Sep 14, 2023

How Two Top Riders Prepare for the Dutta Corp./USEA Young Event Horse Championships

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Best Kept Secret. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

Whether you’re a one-horse amateur rider or a professional with a string of horses, aiming for the Dutta Corp./USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) Championships is an exciting goal, and a well-thought out plan will help you get there successfully.

“There’s nothing stressful when you take them. It’s just a great introduction. For me it’s a no-brainer. It’s the perfect way to start training the horses,” said Caroline Pamukcu, who aims most of her sales horses and horses she hopes to keep in her pipeline for the future towards the YEH East Coast Championships in October.

Pamukcu won the 2021 YEH East Coast 4-year-old championship with Irish Sport Horse HSH Best Kept Secret (Adieu Z x Ringwood Sunny Clover).

This year, one of the horses she’s aiming for the championships is Wendy Furlong’s 4-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare After Hours (Tolan R x Mystic Touch).

The mare shares the same sire as Pamukcu’s past YEH champion HSH Blake (Tolan R x Doughiska Lass) who’s gone on to compete successfully at the Advanced level.

“She’s absolutely lovely,” said Pamukcu. “For both of us it was important for us to have a horse with a lot of Thoroughbred, and I’m really a big fan of the Tolan R stallion and all of his offspring.”

The mare was sourced in Ireland by Pamukcu’s business partner Kelly Hutchinson and has followed a more accelerated path than some horses due to her easygoing nature.

“She was unbroke in May when she came over,” said Pamukcu. “Wendy did a lot of ground work with her, and when I moved up from Florida, I took over and broke her in. She was absolutely lovely. The people who had her in Ireland did a lot of longing and long-lining, so she had a good baseline on her. The guy who had her produced her so well, the saddle was the last thing she had to worry about. It was no big deal for her.”

Typically, Pamukcu will start focusing more on her young horses after her spring three-days. “She really went from 0 to 100 really quickly,” she said of After Hours. “We did a lot of cross-country with her, lots of logs in the field, lots of trail riding. For me, that really makes them mentally think forward and happy. It’s a really easy way to get them backed.”

After Hours did her first YEH qualifier at the end of May at Flora Lea (Medford, New Jersey), which was her first off-property outing.

“I love the 4-year-old Young Event Horse,” said Pamukcu. “I think it’s a really good introduction to a career. They only jump a few show jumps, then you go canter some cross-country. At a normal competition I find it can be a little overwhelming for the young horses, but for a young event horse, it’s a really positive experience. The dressage isn’t too hard—you get them in the ring, and I always walk up to the judge after and pat them and hang out for a minute. It’s not very stressful.”

The pair have since completed a Beginner Novice, Novice, and two Training level events. “The championships are hard in that they have a lot of atmosphere, so I like to have them going at Training level so that when you go to the championships, it’s easier in a way,” she said.

After Hours had an easy summer with several week-long breaks while Pamukcu was traveling to other events, and she’s since had some outings to developing rider training sessions.

“She does go out and do a lot, but that said, I’ll do a lot of little holidays for her,” she said. “When I was gone at Strzegom [Poland] she got a couple of weeks off, and when I was at Bromont [Canada] and Millbrook [New York] she had the week before off. I’ll put her out in the field for a long holiday of about eight weeks after the championships.”

Another of Pamukcu’s horses aiming for the 4-year-old championship is HSH Afterglow, an Irish Sport Horse gelding (Hype x Ringwood Venus). He was produced by Hutchinson from a yearling and broken in as a 3-year-old in Ireland. He competed in the Irish Young Event Horse Championships last year, then came to the U.S. and had his first outings in August.

Pamukcu’s philosophy with all of her young horses is to give them plenty of breaks to let their bodies rest, and she doesn’t push the height of the jumps.

“I’ll keep them below Training level height for their jump schools, same with cross-country,” she said. “We’ll start introducing 4-year-olds to skinnies and jumping into and out of water with banks. At 4 in Ireland, the Young Event Horse Championships in Dublin they’re in a stadium with thousands of people, and they’re doing coffins and a course to a Prelim track. It’s really impressive. It’s important for me that my guys are going around Training level if I’m thinking about the future.”

She doesn’t push much with the flatwork since the dressage test is very basic, and she tries to make work fun for the horses. “I take After Hours on bareback hacks,” she said. “If I think they’ll be a five-star horse, I try to think about the future. Having that partnership is important to me.”

Andrea Baxter and YEH graduate Melkenna. MGO Photography photo

The West Coast YEH Championships are the big goal for professional and YEH Committee member Andrea Baxter and her group of young horses. She imports horses from European sales as 3-year-olds, or sources young off-the-track Thoroughbreds, and usually has a slightly different track depending on the breed.

