Aspen Farms in Yelm, Washington was host to this year’s USEA Area VII Championships on September 16-18 and put on a spectacular show where 10 horse and rider pairs celebrated victory by being awarded the title of Area VII Champion in their respective divisions. Hear about each pair’s weekend below.
Intermediate Champions: Karen O’Neal & Clooney 14 | 38.7
Karen O’Neal and Annika Asling’s 8-year-old Westphalian gelding Clooney 14 (Captain Jack x Sauberfee) held onto the lead in the Intermediate Championship from start to finish, a great reward after O’Neal and Asling imported “Clooney” from Germany as a 3-year-old in 2017.
“Annika purchased Clooney from Christoph Garmann’s barn in Germany, where they have a breeding operation. In the Fall of 2017, at a height of 16.1 hands, we imported him without any idea he’d grow to a staggering 17.3 hands!” O’Neal shared. “Annika established a strong foundation of groundwork and had him ready for me to back/start in December of 2017. We began formally competing together in 2018 when he turned four, but soon realized his cautious nature led to frequent spooks and challenges in each event. In our first competition, at Beginner Novice, Clooney wouldn’t go past the show-jumping judges’ stand and I was unable to get him going before time ran out, resulting in an elimination. With a tremendous amount of effort from both Annika and myself, we have been able to advance Clooney through the ranks and enjoy success at the Novice, Training, Preliminary and Intermediate levels.”
O’Neal admits that the jump to the Intermediate level has been the most challenging due to Clooney’s lack of speed and spooky nature, but they have continued to persevere and Clooney is now turning into quite the event horse. “We competed at the three-star at Rebecca Farms this year and, with the exception of one “spook” at a horse decoration at fence four, he performed remarkably. With continued investment in training and confident riding, he is becoming exceptionally capable and is on a trajectory to compete at the highest levels in our sport.”
The pair scored a 27.5 in the Intermediate Championship to take the early lead. The cross-country track was the ultimate test, with no pairs able to make the time, but O’Neal and Clooney delivered the fastest trip with just 7.2 time penalties added to their score. Even with the addition of those penalties, the duo had a nine-point lead going into the final phase, so the addition of one rail to their score didn’t unseat them from their leading position.
“The Area VII championships was an amazing competition,” O’Neal reflected. “Aspen Farms is one of my favorite venues because of its natural beauty, amazing jumps, professional organization, and rider diversity; with riders coming from California, Montana, Idaho, and Canada. The pressure is always high and the camaraderie is exceptional.”
Preliminary Champions: Kelsey Horn & Cleared For Take Off | 26.5
Kelsey Horn and her 8-year-old Oldenburg gelding Cleared For Take Off recently placed second in the Bates USEA Preliminary Rider division at the 2022 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds which was an absolute highlight of their 2022 eventing season, but their success wouldn’t stop there. The duo can now add a first-place finish in the Area VII Preliminary Championship to their resume after a phenomenal performance at Aspen Farms.
Horn and Cleared For Take Off kicked off the weekend in third with a dressage score of 25.7, an effort that Horn was especially thrilled with. “The whole weekend he was amazing but I’m super proud of him for our dressage phase,” she shared. “He’s a very big horse and so to organize his huge body and be a fancy dressage horse does not come easily to him. He really tried for me that day and I was very pleased with our test and the team effort it took to make it happen!”
After issuing a double-clear cross-country effort, the partnership would move up to second. As it tends to be, show jumping was extremely influential. With just 1.4 penalties separating Horn and the overnight leader, it was anyone’s game. The pair added just 0.8 time penalties to their score in show jumping to leap up the leaderboard and take the winning position.
When asked how it feels to come off back-to-back top placings at the AEC and Area VII Championships, Horn shared: “It feels awesome! I went to both shows with the intention to give it my all and try to win and I came so close at the AEC. To be able to build on that performance and win the Area VII Championship feels extremely satisfying!”
Junior Training Champions: Lizzie Hoff & HSH Explosion | 26.6
Another rider who had great success at the 2022 AEC is Lizzie Hoff, but it was with a different horse that she excelled with at the Area VII Championships: her 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare HSH Explosion (Sligo Candy Boy x Tireragh Lady).
