Three new USEA Classic Series champions were crowned during the Spokane Sport Horse Farm Horse Trials in Spokane, Washington which were held September 29 through October 2nd. Three Classic Series divisions were offered at the Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice levels.
In the Training Three-Day, it was Canadian rider Naomi Dell who topped the field aboard her 14-year-old Warmblood gelding Aramis W (Apanarde x Melissa W). Dell and her partner led their division from start to finish, concluding their weekend with just one rail added to their dressage score for a total score of 36.2.
Dell grew up riding in England where she spent most of her days galloping around the countryside on her pony and being heavily involved in her Pony Club. She was bitten by the eventing bug from an early age and eventually moved to Canada to be a working student for Tricia Dahms. That is how she was initially introduced to Aramis W.
“My horse Aramis W was actually a wedding present from my husband 10 years ago,” she reflected. “My husband and Tricia picked out a sassy little, not halter broke 4-year-old gray warmblood from a herd of horses. The first time I saw him was when we went to pick him up. We got him home and he got away from me, through two fences and into the ‘back 40’ with the broodmares. It took me five hours to catch him and get him into a pen. We pulled blood to do health papers to head south for the winter before I’d even backed him.”
Still wild as ever, Aramis W liked to demonstrate his athleticism through some vertical bucks. Many would have never guessed that over the course of two years, that feral young horse would mature into a Preliminary event horse.
“He won or placed at every competition all along the way,” shared Dell. “Other than dumping me once in front of my childhood idol, Leslie Law, he has refrained from those verticals bucks thankfully.”
A motherhood journey for Dell led to a few quiet years as she raised her two young children, but two years ago Dell and Aramis worked on their fitness and completed their first CCI2* in July. Wanting to end their season with something fun and different, Dell decided to aim for a T3D.
“Aramis really benefited from having a super great long warmup in Phase A to prepare for the gallop around the steeplechase. Practicing galloping jumps at higher speeds while still keeping the horse under you is so great for when you are jumping the bigger cross-country tracks. Phase C is such a good indicator of the fitness level of your horse, how quickly can they get their breath back, while still having to get back in a certain time,” Dell shared.
Dell reflected warmly on the tracks at Spokane Sport Horse farm, stating that completing the different phases amongst the beautiful trees and the varied Washington terrain was an absolute highlight. It was the pair’s first time competing at Spokane, and Dell fully intends on returning again.
“I would say to people considering doing a three-day go for it!” commented Dell. “You won’t regret it, it’s a blast, but do make sure your horse is fit enough. Do your homework so you can enjoy the endurance part. It’s a great feeling when your horse wants to get going and have fun as much as you.”
Another Canadian brought home the top honors in one of Spokane’s Classic Series divisions as Mya Hill piloted her own 9-year-old Welsh cross gelding Keystone (The Key x Another Candle) to the win in the Novice Three Day. The duo led their division from start to finish and added no penalties to their dressage score to end the weekend on a 33.3.
Hill began eventing at the age of five, thanks to the influence of her older sister, and got her first pony when she was just nine. “He was a tough little ride that I fell off of causing a double open fracture on my arm which resulted in two surgeries,” she reflected. “The recovery set me back but I was adamant to keep riding and become stronger because of it! At 12 years old I got my second pony named Farley which I owned for almost two years. Farley was a super pony and helped me overcome my fears and brought me to the level I'm at today.”
Hill and Keystone, lovingly known as “Toney,” partnered together last year. Having been a show jumping for his whole career, Hill had to introduce him to the nuances of eventing. Luckily, according to Hill, Toney has been super honest and taken the transition quite well.
Wanting to add a little challenge to their season after having competed at the Novice level all year long, Hill’s trainer Paige Dinnie suggested that they give the Three-Day format a try. The pair completed their first long-format event together at Rebecca Farms earlier this year. Hill loved the experience so much, that she knew she wanted to do it again.
“Keystone benefited from the Three-Day format by riding a dressage test in a large ring and having the opportunity to run the steeplechase and roads and tracks phases. Prior to the Three-Day Keystone has never been exposed to these phases and those experiences showed Keystone the different areas of eventing. These opportunities will help us both hopefully move up the levels successfully.”
Hill’s favorite part of her weekend at Spokane was cross-country day. Hill and Toney both love the opportunity to gallop the steeplechase together.
