Oct 30, 2021

It's More than the Ribbon for Waredaca Classic Three-Day Winners Caughron, Parker, Van Gemeren, and Alaimo

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
GRC photo, photo courtesy of Joy Caughron, GRC photo, and GRC photo.

One of two events to host USEA Classic Series divisions on the weekend of October 22-24, the Waredaca Classic Three-Day Event and Horse Trials featured Preliminary, Modified, Training, and Novice divisions of the traditional long-format competition.

Joy Caughron and Asteroid-B612. Photo courtesy of Joy Caughron.

For Preliminary Champion Joy Caughron, her love of horses started young. “My parents tell a funny story about not being able to peel me off of a merry-go-round when I was 19 months old,” she joked. “My dad had to keep paying for me to go around until my mom was able to pry my pudgy fingers from the handlebars.” Her riding career began at the age of 10 with weekly western riding lessons, but she made the switch to eventing soon after.

Caughron connected with the Holsteiner/Thoroughbred cross mare Asteroid B-612 (Chosen x Miss Pine), who is known as Astrid around the barn, in 2016. Although the now 13-year-old mare was about to move up to Preliminary when Caughron bought her, she stated that it took her some time to learn to ride Astrid well.

“She’s incredibly athletic, sensitive, intelligent, and opinionated. We started off at Novice and honestly, I could barely ride her. We slowly worked our way up through the levels. We kept improving in fits and starts despite the setbacks related to having my daughter in the middle of it all.”

In their first year together, Caughron and Astrid ran a Novice Three-Day at Southern Eights Farm, and it has been her goal to compete in another Classic Series event again. “I’ll never forget the moment we came out of the woods on Phase A,” reflected Caughron. “She locked eyes on the first steeplechase fence and the excitement just bubbled out of her and made me laugh – we never really looked back after that.”

While in past years the weather has not cooperated to create suitable footing for preparing Astrid for a three-day event, this year there was enough rain throughout the summer to make proper three-day preparation possible, so Caughron decided to pursue that goal. She felt as if competing in the Preliminary Three-Day at Waredaca really helped her solidify her confidence at the Preliminary speed.

“Ironically, considering our love of steeplechase, I have always mentally struggled with maintaining a Preliminary pace down to a really solid table and finding just the right time to set up for a combination,” Caughron shared. “These are the reasons I haven’t attempted to move up to Intermediate yet, though Astrid is more than capable. I am so much more comfortable with that now, and Astrid’s willingness to believe my recommendations regarding direction and pace has really solidified this fall. Our newfound confidence in each other has given us the ability to finesse at speed. I really cannot wait for next year!”

Considering attempting a Classic Series event? Caughron offers some great advice for your prepwork: “Don’t be afraid of the conditioning. If you can practice dressage for 40-60 minutes, which is probably mostly trotting and some cantering with a few walk breaks, then roads and tracks is easy. All you need to do is add a little speed and hill work once or twice a week to build up the cardiovascular system and your two-point muscles. Then add in some 10-20 minute walks before and after every ride to get used to being in the saddle a little longer than normal.”

Caughron and Astrid’s dressage score of 32.1 put them in second place going into Phases A-C, and while the pair added a bit of time for cruising around a bit too fast and had one rail down in show jumping, they still were able to pull off the win in their first Preliminary level Classic Series event.

Molly Parker and Momma's Little Secret. GRC photo.

After 10 years in hunterland, this year’s Modified Champion from Waredaca Molly Parker was looking for a change. A visit to a friend’s farm that led to a spur-of-the-moment cross-country school got her hooked on eventing. She connected with the 15-year-old Appendix Quarter Horse gelding Momma’s Little Secret (Fourever So Rugged x Cathyweloveyou) after completing her first year of veterinary school.

“I was home for the summer and looking for a resale project to occupy my time,” she reflected. “I went to a local sale barn that sells mostly trail horses and spotted him across the field. His uphill conformation stood out from most of the Quarter Horses and Paints in the barn. He was 6 at the time and appeared green broke, but came with no history other than his registration papers. $1,200 later, he was mine and what I hoped would be a quick resale. At the end of the summer, I decided I wanted to keep him and brought him back to school with me in the fall.”

Both Parker and “Secret” had never evented before, so they needed to combat a steep learning curve and Parker noted she had a hard time staying with the chestnut gelding’s scopey jump.

