Sep 01, 2023

Beginner Novice Competitors Join in on the AEC Action

By Samantha Clark - USEA | Press Release
Georgia Gobos and Black Gold. Chelsea Spear for Erin Gilmore Photography photo

Lexington, Ky.—September 1— The USEA Beginner Novice divisions got their Championships under way Friday at the Kentucky Horse Park, and they brought the heat. Six huge divisions completed the dressage in steadily rising temperatures and will move forward to the cross-country phase Saturday.

USEA Beginner Novice Junior 14 and Under Championship

Georgia Gobos of Larkspur, California, made sure that missing a week of school and A team soccer commitments was worthwhile by riding Barb Crabo’s Black Gold into the overnight lead on a score of 24.1. Black Gold is a 20-year-old German Sport Pony of unrecorded breeding who is well-known at the AEC as he previously competed up the two-star level with Barb’s daughter, Jordan.

Gobos has been leasing "Ed" for the past two years, and this will be their final competition together as she’ll go home to California on Monday, and he is going to stay in Kentucky with Jordan who is currently based with Liz Halliday.

During their time together Georgia says she’s learned a lot from Ed who “can be a bit naughty sometimes” (he likes to spin and bolt!) but Gobos continued, “he always finds a way to get the job done. He always saves me when I need him to, like if I mess up or something, he always finds a way to save me. And he's very sweet. And his personality is just like, really great, we all love him!”

Gobos used to train with Maddie Temkin and her mother Beth Temkin in California but when they moved East to be based here in Kentucky she made a switch to a show jumping barn. Gobos didn’t even know she’d qualified for the Championships until they told her, and so the plan was hatched to make the trip to the Kentucky Horse Park as part of their grand finale.

Gobos now rides with jumper Matthias Fernandez and his wife Rita. When the naughty version of Ed resurfaced at their last competition at Rebecca Farm, Ed traveled back from the event to the Bluegrass State with Maddie and Beth and has spent a month here at "Boot Camp" while Gobos returned to school on the West Coast.

Gobos said Maddie and Beth are good at getting her in the right headspace before a competition but that she doesn’t typically get nervous before the dressage as “that's one of his stronger things”.

She thinks her strongest phase is probably the show jumping “except for the fact every single time I show jump I throw up in the middle of my round, and it gets all over him! Yeah, every single time!”

She thinks it might have been a nervous reaction initially but now, she simply shrugs, “We go clean, and it's fine. I don’t get as nervous anymore so it might just be like a situational thing. Maybe I don't breathe. I don't really know!” Georgia has stopped eating an hour before her show jumping rounds, “but it still happens. Somehow it always finds a way,” she smiles at our incredulity, “But it’s okay!”

Gobos has yet to find a replacement for Ed, but it may take a while. “We're still looking,” she said. “We've tried some other ponies but we're trying to find something just like him; something that will save me when I need it or help me out, and be nice on the ground.”

In the meantime she’s making the most of every last minute and enjoying the AEC experience. “I’m really grateful to Barb and Jordan Crabo for letting me have this amazing pony. And to Beth and Maddie for everything, and my family and all the volunteers here that help make the show happen!”

Arkansas rider Charlotte Schaef sits right on Gobos’ heels, posting a score of 25.5 on Georgia Dillard’s Normandy’s Cole’s Clover, a 19-year-old Irish Sport Horse Mare (Normandy’s Four Leaf Clover x Racin’ Rosa). Even closer still in third place after the first phase is Emma Whitaker (Clarksville, MD) riding Hedgerow Farms 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding HSH Golden Boy (Eastern Hero x Princess Boo) on a score of 25.8.

USEA Beginner Novice Junior Championship

Kelsi Goodare and Carli 13. SDH Photography for Erin Gilmore Photography photo

Kelsi Goodare and Carli 13 (Crunch x Herri), a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding, will go into Saturday’s cross-country phase in pole position in the USEA Beginner Novice Junior Championship with an impressive score of 23. "Carl" competed up the two-star level with his previous rider, Will Faudree, and Goodare has had him since October 2022.

“He’s kind of a ‘been there done that’ horse, and he’s been such fun and taught me so much already,” she shared.

Their dressage performance didn’t come as a complete shock, “He’s normally a solid horse in this phase; I was not expecting to be in the lead at all so that was a fun surprise but he was so good and I couldn’t be happier with how he went!”

