May 17, 2018

Four Finish with Full Hearts at the Heart of the Carolinas Classic Three-Day Event

By Claire Kelley - USEA Staff

Spanning from coast to coast, north and south; the United States Eventing Association (USEA) Classic Series season is in full swing. The Heart of Carolinas at Southern Eighths Farm in Chesterfield, S.C. is the only event in the country to offer the USEA Classic Series at all four levels: Beginner Novice, Novice, Training, and Preliminary. On May 2-6, 2018, Southern Eighths Farm hosted their annual Heart of the Carolinas (HOTC) Three-Day Event and Horse Trials. This was the second event of the Classic Series season; to learn more about the first 2018 Classic Series event, please click here. Fun had by all is a guarantee with Classic Series events, and don’t just take the USEA's word, take the word of the winners.

“A top-notch event, and they did an excellent job of making it special. I can’t wait until next year!” Audrey Wiggins said. “By far one of the best events I’ve had the pleasure of competing in,” Amy Potts said. “Heart of the Carolinas brings in the best of the best to teach you,” Sierra Shurtz said. “Heart of the Carolinas is my favorite event in the country,” Jodie Potts said.

Walking the line between the North and South Carolina state line, Southern Eighths Farmfound it easy to develop the name “Heart of the Carolinas” for their horse trials. Four competitors made the trip to the Carolina state line to have fun and subsequently come out on top: Jodie Potts, Sierra Shurtz, Audrey Wiggins, and Amy Potts were the four winners of the Classic Series divisions.

Preliminary Three-Day Winner: Jodie Potts

A one-two punch for Jodie Potts in the Preliminary Three-Day. Potts took home the blue with her mount, Wapiti Byrd, and also took home the red with her horse, Island Fever.

Horse crazy from the start, Jodie Potts’ second word to come out of her mouth was “horsey.” Potts remembers her love for “going fast and jumping, so [eventing] was a match made in heaven!” Her second horse, Comet, is where she started to shine as a competitor and trainer. “He was the first horse I took from untrained to eventing success. A bit downhill, nobody thought he would do much.” Potts proved everyone wrong when she took Comet to 21 Preliminary horse trials and with 20 of them resulting in clear cross-country rounds.

Using her experience with Comet to successfully train both her horses, Wapiti Byrd (aka Byrd) and Island Fever (aka Fever), Potts first spotted Byrd on an online ad in 2013. Going through plenty of ups and downs, Potts describes Byrd as spooky and unpredictable at times. A recent memory of Byrd’s unpredictable nature occurred in March, 10 minutes prior to their dressage test at Southern Pines Horse Trials. “He saw a horse cantering in his general direction, dropped his shoulder in the most athletic manner, I was on the ground, and he jumped the warm up area fence and cantered back to Fever in the barn. Luckily, I got him back and the test wasn’t half bad!” Potts recounts the story with a chuckle.

Jodie Potts with Wapiti Byrd (right) and Island Fever (left). Photo courtesy of Jodie Potts.

Although spooky at times, Byrd’s athleticism and talent is what shines bright. “He has always been brave over fences. Every time I would make jumps a bit bigger, he would jump it as if to say ‘ok, no big deal.’’’

By keeping the lid on Byrd’s shenanigans, Potts piloted the athletic 9-year-old Appaloosa to a win in the Preliminary Three-Day. With over a dozen Classic Series completions on three different horses, this isn’t Pott’s first time at the level and certainly not her last. “I am a huge supporter of the long format. I did my first long format at the Indiana Eventing Association Training Three-Day in 2010 with Comet and have been thoroughly addicted ever since!”

Having the Preliminary Three-Day as a prep, Byrd’s FEI passport should be in the mail as they aim for a CCI* before this year ends. Not to be out shadowed by his winning barnmate and future FEI horse, Byrd; Island Fever (aka Fever) has a special place in Pott’s heart as well. “He is a bit stronger in dressage than Byrd and galloping on the steeplechase is his favorite part of the weekend! He is the sweetest horse in the barn, loves attention and food,” with extra emphasis put on the food, as Potts describes Fever.

It’s a safe bet you’ll spot Potts at the Heart of the Carolinas next year, as she says “Heart of the Carolinas is my favorite event in the country. From the beautiful venue, to the wonderful people running it, to the camaraderie amongst competitors - it really can’t be beat. It is something I look forward to every Spring and this was my fifth year in a row.”

A successful Preliminary rider, a patient, knowledgeable trainer, and a winning Classic Series event competitor; Jodie Potts is making her mark on the USEA Classic Series.

