The Spokane Sport Horse Seventh Annual Fall Horse Trials in Spokane, Washington took place this past weekend September 30-October 3. In addition to their regular divisions, Spokane hosted Beginner Novice, Novice, and Training levels of the USEA Classic Series.
In the Training Three-Day, it was Anne Budiselich and Robert Levy’s 11-year-old Thoroughbred-cross gelding BFF Brushfire (BFF Incognito x Merry Scarlett) who rose to the occasion on a total score of 33.5 at the end of all phases.
Budiselich grew up in New Hampshire riding informally but got a great start to her foundation riding wild little ponies and barely broke horses around the beautiful countryside. It wasn’t until she joined her local Pony Club as a teenager that her passion for riding and competing would truly blossom. She celebrated her 60th birthday this year and her love for horses is still just as strong as ever.
Her partnership with the Black Fox Farm bred BFF Brushfire began in 2017 while in Aiken, South Carolina. “He had a late, but nice start from Joa Sigsbee,” she reflected. “We purchased him for my partner, Bob Levy, but he was a little too green. After a couple of years, Bob gave ‘Brushy’ to me as a gift of love! Brushy is my second horse of a lifetime, the first being when I was a teenager. He is talented and capable but, more importantly for me, he has the best temperament. He is a Golden Retriever at heart who just wants to do the right thing and be your best pal.”
When she isn’t busy serving as the director and instructor at Meadow Valley Riding Unlimited, a therapeutic riding program in Winthrop, Washington, Budiselich enjoys putting Brushy’s athleticism and wonderful personality to the test at horse trials. She has always wanted to compete in a three-day Classic Series event but finally had the opportunity in 2021 thanks to some unusual circumstances.
“I was turning lemons into lemonade,” Budiselich joked. “The continued pandemic resulted in reduced work for me, plus a forced relocation of our herd due to extreme local wildfires. All of that factored in, I actually had some time to pursue a full season of training, conditioning, and competing to accrue MERs.”
Budiselich feels that preparing for and competing in the long-format helped Brushy grow more confident and secure in understanding his job, and reflects that her experience competing in the traditional three-day solidified her love for the sport.
“It was a fabulous experience,” she said. “I spent so much of the weekend encouraging others to do it next year. This experience fully embodied all that I love about our sport and have loved since I was 13-years-old and went to Ledyard to see my first international event. I loved training for it, the conditioning time spent together with my horse, the camaraderie with other competitors, and the support and education from event organizers, judges, vets, and more. I applaud Spokane Sport Horse Farm for their commitment to keeping the classic format alive.”
Olivia Murphy, the Novice Three-Day champion, found her horse Navigator after spending months scouring the horse market in 2019. That dedication to her horse hunt paid off when her trainer, Whitney Spicher of Capstone Training, saw an advertisement for “Griffin” and told Murphy that they had found her horse. Their connection was immediate and Murphy knew that Griffin, now 14 years old, was perfect for her!
“Griffin has a somewhat murky past. It is believed that he is a PMU Clydesdale/ Thoroughbred cross that was picked up at a feedlot,” Murphy shared. “His previous owner was a teen and together they moved up to compete at the Preliminary level in Canada. He is a wonderful combination of the two breeds. He’s extremely athletic and a lovely mover, but is also so incredibly kind. I trust him completely. Our first year together was different than expected due to COVID, but we had our first event as a team in the fall of 2020 at Spokane Sport Horse Farm. Since then, we have completed nine more events together and made a successful move up to Training this fall. Our goal is to continue competing and potentially look towards a Modified/Preliminary move up next fall.”
The duo finished the weekend on a score of 26.8, adding no penalties to their dressage score, a feat that Murphy attributes to the conditioning program they followed to prepare for the event.
“In our area, people expect a fun and challenging course from this event, and I was eager for the challenge. I knew it would strengthen our bond as a team to go through the test together. Being a draft cross, I know that Griffin’s fitness would be the key to our success. Although we had competed a couple of times a month since March, I knew that the three-day would be physically demanding on the two of us and that the education and training we would receive would be beneficial. I think my favorite thing was how the training and preparation for the competition strengthened my relationship with my horse. I learned about my horse’s breathing, his legs and body, and just how far he’s willing to go, just because I asked it of him. The trust these animals put in us is truly amazing.”
Like Budiselich, Murphy expressed her immense gratitude for the team at Spokane and for all other events that choose to host a USEA Classic Series. “I want to thank the organizers of the events around the country that host a classic three-day event at their shows. Without them, the classic would be no more, and I think it is a part of eventing that all riders should reach for at some point in their career.”
For those considering entering a long format, Murphy has one piece of advice: go out and do it. “We all can learn so much from participating in the classic three-day. The organizers are so generous with us and are excited by our participation. I think it is an opportunity that we shouldn’t pass up. Go for it!”
