Today would have been the final day of the 2020 USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Championships but, due to COVID-19, the Championships, much like many other sporting events around the world, were canceled. Although the Championships didn’t occur this year, memories from last year’s Championships still hold strong with the winning teams. Out of the four years of having a USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Championship, Auburn University has taken home the national title twice (in 2018 and 2019). Last year, Auburn University Team Orange won from start to finish with a final team score of 92.601. The winning team was made up of Aubrey Wagner on Fernhill Sinatra (Training), Sallie Johnson on Things to Ponder (Training), Dorothy Dreelin on Subtle Dreams Unveiled (Novice), and Isabel Franklin on Anchorman (Novice).
The 2019 USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Championships were held at Chattahoochee Hills H.T. which is a short 90-minute drive from Auburn, Alabama. “It was so fun being on ‘home turf’ at the beautiful Chattahoochee Hills and having such a great group of teammates supporting us throughout the weekend,” said Sallie Johnson. Aubrey Wagner continued, “Chattahoochee Hills is a show that we all frequent, so I think all of us felt very comfortable there and it allowed us to take some of the pressure off ourselves and enjoy the moment we were in. As a team, we were able to be silly and relax a bit more than I think we would have at a new venue.”
Aubrey Wagner and Sallie Johnson are two Auburn University collegiate members (now graduated) who experienced back-to-back wins by being on the winning team both in 2018 and 2019. Johnson shares her memories of last year, “The opening ceremony is such a great memory for me, but nothing can top the awards ceremony. Celebrating a back-to-back National Championship win with my team to close out my intercollegiate career was the icing on the cake!”
Auburn University brought three full teams to last year’s Championships and Johnson was on Team Orange with the 7-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Things To Ponder. The pair finished on their dressage score of 31.9 to finish third in the Open Training division. “My horse Things to Ponder was incredible throughout each phase and I was so proud of his performance. I was so nervous for show jumping as I was the last to go for our team and knew I had to jump clear for us to win. Ponder seemed to clear each fence by a foot and thankfully I gave him a good ride and good shot at jumping clear and in return he jumped his heart out and left all the rails up. I had some demons from the past in show jumping from times when I was under pressure and let the nerves get to me, so I could hardly keep my emotions in check when we cleared the last jump and I knew we had gone clear. My team erupted from the stands and I couldn't believe it -- needless to say crossing that finish line was the highlight of my weekend,” said Johnson.
Johnson was also on the Auburn University Team Blue with Fernhill Magnolia (Novice). In true teammate style, Johnson shares how special it was to compete Fernhill Magnolia, a 16-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare owned by Katie Sullivan. “Another special part about the weekend was getting to ride Fernhill Magnolia for my good friend and teammate at the time Katie Sullivan. Katie had been battling some health issues and was unable to compete at the Championships. Around the same time, my lease ended on the amazing mare I had gotten to compete at the Intermediate level that spring. I was really hoping to be able to ride a second horse at Championships and Katie generously offered to let me ride ‘Mags’. I was only able to get a couple of rides in on Mags before the Championships, but she gave me my best dressage score ever, scoring a 22 and winning our division. Katie was unable to be there, but she called me (lovingly) before show jumping with threats of what would happen to me if I managed to have a rail (no pressure). Mags was perfect and I managed to keep it together, and thankfully Katie wasn't able to follow through with any of her threats. I was so thankful to have a teammate that was generous enough to share her horse with me, and it was really fun to win and be able to make her proud!”
Similar to Johnson, Wagner shares the same fond memory of ending her intercollegiate career with a win. “My favorite part about the weekend was the award ceremony. Being able to stand on the podium that was used at the Atlanta Olympics with my teammates was pretty incredible. I’m sad that my time competing with the team is over, but I look forward to seeing the team’s success from here on out.”
Aubrey Wagner competed her 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Fernhill Sinatra and finished the weekend on her dressage score of a 34.8 in the Open Training division. “Luckily, the horse I was riding is a pretty cool customer. Not much phases him, and it allowed myself to get as much out of him as I could that weekend. He was my greenest horse at the time, so it was even more special to be able to help get the team win on him,” said Wagner.
Although Auburn University secured the win, it was the University of Kentucky (UK) that secured both second and third place with the University of Kentucky Team Blue finishing on a team score of 97.857 and the University of Kentucky Team Wildcats finishing on a score of 102.875. They also finished second in the Spirit Award contest right behind the winners, Texas A&M University. Jackie LeMastus, a member of UK Team Blue and UK Team Wildcats shared, "the environment at Championships is really unlike any other. For us, it’s really just such a special opportunity to show off our team spirit and have the whole team come together doing what we love and supporting each other all weekend!"
Elizabeth Silvia-Chandley, a member of the University of Kentucky Team Blue shared her memories from last year. “Some of my top memories were learning and performing our dance for the talent show, having a water balloon fight with everyone from UK, decorating our stalls, cheering everyone on cross-country. UK spends the better part of two months preparing for the spirit and logistical parts of Championships, it is extremely rewarding to see all the hard work and teamwork pay off. The entire weekend is so high energy by the end of the weekend it felt like I had run two marathons.”
Silvia-Chandley competed her 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Kontiki in the Novice division. “My horse, Tiki, was great the entire weekend. We started off just going to Championships to be part of the team but after a couple low scoring dressage tests our team had a chance of placing in the top three at the end of the weekend. I think Championships is definitely more of a mental game, [but] for our horses it’s just another weekend getting to do what they love. My favorite part of the weekend was the time spent supporting my teammates - it is such a great feeling to cheer on the Wildcats.” Her teammate, Macy Clark added, "Championships is as fun as it is hyped up to be. I can't wait for the next time everyone gets to experience it."
As all five championships collegiate riders look forward to what the future holds, they ended with their school chant. “C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS,” emphasized Silvia-Chandley. “War Eagle!” said Aubrey Wagner.
The USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Program was established in 2014 to provide a framework within which eventing teams and individual competitors could flourish at universities and colleges across the country. The USEA offers a discount of $25 on annual USEA memberships for current students of universities and colleges registered as Affiliates with the USEA. Many events across the country now offer Intercollegiate Team Challenges where collegiate eventers can compete individually as well as on teams with their fellow students. In Intercollegiate Team Challenges, each rider’s score is multiplied by a coefficient appropriate for their level to account for differences in level difficulty and then the individual scores are added together to determine the team score.
Conditioning makes the horse fit and increases his endurance performance with less wear and tear on feet and legs. The idea is to work his heart and lungs in short intervals, let him recover a bit, then work him again. The following schedule for Training level horse provides an introduction for the horse and rider at the lower levels to the principle of interval training.
Within their first few years of being born, young horses have the opportunity to get a taste of U.S. Eventing through the USEA’s young horse programs. The USEA Future Event Horse Program (FEH) evaluates the potential of yearlings, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds under saddle to become successful upper level event horses while the USEA Young Event Horse Program (YEH) evaluates the potential of 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds to become successful upper level event horses.
If your farm has the space to set up a cross-country schooling course, it can be to your advantage to have cross-country jumps available for schooling purposes. Safety should be the number one priority when designing and building cross-country jumps, and an expert should be consulted whenever possible.
By this time I am sure that you have received the news that the 2020 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds (AEC) has been canceled. I sincerely apologize for the difficulty this has caused everyone involved. I want to commend the USEA Board of Governors for making an extremely hard decision.