Nov 09, 2021

Rider Reflections: Area IX Champions are Sky-High after Event at Skyline Hosts Area Championships

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
Photos by Faye Gandolfi and Susan Sheldon.

The Area IX Championships took place in Mount Pleasant, Utah at the Event at Skyline in September of this year. The showgrounds were busy with five Championship divisions in addition to their nine horse trial divisions running over the course of the weekend, but competitors were thrilled with the atmosphere and experience at the competition. Five new Area IX Champions were crowned for 2021, and the USEA caught up with each of them to chat about their victories.

Open Preliminary Champion: Taylor Timmerman & Snifters Spirit | 40.1

Taylor Timmerman and Snifter's Spirit. Faye Gandolfi photo.


Bred and raced by the Gascoigne family, the 17-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Snifters Spirit (Captain Countdown x Snifter) is owned by Lynette Gascoigne and ridden by Taylor Timmerman. Timmerman restarted “Spirit” as a 12-year-old and it was quickly evident that he was enthused by his new career. Timmerman commented that when Spirit began his new career, neither she nor Gascoigne had any set plans other than surviving a few Beginner Novice horse trials. “Spirit had plans of his own,” she shared. “His aptitude for the sport and athletic jump has impressed his many ‘fans,’ and winning the Area IX Prelim Championships was the cherry on top. In the barn, Spirit is as goofy and personable as they come. He's happy to hang out with his humans, do tricks for a treat, or play with his forever life-partner, a 19 year old fellow OTTB named Sur.”

When asked about her experience at Skyline, Timmerman shared: “The Area IX Championships illustrates the tough, talented, dedicated group of eventers that comprise the region. Area IX eventers travel hundreds of miles, over mountains, through deserts, and maybe even through a rogue blizzard, to participate in Area IX events and gain their championship qualifications. Against the gorgeous backdrop of the San Pitch Mountains, the Event at Skyline is an excellent facility that offers challenging courses on great footing and hospitality that is unmatched.” Timmerman and Snifter’s Spirit executed a double-clear cross-country round and added just two rails to their dressage score to end the weekend on a 40.1.

Open Training Champion: Victoria Poulton & Starlingh | 28.6

Victoria Poulton and Starlingh. Fay Gandolfi photo.


Victoria Poulton has been partnered with her 11-year-old Canadian Warmblood mare Starlingh (Flyingh x Le Luna Soulstice) since 2016 and the duo have grown from the Beginner Novice level to the Training level together. Their time together has allowed Poulton to really understand “Ling” and appreciate all of the characteristics that make her unique. “Ling is a really fun horse to ride,” she shared. “She has the mare traits that make her fun and interesting such as having some opinions, but she is also a competitor and she likes being the center of attention. She is not the most naturally athletic horse, but she remembers lessons learned during training and is constantly improving. She has learned to beg, and is very effective at obtaining treats from people.”

Together, Poulton and Ling moved from third place to the champion position during the Event at Skyline after adding no faults to their dressage score of 28.6. Looking back on her experience at the Area IX Championships, Poulton’s favorite memories are of the atmosphere and the people.“Our Area has a lot of comradery,” said Poulton. “There is a lot of support and good sportsmanship amongst competitors, and we can all commiserate about the distances we need to travel to compete. The Skyline competition makes extra effort to provide a fun and challenging championships.”

Open Novice Champion: Madeline Backus & Baratheon | 25.2

Madeline Backus and Baratheon. Susan Sheldon Photography photo.


It was a start-to-finish win for Novice Champions Madeline Backus and The Mdb Syndicate’s 8-year-old Trakehner gelding Baratheon as they concluded their weekend on their dressage score of 25.2, the lowest winning Championship score at the Event at Skyline. Baratheon is a newer mount for Backus, having just started their show career together in May of 2021, but she is already extremely fond of his personality. “Baratheon is so full of character. My favorite thing about him is he’s unapologetically himself and does everything his way,” she said. “He’s an absolute goofball in the barn, and loves attention. I’m so lucky our paths crossed and I have the ride on him. He’s so talented and keen to learn.”

Backus spoke highly of the Event at Skyline and their ability to put on a beautiful championship experience, especially when it came to the cross-country tracks. “The cross-country course at The Area IX Championships was great,” she reflected. “It was nicely decorated and asked all the questions. The entire course is on groomed footing so that is a huge benefit in our part of the country for when it starts to freeze or get hard. We can still count on the footing being good at the Event at Skyline.”

Open Beginner Novice Champion: Avery Calder & Lismore | 36.5

Avery Calder and Lismore. Faye Gandolfi photo.


Not only was it young rider Avery Calder’s first year competing at the Beginner Novice level, but it was also her first time competing in an Area Championship making the win aboard Wendy Webb’s 19-year-old Lismore even more special. Calder and the Irish Sport Horse mare just partnered together in June of 2021 where they placed first at their first event together, qualifying them for the Area IX Championships. They finished the weekend with no faults added their dressage score of 36.5 to bring home the champion title. “ I was so excited to compete in my first Area Championships,” Calder shared. “I was very happy to land from the last jump in show jumping after Lissie and I had a clean round because I was really nervous! I also love going to the Skyline event because the sunsets are beautiful. It was such a pretty evening before cross-country and I was so excited to ride that course.”

When it comes to her mount, Calder doesn’t run short of sweet sentiments to share about Lissie. “She has the kindest face and tries so hard. She is great in all phases but is really good in the cross-country phase because she is very brave and has fun doing it. Lissie likes to take a nap before we go cross country which makes me realize that she is very relaxed! She is very experienced and is helping to teach me the ropes of eventing since I am still learning. This is my first year doing Beginner Novice and I am lucky to ride such a great horse!”

Open Introductory Champion: Irina Rapport & Petite Soleil | 43.5

Irina Rapport and Petit Soleil. Faye Gandolfi photo.


For Irina Rapport and her 6-year-old Spanish Mustang mare Petite Soleil, winning their division on their dressage score at the Area IX Championships was the icing on top of the cake of a very special story. “This pony is one in ten million,” Rapport commented. “I adopted ‘Sunny’ from Colorado Horse Rescue in July of 2019 as a barely handled 4-year-old. She was reactive and scared of her own shadow. From day one she proved she was not going to be an easy start. I knew she could have a great heart and be brave one day. We tried many other english disciplines, but eventing seemed to stick after one cross-country outing. This was my first ever season out eventing and to go out and win a championship on my first rescue pony that I started from scratch is just the most rewarding thing.”

But Rapport and Sunny almost didn’t make the trek to Skyline as the mare had never been in a trailer for over an hour at a time. The 10-hour trek seemed daunting, but the pair arrived and Sunny was in great form. “She settled in great and was ready to go. We had a consistently good dressage test, had a fast-paced but clear cross-country, and went clear in a technical show jumping round. I couldn’t be more excited and proud of my little rescue pony! I didn’t go there with the goal of winning, but to get her experience, to stay on course, and make the most of it. I’m definitely going to plan future trips to Skyline. I loved the courses. They were inviting, yet technical and I hope they hold more championships in the future for Area IX.

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