For Immediate Release: Saturday saw another group of champions being crowned at the 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds. Six divisions of Novice horses and riders went down the ramp and entered the Rolex Arena for their final phase – find out who emerged victorious after show jumping.
The Novice Rider division kicked off competition in the Rolex Stadium today as 50 horse-and-rider combinations prepared to contest Bobby Murphy’s track.
Local mom and full-time horse-woman Jane Musselman rode Bentley’s Best to the head of the winner’s circle after having produced two flawless jumping days and finishing on only her dressage score of 24.2.
“This was only my fourth event with him ever, so I feel lucky that we even qualified,” Musselman described of the 14-year-old Trakehner gelding (Hirtentanz 2 x Hauptstutbuch Baronesse XIII). “It’s incredible even just to be here and so to have the win is just icing on the cake.
“I was lucky enough to grow up in this area, so I have competed at the horse park before many years ago doing Pony Club but to win here is pretty special,” she finished.
Nancy Wilson of Flat Rock, North Carolina also held on to her dressage score of 25.6 with her 10-year-old German Sport Horse gelding (Last Man Standing x Bonja) Lagerfeld.
“My goal was really just to once again be somewhere in the top 15,” Wilson said in reference to her placing in the 2019 event. “I never dreamed we would be doing the Novice level at this point, and it is a challenge but it’s also great.
“I have had such a blast here, it’s just been wonderful,” she continued, “and I really have to give a huge credit and thank you to the USEA for putting this together.”
Madeline Bletzacker beat a year of tough odds and fought her way to the 2021 event after various surgeries and injuries threatened to hold her and her 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Don Principe x Winterzauber) Drummer Boy back from competition.
“I’ve had a really tough couple of years,” the Galena, Ohio resident explained. “Last year I had to have a reverse shoulder replacement, I broke my finger, and I bruised some ribs, but I kept up my training and exercise as best as I could and was determined to get here.
“I just told myself I was going to get through this, and we’d make it work because that is just what you do,” she continued. “I worked at the racetrack for 25 years and rode roughly 15 to 20 horses a day, so you learn how to just power through and do what needs to be done.”
Hayley Barbato and her 8-year-old gelding (Bellamy Road x Next Big Nothin) Whiskey Road were the recipients of the Thoroughbred Incentive Program (TIP) award for the division after receiving the lowest score of 28.0.
Making their multi-day trip all the way from San Leandro, California proved well worth it for junior competitor Mia Brown and her 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Delatio x Stella HW) Duke HW. The duo headed into the iconic Rolex Stadium as the final pair in the Junior Novice division after leading the pack for the entirety of their event. Refusing to be overthrown, Brown confidently took her partner over each obstacle and emerged victorious once again.
“I am so happy we made the trip,” Brown gushed. “I’m so over the moon to be here, it was the most fun experience. The horse park is beautiful, and it was special to be able to come all the way here and compete because my family is from here. I’ve always wanted to ride at the Kentucky Horse Park, and it seemed like the right time to do it.”
“It still hasn’t really sunk in that I just competed in the Rolex Stadium,” she admitted. “It has been a bit overwhelming but ultimately I think Duke really enjoyed the big atmosphere.”
Zoe Hagedorn and Peter Pan jumped from third to take the reserve champion ribbon after producing a penalty-free round to keep their score low at 28.2.
“Show jumping is his favorite phase which is good because it makes me nervous,” she laughed. “I was very proud of how he handled himself in the big arena today though because he definitely still has his baby moments.”
The 6-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Connor x Wanda PP) apparently produced his best antics in the previous day’s cross-country warm up when he took himself for an unplanned excursion prior to his round.
Having made a two-day venture down from Lebanon, Maine, Eloise Plante and Mr. Lickety also had a successful show-jumping phase and rounded out the top three only 0.5 penalties behind Hagedorn.
“I was pretty nervous because we haven’t been able to do as many events this year as we normally would,” Plante explained. “It is a huge environment and where I’m from we definitely don’t have anything like this but it actually was such a fun experience.”
