With two very competitive mounts, 15-year-old Meg Pellegrini finished first and third in the rider division of the Preliminary Challenge, the marquee event of the Spring Event at Woodside at the Horse Park at Woodside.
Win-wise it’s already been a big year for Pellegrini, but winning the Challenge on her longtime Connemara pony, Ganymede, made it an especially thrilling victory. Pellegrini’s biggest recent wins have come with her new horse, RF Eloquence. “Both of my horses always put in 100% effort, but I think she just got a little jealous and she had to come up and show what she could do,” Pellegrini said of Ganymede. Dwarfed in the line-up of finalists at the end of the class, the mare never acts her size. “She feels and acts like a big horse,” Pellegrini explained. “She acts like she can jump the moon.”
For horses and riders, the Challenge exists to promote advancement to the international levels and Pellegrini showed the big-picture thinking that requires. Entering the show jumping finale in second with Ganymede and fifth on RF Eloquence, Pellegrini prioritized giving both a good ride over fixating on where they might place. After opening day’s dressage, the Challenge stages cross-country and stadium jumping both on Saturday, so Pellegrini factored their energy level into her show jumping plan after an inviting, yet challenging Bert Wood-designed cross-country track in the morning. “I’m learning how to take the pressure off my horses,” she said.
Fellow young rider Savannah Gwin and Glock Pullman were tied for 12th after Friday’s dressage test, which Gwin described as their best to date. A double clear on cross-country vaulted them to third, and their eventual second-place finish continues a strong year. Gwin bought the horse from her trainer Tamie Smith and since gaining his trust about six months into their year-long partnership, it’s been fairly smooth sailing, highlighted by a CCI2*-L victory at Twin Rivers in April.
Pellegrini and Gwin are North American Young Riders Championship hopefuls for Area VI. Both noted that the Preliminary Challenge’s two-judge dressage, rigorous cross-country, and electric atmosphere for show jumping will set them up well for the July Championships at Rebecca Farm if all goes as they hope with NAYC team selection.
In the Preliminary Horse Challenge, Bec Braitling and Penhill Celtic also advanced from the red to blue ribbon position with show jumping. Penhill Celtic is a big horse and a relatively new ride for Braitling, whose string is growing in number and quality. With his previous rider, Giovanni Ugolotti, Pehnill Celtic contested the Young Horse Championships at Le Leon d’Angers and won a CCI1* competition last year.
“He’s been a bit of a different ride for me, and initially he didn’t feel like my natural kind of ride,” Braitling said.
He exemplified Arnell Sporthorses’ priority on jumping ability while making easy work of the tight turns and galloping spaces on Chris Barnard’s course in the big Grand Prix Arena lined with fans. Scope was no problem, but Braitling had been a bit worried about how he would handle the Challenge’s crowd and amped-up atmosphere. That turned out to be no problem either. After a clean go, all they could do was wait for the final pair to leave the rails up or hand them the win.
That last pair happened to be Braitling’s good friend Tamie Smith, who had led the Challenge’s horse division with Elliot-V until then by entering show jumping on their 27.10 dressage score. A single rail for the pair flipped the friends’ standings in the class.
Amber Levine and Excellence held their third-place position.
Braitling is a big fan of the Preliminary Challenge, especially as a preparation for the four horses she’s taking to Rebecca Farm in July. “I love this Woodside event so much because it has so much atmosphere for show jumping, and for having it right after cross-country when the horses are a bit tired. It’s a great place to get to know the horses well before going on to an FEI competition.”
Winners in both of the Preliminary Challenge’s divisions went home with $2,500 in cash and many prizes: a $500 Voltaire or Devoucoux gift certificate and gift certifications from Ride On Video and Marcus Green Outdoor Photography. Prize gear included a Western Saddlery halter, Professional’s Choice cooler, paddle brush and face brush, and a trio of SmartPak products. Reserve champions earned a $1,875 prize check, Professional’s Choice Theramic boots and brushes, and horse care items from SmartPak, SmartLyte and Finish Line. Third earned $1,500, and gear and goodies from Professionals Choice, SmartPak, SmartLyte, Finish Line, and Rambo. The fourth-place finisher received $1,125 and fifth earned $500. Ribbons went to the top 10.
Intro through Advanced division competition concludes Sunday at the Spring Event at Woodside. Standings in many divisions were significantly shuffled by Saturday’s cross-country. In the Advanced division, Sara Selmer and PDQ Leigh moved from third to first; James Alliston and Pandora from tied for fifth into second and amateur Hilary Burkemper and Undercover from second to third. Sara and PDQ Leigh were one of only two to go double clear. Show jumping in this division begins Sunday at 8:00 a.m.
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