“I’ve been riding HSH Explosion for a little over a year now and even though she is fairly experienced, she is a tricky and very opinionated mare, so after having my trainer ride her for a bit to help iron out some of our rough patches, it was so rewarding to have a super confident round back out cross country together and to finish feeling like we are understanding each other much better now!,” Hoff shared after the Championship weekend.
Hoff and HSH Explosion led the division from start to finish, adding no cross-country penalties to their dressage score of 22.6. With a four-point lead, the pair had a rail in hand going into show jumping but had no room for time faults. They would add one rail to their score to finish on 26.6 to take the lead over Hoff’s second entry in the class, HSH Limited Edition who finished in second just 0.3 penalties behind HSH Explosion.
Open Training Champions: Stephanie Goodman & Esmèe | 23.3
A fault-free weekend would leave Stephanie Goodman and Deanna Briggs’ 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Esmèe (Westpoint x Hemmingh) at the top of the podium through all three finishes to finish on their dressage score of 23.3 with a five-point lead over the second-place finisher. A former dressage horse, Esmèe has found a new love in eventing with the help of Goodman.
“Esmèe is owned by good friends from Jackson Hole, Wyoming which is about a six-hour drive from our farm,” said Goodman. “They brought her over for some lessons last year and left her while they traveled. She was purchased as a dressage horse that had done some jumping. In the past year, I have gotten them to leave her more and more with me as their lives are so busy. Esmèe seems to be getting into eventing! She is a beautiful mare with a ton of personality and class. I look forward to sharing her with her family and moving her up to Preliminary at her next event.”
Training Rider Champions: Bryce Meeker & Centerfield Pixel Star | 26.2
In the Training Rider Championship, Bryce Meeker rode Sarah George’s 8-year-old Thoroughbred cross gelding Centerfield Pixel Star (Persiflage x Futura) to the Champion title adding no penalties to their dressage score of 26.2.
The pair started their weekend in third, but their double-clear cross-country round moved them up to pole position going into the final phase. Looking back at the weekend, Meeker shared: “My favorite memory was Pixel conquering the water jumps on cross-country. This is an area we have been working on and I was thrilled about how confident he was on this part of the course. I’m so incredibly proud of my horse and grateful for his partnership. I’ve had him since he was five and we’ve both learned and grown so much over the last three years. It’s so gratifying to have all of the hard work pay off.”
Meeker had lots of positive comments to share about the Area VII Championships at Aspen Farms and the Area VII community in general. “I love competing at Area VII events because the atmosphere is also so fun and supportive. Aspen Farms is such a gorgeous venue and always has such beautiful and fun courses.”
Junior Novice Champions: Macy Hale & Ardeo Audacity | 23.9
There is no better way to celebrate your one-year anniversary with a horse than by bringing home a Championship title, which is exactly what Macy Hale and her 7-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Ardea Audacity did at the Area VII Championships.
“We’ve had the usual getting to know each other hurdles, but have overcome so much,” Hale said of her partnership with the horse. “I am so grateful for my past horses as I know they were stepping stones to finding ‘Eoghan.’ When I first saw him, he was standing in the corner of his stall taking a nap, super chill and “no big deal” personality. He’s so funny. He loves his snuggles and is such a character in making people laugh and has a heart of gold. Winning this Championship gives me so much joy. I was ready for a full show season. This win means so much to me and all the hard times were obviously worth it!”
The pair kicked off the weekend with a personal best score on dressage with a score of 23.9 to take the early lead, but Hale knew she couldn’t take that for granted. “This sport will keep you humble. I was thrilled with a personal best score on dressage. On cross-country Eoghan tends to know all do all, but It was more of a partnership this weekend. Show jumping, I was most nervous about forgetting the course! The suspense leading up to it waiting until everyone is done is quite nerve-racking. He’s a powerhouse in the show jumping ring and his confidence and carefulness in there keeps me in check. Each day truly was a win and accomplishment. Over the last fence, I had a true smile and I know Eoghan did too. He always knows when he’s the center of attention, and he loves it.”
