Aug 31, 2023

Making it Count: Winners are Made in Modified Championships at AEC

By Chelsea Lyn Agro - USEA | Press Release
Chelsey Sawtell and Toto's Weather Tamer held onto their lead after cross-country to be crowned the first champions of the 2023 AEC. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photos

Lexington, Ky.—August 31— Show jumping at the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds brought the USEA Modified Championship to a close today and ribbons were pinned on each winner before riders took off on their victory lap. Major leaderboard shakeups brought up lots of emotions and joyous cause for celebration. Everyone rode for their personal best and the final scores reflected not a forecasted lineup but a humbled example of how not grit can get it done.

USEA Open Modified Championship

Chelsey Sawtell was awarded first place in the USEA Open Modified Championship while piloting Deb Warner’s 7-year-old dark bay German Warmblood stallion, Toto’s Weather Tamer (Totals x Baquette). Adding 0.8 seconds in time faults with one rail down, increased their score to a winning 36.5.

“I haven’t even processed it yet. I feel like at any time I’m going to wake up,” said Sawtell, helmet still on and cheeks still flecked with a rosy hue of pride. Off to her side—and all throughout the week—owner of “Jakes,” Deb Warner, was misty-eyed. “It was amazing.” Dubbing him sassy and playful on his cross-country course yesterday, Sawtell laughed when she said that not choking in show jumping today was her only game plan, and fortunately she was the rider she planned to be on the stallion she shares such an obvious connection with. Naturally, on the flip side of a big win, there are future plans to keep excelling.

“We are going to do our first one-star and see what happens,” said Sawtell. “This was a big one for him…he just tries so hard and he has the scope, and he’s a big goofball.”

Sawtell knows this horse inside and out, and quite enjoys him being such a workable and polite stallion. Back at his stall, she noted that he will be very curious—almost investigatory—about a newcomer, keeping a close eye on Sawtell, which proves his loyalty to the beloved rider who lets the dressage-bred stallion do his favorite thing.

Liz Lund and Franklin Delano CF delivered a double-clear round to maintain their second place standing.

Liz Lund secured a second place finish aboard her own 6-year-old homebred Hanoverian gelding Franklin Delano CF (First Dance x Rhine Maiden) with a final score of 40.1 after incurring 8 jump penalties.

Anyone who has a homebred horse under them knows what an overwhelming accomplishment it is to claim a second place finish in an atmosphere such as this. And Lund recognized that achievement for “Franklin,” claiming that this is “by far the biggest place he’s ever seen.” He’s certainly made a fast and lasting impression, further building that foundation that Lund has been so dedicated to since the very beginning.

“They’re born on the farm—we do everything,” said Lund. “Franklin was my first so we literally slept in the stall with him the first day he was born. He’s just always been a really happy horse, really easy to bring along.”

Lund backed him as a 2-year-old and then got him lightly started as a 3-coming-4-year-old with hacking around at different farms. “He’s just growing up so fast,” said Lund, realizing that Franklin has taken the usual track of progress, but the process doesn’t steal away from the fact that time is a thief and success arrives quickly when all the pieces come together. “It’s been really fun to produce him up through the levels.”

Rebecca Lee and the Dutch Master climbed the ladder from fifth to third.

Rebecca Lee captured third place riding Carol Richardson’s 14-year-old bay Dutch Warmblood The Dutch Master (Cantos x Vigonza), bringing her overnight score of 40.9 right to the end.

“He’s pretty green at this level,” said Lee, noting that this is The Dutch Master’s inaugural season in the Modified division. “I was really excited to get here and see what he could do.” And she’s pretty excited to be here as a rider on this particular horse. She, too, has her sights set on an upcoming one-star and the Area II championships, followed by some much deserved time off and then a healthy serving of dressage to bring him back into work.

USEA Modified Rider Championship

Sylvia Byars and CSF Dassett Decoy are the 2023 USEA Modified Rider champions.

Sylvia Byars secured a first place finish on Nicole Byars’s CSF Dassett Decoy (Flipper D’Elle x CSF Doorn Cruise), the bay 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse-Selle Francais cross gelding. The pair managed to make an impressive leap up the leaderboard throughout the week.

“My week was pretty amazing,” said Byars, who was sitting in tenth position coming out of her dressage test with a score of 31.6, then moving up to third following her cross-country trip, and now claiming the first place win while holding tight to that initial score all the while.

“Dressage was fine—it wasn’t quite what we could’ve done, and I was a little actually disappointed with the score.” Byars noted feeling like the week was right there in black and white on the leaderboard, but when she was walking the cross-country course with her coach, they made a plan to ride for it and see where the chips fell.

“I didn’t have anything to lose and I went for it,” said Byars. “We came in right at the optimum and he’s not a very fast horse, so to go double-clear there was pretty incredible and I was really surprised to see how much it moved me up, and I went into show jump thinking, ‘Ok, super—if I can pull this off, we’ll be in top three’ and he was just amazing in the show jumping.”

And the age old phrase stands—it’s not over until it’s over! Byars noted that “Flipper” really excels in all three phases, and she’s beaming over this win. “I just have to thank the Lord for everything in my life that’s helped me to get here.”

Isabella Novak and Dreamliner finished their week in second.