“If they’re imported, I usually leave them over there to be broke and have basic training before we import them. Once they get here, I usually ride them for a month or two to get them going and check in with where they’re at,” she said. “Then I usually give them a break and some downtime in the summer and ramp them back up for the fall. The 4-year-olds are just babies, and they really don’t need that much training, and they definitely don’t need pounding. Provided they have a good attitude, they can have a little break in the summer then ramp them back up probably two months before the championships.

“Thoroughbreds are a little bit different,” she continued. “They’ve usually been on the track, and they have a lot more riding experience. They’re usually more mature than the warmbloods. And Thoroughbreds like to be kept busy. I think it’s much easier to produce a 4-year-old Thoroughbred than it is a warmblood. For the warmbloods I don’t think it’s good to push them. If you get them broke in the wintertime and then possibly do a show with them in June or July, then give them a break in August and get them back going in September and October.”

While Baxter said the height for 4-year-olds is easily attainable, she makes sure to spend extra time with her Thoroughbreds as she prepares for the championships. "The warmbloods don’t need a whole lot of practice to get to the championships, whereas the Thoroughbreds need to develop a lot more strength to be able to do that at a younger age,” she said.

And sometimes, you just have to realize the championships might not be attainable for your 4-year-old, she said, which is also fine. “We have a 4-year-old right now who’s very much in its awkward, gangly growth period, and that one is just going to have to miss this year because it can’t even canter around on the bit. He’s going to be lovely next year as a 5-year-old, but he’s just not ready to even be in work right now. You have to be willing to adjust your plan, but I think in theory, the championships should be attainable for most nice, up-and-coming horses.”

For 5-year-olds, Pamukcu hopes to have hers competing at the Modified and CCI1* level, then as a 6-year-old, she’d be aiming for more Preliminary miles and a CCI2*. She also likes to aim for the 6- and 7-year-old championships at Le Lion D’Angers in France.

The two 5-year-olds she has aiming for YEH championships this year had never evented when they came to the U.S. this May, but they’d show jumped to the 1.10-meter level.

Mollie Hoff’s HSH Clever Z, a Belgian Warmblood gelding (Clicksem x Perla van de Casterhoeve) and Gayle Davis’ HSH Hooligan, a warmblood gelding (Herald 3 x Tresor van de Vlierbeek Z) are both currently competing at Modified and picked up the cross-country very easily according to Pamukcu.

Baxter has two 5-year-olds, Estrella Equestrian’s Irish Sport Horse The Big Easy (Mr. Lincoln B x PLS Hippo Q) and her own and Estrella Equestrian’s Hanoverian gelding Camelot PJ (Colam x Evita) aimed at the championships. They’ve been competing at Novice and Training level this year.

“I do think sometimes the 5-year-olds are a little over-produced because they’re on the pathway to moving up already, so I think sometimes it’s hard to show them off at the championships because they’re competing, and they’re out there doing stuff,” she said. “I think it’s a nice medium ground that some of the 5-year-olds are greener and impressed by the championship feel, and some of them are more experienced and have been showing all year and are much more casual and comfortable with the expectations.”

Whether you’re aiming at the 4- or 5-year-old division and whether you have big FEI or championship goals for your horse in the future or not, both Pamukcu and Baxter say to have a fluid plan and always think of the horse first. Make sure your young horse has experience in a slightly bigger atmosphere and that it can confidently jump a course of fences at the height required.

“I think in general for Americans it’s good to have a standardized goal or benchmark for where the 4- and 5-year-olds should be expected to be. That doesn’t mean they have to, but it’s always good to have a benchmark,” said Baxter.

“If you don’t want to get a horse ready for a championship level, just have basic goals,” said Pamukcu. “It’s important for me to have a plan and a goal for the horses. Yes, things can change, and if a horse isn’t ready, it’s totally fine, just change the plans. Always put the horse’s welfare first.”

About the USEA Young Event Horse Program

The Young Event Horse (YEH) Program was first established in 2004 as an eventing talent search. Much like similar programs in Europe, the YEH program was designed to identify young horses aged four and five, that possess the talent and disposition to, with proper training, excel at the uppermost levels of the sport. The ultimate goal of the program is to distinguish horses with the potential to compete at the four- and five-star levels, but many fine horses that excel at the lower levels are also showcased by the program.

The YEH program provides an opportunity for breeders and owners to exhibit the potential of their young horses while encouraging the breeding and development of top event horses for the future. The program rewards horses who are educated and prepared in a correct and progressive manner. At qualifying events, youngsters complete a dressage test and a jumping/galloping/general impression phase. At Championships, young horses are also evaluated on their conformation in addition to the dressage test and jumping/galloping/general impression phase. Click here to learn more about the Young Event Horse Program.

The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, SmartPak, Standlee Premium Products, Parker Equine Insurance, Capital Square, Kerrits, and The Jockey Club for sponsoring the Young Event Horse Program. Additionally, the USEA would like to thank The Dutta Corp., Title Sponsor of the Young Event Horse Championships.

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