According to Goodare he’s also quite a character. “He’s very funny, he’s got a goofy personality; he loves his carrots and he also loves to remove his bell boots out in the pasture!”

Goodare has been eventing since she was “11 or 12,” but started riding at the tender age of just 3 years old and this is her first trip to the AEC.

“It’s great to be here; I’m super excited!” she said. Goodare has made the journey down to Kentucky from Rockford, Michigan, but has ridden at the Horse Park already on a previous horse. “I competed at Jumpstart [Horse Trials], and it was super cool; it’s such a fun place to come to and really just an amazing experience!”

She can’t decide which is her favorite phase. “He’s super fun to ride! I’m looking forward to all of it, he’s always so much fun. He is a little spooky so that could be a little ‘interesting’ out on the cross-country course! I’m just excited to have fun!” Goodare had yet to walk the cross-country “but I’ve seen a few of the jumps out there and it looks pretty awesome! Riding in the Rolex arena is the thing I’m most excited for, I can’t wait for that, it’s super cool!”

Emma Bialko (Peotone, Illinois) and her own 17-year-old Rheinland Pfalz-Saar-Thoroughbred cross gelding Fullerton (Freshman SPF x Doctor Hilary) are in second place overnight on a score of 25. Brynn Kiel from Douglasville, Georgia, rode her own Princeton into third place on 25.9. Princeton is a 20-year-old Friesian Paint gelding (Xamy out of XXXtra Foolish April).

USEA Beginner Novice Master Amateur Championship

Lori Mullen and Fantastic Flair. Kira Topeka for Erin Gilmore Photography photo

Lori Mullen and her own aptly named Fantastic Flair (Western Expression x Coracao Beijo), a 10-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding, sailed to the top of the Beginner Novice Master Amateur division dressage leaderboard with a score of 23.1. His stable name is Fudge because Lori told her husband she needed an "F" name for him that she could say out loud in public.

“He's been quite a challenge,” she stated. “He's not the easiest horse to ride. He really seems to enjoy dressage. And so probably when I get closer to 60, we will turn over a new leaf and just be a straight dressage horse.”

Mullen still has quite a number of years to go before then and so she’s hopeful that Fudge will keep improving in the jumping phases, “It feels unreal to be here in the lead but Fudge is very tricky. So I always tell people, I could be in first place or I could get bucked off. You never know!”

This afternoon she had good news to share. “Actually I’m still in touch with his breeder, and the lady I got him from so I sent them a picture of him in first place, he’s my unicorn!” she said.

Fudge was a turf horse in his racing career but not a particularly successful one, and Lori thinks he probably raced "seven or eight times."

It’s been a long process to get here, during which time Fudge has been diagnosed with EPM, and Lori has been treating him with magnesium and also said noise reducing ear bonnets have been very helpful. “I spent four years at Starter level because he would buck and leap up in the air and twist in the jumping warmups; he was very feisty, and he couldn't handle all the action.”

Lori and Fudge qualified for the AEC last year but she decided the 24-hour journey from her home in Oklahoma to Montana was too much stress for her horse. This weekend she made the trip down to Kentucky on her own but split it up over two days.

“It’s an adventure”, she said with a smile. “My friends didn't get qualified, and I thought, you know, I'm 51, my horse is 10, there may not be a next time, you just don't know. And life is short. So I have made a lot of new friends!”

Nancy Read (Center Sandwich, New Hampshire) rode her own Oldenburg gelding Classic Chrome PCH (Con Capilot x Southern Belle) into the runner up spot on the scoreboard, posting a score of 25.8. Anna Wallace of Knoxville, Tennessee, and her own 8-year-old Trakehner mare Kalaska (Ivanhoe x Koko K) are third before the cross-country with a 26.3 penalty mark.

USEA Beginner Novice Amateur Championship

Ryan Ballou and Astaire. Chelsea Spear for Erin Gilmore Photography photo

Ryan Ballou did his first ever event at the Kentucky Horse Park and has returned triumphant for the first day of the USEA Beginner Novice Amateur Championships at least, on his own 7-year-old gelding Astaire (Egescovs Habibi x Karet), a Danish Warmblood who was imported to the U.S. as a stallion “a little bit over a year and a half ago.”

Ballou’s trainer Julie Richards put the two together, and Ballou admitted it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing.

