Winter and her own 17-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Figlio (by Grand Slam) who would emerge victorious, adding no penalties to their dressage score. The pair started in second on 27.9, but it was their performance across the country that would bump them up the leaderboard to claim the win.
“My best memory with ‘Junior’ this weekend was riding through the cross-country combination 12 A-B,” Winter said. “I would definitely say it was one of the more challenging questions on the course. Walking it, I studied it hard, counted strides, looked at it from every angle, and tried to contain my excitement that I was going to be able to ride it. Riding it went perfectly. I got the perfect line to 12-A the trakehner and connected it to the wedge perfectly in five strides. I remember the pure joy I felt jumping the wedge, I recall saying ‘Good boy perfect!’ as I was soaring over it. Definitely, one of my happiest moments this weekend and I can't say enough how happy Junior makes me.”
Overall, Winter was thrilled with her weekend and the atmosphere of the Area 1 Championships. “My weekend was fantastic. GMHA is one of my favorite venues. The atmosphere was so upbeat and happy the whole weekend. Most people know at least one other person there so it is really encouraging to see all the smiles and hear all the laughs of competitors together.”
Novice Horse Champions | Annabelle Sprague & Big Fred | 21.9
Annabelle Sprague and her 9-year-old Holsteiner gelding Big Fred (by Connelly) were the victors of the Area 1 Novice Horse Championships. Their dressage score of 21.9 placed them in second at the start of the competition, but their expertly executed show jumping and cross-country rounds which added no penalties to their score was what moved them up to the champion position.
Novice Rider Champions | Pamela Bolek & Well Decorated | 23.6
The Area I Novice Rider Champions Pamela Bolek and her 14-year-old Rheinland Pfalz-Saar gelding Well Decorated (Sympatico x Reality Affirmed) have been partnered together for 11 years now. “I got him when he was three,” said Bolek. “I have ridden all my life and shown since I was about six years old, but did not begin eventing until I got Well Decorated and I was hooked.”
It was a wire-to-wire finish for the pair who started and finished their weekend on their dressage score of 23.6. Bolek was thrilled with her performance with her horse over the course of the weekend. “I was overwhelmed with my win, it meant a lot to me.”
Beginner Novice Horse Champions | Alison Eastman-Lawler & Sara Bella | 27.5
Alison Eastman-Lawler may have only been partnered with Sandy Naylor’s 11-year-old Trakehner mare Sara Bella (Hennessey E x Shedadevil) for two months now, but in their three outings together they claimed first, second, and Area 1 Champion in the Beginner Novice Horse Championship.
“I have had her in training for a few months to get her tuned up for my student,” shared Eastman-Lawler. “She came having a little bit of eventing experience but I have been able to shave off about ten points off her dressage scores to make her very competitive and help her win the Area 1 Beginner Novice Horse Championships.”
The pair’s dressage score of 27.5 would seat them in third after dressage and after their double-clear show jumping round they would jump up two spots to clinch the lead.
“We did the cross-country last at this event,” said Eastman-Lawler. “Having competed for over 40 years, going across the finish line with a win, it was just as exciting and fun as it was 40 years ago. That is what this sport is all about.”
Beginner Novice Rider Champions | Quinn Ellis & Good Harbour | 28.4
Quinn Ellis piloted Stacey Melnyk’s 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Good Harbour (Scipion x Watchtheeyes) to the win in the Area 1 Beginner Novice Rider Championships. The pair’s dressage score of 28.4 had them just 0.3 points behind the leader. Their double-clear show jumping round held onto their second-place spot, but it was their double-clear cross-country round that would have them galloping across the finish flags victorious.
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