Oct 13, 2023

Eight New Champions Rise to the Occasion at USEA Area II Championships

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff

The USEA Area II Championships were a little extra special this year as the Maryland Horse Trials was also host to the Mandatory Outing for the 2023 Pan American Games team. Riders of all levels got to ride alongside U.S. team representatives, adding a little extra luster to this year’s event. This year, there were eight new champions crowned at the Preliminary, Modified, Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice levels in Area II. Get to know each of them a little better below.

Preliminary Champions: Carlin Keefe & Point Nemo | 26.6

Carlin Keefe with Point Nemo (left) and Mr. Candyman (right). Photo courtesy of Keefe

Carlin Keefe felt she picked up a few last-minute tips in the dressage warmup before she and her mother Rumsey Keefe’s 10-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Point Nemo (Songandaprayer x Wood Not) trotted down the centerline to take the lead in the Area II Preliminary Championship.

“Riding alongside the Pan Am team in dressage warmup was a great experience,” she shared. “It honestly helped to be able to watch them ride as I walked around the warmup and watch how effortless they made everything look. I tried to emulate each of the rider’s positions as I rode my tests, and it seemed to work!”

Carlin and “Nemo” have been together for a lifetime. Her father, Tim Keefe, purchased him as a yearling and trained him on the track, but it became clear early on that his heart didn’t lie in racing.

“My mom restarted him as a 3-year-old and took him to Training level,” said Carlin. “At the time, he was turned out with my pony, and I just hated him! He was so playful and scared me every time I went to go get my pony. I would never have guessed that he’d turn into one of my favorite horses.”

Carlin’s sister Ryan Keefe had the ride on Nemo for a while, taking him up to the two-star level. In June of 2021, it was Carlin’s turn on the family horse

“We have had many ups and downs since then, but I am so happy with the direction we’re moving toward,” said this year’s champion. “We’re not always perfect, but sometimes we get all the pieces to click, and this weekend was one of them!”

The pair led the Modified Rider Championships after cross-country at this year’s USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds, but a rail in the final phase would cost them the win and leave them finishing in third. This weekend, Carlin had high hopes she could improve upon that performance.

“I am definitely most proud of my show jump round,” she reflected. “I haven’t had a clear round since April, and I have been working so hard to get both of us jumping well together. Show jump is definitely not my favorite phase, and even more so when it’s the last phase. It felt so amazing landing off that last fence and knowing I finished on my dressage score. I was so happy with Nemo!”

Modified Champions: Hannah Hawkins & DHI Kickodieza | 25.0

In the Area II Modified Championships, Hannah Hawkins and her 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding DHI Kickodieza (Nababn de Reve x Vodieza) earned themselves a solid lead with a dressage score that was seven points lower than the second-place pair. Their score of 25 would carry the pair through to the win after their double-clear cross-country and show jumping rounds.

Hawkins just began competing DHI Kickodieza earlier this year and have had a second-place finish at the Training and Modified levels, but their win at the championships this weekend was their first blue ribbon outing together.

Junior Training Champions: Sophia Stolley & BWE Stopping Waves | 25.7

Sophia Stolley and BWE Stopping Waves. Erin Gilmore Photography photo

This year’s Area II Championships marked Sophia Stolley’s first trip to Loch Moy Farm, and she was not disappointed.

“I was so happy to be in such an organized environment,” she said. “Everyone was friendly, helpful, and supportive, which truly made the weekend enjoyable. We will absolutely be coming back!”

While she just began showing Brianna Stolley’s 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare BWE Stopping Waves (Nonstop x Caprice 5) at USEA recognized events in August, she and “BB” have a long history together.

“We've been from England to Germany to Virginia together,” said Sophia. “I took the reins from my mom, who has produced her from a 4-year-old, in mid-2022. It hasn't proven to be an easy partnership, but in the past few months, we've really turned a corner in our connection. We finally have a bond in which she's my best friend as well as my partner, and I'm so proud to say that this was reflected in our run at Area Champs.”

The dressage ring has been this pair’s struggle up until this point, but Sophia was proud to share that everything seemed to come together this past weekend. They led the division from start to finish, only adding 0.4 time penalties on cross-country to their dressage score of 25.3 to finish on a 25.7.

