Nearly 100 horse and rider pairs traveled to Laytsonville, Maryland to compete in the four USEA Classic Series divisions offered at the Waredaca Three-Day Event and Horse Trials held October 21-23, 2022, but only four new Three-Day Champions were crowned. Meet the Champions of the Waredaca Preliminary, Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice Three-Day Events!
Winning the Preliminary Three-Day with an eight-point lead was Michelle Kuchta riding Sandra Holden’s 9-year-old Holsteiner gelding Chiraz (Cayado x Asquetta). Kuchta is no stranger to the traditional long format. She started eventing in high school while in California, but when her family relocated to Bogota, Colombia in the 1980s, women were not allowed to event as it was only available on the military bases around the city where all the riders were male. While in Colombia, Kuchta continued to ride and take jumping lessons, but finally returned to California to attend UC Berkeley and resumed eventing. That is when she ran her first FEI event, all of which were long-format at the time.
“I didn’t have a regular trainer, so I read Jimmy Wofford’s book that had detailed conditioning formulas for each level at the back of the book,” Kuchta reflected. “Having just one horse, I didn’t think I would be fit enough to trot continuously for the lengths of phases A and C, so I set out to get fit with my mare. I wore shorts, sneakers - although I don’t recommend trying this at home-, and full chaps. I tied my chaps to the saddle and ran all the trot sets with my mare. Then I put on my chaps, climbed back on and we did all the canter sets on the dirt fire roads in the Oakland hills.”
When Kuchta didn’t have the place to practice the all-important steeplechase phase, she had to get creative. “There were locked wooden gates on some of the fire roads that only allowed fire trucks into the area when necessary. Even though they were completely vertical with just one big wooden rail at the top, I would canter down to them and jump then. One day I was planning this and just around the next turn was the gate. As I came around the bend I saw a man standing next to his bicycle, which was leaning on the fire gate. I didn’t want to break stride so as I approached in the canter, I asked if I could jump the gate. At first, he seemed confused by what I was asking, but as I continued on my trajectory; he realized and grabbed his bicycle, and moved to the side. We sailed over the gate and I yelled thanks over my shoulder as I continued on.”
Kuchta’s creative fitness methods worked. Both she and her horse were super fit and she enjoyed the long format so much that she couldn’t wait to do another. Eventually, life would take her to New York in 1992 where she continued to event on the East Coast. She began training horses and developing the business she has now where she teaches alongside her daughter Bridgette Miller. While Kuchta has competed up to the five-star level, she spends most of her time now developing horses through the lower levels.
Kuchta rode two young horses in the Preliminary Three-Day at Waredaca- her winning mount Chiraz, and her own 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Special Reserve (The Visualizer x Deco Jazz) who she ultimately placed fourth with.
“Chiraz is an amazing horse with tremendous potential,” shared Kuchta, “but he lacks exposure and he can be spooky. The more he is exposed to the more focused he becomes, so I think this format was great for him. By the time he went out on cross-country, he was completely settled, and finding a steady rhythm was easier than it had ever been at a horse trial. So I think this was a super positive outing for his career.”
Kuchta is quick to suggest other riders participate in a USEA Classic Series event for several reasons: the bonding experience it provides for horse and rider, the exposure to the history and heritage of the sport of eventing, and the camaraderie it builds amongst eventers through the preparatory clinics and competition.
Looking back on her weekend with Chiraz, Kuchta shared: “My favorite part of the weekend was steeplechase. I hadn’t done it in years and I forgot how much the horses love to just gallop and jump. It’s simple and smooth in contrast to difficult combinations for example that we do on cross-country.”
Kuchta’s 8:00 a.m. ride time on the morning of the endurance phases welcomed her with brisk temperatures and a beautiful sunrise, but there was one other thing waiting for her that morning.
“When I walked out to the start of Phase A at 7:45 a.m. with frost on the grass and a very low sun just having risen over the horizon and temps in the 30s, I was so touched to have a big group of competitors and friends cheer me off at the start. Then when I arrived at steeplechase, the fence line near the barns was lined with people who had come out to watch and cheer. I had flashbacks to riding around the Kentucky five-star when I flew over the steeplechase fence closest to the crowd and this incredible roar of encouragement rose up from my fellow competitors, it all was really inspiring.”
Kuchta and Chiraz finished their weekend on their dressage score of 27.2.
Lisa Morrison and her 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding Entre les Etoiles (Emilion x Madalon) rose to the top of the field in the Training Three-Day. Morrison got her start in the saddle at the early age of seven in Western tack before swapping over to the hunter ring. It was in 1976 when Morrison’s mom took her to Bromont to experience the eventing portion of the 1976 Montreal Olympics that she found her true passion.
