May 05, 2024

Inaugural USEA Interscholastic Eventing Champions and Spirit Award Recipients Crowned at Stable View

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff

Aiken, S.C.—May 5—Coach Halliea Milner loved that the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) gave her riders the opportunity to compete together as a team in a normally individual sport. But, when it came down to it, her riders acted no differently this weekend at the inaugural USEA Interscholastic Eventing Championship than they do at home.

“We don't hang garland up at every show, but it's not very different for us at a normal horse show,” she shared. “We go and watch each person and cheer each person on, so this championship just felt like a natural fit to be able to have that shining in this kind of environment.”

Milner’s Go With It Farm brought two teams to Stable View in Aiken, South Carolina, to participate in the first-ever IEL Championship. One team, the Go With It Farm Groupies Team A, finished in fourth place, while the other, the Go With It Farm Groupies Team B, get to make the ride home to Canton, Georgia, while waving their champion ribbons out the window.

Sidnee Milner and Fernhill Silver Lining. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

Sidnee Milner, Halliea’s daughter, had the lowest score on the team finishing on her dressage score of 29.0 in the Starter-D division. This weekend’s win was extra special for Sidnee, who was making her return to eventing after recovering from an injury she sustained in 2021.

“It’s been so long since I've done this,” shared Sidnee with a mile-wide smile. “It felt great. It was amazing. I missed [my teammates] so much. It's been like three years, and I had so much fun with them. It was just an amazing feeling.”

Milner’s teammates were equally as excited to have her back and to celebrate this special weekend with her by their side. They all shared that having the opportunity to compete as a team versus just as individuals was an exciting opportunity. For Jake Tessler, who competed in the Open Preliminary division, the most important part was being there to support one another.

Jake Tessler and Fernhill Focus Maxi. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

“During the competition, I feel like we did a good job at not focusing on winning and really cheering on each other and having a good time with all of our teammates and the teammates on the other teams,” he shared. “To have our hard work shown by winning feels very good.”

Rounding out the Go With It Farm Team B were the Zgutowicz sisters, Collins and Madison, both of whom competed in the Novice Rider-E division.

Madison Zgotowicz and My Valentine. Liz Crawley Photography photo

For Madison, this win meant so much more than just a chance to stand on the podium in the awards ceremony.

“I mean, it's an amazing feeling, but at the end of the day, it’s just a ribbon,” she said. “I think it's most important that we all learned something about each other and that we built a relationship with each other. It’s amazing to have that feeling and be the first IEL champions at the same time.”

Collins agreed with her sister.

Collins Zgutowicz and L'Avventura. USEA/Annan Hepner photo

“It does feel pretty good. I've had so many amazing people supporting me this weekend, and everyone has done amazing.”

When asked what piece of advice her coach Halliea had given her that stuck with her all weekend long, Collins shared: “Be fierce and kind.”

That’s a motto we can get behind.

Reserve Champion honors went to team Willow South Eventing A of Alpharetta, Georgia, who only had three riders on their team, meaning every ride had to count without the option of a drop score in hand. Riders Madeline Brechtel, Carolyn Rice, and Molly McLaughlin all rode their hearts out throughout the weekend, despite Rice being on a catch-ride and Brechtel competing in her first-ever championship setting on a still-new-to-her horse.

McLaughlin summed it up best: “This feels so special to me because of all the relationships that I have formed thanks to this sport, whether it be with a friend or with trainers. I’ve been able to make so many connections thanks to this sport, not just within my team, but in other teams as well.”

The third-place team was the Area II Developing Riders which was made up of Ashley Zupan, Shannon Zupan, Kallan Klear, and Abby Wilberding.

River Run Eventing Named First-Ever USEA IEL Spirit Award Recipients

If you have followed the USEA Intercollegiate Championship for some time, you know that the Spirit Award is just as coveted as that first-place prize, and the same could be said about this year’s IEL Championship. Riders showed off their team spirit throughout the weekend with elaborate decorations on stalls, golf carts, and around the grounds, through cheering each other on or volunteering, by providing snacks or positive words, and so much more.

Members of the River Run Eventing Team make their way to the podium to accept their prize. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

In the end, however, only one team could be dubbed the inaugural IEL Spirit Award Champion, and that honor was given to the River Run Eventing team based out of Hernando, Mississippi. The River Run team truly embodied the meaning of this award—they could often be found going on team course walks or hand grazing sessions, were always cheering each other on, and were committed to their theme of “Aloha from Mississippi” throughout the weekend.

“This is so special,” said teammate Delanie Ward. “We really are just one big family, and we all worked so hard, even our parents, into doing all the decorating and things. Everyone is always so supportive of one another, always asking how our rides went and lifting everybody up. I am really so proud of our team.”

Coach Meredith Wilkes Tipton has been dreaming of this moment from the second it was announced that the USEA would be offering an IEL Championship in 2024.

“We are just so grateful that these kids get to compete alongside the Intercollegiate Championship,” she said. “It was just so fun and has been a big goal of ours. We already have handed out the dates to the parents for next year, so we will be back!”

When asked if they intended on aiming to defend their title, all members of the River Run Eventing team cheered out with a unanimous “Yes!”

The River Run Eventing Team was represented by Ward, Charli Kendrick, AnnaGrace Hartfield, Colbie Scheider, Mel Long, and Alden Dorris.

Second place went to Aiken County Pony Club and third place was awarded to the GWIF Groupies.

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About the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL)

In August 2020, the USEA Board of Governors approved the creation of the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League (IEL) as an official program of the USEA. The mission of IEL is to unite junior riders who are in the 5th—12th grade and provide a supportive community through which students can continue to pursue their riding interests. A group of junior members in the 5th—12th grade who share a common bond, such as the same barn, school, Pony Club, or other connection, can register with the USEA as an IEL Affiliate. The USEA Board of Governors recently approved an inaugural IEL Championship to kick-off in 2024 at Stable View in Aiken, South Carolina, which will be held in conjunction with the USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Championships on May 4-5, 2024. Click here to learn more about the Interscholastic Eventing League.

The USEA would like to thank Kerrits and Horse & Country for sponsoring the USEA Interscholastic Eventing League.

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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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