Oct 07, 2021

Rider Reflections: Area II Riders Tackle Area Championships

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
From left: GRC photo, Amy Dragoo photo, Brant Gamma photo, USEA/ Meagan DeLisle photo

The Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm hosted the 2021 Area II Championships over the October 1-3 weekend. With nine different championship levels offered in addition to their regular horse trial divisions, Loch Moy was bursting at the seams with horse and rider pairs all weekend long. We caught up with some of the Area II Champions to recap their experience at this year’s season finale and to share their thoughts on their equine partners that helped make their victory gallops possible.

Intermediate Champion: Tim Bourke & Quality Explosion | 43.4

Tim Bourke and Quality Explosion. USEA/ Meagan DeLisle photo.

Quality Explosion, a 7-year-old Irish Sport Horse by OBOS Quality, earned his name thanks to his antics in his younger years according to rider Tim Bourke. “He was super tricky as a young horse,” he shared. “He bolted quite a lot, hence the name Quality Explosion. I always knew he was super talented though. He’s a great horse, good in all three phases, he just needs to learn and get stronger, but there is nothing that is stopping this horse from becoming one of my top horses. We have taken our time with him, he just needs time to learn. He is still pretty young, so we are in no rush with him.”

Bourke had two horses in the Intermediate Championships this year and almost didn’t run Thomas in the cross-country. But after taking a look at Ian Stark’s course he felt it was well-suited for Thomas and was a good opportunity for him to get a bit more experience. “Ian always puts out a good course and I think Carolyn [Mackintosh] puts so much effort into trying to change the courses and make them better so they evolve a little bit with our sport. I do appreciate that times are changing and the sport is actually going back a little bit towards more of the natural sunken roads and ditch and walls. Carolyn does a really good job with her events.”

Preliminary Champion: Martin Douzant & Olympus | 34.0

Martin Douzant and Olympus. USEA/ Meagan DeLisle photo.

Martin Douzant has had Gillian Kinsbury’s Swedish Warmblood Olympus (Ferro x Kalisto) in the barn since he was just a 2-year-old. “He is now 6 years old and has turned into quite a competitive little eventing machine,” Douzant said of the gelding. “Last year, he competed in the USEA YEH 5-year-old Championship, and this year he moved up to Preliminary and has done quite well. He's been in the top three at the Preliminary level eight times with a handful of wins. He's just really come into his own this year and I couldn't be happier with his success.” Douzant and the gelding recently finished second in Bates USEA Preliminary Horse division at the 2021 USEA American Eventing Championship presented by Nutrena Feeds.

Finishing on their dressage score of 34.0, Douzant and Olympus added another feather to their cap by winning the Area II Preliminary Championships. “ The Area II Championships at Loch Moy Farm is always a great experience,” Douzant shared. “This year the cross-country course suited Olympus well because it was a very twisty course and he's always so keen, quick on his feet, and a little pocket rocket. He loves cross-country and we were the only ones to make the time. Last year, Olympus won the Training Area II Championships, so I think he really likes competing at Loch Moy. Carolyn and everyone does such a wonderful job, we frequently compete at this venue and I always look forward to it.”

Modified Champion: Courtney Cooper & Briarhill Excel Star Take 2 | 29.5

Courtney Cooper and Briarhill Excel Star Take 2. Amy Dragoo photo.

Briarhill Excel Star Take 2 (King’s Comet x Briarhill Cruise) showed that age is just a number as the 5-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare dominated the field in the Area II Modified Championship with Courtney Cooper in the tack. Just imported in 2020 as a 4-year-old, Cooper describes “Maeve” as a fierce competitor with a serious work ethic. The hope is that as Maeve matures, she will be produced into Cooper’s next five-star mount.

“Carolyn MacIntosh and her entire crew do an incredible job at Maryland,” Cooper reflected. “It is always well planned and well run with thought given to the courses as well as the footing. With the event running over two days instead of three, I am sure there was a bit of a scramble to get everything organized, but you could not tell it from the outside - a testament to their organization and volunteers.”

Junior Training Champion: Sydney Sturgill & Papa Pablo | 42.4

Sydney Sturgill and Papa Pablo. Hannah Jones Photography photo.

"I’ve got a lot of great things to look forward to with this amazing horse!" said Sydney Sturgill of Claudia Samoff's 7-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Papa Pablo (Papa Clem x Lookn Mighty Fine). Sturgill and "Pea" just joined forces in May of 2021 and while Sturgill had to adjust to a different type of ride, she feels that they are finally connected as a team. "At the end of October, I plan to compete with him in the Waredaca Three-Day Event at Training Level. I’ve been looking forward to it for quite some time, so I’m beyond excited to have a horse I can complete the event with!"

Looking back at Area II Championships, Sturgill reflected that it was a weekend to remember. "I'm so incredibly proud of Pea and how he’s performed. I went into the event with little to no expectations from him. I just wanted to have a fun and confident ride around another training as we are both new to the level. He impressed me with a clean and fast cross-country! Many people had issues with time, but Pea and I made it around with time to spare. Cross-country has always been my favorite of the three phases, and I’m so grateful to have a horse who loves it as much as I do!"

Training Champion: Ashley Trier and LNJ Encyclopedia | 30.2

Ashley Trier and LNJ Encyclopedia. GRC photo.

It was a wire-to-wire finish in the Training Championship for Ashley Trier and Caitlin Erwin’s 6-year-old Thoroughbred gelding LNJ Encylopedia (Smart Strike x One World) or “Booker” as he is known around the barn. The duo started out their weekend with a dressage score of 28.6 and would just add 1.6 seconds of time on cross-country to secure their win on a total score of 30.2.