“We've struggled in the short time we've been working together to keep a relaxed and consistent rhythm, with a tendency to rush through tests, but consistent was the perfect way to describe this ride,” said Sophia. “I'm so proud of the way we maintained our focus, and BB was exceptionally responsive. I think that the hours of partnership building that I've poured into my relationship with this horse the past few months are really showing.”

Going into the final phase in the lead can definitely add a touch of tension, but Sophia felt the environment at Loch Moy played a huge factor in her ability to get the job done.

“I’ve never run in backward order for show jumping before, and while it was completely nerveracking to go last, I think that the easy environment helped me relax and focus on my course,” she said. “Winning champs was the most amazing feeling. I've had a difficult few years eventing while in Europe for my dad‘s job, and I feel as if this win is truly my way of coming back with a bang. It feels like for the first time in a long while, the time and love I've put into this sport and my horse are paying off. Our success at Loch Moy has made me believe that we’re ready to show the USA what we‘re made of!”

Training Champions: Linden Wiesman & Fifth Ace | 31.7

Linden Wiesman and Fifth Ace. Erin Gilmore Photography photo

After starting the weekend in third with their dressage score of 31.7, Linden Wiesman and Allison O’Dwyer’s 7-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Fifth Ace (Bernardini x Model) slowly crept up the leaderboard after each phase to finish in first on their dressage score. Wiesman has had to become a bit of a master of all trades over the years as she balances motherhood to her 15-year-old son John, riding her own horses as well as the ones in her program, and selling real estate, but that hasn’t slowed her down any!

“I have been going to Loch Moy for 15 years,” shared Wiesman. “I have watched Carolyn [Mackintosh] work so hard. She is always improving [the facility]. She always does a good job at making the events feel special.”

Wiesman has been competing “Ace” since 2020 and has slowly brought him through the levels each year. Including their win this weekend, the pair now have eight top-3 finishes together.

“He’s a lovely horse,” she said. “He is just learning the job and moving up the levels. He’s pretty cute. He is sort of cheeky, and he definitely has a lot of personality. He wants things done his way—you have to brush him a certain way. He gets his ‘itchies,’ and he makes you scratch them. He is just a character.”

Wiesman was most proud of Ace’s consistency through all three phases but also noted that it wasn’t just up to the horse to make that happen.

“He was really nice and consistent in all three, which I kind of relish in that because there are so many times that you have a good dressage but you mess up in show jumping,” said Wiesman. “It is hard to put all three phases together, and I was really happy that we got that done. That is more me than the horse, just me riding well in all three phases. He is going to go as well as I ride him.”

While the win was a bit of a shock for Wiesman, she was thrilled for her partner.

“I was so happy for Ace," she said. "He deserves a little recognition! From here he is going to just keep learning the job. He will tell me what he wants to do.”

Junior Novice Champions: Izzy Lenk & Kiltubrid Harley | 24.7

Izzy Lenk and Kiltrubid Harley. Erin Gilmore Photography photo

Izzy Lenk partnered up with Suzanne Lenk’s 7-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Kiltubrid Harley (Sligo Candy Boy x Kiltubrid Heather) in April of this year. “Harley” is a far cry from her previous ride, so they have spent their season together learning about each other—an effort that has paid off as the duo came into this year’s Area II Championships off of two wins at the Novice level.

“I’m coming off of a completely different ride in every single way possible,” shared Izzy. “I used to ride a 15.1h Welsh-Thoroughbred cross super pocket rocket pony, and Harley is a 16.3-hand Irish Sport Horse with huge movement. So, I’ve really just spent this time getting to know him.”

Izzy got a little unexpected advice from one of the Pan Am Games team members at Loch Moy while attending the competitor party.

“I think any show that you go to there will be some tension in the air because everyone is just trying to do their best, everyone wants to win,” said Izzy. “I find just forgetting about the awards and truly just focusing on doing my best and being better than last time helps me relax. I was actually talking to Sharon White at the competitor party about show nerves, and she had a great take on it; it’s not a bad thing, it’s adrenaline, and it’s more of a thing where you have to direct your adrenaline to where it matters. This weekend I was really focusing on directing that adrenaline to stay focused on helping Harley as much as I could to do the best he could. With that control over the adrenaline, I was able to tune out the possible distractions and really just focus on Harley and me.”

What White said definitely stuck with Izzy, as the duo dished out a dressage test that put them at the top of their field with a score of 24.7. That performance was what stood out to Izzy as a shining moment from the weekend.