Training Three-Day Winner: Sierra Shurtz

Sierra Shurtz and Zach Eyed Pea. Eileen Dimond Photography Photo.

“The experience is unreal,” Training Three-Day winner, Sierra Shurtz described what it’s like to compete in a classic event. “I would encourage everyone to do a long format three-day!”

What’s Shurtz favorite part of the three-day event? Yes, you guessed right: the endurance day. “I’ve ridden a bunch of cross-country courses, but not one touches the amazing experience of the long format. I have my best cross-country rides at three-days because I’m so in sync with my horse. The feeling is unlike anything I’ve felt on any other cross-country courses.” This experienced pair were first introduced to the USEA Classic Series in 2016, where they competed in the Novice Three-Day. In the lead throughout the whole weekend, their win was cut short when they knocked the last show jump fence on Sunday resulting in a fourth place finish in the Novice Three-Day. Shurtz and her partner Zach Eyed Pea (Zach for short) returned to the Heart of the Carolinas hungry for redemption.

How did this competitive pair cross paths? A leggy, underweight 3-year-old, Zach, the Appendix Quarter Horse was spotted in a small lesson barn from Shurtz’s trainer, Susan Thomas. Realizing his athleticism and potential, Shurtz purchased the 3-year-old when she was 13. “I have been so lucky to have such an amazing partner. We have grown up together and Zach constantly gives me his all. I honestly couldn’t ask for a better partner to move up the levels with.” Coming a long way from the scrawny 3-year-old, Zach and Shurtz have a fall CCI* in their horizon.

Sierra Shurtz and Zach Eyed Pea (right) with trainer Susan Thomas (center) and Rylie Galbraith and Zeta (left). Photo courtesy of the Charbonnet Sport Horses Facebook page.

Already an established Preliminary rider, Shurtz has memories of smiling for the whole hour in her very first lesson at the age of six. Growing up, Shurtz was never the one to shy away from the challenging ponies. “I remember riding all of the naughty [ponies] and I loved it! I loved having a challenge and got some giggles out of their little shenanigans.” Transferring her fearlessness to her love for cross-country, Shurtz is thankful for her experience with the hard-headed ponies, “I am very thankful I was exposed to so many different types of horses at a young age. I now have the confidence to get on a variety of horses and adjust my riding accordingly.”

If you see a competitor smiling the whole way around cross-country, odds are it will be Sierra Shurtz since it seems her smile has never faded from when she first started riding at the age of six.

Novice Three-Day Winner: Audrey Wiggins

Audrey Wiggins and Spookhill At Last. Eileen Dimond Photography Photo.

On June 18, the warm summer day in 2008 is when Audrey Wiggins met her “horse of a lifetime.” That horse, Spookhill At Last, who goes by the barn name ‘Oliver’ was bred at her very own Spookhill Farm in Vass, N.C. It’s a family affair when it comes to Oliver, as he is out of Dazzler, Wiggin’s Preliminary mare that she used to compete in college. “We have a strong bond. I was there the day he was born and I have basically been ‘his person’ from day one. I broke him myself and did a year or so of ground work with him before I started riding him. I had never trained a horse from start to finish, and I’m an amateur so I took things super slow.”

Slow and steady wins the race, and in Wiggins and Oliver’s case this popular phrase proved true as they clinched the win in the Novice Three-Day (the largest division at Heart of the Carolinas).

Wiggins had her fair share of riding naughty ponies, as her start to eventing came in a slightly different fashion than her win at Heart of the Carolinas. At “nine years old I was taking English riding lessons at a local riding school and my first event was a D Rally. Unfortunately, my nerves were horrible, and my pony was naughty, and I was eliminated in every phase!” Although the unfortunate first experience didn’t deter Wiggins from coming back for more. “I never really looked back, and I’ve been riding and competing ever since.” After her first event, she went on to train with Jim Graham and Mark Combs in high school, and David O’Brien while she was in college.

Spookhill At Last and his dam, Dazzler, at Spookhill Farm. Photo courtesy of Audrey Wiggins.

Mark Combs attended the Heart of the Carolinas, and having him by her side is a memory that Wiggins will always carry with her. “One of the most special things to me about winning this past weekend is that Mark was there helping me, so it kind of felt like old times!”

What’s next for Wiggin’s horse of a lifetime? They plan to continue the fun with a Training Three-Day in the fall of 2019. Her love for the Classic Series is a refreshing reminder as to why USEA has brought back this long format. “Now that they've added the Novice and Beginner Novice levels, it allows for amateurs like me, who may never get back to Preliminary due to work and life changes, the opportunity to feel the thrill of a Classic Series event.”