“Booker is a real trier,” shared Trier. “He’s at the age where he’s started to grasp the nuances of each phase and he truly wants to do the job correctly. He maintains his focus well and I’ve begun to rely on him to put in a solid performance each time out. It’s always tough to enter the final phase knowing you’re in first. We all want to be in that position, but it’s incredibly stressful when it actually happens! I’ve found Booker is most comfortable when I ride quite quickly out of the start box. He’s a bit of a spooky horse and he tends to back off the fences and balance himself, so as long as I keep riding him forward, he gets the job done. His confidence has grown immensely this year, and he’s become a top-class horse that I’m very fortunate to ride.”

Junior Novice Champion: Leeci Rowsell & Man of Conviction | 30.2

Leeci Rowsell and Man of Conviction. Photo courtesy of Virginia Rowsell

Since beginning her lease on Caty Nolan’s Man of Conviction, Leeci Rowsell and the 17-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Civilisation x Red Regal) have placed first two times and second four times in their seven outings together, including bringing home champion honors in the Area II Junior Novice Championship. “We started at Beginner Novice and have done several Novices this year,” Rowsell shared. “I like a lot of things about him but definitely how kind he is and tries so hard for me. He is the cutest when he knows he is getting a treat!

The pair started their weekend in third on a score of 29.8 following the dressage phase. Their double clear effort in show jumping would rocket them into the pole position and the duo only added 0.4 seconds of time on cross-country to their beginning score to secure the lead, still two points ahead of the second place finisher. For Rowsell, there were two clear standout moments from this year’s championships: “My favorite memory from this weekend’s championships of course was cross-country! Also, it was cool to be stabled next to Bruce Davidson!”

Novice Champion: Julie Augustine & Texas Riddle | 19.8

Julie Augustine and Texas Riddle. Photo courtesy of Julie Augustine.

Julie Augustine was absolutely thrilled with her 20-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Texas Riddle’s (Sir Riddle x Texas Marathon) dressage performance at the Area II Championships- and she should be! Their score of 19.8 would put them in first place from the start, a position they would hold onto for the rest of the weekend. “This was by far the best dressage test for either one of us ever,” shared an ecstatic Augustine. “He just felt really solid and balanced and strong; we had our normal things we needed to work through during the warm-up but when I got to the dressage ring, he just got down to business and got it done. He's always such a good guy, but this was a different level. I told my friend who was helping me that day as we were walking back to the trailer that we could end on that, I was so happy with him and the test.”

Augustine paired up with “Tex” when he was 4-years-old, so they’ve had the opportunity to experience many adventures together. Despite an injury on Tex’s part and a surgery on Augustine’s part, the duo has thoroughly enjoyed competing up to the Training level together and even had a fourth-place finish in the Novice Master Amateur Division at the 2021 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds. “That was when I decided to enter the Area II Championships,” said Augustine, “and I did not expect to do as well as we did. He is the best equine partner anyone could ask for; he's such a good guy. The fact that we have been partners for such a long time makes this so special; I feel like we know each other so well. My plan is for him to continue to compete at eventing as long as he feels like it, and then when he tells me he's had enough, he can teach someone how to do dressage, or go on trail rides, or jump crossrails, or hang out in a field grazing all day if that is what he prefers. He owes me nothing, and I owe him everything. I'm so lucky we found each other!”

Beginner Novice Champion: Rebecca Barber & Here and Now | 29.5

Rebecca Barber and Here and Now. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Barber.

Taking a step back to focus on developing Ken and Terry Elzinga’s Thoroughbred mare Here and Now (Include x Fluxx) aka “Sellador” paid off when Rebecca Barber piloted the 6-year-old mare to the Beginner Novice Champion title this past weekend. Originally sent to Barber on consignment to sell, the mare quickly grew on her. “I am very grateful that my student, Terry Elzinga, also saw something special in her and offered to purchase her. She is going to be quite a nice horse,” said Barber.

“Loch Moy is a great venue to host the Championships,” she continued. “The facility, courses, and footing are great. Recently, we have been taking advantage of everything the facility has to offer and have made a few trips this year with young horses and students for the schooling horse trials and for Twilight Eventing. It was exciting to have a solid finish on Sellador.”

Junior Beginner Novice Champion: Willow Chase & Diablo | 25.1

Willow Chase and Diablo. Brant Gamma Photography photo.

Willow Chase first partnered with the 15-year-old Andalusian gelding Diablo in 2018 when his owner asked Chase if she would be willing to ride him to keep him in shape. Fast forward to 2020 and Chase was in love, so she made the leap to purchase him. She shared that his personality is what made him so easy to fall in love with. “Not only does Diablo have a heart of gold but he is also extremely athletic. He is an educated goofball who is absolutely bomb-proof, except for when it comes to balloons. I love him so much though, Diablo is the coolest, sweetest, and hardest working horse I've ever ridden.”

Securing the lead early on, Chase and Diablo scored a 20.3 in dressage, but an unfortunate rail in show jumping would drop them to second. With the win on the line, the pair executed a double clear cross-country finish to bump them back up in first. After a year of hard work with the goal of qualifying for this year’s Area Championships in mind, coming home victorious was the cherry on top of a fun season. On her experience at Area II Championships, Chase shared, “My favorite part about competing at Loch Moy had to have been the hospitality and being able to watch the cross country right from our trailer. Everyone was so helpful and answered all of our questions. I am so incredibly grateful for the endless support from my parents, friends, and my trainer Andrew McConnon.”

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