Feb 06, 2021

Meet the Winners of the USEA Virtual ATC Challenge

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff

In the wake of the cancellation of the 2020 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds (AEC) and the Adult Team Championships (ATC) last fall, the USEA Adult Rider Coordinators came together to develop a unique opportunity for their fellow Adult Riders. The Virtual ATC Challenge was held instead to provide Adult Riders with a chance to compete against their peers from around the country.

In order to participate, Adult Riders had to be qualified to compete at the 2020 USEA AEC and eligible to compete on their Area’s ATC team. Then, riders competed at events around the country held from August 1, 2020 to November 22, 2020 and team scores were tabulated virtually to determine the winner at each level from Beginner Novice through Preliminary. Ultimately, 85 Adult Riders making up 22 teams competed for the Virtual ATC Challenge titles at their respective levels.

Area I’s Adult Rider Coordinator, Amy Winnen, helped spearhead the creation of this virtual challenge. “2020 was my first year as the Area I Adult Rider Coordinator,” she shared. “Area I typically has a season-long virtual team challenge for the Adult Rider Program that fosters camaraderie, competition, and volunteering at events. When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of AEC and many other horse events, in addition to everyday activities, I thought there had to be a way to create a virtual national ATC that AEC qualified Adult Riders could partake in.”

“The purpose of the virtual ATC was to lift spirits, increase camaraderie, and contribute to local events in the fall,” Winnen continued. “I floated the idea, loosely based on the Area I virtual team challenge, with a couple of fellow eventers who liked the concept. In early August, I proposed the idea to the USEA and Adult Rider Program co-chairs. By mid-September, we had the guidelines and rules finalized for the challenge.”

“I was happy to see that 22 teams competed across 37 events with nine of the USEA Areas represented. While it can't replace in-person team challenges, I do think it meant a lot to competitors. I know some participants were planning to go Kentucky, but it also gave those who qualified for the AEC but are not able to attend for various reasons the ability to participate in a national ATC. Hopefully, we will have a successful in-person ATC at AEC this year!”

Megan Tardiff and Vindakova. Alan Gross Photography Photo courtesy of Megan Tardiff.

The winning Preliminary level team was the Pandemic-Powered Preliminary Ladies, made up of Sandra Holden, Megan Tardiff, Ferial Johnson, and Corrinne Lauze, all of Area I. The team’s combined final score was 105.5.

Teammates Tardiff and Holden both competed at the Town Hill Farm Horse Trials in August 2020, placing first and third respectively in the Open Preliminary division on scores of 30.9 and 32 with their horses, Vindakova and Evil Munchkin. Johnson competed with her horse, Great Recession, at the Course Brook Farm Horse Trials, placing first on a score of 42.6 in the Open Preliminary division, and Lauze and her horse, Caraway Gilly, were fifth in the Open Preliminary division at the GMHA Festival of Eventing in August on a score of 44.

Sandra Holden and Evil Munchkin. Photo courtesy of Sandra Holden.

“The ATC has been a super fun way to connect with my fellow Area I competitors and friends, given the pandemic,” Tardiff said. “I’m a mother of a 4-year-old and 2-year-old, so riding and competing two horses is a challenge, let alone throwing a pandemic in the mix. I feel very grateful that I was able to compete in as many competitions as I did. Vindakova and I are a fairly new partnership. ‘Vinny’ basically fell into my lap two years ago when I was nine months pregnant. I had him shipped from Wellington, Florida to Kennebunkport, Maine sight unseen. Vinny is the most talented and forgiving horse I have ever sat on. Being a 17.2-hand Irish Sport Horse, he is also the largest horse I have ever owned. Getting to know him and really figure him out hasn’t come without its challenges, but has been unbelievably rewarding. The ATC allowed me to keep positivity and motivation during a very ‘unknown and complicated’ year. It gave me something to work towards and keep my goals a reality. I feel extremely proud to be able to represent Area I.”