While Wiggin’s felt the thrill, she gives credit to several people who stand behind her, including her coach for the past five years, Lauren O’Brien. “She’s been instrumental in building the strong, confident base that Oliver and I have which allowed us to run around the event this past weekend so successfully.” And Wiggin’s parents, “they have been my biggest fans, in the good and the bad. They are the best horse show parents a girl could have! Behind every good amateur are the parents who encouraged their kid to kick on and go do what we love!”

Kicking on is what Wiggins did from her first naughty pony to her win with her horse of a lifetime, Spookhill At Last.

Beginner Novice Three-Day Winner: Amy Potts

Amy Potts and Southern Sass. Eileen Dimond Photography Photo.

For the rest of Southern Sass’s life, Amy Potts will be right by her side. Southern Sass (Sweet T for short) has a loving, forever home at Last Love Farm, the farm Amy Potts and her husband, Joe Bilotti own. “My horses are mine for life, so no matter what she will always be at my farm. I will always be able to look out my kitchen window and see her.”

In 2013, Potts’s dear friend Mona Gardella and Potts went into a deal together of taking on Sweet T as a resale project. Little did Potts know she would fall in love with the jet-black Quarter Horse mare. “I’ll never forget the day I decided to buy her. She is 100% my partner and teammate and I am thankful everyday (yes, even when she gets sassy) that I made that decision.”

Always up for a challenge, Potts knew she wanted to try a three-day event. Sweet T was the perfect horse to try it on and perfect she was! Potts put in hours of homework and was determined to be fully prepared for the event. “I did tons of research on how to prepare, and everything I saw described how close you get to your horses in preparing for an event like this. I am always looking to better my partnership with Sweet T and to better myself as a rider and horseman.” Their hard work paid off and earned them the blue in the Beginner Novice Three-Day.

Amy Potts and Southern Sass. Joe Bilotti Photo.

“From Phase A to the finish line on cross-country, I couldn’t stop smiling.” Potts reflects on her favorite part of the competition, and yes like many other Classic Series competitors, it’s endurance day! “Running around [the] steeplechase course was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been able to do, and I could tell Sweet T enjoyed it as well.” Potts’ second favorite part was the “amazing volunteers and clinics. The group of people helping in the 10-minute box taught me so much about what this sport is truly about and I can’t thank them enough.”

One person who played a role in her win was Potts’ husband. “I want to thank my amazing husband, Joe Bilotti. He came to the show to cheer me on; he is the best show husband ever!”

Want a piece of advice from winner, Potts who did hours of research on the Classic Series events? “Do lots of forward trot sets! I had done trot sets but didn’t realize until I was out on roads and tracks how forward I needed to be trotting. [Secondly] go to every [educational seminar and] clinic that is offered at the show. You will learn something valuable from everyone!”

Having the love for her horse, support from her husband, and the humble attitude, Potts’ win was well deserved.

Final Words from the Winners

If you haven’t had the chance to compete in the Heart of the Carolinas at Southern Eights Farm, you are missing out. The organizers, volunteers, and Southern Eights Farm staff work hard to ensure every competitor has fun relieving the long format style. Their hard work, high standards, and relentless effort to make their event as much fun as possible was noted, as each rider remarked how much fun they had.

“I just want to thank Brad Turley and all the staff of Southern Eights Farm, the sponsors, the organizing and secretary crews, and the volunteers for putting on a top notch event! They did an excellent job of making it special. It was truly a great weekend and I can't wait until next year!” Audrey Wiggins stated.

“This was by far one of the best events I’ve had the pleasure of competing in. All the competitors were cheering each other on and helping each other which was amazing to see. And I still can’t say enough about the volunteers. It wouldn’t have been possible without them.” Amy Potts stated.

“I learn so much each time I go, and Heart of the Carolinas brings in the best of the best to teach you. I love the community it brings together. We have some incredible people in this sport!” Sierra Shurtz stated.

“I really just want to make sure it is known how much I really appreciate everyone involved with HOTC, from Cindy DePorter to Brad Turley, and countless others. Just a unique and amazing experience.” Jodie Potts stated.

The USEA would like to thank everyone involved with Heart of the Carolinas, and congratulate Jodie Potts, Sierra Shurtz, Audrey Wiggins, and Amy Potts on their wins!

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 have the opportunity to 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 and will also be entered into a drawing held at the USEA Year End Award Ceremony for a year’s supply of SmartPak supplements and a custom fitted Stackhouse and Ellis saddle. Click here to learn more about the USEA Classic Series.

The USEA would like to thank SmartPak Equine, Stackhouse & Ellis Saddles, and Eventing Training Online for sponsoring the USEA Classic Series.

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