Plante’s 11-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Powerscourt x Sugah Sugah) was also the recipient of the division's TIP award for his final score of 28.7.
Also in the division, Hannah Tabor and Tator Chip, her 9-year-old Quarter Pony, were awarded with the Captain Mark Phillips Pony Rider Award. This special honor is presented to the highest placed pony rider from the Beginner Novice, Novice, and Training Junior divisions.
Novice Master Amateur
At 67 years old, Mary Millhiser’s victory in the Novice Master Amateur division with her partner, My Boy Tex, is lifelong in the making. Millhiser sat in the fourth-place position with the 15-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Noble Houston x Take It to the Gold) after the dressage and cross-country phase of competition on a score of 27.4. However, the pair shone during the final day of competition in the show jumping element and jumped clear to ultimately don the tricolor champion ribbon.
“This has beyond exceeded all of my expectations,” she emphasized. “I never dreamed I would even be in the lineup, much less leading the charge. I am thrilled and amazed beyond words, it’s just incredibly meaningful.”
Millhiser has been a life-long horsewomen since the age of 10 years old. She competed in various hunters and fox hunting events throughout her childhood and younger years. After an 11-year-long hiatus, she moved to the Richmond, Virginia area and decided to pursue fox hunting and eventing since the year 1986.
“I just want to give a shout out to all of us that are still out here doing this at a slightly more advanced age,” Millhiser added. “Just keep on keeping on and don’t let age be a determining factor in what you think you can do because I feel like I am at the peak of my riding career.”
Audrey Wiggins of Southern Pines, North Carolina jumped three placings to become the division’s reserve champion with her own 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, Spook Hill At Last (Formula One x Dazzler’s Joy) with zero show jumping penalties and a final score of 27.9.
The victory was equally as meaningful for Wiggins who had been unsure if her gelding would ever be able to compete again after breaking his hip right before the AEC event in 2019.
“It has been a long road and one I was never sure we would recover from entirely,” she confessed. “We have been bringing him back slow and steady and miraculously he has come back better and stronger than before.”
Wiggins’ ties to the gelding run deep as she explained that she has bred and produced him entirely herself.
“I had his mother for 26 years and he was born at my property. It means so much to have that kind of partnership with him. We have had our ups and downs, but this weekend he really stepped up in every single phase and was in it to win.”
The final podium position went to Santa Fe, New Mexico’s Jennifer Achilles and Excel Star Lance, her 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Lancelot x Curraghtown Cruise). The duo added an unfortunate 1.2 time faults to their previous score but still managed to best the next contender by 0.1 less penalties for a tally of 28.0.
Junior Novice 15 and Under
Some of the future stars of the sport had their debut in the Rolex Stadium in the Novice Junior 15 and Under division. Fifteen-year-old Margaret Frost and her 12-year-old Warmblood gelding Euro Star (Qredo Van De Kempenhoeve x Panama) rose to the occasion one final time to produce the lowest-score outcome and seal the deal on their champion ribbon.
“This win feels really great because we haven’t been together that long,” Frost stated. “We went into this as a team, and we just did our best together; that’s all I could’ve hoped for.”
The gelding was previously a ride for Claire Howard who took him to the North American Youth Championships prior to Frost purchasing him in March. The pair have already had a good amount of success since.
“We did a Novice at Chattahoochee Hills this year and he ended up winning that, then we did some Training levels which have been great learning experiences,” she continued. “We keep each other on our toes, and I think it will be great to just see how far we can go together.”
Laura Voorheis had experience on her side as she and veteran competitor Herbst Acapella put forward another flawless round and ended on their dressage-day score of 30.7 to ride for ribbons in second place. Voorheis has been paired with the 17-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Aldato x Miss Beckett) for a little over a year but he brings years of experience to the team after having competed in Ireland through the FEI level.
“I was super happy with this weekend because we were really able to put everything together that we have worked on all summer,” Voorheis said. “He is such a schoolmaster that he is really teaching me the ropes and I am just so fortunate to learn from a horse like him.”
