Aug 30, 2020

Ride Down Memory Lane with Past AEC Champions

By Claire Kelley - USEA Staff
Corinne Ashton and Dobbin were the Advanced winners at the 2007 USEA American Eventing Championships. USEA Archives Photo.

Since its start in 2004, dreams have come true at the USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds (AEC). Whether it’s the victory gallop, the prizes, or the preparation leading up to the event, many previous AEC champions share what they remember most from their winning weekend.

Sher Schwartz and Jamocean won the Novice Championship at the 2004 AEC. USEA Archives Photo.

It was a weekend of firsts for Sher Schwartz and her mare Jamocean, who won the Novice Championship at the very first AEC in 2004. “‘Mom, you won!’ exclaimed my son Drew from across the jumping ring,” Schwartz recalled. “I was perplexed as my husband, Elliot, had just told me that the reason no one clapped at the end of my round on Nothing Spared, with whom I was in first place, had taken a rail. I was then informed by Drew that Jamocean, who had been in third and who I had jumped earlier in the day, had WON! This was an event of firsts - the first [division to finish] in the first-ever AEC, and the first time Jamocean had won [an event]. She was also the first horse in the Novice [division] of 76 to go into the dressage ring. [She] received her lowest score ever, completed cross-country exactly on the optimum time, and show jumped clean. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. The icing on the cake was my horse, Wonderful Will, won the DeBroke Trophy in the Preliminary division. Everyone connected with the inaugural AEC at Carolina Horse Park did a tremendous job,” Schwartz concluded.

Sarah Blum and Brilliant Disguise at the 2006 AEC. USEA Archives Photo.

Sarah Blum and Brilliant Disguise won one of the biggest divisions at the AEC in 2006 - the Novice division with 72 starters. This would be the final year of the three-year rotation for the Carolina Horse Park to host the AEC. Blum explained what she remembered most from her win. “My favorite memory was the victory gallop - so many cheering and supportive people, sharing my joy - it brought tears to my eyes! Eventing is a unique sport, [and] it takes a team, lots of help and guidance, and an amazing equine partner to make it across the finish line.”

Corinne Ashton and Dobbin at the 2007 AEC. USEA Archives Photo.

The first year Lamplight Equestrian Center held the AEC was in 2007, and that year Corinne Ashton and Dobbin won the highest level offered - the Advanced Championship. Ashton described her experience, “In 2007, I traveled with my wonderful partner Dobbin to Wayne, Illinois from Massachusetts, after a pretty successful year more locally, but the pomp and circumstance there on arrival made the trip worthwhile. The nail-biting stadium round on the final day is what is indelible in my mind! I was in fourth place going into the ring, but my round was greatly superior to Darren Chiacchia’s, John Williams’, and Becky Holder’s (blasts from the past!). So, there I was, Dobbin and I, AEC Advanced champions! [We were] showered with gifts from all the sponsors (I enjoyed stuffing my trailer with those) and all the people congratulating us. [I have] great memories and it’s what dreams are made of. [I’m] hoping to go back someday!”

Annie Desmond and Britannica won the 2008 AEC Beginner Novice Amateur Rider division. USEA Photo.

Annie Desmond couldn’t stop smiling for two weeks after she won the AEC in 2008. Desmond, a California native, and her horse, Britannica, won the Beginner Novice Rider Amateur division. “My favorite memory from that AEC was the drive out to Illinois. I had no expectations and no pressure, and it just seemed like a grand adventure. I won at Lamplight [Equestrian Center] outside Chicago, and at that time, I had my first horse, was relatively new at eventing, didn’t have a trailer, and had certainly never hauled very far from home. Chicago felt very far away. I had a really good friend at the time, Sue Buxton, who agreed not only to go along with my harebrained idea but seemed intrigued by the thought of a good cross-country horse adventure. I was shaking in my boots at the thought and would certainly never have attempted it on my own. I had never been farther than Fresno, [California] with my mare. Sue had hauled across country as a teenager, from California to the East Coast, to be a working student for Mike Plumb back in the day. Sue was not intimidated by the thought of hauling our ponies [many] states away to enter a show. Along the way we drove through the most beautiful country, stayed overnight in sweet little guest rooms or bunk houses, and met adorable people. I learned to eat bad food with great enthusiasm, I learned how to change trailer tires on the side of the road with the rig fully loaded, and I learned how to nap pretzeled up and smooshed in the back seat wedged between an ice chest and a black Labrador, suitably named Joy. The competition at beautiful Lamplight, the meeting of uber-cool event riders from all over the country, and partaking in a national championship was the frosting on the cake. Winning my division was unexpected and surreal, and I didn’t stop smiling for about two weeks.”

Carrie Meehan and Blue Devil at the 2010 AEC. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Carrie Meehan has won the AEC three separate times - in 2010 she won the Junior Young Rider Open Preliminary division with Blue Devil, the following year, in 2011, she won the Preliminary Amateur division with Blue Devil, and in 2013 she won the Novice Horse division with Cavalier. Meehan shared, “I half-jokingly tell people that the years I've won the AEC are always the years I spend all season figuring out how not to ride! Then at the AEC, that feeling of being able to finally put everything together when it counts makes all of the stupid mistakes and hard lessons learned throughout the year absolutely worth it. It's also one of the only times my parents get to come to an event, so it's nice to be surrounded by people I love and share that experience with them. Not to mention, as an amateur, the prizes and tack we get are some of my most prized possessions!”

Liz Messaglia and Apollo Star, winners of the 2011 AEC Novice Amateur division. USEA Photo.