“He had just been imported, he had just been gelded; it was quite the journey to get him really started,” he recalled. “He had never evented before so everything was being introduced to him for the first time, and we really had to take it back to the foundational basics.”

Ballou combines eventing with Julie in Georgia with college in Dayton, Ohio, and said an extended winter break down South made all the difference.

“He could go out cross-country schooling and go to jumper shows, all that kind of stuff, and then we stayed there over the summer and joined her training program, and that's where we really started to excel. He had really gotten a lot of miles put on him, and I had gotten a lot of miles for myself by that point.”

"Fred" is the horse’s barn name, because of course, Astaire, and Ballou said he “is really stepping up in all the ways.” He’s walked the cross-country twice already ahead of Saturday’s test and reports, “It looks amazing! Some big questions for sure, but also some big smiles!”

Nerves used to be an issue for Ballou, but now that they have developed their partnership he feels more confident.

“You know, with Fred, just starting on the cross-country, it was always, ‘How can I present this question that you're best going to understand it?’ and he's really gotten to the point where he understands what I'm asking him. And now we're both able to be confident. We don't have to spend time translating what we’re thinking to one another, and we can work really as a team. So I know that I'm in good hands with Fred, and he’s in good hands with me, and we'll just take it one fence at a time.”

Ballou counts his trainer Richards as one of his eventing idols. “She truly showed me the ropes of being a horseman, of being really dedicated in the sport, and she has really given me so many foundational skills that I didn't have as a younger rider," he said.

While he was in Ohio, Richards put Ballou in touch with Richard Picken who became his mentor, and who will, in some way, be riding along with him this weekend. Picken died last year following a long battle with cancer.

“He spent a lot of time with me and dedicated so much of his time to helping me," said Ballou. "Anytime I had a question I would send him a video, and he would answer. He really showed me how to ride with control, to ride with purpose, so that every step is planned.”

His advice to him going out of the start box, or into the ring would be simple, but harder to execute, Ballou remembered. “He would tell me that it had better be perfect! He spent hours and hours of helping me, training me, and it would just be on cavaletti but we would keep practicing until it was perfect and until I knew that I could recreate it. ‘You know what you're doing’ he told me. ‘You hear me in the back of your head telling you, get over the fence, but you know how to ride it and ride it the way that I taught you!’”

Ballou and Fred waltzed into the lead on a score of 26.6, a full two points ahead of second placed Anna Kate Stooksbury (Acworth, Georgia) on Kim Abernathy’s 7-year-old Connemara gelding Foxberry’s Finale (Big Bear’s Omega x Wildwych Wisteria). Nancy Braghirol of Cornish, New Hampshire, rounds out the overnight top three on Elizabeth Coulter’s 16-year-old Cleveland Bay mare Chakolas In Style (Knaresborough Fusilier x Chakolas Calgary) with a score of 29.7.

USEA Beginner Novice Horse Championship

Amie Lorning and Excel Star Cast Away. Kate Hall for Erin Gilmore Photography photo

Amie Loring’s Excel Star Cast Away (Ulysses x Lost In Glann), a Thoroughbre-Holsteiner cross gelding, is only 6 years old, and Loring says he hasn’t seen a lot of atmosphere, so to bring him to the AEC at the Kentucky Horse Park was a big ask.

“I feel like he just really rose to the occasion” she said after her test which scored 25.6, good enough for the lead in the USEA Beginner Novice Horse Championship by a mere .2 penalties. “It only just kind of made him a better horse.”

Loring found ‘Phen’ through Courtney Cooper two years ago. “I honestly bought him off a video. It was her endorsement and everything I saw on the video.”

Her trainer, Jenny Tucker, couldn’t be here this weekend and so Cooper stepped in. “I've actually never worked with her before, and she was absolutely wonderfully helpful. Everything she did was very similar to how I normally work with Jenny, but she put a couple touches on it that made the test probably go a little better than it would have done on my own. Just sort of helping me get through the transitions, which aren't his strong suit at all.”

Loring, who rides out of Connecticut, has been to the AEC before, “back when they were at Carolina Horse Park, a long time ago, probably 17 years. So it's been a long time!” She’s never ridden at the Kentucky Horse Park before but has some event experience here; “I groomed here one time at Rolex for Mark Weisbecker!”

