Jul 06, 2023

Get to Know the 2023 Area III Champions

Modified champions Devon Tresan and Zavallo. Cora Williamson for Liz Crawley Photography photo

The 2023 Area III Championships took place in Fairburn, Georgia, at the Chattahoochee Hills Horse Trials on July 1-2. Meet your newest USEA Area III Champions below.

Intermediate Championship: Melanie Smith & Shakedown Street | 48.0

Melanie Smith and her 13-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Shakedown Street (Survivalist x My Dear Rose) rode to the top of the Intermediate Championship after concluding their show jumping round on a 48.0. The pair started the weekend in second place but quickly found their way to the win after a clean turn around the cross-country course locked them into first place.

Preliminary Championship: Claire Robinson & Fernhill Swatch Out | 25.8

Claire Robinson, Newnan, Georgia, came to the Championships off a win in the Open Preliminary at the Virginia Horse Center Horse Trials in May. She started the weekend tied for first place in the Area III Preliminary Championships, after the dressage phase where she rode her own 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Fernhill Swatch Out (Watermill Swatch x Hillview Lady) to a score of 22.6. After a competitive cross-country phase with 2.4 time penalties, the two moved to third and added .8 show jumping time penalties to put them back at the top of the leaderboard, ending their campaign with the win and 25.8 penalties.

Modified Championship: Devon Tresan & Zavallo | 31.8

Modified champion Devon Tresan and her 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Zavall VDL x Ava) Zavallo headed into the Area III Championships with a hat trick on their minds after winning the Junior Training Rider Area III Championships in 2022 and 2021. "I've won with him for the past two years at the Area III Championships," Tresan explained. "This was our third consecutive win, and going into it, I wanted to continue that streak. I was hoping for fun, clean rounds, and a win would be great. But ultimately, I'm just trying to keep him as confident as possible because he is talented and a good jumper; I try to run him to the best of my abilities. I sat back a little and let him do his job this weekend. And he did it phenomenally."

The pair held the lead throughout the competition, starting with a strong dressage test and 27.8 penalties. "Our dressage phase was very consistent and relaxed," said Tresan. "He's a very obedient and good boy who loves eventing more than anything else. He likes all three phases equally. He's a lovely mover, and it comes easy for him to go correctly. He truly loves the game. He's always looking for the next fence out on cross-country. He's so focused; it's so fun to stand up and point him where we need to go."

Tresan, 18, grew up riding on her family farm and currently rides with Lauren Eckardt, but has also spent a fair amount of time working with Zachary Brandt, who she bought Zavallo from him a little over two years ago. "Zavallo is the most quirky and unique horse I've ever met," she admitted. "He picks and chooses his people, but he's super social and loves everyone. I adore him; he's always got so much expression and emotion, I can read him well, and our personalities work well together. I'm not anxious or nervous and am low-key in stressful situations, and he has a lot of feelings, so we balance each other out nicely."

After a successful Area III Championship, the pair will continue with their summer competition schedule heading to the East Coast Pony Club Championships and then competing at the AEC in August. Tresan also plans to run a CCI1*-L with Zavallo at the end of the year.

Senior Training Rider Championship: Carole Schaff & Company Spending | 27.0

Carole Schaff and her appendix Quarter Horse Company Spending (Caan & Company x Alyspend) topped a division of 13 horse and rider combinations. The pair earned 25.8 penalties in dressage, went clear around the cross-country course in 4 minutes and 58 seconds, and picked up 1.2-time penalties in show jumping. Despite the time faults, the duo still won the championship with a 27.0.

Junior Training Rider Championship: Scarlett Peinado & Second Amendment | 28.1

Scarlett Peinado and her 8-year-old Dutch Harness Horse Second Amendment (Colonist x Allie) held their own in the Junior Training Rider Championships, finishing on their dressage score 28.1. The pair rocketed around cross-country clear and compiled 0 jumping faults to take home the victory. Peinado also won the Training Rider division on Shadow Inspector.

Training Horse Championship: Sinead Maynard & Lightning V/Z | 25.9

Sinead Maynard and the A.C.E. Syndicate’s 6-year-old Zangersheid gelding, Lightning V/Z (Lyjanero x Wiloma III), earned an impressive 23.9 in their Training Horse Championship dressage test after collecting several 8s and a 9 from judges. The pair left plenty of wiggle room as they headed out to cross-country, where they collected 2 time penalties but still finished the weekend with a 25.9 and the championship.