“I think it took us a year to make it around an event without finishing on a letter or with at least one cross-country jump penalty. We then ran around Beginner Novice and Novice fairly successfully but our inexperience caught up with us again when we moved up to Training a few years ago.” The pair spent three years giving Training their best go, but it wasn’t until they began riding with Andrew McConnon a little over a year ago that they began to feel confident at the level.

“I’ve had Secret for nine years now and every time I ride him, it feels like a conversation with an old friend as we both know each other inside and out,” she said.

After moving up to Modified in early 2021, Parker wanted to set the best plan possible for a potential Preliminary move up in 2022.

“Secret and I had done a Novice Classic Three-Day several years ago and had a blast, though we finished near the bottom of the division,” said Parker. “When I was considering doing a CCI*-L versus a Classic Three-day, I felt like a Classic would prepare me for a move up better than a CCI*-L. When I saw that Waredaca was offering a Modified Classic Three-Day, my decision was made.”

Out of all the phases offered in a classic format competition, Parker stated that steeplechase was by far her favorite. “I really loved every part of the competition,” she continued. “From the jogs to the course walks to all the educational events. Everyone is so excited to be there and so helpful to each other, it makes for such a wonderful atmosphere throughout the whole week.”

For her fellow busy amateurs balancing full-time careers and toying around with the idea of competing in a classic series event, Parker has one piece of advice: “Just do it. As an amateur with a very busy full-time job as a poultry veterinarian, the time commitment can be hard but is not unattainable. I spent a lot of time walking as part of my conditioning in preparation for the event, even if it meant hacking in the dark or riding twice a day. Deepening the relationship with my horse and the sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of the weekend was well worth the sacrifices made to get there.”

Parker and Secret started in third after earning a 35.2 in the dressage phase and put in clear efforts across phases A-C. A clear cross-country effort with only 1.6-time penalties would shift them into the lead position after they executed a double-clear round in show jumping to secure the win on a 36.8.

Emily Van Gemeren and Winter Carnival. GRC photo.

After watching Jennie Goebel Tucker’s first run at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, many members of Training Three-Day champion Emily Van Gemeren’s family were inspired to begin eventing. “My grandfather Larry did his first event at age 70, and my sister Ellie and I started eventing with our ponies. None of us have ever looked back. Twenty plus years later, my grandparents still do night check every night, Jennie is still our coach, and Ellie and I both love competing together. We’ve even dragged our mom into it now too! Horses have been a constant source of joy throughout my life.”

When she first saw a video of the then 4-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Winter Carnival (Black Tie Affair x Alex’s Hot Fudge) nine years ago, she fell in love instantly. Van Gemeren and “Minnow” have traveled all over the country together, navigated a few rehabs, and learned a lot together along the way. Despite their early years of their partnership having some ebbs and flows, Van Gemeren knew she could never give up on him.

“He has this way of really stepping up to the plate and vastly exceeding expectations just when he needs to, usually after a boatload of naughtiness or disappointing runs, which makes success feel even sweeter and keeps us striving for more,” Van Gemeren shared. “Minnow has taught me just how important it is to have trust and confidence in both yourself and your horse to be successful in eventing. He’s also taught me about dedication and pushing through difficult times. It’s been really gratifying to look back on our early years together which were oftentimes quite scary and to now be able to take a breath and enjoy the feeling of him looking for the flags and loving the sport. Together, we have spent years slowly transforming from nervous wrecks into trusting teammates.”

Competing in a Training Three-Day with Minnow has been the long goal for Van Gemeren. “It took us much longer than I thought it would to get here, but this year the stars finally aligned,” she reflected. “A friend and barn-mate also had a Training Three-Day as her goal for the season, and so we prepared for the event together, which was very motivating and fun.”

While the competition itself was a fun experience for Van Gemeren, there was something else that stood out as the highlight for her. “It was clear that everyone [competing in the Classic Series] was there because they wanted to form a stronger relationship with their horses and to experience the ultimate test in horsemanship. Everyone was just amazing, their horses were incredibly well prepared and happy to be there, and it was inspiring to be around all the incredible partnerships.”

The pair finished in first on a score of 36.7 after adding only 0.4-time penalties in cross-country and one rail in show jumping to their dressage score. While their first-place finish was an exciting accomplishment, Van Gemeran knew the experience was so much more important than the ribbon and encourages everyone to give a Classic Series event a try.