“I don’t think she really knew anything about the sport,” shared Morrison, “but I fell in love with it. The next summer, I went to a camp that specialized in eventing, and I’ve been eventing ever since.”
Morrison spent a decade riding with the Laframboise family in Quebec where she competed up what is now the three-star level. In 1998, she and the Irish Sport Horse Megantic won the Bromont Three-Day Event, a pinnacle in her career and partnership with Megantic.
Life had a different path for Morrison, however, and she took a 15-year break from riding seriously to focus on her career. In 2002, she broke her dry spell with the purchase of what she refers to as a “talented but challenging Irish Sport Horse.”
In 2014, Morrison treated herself to the ultimate 50th birthday present by purchasing a barely broke 4-year-old Holsteiner gelding named Entre les Etoiles. “Emile” got his namesake after a song by the “Singing Nun,” a favorite of Morrison’s mother. The pair did their first event together in 2015 and have spent the last eight years of their partnership navigating several ups and downs.
“Our competitive calendar has mostly been one year on and one year off, due to health reasons -both his and mine,” said Morrison. “He is an amazing jumper and we both have a habit of taking flyers, but I always feel safe on him. We always joke that dressage makes his brain leak because he used to sweat so much around his ears and because his attitude was always, “I can’t possibly do that” even though he is very capable. In the last year or so, we have made great improvements on getting more relaxed in the dressage ring as well as having more of a calm, cool, and collected approach to jumping.”
After running Training for a few seasons, Morrison thought it would be a fun opportunity to participate in the Training Three-Day at Waredaca before preparations for a move-up got underway. While originally it seemed like several riders from their barn might be able to join them, it wound up just being the pair of them going together.
“Emile and I have been going Training for a couple of seasons and our plan was to move up by the end of this season. Mid-summer, work got in the way of that plan, but Emile went so well at our last two competitions that I felt we were peaking for the Three-Day. I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity, so we came on our own. There was a huge contingent from Area I and, even though I hardly knew any of them personally, there was a lot of camaraderie and support from everyone.”
Morrison was so thrilled with her experience at Waredaca that she encourages any and everyone to enjoy the experience for themselves at least once.
“Go to Waredaca! It’s a great opportunity to work with so many great people that will walk you through the process. Also, talk to people who have done a Three-Day so you can be as prepared as possible. There is a lot that goes on before, during, and after the event. Plan your conditioning – for both you and your horse – so that you are both prepared for endurance day. Practice your dressage test at schooling dressage shows so that you can get a feel for how it rides in a competition environment.”
Morrison and Emile finished on their dressage score of 30.8, moving up from a tie for second after dressage to first after executing clear rounds in all of the endurance phases.
The busiest of the Three-Day divisions at Waredaca was hands-down the Novice Three-Day. With 44 entries, the competition was destined to be tight but Madeline Bletzacker and her 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding Drummer Boy (Don Principe x Winterzauber) were untouchable from start to finish.
Bletzacker had a somewhat late start to eventing. At 30, Bletzacker had only competed in 4-H and hunter schooling shows, but when a friend came to visit and wanted to horse show alongside Bletzacker on one of her horses, she found a combined test in Kentucky that the two could participate in.
“We didn’t know about dressage, but it was a big class and we watched a few go,” shared Bletzacker. “My horse won and my friend finished fourth. There were cross-country jumps on the grounds and we jumped them after the show. I was hooked.”
Bletzacker’s first USEA win was in 1996 aboard her Paint horse Cisco. Now 31 years old and happily retired on Bletzacker’s farm, Cisco’s eventing days are long over, but Bletzacker is still going strong. Her win at the Waredaca Three-Day Event marked her 101st USEA win on her own horses that she has trained herself.
Drummer Boy came to Bletzacker’s barn as an unbroken 3-year-old. After just nine weeks of riding, Drummer Boy competed in his first dressage schooling show where he was awarded the honor of high point horse. If the name Drummer Boy rings a bell with you, it might be because the horse has been the USEA Novice Horse of the Year many times throughout his career.
“My horse's Drummer Boy and Landtino S have allowed me to be USEA Novice Rider of the Year eight of the last nine years,” shared a proud Bletzacker. She is the first to admit, however, that Drummer Boy isn’t the easiest of keepers around the barn, but he definitely is worth it. “My partnership with Drummer Boy is unusual as he has digestive issues and eats eight small meals a day including one at 2:00 a.m. Since we live with our horses, I am able to attend to him 24/7.”