Junior Novice Rider Champions Kai Walker and Just Call Me Q. Taylor Crawley for Liz Crawley Photography photo

Junior Novice Rider Championship: Kai Walker & Just Call Me Q | 32.7

Kai Walker and Just Call Me Q moved to the Junior Novice division last fall and have been perfecting their skills, particularly in show jumping, ahead of the Area III Championships. "I move up when I feel comfortable, so the transition was simple," Walker admitted. "Our first show out was great, and he's been good. However, we are working on our show jumping because he doesn't always pick his feet up. But he is a cross-country and dressage dream."

The pair sat in second place until the show jumping phase, where they ended the weekend in first place with a 32.7. "Dressage went well," said Walker. "We just had a relaxed warmup, and the warmup was quiet. So, it wasn't too stressful. We had a good ride. Not our best, but I was proud of Q for doing as well as he could. Cross-country went well. It was really hot out, so we just hopped over a few jumps beforehand, I tried to save his legs, and we had a great run. Show jumping is not my best phase. I was proud of him for having a clear round with just some time. I was proud of my horse because this was our first big success at Novice, and we've come so far."

Walker's transition to horses began with Q after having competed on ponies for most of her life. "I've been riding Q for about four years," she noted. "I got him to move up with me from my tiny pony. So, it was a big move up! It's just been a wild journey through everything. And we've been slowly moving up, but at a steady pace that I enjoy, and he's a happy little guy."

The 15-year-old trains with Caroline Sullivan and Jenni Hogan in Tennessee, and she credits them for developing a solid plan of success for the duo. "I'm thankful for my trainers and their dedication to our training," Walker exclaimed.

Novice Horse Championship: Carla Jimmerson & BDF Tag You’re It | 33.4

Carla Jimmerson and her 7-year-old Connemara/Thoroughbred gelding (Wildwood Hearne TopGun x Running Eagle) BDF Tag You’re It started in second place after their dressage test with a 29.4. Their quick and precise cross-country round of 4 minutes and 50 seconds put them into first place heading into their final show jumping round. Four penalties in the last phase gave them a final score of 33.4 but kept them on top of the 11 horse-and-rider class to win the championship.

Marisa Shulman and Samurai Sam, Senior Novice Rider Champions. Eileen Dimond for Liz Crawley Photography photo

Senior Novice Rider Championship: Marisa Shulman & Samurai Sam I 24.8

Marisa Shulman sent in her entry to the Area III Championships on a whim. She and her partner of nearly two years, Samurai Sam, hadn’t been as consistent as she would have liked this spring, but she thought, “Why not?” and knew that the only way to get consistent was to keep trying.

By the end of the weekend, Shulman was glad she made the trip from her base in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as she and the 7-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding (Verrazano x Shilla) took home the Senior Novice Rider championship on a score of 24.8.

“We had some sticky shows throughout the season—just some things where he needed time to figure it out,” she explained. “We had issues at a water jump at a show or two, but we won at River Glen [in April], and he felt fantastic. I was on the wait list [for the Championships], so I didn’t know I was showing until Tuesday. I had to find off-site stabling and trailer in every day. It still doesn’t feel real. He was on top of it, and I came off of a tough week at work with a lot of stress, but it all just came together, and he listened so well, and we were in tune with each other.”

Shulman, who works as a small animal veterinarian, got “Sam” when her previous horse, Checkmate, died unexpectedly. They’d competed at the USEA American Eventing Championships in 2021 at Training level and were getting ready to move up to Preliminary.

She found Sam at Zach Brandt’s barn in Florida and fell in love with his “goofball” personality. “I needed horses in my life to keep me sane and happy,” she said. “He’s been a lot of fun to work with. He’s a true character and a bit of a child, but that makes him a lot of fun!”

While she’s had to start over again at the lower levels, Shulman, 42, is happy to keep forging a partnership with Sam, and she credits work with her trainer Michael Pollard.