“There is just nothing else like it. Your partnership with your horse will improve in ways you never imagined were possible. No matter what place you end up in, completing a classic format event is a major accomplishment and is an achievement to be incredibly proud of. Most importantly, it’s just so fun!”

Melissa Alaimo and Fascinating Rhythm. GRC photo.

Novice Three-Day Champion Melissa Alaimo describes herself as a “re-eventer,” who got her start in Pony Club but retired her beloved pony upon heading to college and made one promise to herself: to begin riding again at the age of 50.

“Fast forward 32 years later and I went with my gut and bought Molly off a video,” Alaimo commented. “I liked the way she used her hind end, which is something my previous horse didn't do. I took a chance and haven't looked back.”

While she is Molly around the barn, Alaimo’s partner in crime is a now 13-year-old Thoroughbred/Clydesdale cross mare formally known as Fascinating Rhythm. Alaimo describes Molly as a true chestnut mare who loves her job. “She puffs up going down the centerline, she tries to take control in stadium, and on cross-country, I like to think we truly work as a team. I suspect steeplechase is her favorite because I let her do her thing!”

At almost 60 years old, Alaimo claims she is not embarrassed to admit that she and Molly have enjoyed five years at the Novice level together and that she sees no need to move up just yet. After fine-tuning their dressage this year, it was time to look towards a new challenge – a Classic Series event.

“This mare was made for it,” Alaimo stated. “She has a big Clydesdale trot which makes roads and tracks fun and it seems effortless for her to make the time. She truly thinks she is an off-the-track Thoroughbred, so she easily makes time in steeplechase, and thanks to being a bit tired, she almost listens on cross-country.”

This was the duo’s third go at the Classic Three-Day at Waredaca and Alaimo’s goal was to try and best their fifth-place finish that they have had the past two years. The trip to Waredaca is a special gift, an early Christmas present from Alaimo’s husband, so when she saw that she sat in third following dressage she felt like her dream was in sight.

“I hope everyone gets a chance to try a long-format event,” said Alaimo. “The training is a blast and the time spent out trotting through the fields and woods are so relaxing. If you do want to try it, please make a trip to Waredaca. The clinicians are top-notch and prepare you so well for everything you are going to experience.”

All of their hard work and preparation paid off as the pair added no faults to their dressage score of 28.5 to move up to the first-place spot on the leaderboard, a very special early Christmas present for Alaimo and Molly.

“The feeling of finishing a three-day is amazing as you have been lucky to spend time with your horse,” Alaimo concluded. “The fact that so often they seem to enjoy it as much as we do, only makes it more special.”

All of this year’s Champions sang their praises and gratitude for the Waredaca organizing committee and the vast crew of volunteers.

“I don’t think I understood how many people it takes to make this event run smoothly until I was trotting roads and tracks and realized just how many people I had spoken to as I was crossing through the gates,” reflected Parker. “Everyone was so friendly and helpful and truly just wanted everyone to have a good experience.”

Van Gemeren was greatly appreciative of everyone who made the experience possible. “The crew at Waredaca did a fantastic job putting on an educational, fun, and competitive event,” she shared. “Many thanks to everyone involved for all their hard work keeping the classic format alive! We riders all appreciated your efforts very much.”

Alaimo said one of the best parts of the weekend was the sense of community it invoked. “

Perhaps the best thing about this competition is how the area really comes together. We are there for each other, helping in the vet box, mucking, feeding, and so on. I have also made new friends in the barn, which just adds to the fun. By the end of the competition, we are all helping each other and cheering each other along. Every volunteer was friendly and when I thanked them for volunteering, they often responded ‘thanks for competing!’”

“The support from competitors, grooms, parents, friends, and officials is almost magical. There’s really nothing else out there quite like it,” Caughron shared. “I’d like to thank all of the organizers and volunteers at Waredaca who have been dedicated supporters of the sport from the very beginning. I really admire how welcoming and positive they are despite the hurdles presented by running two shows at once. Their quiet dedication magically sets the tone and creates a wonderful atmosphere.”

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 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.

The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, FITS, SmartPak Equine, Parker Equine Insurance, and Stackhouse & Ellis Saddles for sponsoring the USEA Classic Series.

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