After competing in the IEA Classic Three-Day Event in 2021, Bletzacker marked the Waredaca Three-Day Event as a goal based on the recommendation of a friend. Unfortunately, the duo was unable to attend in 2021 due to an unexpected colic surgery for the special horse. Once Drummer Boy was back on track and had begun training again, the USEA Classic Series Event at Waredaca was Bletzacker’s ultimate goal.
The now 66-year-old rider knows the importance of both horse and rider fitness to contest a USEA Classic Series event and encourages all riders considering giving the long-format a go to prioritize fitness as well.
“Make certain you and your horse are fit. My personal fitness is a lot more difficult now that I am 66 years old. I ride an Equicizer, named Althea, in front of the television most nights. She has been a very important training device for me as I’ve had a few fractures in the last few years. I was glad that I was as fit as I could be as I walked the courses many times to familiarize myself with the property.”
Bletzacker and Drummer Boy left their dressage score unscathed through all three days of the competition, finishing out the weekend on a score of 24.6.
And last, but definitely not least, in the Beginner Novice Three-Day, it was Nancy Read and her 7-year-old Oldenburg gelding Classic Chrome PCH (Con Capilot x Southern Belle) who emerged victorious over the large 30-pair field.
Read got her start in eventing many years ago alongside her friend Dom Bergen. “We had two Appaloosas that disliked the sandbox as much as we did,” joked Read. “In any case, we had fun and were hooked on eventing.” Eventing became a family affair for Read after her daughter Annie turned nine and stole Read’s pony to compete Beginner Novice, also falling in love with the sport.
“When I got ‘Classic’ he knew very little under saddle, but he was exceptional at being naughty,” shared Read. “Nicole Carrol was able to get him through that phase. Classic then went to Annie in Kansas. She showed him cross-county fences for the first time and brought along his flatwork. Classic did his first event last October with Annie at Heritage Park. He was green but willing. With a Kansas winter on the way, I arm-wrestled to bring Classic to Aiken so I could learn to ride him. Alex Conrad took over his training and I got to have some lessons. Alex took Classic to some events and further brought him along beautifully.”
After their winter season in Aiken, Read and Classic returned to New Hampshire. Read’s friend Dani Downing informed Read that she was aiming for the three-day at Waredaca with Read’s other horse Caribe, who is Classic’s half-brother, and encouraged Read to qualify with Classic. But Read wasn’t quite sure if that was going to happen at the start of their season.
“After a Technical Elimination and Classic getting sick before cross-country at GMHA, I thought I may not be going to Waredaca,” she reflected. “I finally qualified at Hitching Post two weeks before the event!”
Read was very complimentary of the atmosphere at Waredaca and the involvedness of the USEA Classic Series team there. “Waredaca is an impressive venue. Gretchen and her team welcomed us and explained everything. Sharon and Woods were positive and encouraging to us all. The dressage demo ride was educational. Sue and Carol broke down the test movements for us and answered all my questions. Sue told me to “hand gallop along the outside of the arena and go down the center line like you own it.” That really helped me as Classic is a very laidback pony.”
Like the other Three-Day champions, Read found that the steeplechase was extremely beneficial in getting her horse going forward, making the cross-country a whole new experience for the pair. All-in-all, Read was thrilled with her horse’s performance and her experience at Waredaca.
“What a great learning experience for both of us! Classic is a lovely, accommodating pony who wants to please. I am so lucky to have him in my life. I would recommend that if you can go to Waredaca, you should do it!”
Their dressage score of 23.6 put Read and Classic in the lead from the start and they concluded the weekend with that score unharmed.
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.
In the final USEA Classic Series event of 2022, three horse and rider pairs rode their way to the top of the podium in the Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice 3-Day divisions offered during the Ram Tap Horse Park Horse Trials which took place November 18-20 in Fresno, California.
US Equestrian opened a bid process for one event to host the Advanced level in Area 3 on Week 10 for 2023-2027 due to an event cancellation. The bid process was conducted in accordance with the 2023-2027 U.S. Eventing Calendar CCI4*-L, CCI4*-S, CCI3*-L, & Advanced Policies and Procedures. The USEF Eventing Strategic Calendar Review Task Force made recommendations to the USEF Eventing Sport Committee who made recommendations for final approval by the USEF Board of Directors.
Concluding the 2022 Area Championships season was the Area X Championships held during the SAzEA H.T. which took place November 19-20 in Tucson, Arizona. Three Championship divisions were offered, allowing three horse and rider pairs the opportunity to conclude their 2022 eventing season by being crowned champion!
“The highest priority must be given by instructors to developing in their riders a correct, balanced, supple, effective, and independent seat for dressage and for jumping.” - “Teaching Principles” in the new ECP Eventing Handbook by the Levels