For those considering adding a USEA Classic Series event to their calendar in the future, Hill shared: “My advice would be to make sure your horse and you are fit and overall have fun! Don’t be afraid of the challenge, it’s very gratifying when you finish, and of course, bring things like candy and yummy drinks to the 10-minute box to keep up your energy!”
The champions of the Beginner Novice Three-Day division are no strangers to the USEA Classic Series format or the winner’s circle. Kady Ellifritz and her 18-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Yankee Bay (Yankee Victor x Near Mint) brought home the blue ribbon in this same division at Spokane last year. The pair began their weekend in third place on a score of 27.8, but fault-free rounds in each phase would move them up to first place by the end of the weekend.
While Ellifritz grew up on a Thoroughbred, her past was in the Hunter ring. She never imagined she would one day be eventing, but after a nine-year break from riding, she found herself home at Inavale Farm in Philomath, Oregon. She was bitten by the eventing bug and hasn’t looked back since.
Ellifritz connected with Yankee Bay in 2018 by way of a porta-potty advertisement at a horse trial. “My dedicated barn mates stalked Yankee around the show until I arrived and they shared reports of what a wonderful horse he seemed to be. The minute I saw him, I knew they were right. I rode him after he finished competing and then returned the next weekend to try jumping him. This was not your typical trying-out-a-horse experience. After a few jumps in the arena at Anni Grandia’s stable, Grand Farms, we went out into their Haunted Forest which is a big deal in the local area, where they decorate their forested cross-country course with spooky Halloween decorations for the local community to enjoy. Yankee and I cantered through the forest by ghosts, a giant dragon, witches, zombies, bats, beasts, and anything else you can imagine, and he did not notice any of it. Not one spook, not even a sideways ear. That was it. I was leaving with him.”
While winning the division last year was an absolute perk, Ellifritz wanted to put the long-format event on their radar again this year because of the rewarding experience they had together overall. “The actual cross-country ride Phase D is so incredibly smooth and with the perfect flow after all the warm-up, I wanted to experience that again. Last year, steeplechase was new to me and we had four-time penalties added to the best dressage score we had ever received. I wanted to try the whole thing again this year; but, finish on our dressage score, which we did!”
Ellifritz shared that Yankee loves his job so much, that sometimes the start box can trigger a little excitement and impatience within him. The USEA Classic Series format allows the pair to skip all of the antics and get right to work.
“Yes, we did leave the Phase A start box looking a bit like a cantering giraffe, and yes, there was a little bouncing about in the Phase B start box as the realization set in that jumping was imminent; but, we returned from Phase C round, loose, forward, and so calm that even a bucking horse being lunged five feet off the track did not phase us. The Phase D start box was all business and no antics and the ride was just about perfect with everything coming in stride: Focused fluid flow. I would trade a chaotic and crowded warm-up for 45 minutes of trotting and cantering through the woods any day,” Ellifritz joked.
The most rewarding part of the weekend for Ellifritz was watching all of the pieces from their preparation come together for flawless performance.
“My trainer, Kelsey Horn, put together a conditioning program for us that began in earnest the first of August and we stuck to it. Long interval rides after work followed by leg and hoof care made for some late evenings and gallop sets before it got too hot made for some early Saturday mornings. It was all worth it when, at the completion of Phase C, neither Yankee nor I were all that tired. He was barely sweating and all I wanted to do was get back on and go jump more stuff!”
As someone who obviously loves the long-format, Ellifritz is always eager to encourage others to participate too. Her advice for first-timers is as follows:
“Put in the time to prepare yourself and your horse and do all the aftercare you can – even at the Beginner Novice level. It’s true the jumps are small and the pace is slow relative to the other levels; but, it is still more than anything you will ask of your horse in a typical ride. Read the rule book about the Classic Format so that you understand how everything fits together. Walk the Roads and Tracks portion on foot or on your horse at least once and don’t do it while talking on the phone – pay attention. The woods can be confusing in the moment! Take the time to work out the meter math so you know when you should be where you are.”
The opportunity to compete in a USEA Classic Series event is not one that Ellifritz takes for granted. “I would like to thank Christel Carlson, the organizer of the Spokane Sport Horse Horse Trials for not only hosting a Classic Format competition but also for including a Beginner Novice level. There is no other occasion in Area VII for a Beginner Novice level rider to experience the Classic Format and I am very grateful for the opportunity. It takes many more volunteers and a great deal more effort to put on a Classic Format division and I am so happy Christel promotes it every year and gets such great support from sponsors as an added bonus for competitors!”
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.
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