“2020 was a challenging competition year,” Holden said. “While I was disappointed that USEA American Eventing Championships were canceled, I am grateful to the USEA for organizing the Virtual Team Challenge and that I was able to take part.”

Lou Leslie and Souvenir. Photo courtesy of Lou Leslie.

The best-scoring Training level team was Shaken, Not Spurred, a combination team from Areas VII, VIII, and X including Lou Leslie, Micki McDaniel, Tracy Strobel, and Ashley Fischer, winning on a final score of 86.4.

Micki McDaniel and Magic Artist. Vic’s Pics Photo courtesy of Micki McDaniel.

Leslie and her horse, Souvenir, won the Senior Open Training division at the Caber Farm Horse Trials on a score of 29.9. McDaniel placed second in the Training Rider division at the Flying Cross Farm Hose Trials with her horse, Magic Artist, on a score of 31.6. Strobel and Quality Stock traveled to The Middleburg Horse Trials, placing fourth in the Senior Open Training division on a score of 29.2. Fischer and her horse, Cimbria RC, competed at the Southern Arizona Horse Trials, finishing in third place on a score of 43.5.

Tracy Strobel and Quality Stock. Photo courtesy of Tracy Strobel.

“I’m a 51-year-old married mother of an 11-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy from northeast Ohio,” Strobel shared. “I work full time as the Executive Director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in the suburbs of Cleveland. I have a small boarding business that helps fund my crazy obsession with this sport and the horse that tolerates me – Quality Stock aka “Owen” – who I bought as a weanling from the Goresbridge auction in Ireland. He’s just turned 6 and is proof that doing something outrageous and irrational (buying him) can actually work out! He’s really a dream come true. We were able to move up to Training level (which I hadn’t done for six years) and do four events in 2020. He also did the YEH 5-year-old Championships with Tim Bourke where he won the Safe Harbor Award.”

Ashley Fischer and Cimbria RC. Faye Gandolfi Photo courtesy of Ashley Fischer.

“Not only did I sit out a majority of the 2020 show season due to the pandemic, but I also became a mommy to the cutest little boy,” Fischer said. “At my designated ATC event, I was three months postpartum, had my baby boy at the show, and was super nervous! I had a great dressage test and remember thinking while I was galloping on cross-country . . . I CAN do this! I can be a mommy and work hard to follow my horseback riding dreams! Winning the 2020 Virtual ATC Challenge is the icing on the cake. The real win for me was being back with my amazing partner, Cimbria RC aka ‘Cim’ - a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding. We live in New Mexico where there isn’t much eventing so we travel hours all over the U.S. to get to shows!”

Area VIII’s team, The Flying Mid-Southerners, made up of Madeline Bletzacker, Mary Clare Owdziej, Alyssa Cairo, and Lani Zabor, was the winning Novice level team with a final score of 73.9.

Mary Clare Owdziej and City of Ember. JJ Sillman Photo courtesy of Mary Clare Owdziej.

Bletzacker, Owdziej, and Cairo all competed in the Open Novice division at the Hagyard Midsouth Three-Day Event and Horse Trials, placing first, second, and fifth respectively on 23.1, 23.3, and 27.5. Zabor competed at the Flying Cross Farm Horse Trials, placing fifth on a score of 31 in the Novice Rider division.

“Thanks to USEA for putting on this virtual event, it eased the pain of missing the AEC a bit,” said Owdziej. “It was an honor to participate on my ‘dream horse’. Every day I ride her, I think, ‘I can’t believe she is really mine.’”

Alyssa Cairo and Paddington. Xpress Foto Photo courtesy Alyssa Cairo.

"The 2020 AEC cancellation was disappointing for many in the eventing community as we struggled with the pandemic,” Cairo observed. “I was thrilled when I heard that the USEA was assembling the Virtual ATC Challenge to bring together competitors from each region into teams. Being teammates with other riders in my Area has given me a break from event cancellations and allowed us to enjoy our achievements together in a new way."