Liz Messaglia created a “memory of a lifetime” when she won the Novice Amateur division with her horse Apollo Star in 2011 at Chattahoochee Hills. “My favorite memory of the AEC weekend was after the victory gallop, I had collected the prizes awarded for first place, and I was at the stall with my horse, Apollo. My trainer and friends had to drive back to Indiana before I show jumped so I was alone. I was sitting on my tack box, feeding every treat I could find (plus some I had just won) to my sweet boy, that had just given me a memory of a lifetime. That quiet time alone with my horse and feeling deep gratitude still resonates today.”

Beth Weisberger and R. Hocus Pocus at the 2013 AEC. USEA/Hannah Bennett Photo.

Beth Weisberger has won the AEC twice - the first time was at the inaugural AEC in 2004 with Simply Stated (aka Willie) in the Training Amateur division, and her second win was in 2013 at Texas Rose Park with R. Hocus Pocus in the Training Amateur division. “The second time I won the AEC was at Texas Rose Horse Park with R. Hocus Pocus, aka ‘George.’ This AEC was a true Texas-style event, big in every way. [Our] dressage placed us in the top five, but the cross-country was George's strongest phase. I was very nervous in the show jumping warm-up, and on occasion, I would lose focus and we would take a rail. We focused on staying calm and confident and for luck, George wore the saddle pad that Willie won at the inaugural AEC in North Carolina. We had a clear show jumping and finished on our dressage score. George being a homebred was the icing on the cake. I am the rider, owner, breeder, and trainer with ‘lots’ of help from my amazing coach Cathy Wieschhoff.”

Coti Hausman and Quantico won the Preliminary Amateur division at the AEC in 2017. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

During the second year the AEC was held at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, Coti Hausman piloted Quantico to a win in the Preliminary Rider division. Hausman shared, “My favorite memory from the 2017 AEC, where I competed on my own horse Quantico, is that I was able to share the win experience with my family. It was a hard year where I was in the hospital for a week and was really sure that I would not be able to go compete, so going from a quite low spot to winning with my parents and grandparents and more family friends than I could count standing by the in-gate was a purely magical moment that I’ll never forget and I’m thankful I could share the experience with those closest to me.”

Tracey Alves and Romulus were the Training Rider Champions at the 2018 USEA AEC. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

In 2018, Tracy Alves rode Romulus to the win in the Training Rider division in Parker, Colorado at the Colorado Horse Park. Alves also competed on the team named ‘Area VI Chicks with Kicks’ to secure first place in the USEA Adult Team Championships at the Training level. Alves had more than just one favorite memory from her winning weekend. “I don't think I can narrow it down to just one. I'm incredibly grateful for everyone who played a role in getting me there. I loved being a part of a team and I also loved the fact that I was able to retire my partner Romulus at the national championship after his win. It's very important to me that we always put our equine partners first and I have gotten to watch some incredible professionals model how much our horses matter to us. Romulus is sound, fat, happy, and my main lesson horse at home at his ripe age of 23. I'm looking forward to getting back out there in 2021 in my young Irish Sport Horse I've been raising and working with.”

Erin Liedle and Fernhill Boodle were winners in the Training Amateur division at the 2019 AEC. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Erin Liedle and Fernhill Boodle took home the win after they finished their show jumping round in the Rolex Stadium at last year’s AEC. Liedle and Fernhill Boodle won the Training Amateur division and were part of the ATC Training team named 'Road Less Traveled.' For Liedle, “Winning the Training Amateur division at the 2019 AEC was a dream come true! Whilst I have many fond memories from that incredible week, the one that sticks out the most is having my family and [teammates] of the Road Less Traveled Event team, both near and far, supporting because this was truly a team victory."

Ava Stevens and Two Against the World at the 2019 AEC. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

Ava Stevens cried tears of joy when she won the Junior Beginner Novice division on Two Against The World at the 2019 AEC. Stevens shared, “The AEC weekend was full of adrenaline and excitement. [While I was] riding in the Rolex Stadium for the final phase, I felt like one day I just might ride there for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. I am not a crier, but I cried tears of joy after my last jump in show jumping and realizing what I had accomplished. This past year I have watched my stadium round when I’ve needed a little inspiration. 2020 has been a year where we all could use a little bit of inspiration from time to time. When asked what my favorite part of the AEC was, I have to just say the entire AEC experience was amazing.”

Congratulations to all the AEC champions! The USEA is heartbroken over the cancellation of the 2020 AEC, but the future is bright for 2021. The 2021 AEC is scheduled to take place on August 31 – September 5 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

Interested in qualifying for the 2021 AEC? Click here.

About the USEA American Eventing Championships

The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) is the pinnacle of the sport for 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 horses and riders 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. The 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds will be held August 31-September 5, 2021 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.

The USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds would not be possible without our wonderful sponsors! The USEA would like to thank the following sponsors for their support: Presenting Sponsor: Nutrena Feeds; Advanced Final Title Sponsor: Adequan; Platinum Level Sponsor: Bates Saddles Gold Level Sponsors: Parker Equine Insurance, Standlee Hay; Silver Level Sponsors: Park Equine, Mountain Horse, The Jockey Club; Bronze Level Sponsors: Athletux, Black Petticoat, The Chronicle of the Horse, Devoucoux, D.G. Stackhouse & Ellis, Farm House Tack, FITS Riding, Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, LandSafe, Parks Tax & Consulting PLLC, Retired Racehorse Project SmartPak; Contributing Level Sponsors: Amazon, Big Ass Fans, GLC Direct, Cross Country App, FarmVet, Georgetown Tourism, GLC Direct, Haygain, John Deere, L.V. Harkness, Santa Cruz Animal Health, WeatherBeeta; Prize Level Sponsors: Active Interest Media, Astrid’s Oil, Dressage TestPro, EQ AM Magazine, FLAIR, Hound & Hare, I Love My Horse, Great British Equinery, Mare Modern Goods, Ride Heels Down, Tack of the Town, Weatherbeeta.

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