“We’re moving along, and we’re working on consistency,” she said. “He’s a smart guy, and we still have our things we do really well, and we have our things we need some consistency with. It was a really good weekend. I feel fortunate that I have him. He’s a super cool guy. I have such a good support group—friends, family, coach, my barn family—it just makes it that much better.”

Senior Beginner Novice Champions Samantha Torcise and Classic. Eileen Dimond for Liz Crawley Photography photo

Senior Beginner Novice Championship: Samantha Torcise & Classic | 30.9

Samantha Torcise had done some cross-country schooling and low-level eventing in college for fun, but since then, she’s been making her living as a hunter/jumper trainer near Miami, Florida.

She bought Classic, a now-13-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Cornet Obolensky x Calea), in 2018 to compete in the hunters, but he showed more interest in the jumpers. After a visit with the vet, it was recommended that Classic move down from the 1.20-meter level to the 1.0-meter level, and Torcise started to think eventing might fun for the gelding.

She started schooling with Hilda Donahue last year, and Classic took to it. “It’s interesting. I’ve asked a bunch of people about him, and I can’t find any cross-country or eventing history. He just really loves it,” she said.

The pair started competing at Beginner Novice in November 2022, and Torcise came out this year with the goal of qualifying for the Area III Championships. When they came home with the Senior Beginner Novice Championship, Torcise could hardly believe it.

“It was really amazing considering the goal was to qualify and make the trip from Miami—to show up and do our best and not whimp out and say, ‘Oh it’s too hot, it’s too far, I’m too tired.’ The fact that he qualified for that and qualified for the AEC which we’ll be going to, and with the rule change he also qualified for Area II Championships, so we plan to attend that as well. He really blew all my expectations out of the water this year,” she said.

Classic has a big stride, so Torcise’s challenge at Beginner Novice is to keep a steady pace and not get speed faults.

“He dragged me around this weekend and came around at minimum time,” she said. “It’s not dangerous, he just has a huge stride, and it’s insane, so I knew he’s ready to go to Novice, and I know we’re ready, but since he’s qualified for so many things, I want to finish the year. We’re having a banner year.”

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing with the gelding though. Soon after buying him, Torcise noticed he was shaking his head and showing discomfort often. He was eventually diagnosed as a neurological head shaker, and Torcise has come up with a routine to keep him happy. He wears a UV fly mask, lives on alfalfa and eats on the ground the keep his neck stretched. He’s ridden daily with a fly mask, and only has it off for competing. Neck injections have also helped.

“It’s definitely been a journey and a bit nervewracking at times, but I’m really proud of everything he’s been able to achieve coming around that. It was a little scary when he was first diagnosed,” Torcise said.

Torcise, 32, runs her Strong Current Stables, in Homestead, Florida. She also writes an English training column for Horse Illustrated magazine and has appeared in some of the mental skills columns. She noted being able to visualize and stay calm helped keep her nerves at bay when she had to show jump last at Chattahoochee Hills.

“When it comes down to the wire like that, that’s where I’m really lucky to do a lot of work with sports psychology and mental skills,” she said. “I use it with my clients. That’s really helped me. I’ve gotten into a routine with visualization and staying calm.”

Beginner Novice Horse Championship: Brooke Bayley & Bonheur | 25.9

Brooke Bayley and Angela Myers’ 12-year-old Belgian Draft/ Morgan cross of unrecorded breeding, Boheur, stayed competitive throughout the weekend to finish on their dressage score of 25.9. The pair led their division from start to finish, crossing cross-country timers in 4 minutes and 29 seconds and putting in a faultless show jumping round.

"There are few horses that I have ridden that enjoy showing and their job as much as Beau. He shows up to train every day and knows when to turn it on in that arena. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is there to watch him! He only gets about 1000 (well deserved) compliments a show!" said Bayley on her Facebook page.

Junior Beginner Novice Championships: Brynn Keil & Princeton | 26.2

Brynn Keil and her 19-year-old Friesian gelding Princeton (Xamy x XXXtra Foolish April) finished at the top of the leaderboard in the Junior Beginner Novice Championships on their dressage score 26.2. The duo had the fastest fault-free round on cross-country at 4 minutes and 26 seconds and clung to their first place standing in show jumping after completing the final phase fault-free.

Full results.

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