Isabella Novak piloted Dreamliner (Cobra x Don Diamond Girl), her own 12-year-old gray Irish Sport Horse gelding to a second place finish on her dressage score of 32.5—another impressive launch up on the leaderboard from a 16th place standing to third place following cross-country and now landing comfortably and excitedly in the second place position.

“I’m really happy. Show jumping hasn’t been the best recently for me. I kept telling myself, ‘I just want to go jump clear’—that’s all I wanted to do—and when I finished and went double clear I almost cried,” said Novak. “I was just so happy to have finished that. My horse—Bubbles is his barn name—he’s been such a good horse for me and we’ve really had ups and downs but we’ve been really working at it and it’s been thrilling.”

But it all didn’t go according to plan in the beginning, which makes this placing extra sweet for Novak. “Dressage was, ah, interesting! He was a little wild. My trot work was probably the best it’s been…and then I got to my walk—he jigged at the walk—and then my canter was terrible and then the downwards transition he tried to pick up the opposite canter so I was really happy with my score actually,” said Novak. Mistakes and misfortune happen but it didn’t break Novak’s spirit to keep fighting for her personal goals, which she so proudly achieved.

Overnight leaders after cross-country, Carlin Keefe and Point Nemo, finished in third.

Carlin Keefe aboard the 10-year-old bay Thoroughbred gelding Point Nemo (Songandaprayer x Wood Not), owned by Rumsey Keefe ended on a score of 32.8 after only four jump faults which put her .3 points behind the second place winner.

“My plan was just to get my horse the best distance to every fence,” said Keefe, who hasn’t really been concerned with the scores this whole week—focusing instead on herself as a rider and showing up for the mount she dearly loves to ride. She noted that she wanted to keep her turns in mind for accuracy and she claimed to have fallen short in that aspect.

“I cut that turn and I knew that he was going to get behind, so I was just a bit disappointed in myself but I was quite happy with how he kept himself composed because he’s the type of horse that he knows when he makes a mistake and he doesn’t like making them,” said Keefe. “But even after he hit that rail—it was my fault but he knew he hit it—he still kept his composure and was rideable throughout the rest of the course.”

“Nemo” has competed at the two-star level, so Keefe is aiming to continue giving him rides which help grow his confidence. “He still just wants a little bit of confident comfort…I’ll work on my show jumping more with my show jump trainers but moving forward I’ll just keep trying to give him the best ride I possibly can and hopefully it gets better.”

At the end of the Modified Rider Championship, the Modified Level Adult Team Champions were crowned. Team Geldings on the Run, consisting of Jennifer Coleman aboard SS Palantir, Carol Kozlowski on Welbourne, and Melanie Loschiavo riding Spartacus Q, were awarded first place. Claiming second place as a team was team Shades of Bourbon: Shona Ensign riding Emmelie, Jessica Milam aboard Lieutenant Dan, and Mary Clare on Golden King. And taking home the third place win as team was Win or Booze, made up of Jennifer Helgren aboard Del Rio, Beth Wheeler on Pippin, and Emily Cardin riding Hacker.

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About the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC)

The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC), presented by Nutrena Feeds, is the pinnacle of the sport at the national levels. Held annually, the best junior, adult amateur, and professional competitors gather to vie for national championship titles at every level from Beginner Novice to Advanced. This ultimate test of horse and rider draws hundreds of combinations from around the country to compete for fabulous prizes, a piece of the substantial prize money, and the chance to be named the National Champion at their respective levels. In fact, the 2021 AEC garnered over 1,000 entries and now stands as the largest eventing competition in North American history. The 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds will be held Aug. 29—Sept. 3 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.

The USEA would like to thank Presenting Sponsor: Nutrena Feeds; Advanced Final Title Sponsor: Adequan; Platinum Level Sponsor: Bates Saddles; Gold Level Sponsors: Capital Square, Horse & Country, Parker Equine Insurance, Smartpak, Standlee; Silver Level Sponsors: Auburn Labs, Ecogold, Kerrits, The Jockey Club; Bronze Level Sponsors: 70 Degrees, Athletux, Black Petticoat, The Chronicle of the Horse, Devoucoux, D.G. Stackhouse and Ellis, Dubarry of Ireland, Equestrian Team Apparel, Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, Horseware Ireland, Majyk Equipe, Retired Racehorse Project, Ride EquiSafe; Contributing Level Sponsor: CrossCountry App, Georgetown – Scott County Tourism, Lexmark, L.V. Harkness, Mountain Horse, Mrs. Pastures Cookies, #WeRideTogether; Prize Level Sponsors: Coach Daniel Stewart, EquiFit, Equilab, Equiluxe Tack, Equine Essentials, Equine Pulse Performance, FarmVet, Achieve Equine/FLAIR Equine Nasal Strips, Horses 4 Your Consideration, Hound & Hare, I Love My Horse Eventing Boutique, Jack’s Favorites, Jane Heart Jewelry, Kinetic Equine Services, LeMieux, Levade Kentucky, Mare Modern Goods, OneTouch Fly Spray, Parkmore Supplements, Practical Horseman, Sidelines Magazine, Spy Coast Farm, Strides for Equality Equestrians, and VTO Saddlery.

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