Sally Smedley also held on to her clear streak with the 8-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Crown of Thorns x Prize Penny) Golden Ticket CR and only earned 0.5 more points than Voorheis over the entire event to end up in the third position.
“I am so happy to have ended up with this horse,” Smedley explained. “He actually came into my barn for another student but she was a bit big for him and I was looking for a horse at the time, so I tried him and he was everything I was looking for.”
The winner of the TIP award for the Junior Novice 15 & Under division was Read All Over, the 19-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Fast Play x Log Jammer) ridden Audri Hoos.
The technical delegates awarded Ella Wegerich with the EEI Organizers Sportsmanship Award. She finished in 15th place with Falynah B, her own 8-year-old Hanoverian mare (Fabuleux x Graphitti B).
At the very final phase of the Novice Horse division, young professional Chloe Smyth took over from the overnight leader to claim the champion honors aboard Michelle Cameron Donaldson’s Byzantine SC. Smyth has not ridden the 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Breitling since competing at Rebecca Farm in July, but this event was one she and owner Donaldson had set their sights on for quite a while. The long trip from the West Coast proved worth the venture as the pair put in their final flawless round and claimed the top spot with 28.3.
“Today was a bit of a catch ride for me since I have not been on him in a few months,” Smyth explained, “but his owner has been doing a lot of dressage shows on him, so he felt very nice and relaxed. I wasn’t sure how he would do with so much atmosphere, but he was surprisingly good.”
The win was not expected by Smyth who shared that the gelding has only been eventing for the past year and a half following a career as a vaulting horse.
“I did not expect this of him, but I did think the AEC would be very fun at this venue and his owner was very positive about coming as well,” she said. “He has all of the right parts and talent, and we know he can jump well he just needs to keep getting braver with experience.”
Jonathan Holling leapt from third to second place with Team Holling LLC’s Fernhill Copain by producing a clear show jumping score and only carrying on their original dressage score of 28.8 to the victory gallop. Holling explained that despite the 5-year-old Zangersheide gelding’s (Corico Z x De Zazoe VH ST Anneke) lack of experience, he was hopeful he would relax enough for his bloodline quality to shine through.
“He is 5 years old and this is only the fourth event of his life,” Holling stated, “he is a Fernhill horse though so I knew the quality was there and that if I could get him to relax he would be quite competitive. I was so impressed with him from day one because he did look around a bit, but he just took everything in and dealt with it.
“He is a lovely horse owned by a great group of people and I am very excited for his future,” he finished.
Jamie Allison is only in her first season back of full competition since the birth of her daughter, but the first-time mom had been able to count on partner Jedi when she was pregnant and was confident she could do so again. Ultimately, it was a successful finish to Allison’s season as a fault-free show jumping round placed them with the yellow ribbon and a final score of 29.4 carried over from dressage.
“We came together right before I found out I was pregnant,” Allison recalled. “I did about three events with him and then took a period of time off to have my daughter and work my way back. He is a super quality horse but overall, he has been my reliable and fun horse while I get the hang of being a mom.
He is a good guy,” she confirmed of the 7-year-old Warmblood gelding.
The Novice Horse division TIP winner was the 8-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Ghostzapper x Meadow Skippin) Cosmic Quest ridden by Chelsey Sawtell.
Wrapping up competition in the Rolex Stadium on Saturday, 53 entries in the Novice Amateur division completed their final phase in the show jumping competition. Despite adding 1.2 time faults today to her overnight score Cecilia Emilsson maintained a several-point lead over the next closest competitor to take the win aboard Blazing Angel.
Emilsson says the partnership between her and the 8-year-old Thoroughbred mare (Firecard x Angliana) was a total twist of fate but meant to be.
“I was planning to move to Dubai for work and put horses on the back-burner but then my trainer found me this mare and I was very confident she was going to be mine,” Emilsson laughed. “I had never seen her go, even the day we went to pick her up after I had already bought her we couldn’t even trot her because the weather was so bad, but I trusted my trainer and we put her on the trailer.”
As for her success with the mare, Emilsson admits she has been a project but with incredible potential.