Lani Zabor and Yes Please. Lee Ann Zobbe Photo courtesy of Lani Zabor.

“It’s so much fun to win a virtual challenge when things are so tough,” Zabor added. “2020 was a year of great disappointments, especially with the cancellation of the AEC and ATC, but a great year to work on our problems. This is a great way to start 2021!”

The winning team at the Beginner Novice level was a combined team from Areas V and VIII including Stephanie Bristol, Casey Locklear, and Kelly Rover. Their team’s final winning score was 76.9.

Stephanie Bristol and Ballenger. Susan Bristol Photo.

Bristol, Locklear, and Rover were all winners at their respective events. Bristol and her horse Ballenger won the Beginner Novice Rider division at the Five Point Horse Trials on a score of 31.3. Locklear and FLS Major Bounce took first place in the Senior Beginner Novice Rider division at the Texas Rose Horse Park Fall Horse Trials on a score of 23.6. Rover and Fifth Avenue competed in the Open Beginner Novice division at the Flying Cross Farm Horse Trials, winning their division on a score of 22.

“Since I first watched the AEC at Tryon, I dreamed of being able to compete with my horse,” Bristol said. “Unfortunately, a long series of injuries for me and my previous horse meant years out of competition. This year my new horse Ballenger aka ‘Bally’ and I qualified for the AEC and I was very excited to compete with him and be part of an ATC team. I was crushed when I heard the AEC was canceled but felt the excitement return when I learned about the Virtual ATC challenge. The virtual event validated my feeling of accomplishment in qualifying and allowed me to compete on a larger scale than I have before. I was thrilled to hear my ATC team won the Beginner Novice level and I am so proud of Bally and all we have accomplished in the shortened season. Thank you USEA for the Virtual ATC Challenge and I look forward to competing in 2021!”

Kelly Rover and Fifth Avenue. JJ Sillman Photo courtesy of Kelly Rover.

"I think for me, the USEA Virtual ATC Challenge was something positive that came out of an otherwise stressful year,” Rover reflected. “My annual spring training trip to Aiken, several of my favorite horse trials, and the AEC were all canceled due to the pandemic. Participating in the ATC Challenge gave me something extra to aim for as a goal for 2020 with my beloved warmblood cross, Fifth Avenue. The morning I found out that the AEC was canceled, I rerouted to Flying Cross Farm Horse Trials where I was excited to ride my dressage test in front of the renowned judge Peter Gray. I was intimidated, but we stepped up to the challenge to score a personal best dressage score and jumped clear that weekend. It is exciting that I was able to use my lifetime best score to participate in the ATC Challenge. I’m so proud of my partnership with Fifth Avenue and all the other Adult Riders in the challenge!”

While there were not enough Modified riders for a team competition, we want to give a special shout-out to Julia Korey of Area II and her horse, Street Cruise, as the top-scoring Modified rider to participate in the Virtual Challenge. Korey and Street Cruise scored a 37.9 in the Open Modified division at the Olney Farm Horse Trials.

Julia Korey and Street Cruise. Erin Gilmore Photography Photo courtesy of Julia Korey.

“I was really looking forward to riding Street Cruise in the inaugural Modified division of the AEC and was disappointed when the event was canceled due to COVID-19.,” Korey said. “I am grateful to the USEA and its sponsors for preserving the ATC virtually to give us adult riders some of the AEC experience in 2020. Like this year, my journey with ‘Cruiser’ from 3-year-old racehorse to event horse has been full of ups and downs, but this was a wonderful way to wrap up our season. Hoping to make it in person in 2021!”

To view full scores from the Virtual ATC Challenge, click here. Congratulations to all the participants in the Virtual ATC Challenge!

The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, SmartPak, Nutrena, and The Chronicle of the Horse for supporting the 2020 USEA Virtual ATC Challenge. Click here to learn more about the Adult Team Championships.

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