As the competition continued, the pair remained untouched with their double-clear jumping rounds in the final two phases. Izzy noted that winning this weekend’s championships still feels surreal.

“This is something I’ve always dreamed of since I was little, and it’s just hard to believe that I’m not dreaming anymore,” she said. “I’m absolutely over the moon with him. This was the first championship I’ve ever won, and it was really special to me that it was at Loch Moy. I remember six years ago, at 9 years old, when I did my first event at Loch Moy on my little 13-hand pony, Ghost. It brings back a lot of fond memories.”

Novice Champions: Martin Douzant & Johnny Walker | 20.0

Martin Douzant, the Shipka family, and Johnny Walker. Photo courtesy of Darcie Shipka.

Martin Douzant only recently took over the ride on Darcie Shipka’s 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Johnny Walker, but that new partnership didn’t stop them from sailing to the win in the Area II Novice Championships. Their dressage score of 20 remained unharmed through all three phases, not only seeing them finish in first place five points higher than the reserve champion pair but also letting them conclude the weekend with the lowest winning score at the 2023 USEA Area II Championships.

Beginner Novice Champions: Kendall Doran & Virago | 29.1

Kendall Doran and Virago. Erin Gilmore Photography photo

Kendall Doran and her 11-year-old Thoroughbred mare Virago (Birdston x Broad Legacy) didn’t exactly have the picture-perfect start to their eventing career together.

“I knew that ‘Hope’ was my horse the moment I sat on her in 2019,” she said looking back. “She had never evented before, and six months after her purchase, she tore her superficial digital flexor tendon, requiring surgery. We weren’t sure if Hope would ever go back to full work, but she proved everyone wrong.”

The pair moved to ECP Instructor and former Olympian Phyllis Dawson’s Windchase Farm in 2022, which Doran noted was key for their continued development together due to the support and opportunities for growth they encounter there daily.

At the Area II Championships, Doran and Hope’s dressage score of 29.1 put them in third, and they moved up to second after their double-clear cross-country round, which was the phase Doran stated stood out to her.

“I am most proud of our cross-country,” she reflected. “We’ve been working hard on our transitions, and although we still have a long way to go, she felt very rideable and confident.”

Of course, going into show jumping in the top three with the scores as tight as they were in the Area II Beginner Novice Championship can be nerve-inducing.

“I was a little nervous before each phase last weekend,” said Doran, “but as soon as we got to the warmup, I felt overcome with the joy of being on Hope’s team and doing something that we love together. She is a very, very special mare.”

Their bond helped them execute a double-clear round to move up to first place, just three-tenths of a point higher than the second-place pair. The win was completely unexpected for Doran, but of course very welcome.

“I was shocked that we won and wasn’t at all prepared for it,” she said. “I felt immensely proud of my horse and incredibly grateful to Phyllis Dawson, Jineen Reed, and everyone else that has gotten us to this point.”

Junior Beginner Novice Champions: Olivia Hicok & Huckleberry | 22.9

Olivia Hicok and Huckleberry. Photo courtesy of Hicok.

Thirteen-year-old Olivia Hicok and Eve Kaplan-Walbracht’s 17-year-old Morgan pony Huckleberry were a force to be reckoned with in the Area II Junior Beginner Novice Championships. Despite having just partnered up in January, this pair have led their division from start to finish on a dressage score of 22.9, earning their first win together in Hicok’s first season competing at the recognized Beginner Novice level.

“I have been working hard on improving my dressage score this past year,” shared the young champion. “The dressage score I got showed how much I have improved compared to my scores prior to championships.”

Looking back, Hicok had a lot of fond memories from her first championship experience, but getting to watch the U.S. Team riders definitely was a standout for her.

“I thought that it was so cool to have the Pan Am riders there at championships,” she shared. “It was so inspiring to see them compete in the higher levels.”

The second-place rider finished with a score nearly five points higher than Hicok and Huckleberry. The young rider was beyond thrilled with her experience but didn’t forget to mention all who have helped her get to this point.

“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family and friends and of course my trainer Clarissa Wilmerding.”

For full results, click here.

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Weekend Quick Links: May 18-19

Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered! Check out the USEA’s Weekend Quick Links for links to information including the prize list, ride times, live scores, and more for all the events running this weekend.

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