So to make it back as a competitor has her delighted. “It’s really overwhelmingly cool," she said. "It's overwhelming to the point of I've tried not to let it get in my head and so far it's okay!”

Loring has three horses, but Phen is the only one who isn’t retired, and she says he thrives on all the attention. “He loves people," she said. "I think he prefers people to anything. I think, in a funny way, he's really learning to love competing because he has so much one-on-one time with human beings. He's like a dog, he's Clifford The Big Red Dog. He's just a big sweetheart, and I'm lucky to have him.”

Right behind Loring and Phen in second place after dressage is Halley Widlak (Jackson, Mississippi) on her own 7-year- old Connemara-Oldenburg cross mare Starscream (Woodchuck Kirby Brown x Renny), leaving Loring no margin for error with their score of 25.8. Geneseo, New York, resident Carol Kozlowski rode Jill McNicol DVM’s 7-year-old Connemara stallion Elodon Zodiac (Century Hill’s Aedan Zodiac x Castlebar Gaelic) into third place with a score of 27.5.

USEA Beginner Novice Rider Championship

Sue Goepfert and Isabeau VT. Zenya Lepper for Erin Gilmore Photography photo

Sue Goepfert and Susan Coleman’s 11-year-old Oldenburg-Hanoverian cross mare Isabeau VT (Ideal x Flambeau) will go forward to the cross-country phase with a fairly comfortable cushion ahead of their closest rivals; they scored 27.5 in this first phase. Goepfert said she was hoping to lay down a strong score to kickstart her Championship campaign.

“She’s [Isabeau VT] normally pretty good in the dressage, that’s her strong phase,” she said. “I would say she was bred for it and we just kind of added the jumping in. I know that she was bred at Virginia Tech, that’s why she has the VT on the end of her name. They let the students practice doing AI and stuff, and then they get to foal them and raise the foals, and she was purchased through that program.”

Goepfert currently leases Isabeau from Susan Coleman. “Isabeau just kind of fell into my lap, literally”, but she is negotiating to buy her, hopefully by the end of the year. A fortuitous conversation with Nobie Cannon at Southern Pines in June 2021 while Goepfert was horseless and vaguely looking for another ride led to a trial on Isabeau, who Cannon had campaigned up to Preliminary level, that afternoon.

“We got along really well,” she said. They did their first show together six weeks later and have “never looked back! We’ve had a really successful run at Beginner Novice, and we're just having a lot of fun together.”

Goepfert, who hails from Minnesota, trains with Becky Holder whenever possible. Holder travels up North for camps several times each summer, and a bunch of her students from Goepfert’s area will make the long trek South in the winter for a couple of weeks to school with her.

“It’s the same people every time so it's all the same groups and we move it around to various farms. She’s got some good, good clients, and we've got a really fun team that we work with," she said.

She’s in good company this weekend; although neither Holder nor Cannon could be here, Isabeau’s owner Susan Coleman is supporting in person as well as a “good handful” of Holder’s students competing here also who are hoping for a repeat performance of the Midsouth Team Challenge last year where they all won their divisions and the Team Championship to boot.

Goepfert has never owned or ridden a mare before but has quickly learned to appreciate her quirks. “She's special," she said. "I mean, she's the queen of the barn and she likes things done her way. She’ll tell you right away if it's not her way. Affection has to be on her level too: she has to reach out to you, you can't reach out to her. Deep down, I think she's sweet, she just has that kind of bitchy mare persona on the outside!”

Her preparation for this weekend included a vacation to Greenland with her husband so she confided that she hasn’t actually ridden for the last two weeks. Luckily, she added, Isabeau is such a nice ride that there was no shortage of volunteers to keep her ticking along; in fact, she smiled, her friends at the barn were fighting over her!

Nicola Tucker (Manchester, Minnesota) and her own 15-year-old Belgian Draft/Thoroughbred cross mare Pandora are tied for second place overnight with Coco Fiorita (Mecon, Wisconsin) and her own 5-year-old Oldenburg gelding Oskar (Balou Du Rouet x Dam Scarlett II). They’re both on a score of 30.

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The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC), presented by Nutrena Feeds, is the pinnacle of the sport at 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 combinations 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. In fact, the 2021 AEC garnered over 1,000 entries and now stands as the largest eventing competition in North American history. The 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds will be held Aug. 29—Sept. 3 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.

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