In the Beginner Novice Three-Day, it was Kady Ellifritz and her own 17-year-old Thoroughbred Yankee Bay (Yankee Victor x Near Mint) who rose to the top, but if you would have asked this former hunter rider that she would one day be galloping across a steeplechase track, she probably would have laughed.
“As a kid, I really wanted a unicorn, so my mom suggested that maybe I try some riding lessons instead,” laughed Ellifritz. “I started taking lessons at age 11 and from there I did hunters all through high school and college. The jumpers were too fast and scary for me, so I stuck to the hunter ring. After college, I had to take a break from my riding, but then I stumbled onto Inavale Farm in Plymouth, Oregon, which is the home of the only recognized event in Area VII.” Ellifritz began taking weekly lessons with trainer Kelsey Horn but wasn’t quite sure what she thought of eventing as a whole yet.
“I only had a vague idea as to what eventing was. I knew that eventers were crazy people who jumped over things that didn’t fall down. It started with lessons on lesson horses, then exercise rides for fun, then a half-lease on an Anglo Arab who had eventing experience which got me out into the cross-country field and in a dressage saddle. At first, it was very, very scary and really out of my comfort zone, but I loved the dressage. That half-lease became a full-lease, then I competed in my first recognized event in 2012, and it just grew from there.”
When her lease was up four years later, the horseless Ellifritz decided to resume her horse hunt in 2018, but a string of bad luck with new horses left her confidence shaken. When her trainer saw a flyer for Yankee Bay in a port-a-potty while at Aspen Farms for the Area Championships, she called Ellifritz immediately.
“My friend also saw that flyer and really wanted to go around the show and pull all of his ads down so no one else could call on him,” she joked. “I needed a partner that was brave, particularly on cross-country because after my accidents on my previous horse which resulted in a broken leg and a broken back, I was a bit mentally scarred. I was able to flat Yankee while at the show after he was done competing and it was magical from the second I sat on his back. The next week we drove up to Washington where he lived and I got to do a little bit of cross-country at Anni Grandia’s farm. They were setting up for their annual haunted forest. There were things hanging from trees and a gigantic mechanical dragon in the bushes, guillotines everywhere, so I was riding Yankee around through the haunted forest, going through water, ducking under Halloween decorations and nothing phased him. I just looked at my trainer and said, ‘I want this one!’”
After seeing the steeplechase track set up at Spokane in 2015, Ellifritz thought competing in a three-day that it was an interesting, yet unattainable goal for herself, that is until Yankee came into her life.
“The Beginner Novice level is where I am comfortable,” she shared, “and so with Yankee, this seemed like a good goal for myself. Kelsey wrote me out a very, very detailed training plan for our conditioning and I spent a lot of time in the saddle. My horse and I hung out a lot, it was definitely a bonding experience on a whole new level. We left the property, we went up the road, we did things outside of my comfort zone. Kelsey told me to go be uncomfortable and trust my horse.”
That discomfort soon faded away and Ellifritz found a new strength in her faith in Yankee, which made competing in the three-day even more special for the pair. “When we left the start box in Phase D we were so in sync from that first stride out of the start box. Everything was just out of stride and that was by far the best cross-country ride I have ever had.” That best ride they have ever had resulted in a total score of 29.7 which they would carry through the entire event to seal their victory.
Like her fellow Classic Series champions, Ellifritz wanted to share her appreciation to the Spokane team for giving her and Yankee the opportunity to get outside of their comfort zone. “I want to thank the organizers and venues that host these long format events, particularly those who offer a Beginner Novice Three-Day. All of the work, expense, and volunteers required to make this happen are above and beyond and I just want to express my gratitude to everyone who makes this possible. I will certainly aim to do this again!”
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. 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.
Lisa Pragg is a busy woman, but between her normal day job and competing her own 19-year-old Thoroughbred Impeccable she still prioritizes time to volunteer - both at horse trials and as a volunteer firefighter. Pragg understands the importance that volunteers play in the eventing community and makes sure to give whatever time she can back as a fair gesture.
Attention USEA members! Registration for the 2022 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention is now open! The convention will be held in person on December 7-11, 2022 at the Hyatt Regency Savannah Hotel in Savannah, Georgia.
The United States Eventing Association (USEA) is proud to announce the selected Young Rider athletes for the Emerging Athletes 21 Program (EA21) national camp, now that the EA21 regional clinics have concluded. Twelve riders were accepted into each of the five regional EA21 clinics, taught by USEA Eventing Coaches Program (ECP) instructors, and now riders have been selected from the regional clinics to participate in the inaugural EA21 national camp this winter.
Ninety percent of training a horse is getting the horse to understand exactly what you want them to do. In general, horses are generous and willing creatures who want to please us; very seldom do they behave badly on purpose. Horses don’t come out and say, ‘Let’s make Mom’s (or Dad’s) life miserable today by going as poorly as possible - most prefer to do the right thing, as long as they know what that is.