“We have done a lot of bodywork to get her where she is today, but she is amazing,” she exclaimed. “She has a fantastic mind and is brave, keen, and ready to fight for you.”
Kai Bradley and her 9-year-old Hanoverian mare (Donar Weiss GGF x Whizzo) Diamonds Forever picked up an unfortunate four faults for a downed rail but were still good enough for the reserve position with 26.5.
“I have been to AEC many times but always in the middle of the pack,” Bradley explained. “So to be here, mounted on such a special horse was just wonderful.
“This is a very lovely facility and I think the questions asked were straightforward but tricky in a few spots,” she continued. “I really just can’t say enough, this has been a great experience.”
Producing the only faultless effort of the top three, Owings Mills, Maryland’s Samantha Schwartz, and her 15-year-old Quarter Horse gelding (Pure Pauli x Miss Diamond B Okie) Rumble Fish finished with their day one score of 28.1.
“He was very unexpected, but has impressed me so much,” Schwartz stated, adding that she had not planned on acquiring a new horse when he came into her life two years previously. “He has a lot of experience and he’s just a great guy all around. I was very nervous going into the ring today because there were a lot of rails coming down but once we were in there we just kind of got into a flow and rocked it.”
The TIP winner of the division went to Katherine Windham and the 6-year-old Thoroughbred gelding All Aboard.
Adult Team Championships
The winning team in the Adult Team Championships for the Novice division went to the Area I Avengers consisting of Tracie Sales and Ebony, Lisa Hilda and Cooleys Rule of Law, and Gwynne Bayne with FGF EllGee. The three-person team tacked the lowest score with only 92.9 penalties.
About the USEA American Eventing Championships
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. With over 1,000 entries the 2021 AEC is set to be the largest eventing competition in North American history. The 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds will be held August 31 – September 5 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.
The 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds would not be possible without our wonderful sponsors! The USEA would like to thank the following sponsors for their support: Presenting Sponsor: Nutrena Feeds; Advanced Final Title Sponsor: Adequan; Platinum Level Sponsor: Bates Saddles, Vetoquinol; Gold Level Sponsors: Parker Equine Insurance, ShowConnect, Smartpak, Standlee Hay; Silver Level Sponsors: Auburn Labs, Park Equine Hospital, Mountain Horse, The Jockey Club; Saratoga Horseworks; Bronze Level Sponsors: 70 Degrees, Athletux, Black Petticoat, The Chronicle of the Horse, Devoucoux, Dubarry of Ireland, Equilume, FITS Riding, Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, LandSafe Equestrian, Parks Tax & Consulting, Retired Racehorse Project, D.G. Stackhouse & Ellis Contributing Level Sponsors: Big Ass Fans, CrossCountry App, FarmVet, GLC Direct, Haygain, John Deere, L.V. Harkness, Santa Cruz Animal Health; Prize Level Sponsors: American Saddlebred Horse Association, Astrid’s Oil, Bluegrass Animal Products, Dressage TestPro, EQuine AMerica Magazine, Flexible Fit Equestrian, Achieve Equine/FLAIR Equine Nasal Strips, Great British Equinery, Horse & Country, Hound & Hare, I Love My Horse, Mare Modern Goods, Romitelli Riding Boots, Strides for Equality Equestrians, Tack of the Town, VetBlue, The Equine Network, and Horse&Country
The USEA Eventing Coaches Program (ECP) has initiated a renewed focus on the diverse challenges coaches in various regions of the country may be facing. To this end, the program is in the process of enlisting representatives in each of the 10 USEA areas to help guide the program as warranted for the unique needs of each specific area.
The United States Eventing Association (USEA) has opened nominations for the annual appreciation awards through Oct. 29. This is an opportunity for the sport to recognize those horses and riders who excelled in eventing throughout the year. It is also an opportunity to recognize and honor the very important people who have served the sport tirelessly both in a non-riding capacity and riding capacity during their golden years.
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The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) has made five rule changes which will go into effect October 1, 2023. Familiarize yourself with these rule changes below to make sure you are in compliance before heading out for your next event.