Open Novice Champions: Jordan Linstedt & Liberty R | 25.9
Winning the Novice Championship at the Area VII Championships was a redemption opportunity for Jordan Linstedt and Amy Itkin’s 6-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Liberty R (Goodtimes x Coco Chanel R).
“Liberty R was a star this weekend! After running the AEC and having a silly green stop at the ditch on cross-country it felt fabulous to have three wonderful phases at Aspen for our Area VII Championship,” shared Linstedt.
“Libby” came to Linstedt’s barn this past February as a dressage horse and had never seen a jump before, but quickly took to her new career. Her strong dressage foundation gave her an early lead with a score of 21.9.
“Equally I’m proud of Libby in all three phases, but if I had to choose one I guess I’d say I’m most proud of cross-country,” Linstedt said.” She felt very bold and confident on course. She galloped well and took me up to everything out there. I’m sure I was beaming from ear to ear the entire ride because she is so much fun!”
The pair would execute a double-clear cross-country round to hold their lead going into the final phase and would add one rail to their score to finish the weekend as Champions on a score of 25.9.
Novice Rider Champions: Amanda Zeddy & Johnny’s Sparrow | 30.5
Amanda Zeddy imported her 6-year-old Connemara/Thoroughbred cross gelding Johnny’s Sparrow (Grange Finian Sparrow x Dromin Cross Roads) last September with the guidance of her longtime coach and trainer, Jennifer Wooten-Macouzet. Zeddy describes the gelding as, “
“He is cheeky and willing,” said Zeddy. “I’ve enjoyed continuing to develop him in Jennifer’s program at Trinity Eventing in Beavercreek, Oregon.”
The pair started their championship weekend in a tie for second place on a dressage score of 29.7, but after adding 0.8 time penalties on cross-country they dropped to fourth. Going into the final phase, Zeddy was content with the thought of finishing the weekend out in fourth place. Little did she know, however, that their double-clear show jumping round would rocket them up to the top spot on the leaderboard.
“I did not realize immediately after my round I would finish higher than fourth place,” Zeddy reflected. “I was just proud of Johnny for finishing our second Novice together strong. When I checked Startbox after I had untacked Johnny in our stabling area I was stunned. It’s hard not to get a bit excited about Johnny’s future, and I’m enjoying the process.”
Junior Beginner Novice Champions: Rhys Bentley & Overtime Magic | 26.9
Rhys Bentley first partnered up with Sara Smith-McNabb’s 15-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Overtime Magic (E Dubai x Taba Dance) in October of 2020 and the pair had a lot of work to put in to solidify their partnership.
“When I first got ‘OT’ we had some difficulties as a partnership and it took a lot of hard work and dedication to get through that. My favorite thing about OT is how big his personality is and how hard he tries. When I first got him, I was very intimidated and I didn’t think we clicked at the time. We have both grown and learned so so much from each other!
It was a wire-to-wire finish for the pair who added no penalties to their dressage score of 26.9. “Looking back on everything we have been through to now I could not be more proud of us,” Bentley reflected. “I think all of our hard work really showed this weekend! He took all three phases in stride and I could not be happier with the outcome. I love him so much and am so grateful for him, how hard he tries and the partnership we have developed He’s truly something special! I’m also very thankful for the support from my barn family, OT’s owner Sara Smith-McNabb, my parents, my trainer Heather Hornung, and all the volunteers that made this weekend possible and so memorable!”
Open Beginner Novice Champions: Crystal McRae & Pursha | 20.3
Crystal McRae first met Asia Thayer’s 14-year-old Hanoverian mare Pursha (Pablo x Mariha Anne) seven years ago when she began taking weekly lessons with Thayer on Pursha after having just had her daughter in 2015.
“A long-term goal of mine has been to do Three-Day Eventing, but I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around how to balance veterinary medicine, family, and riding. As a veterinarian, I work on many three-day eventers and was enamored with the joy that I could see in my clients and their horses.”
In 2021, under the guidance of her business coach Jen Verharen, McRae decided to put some self-care first and established goals for her own riding. “I restructured my appointment days and with an opening of 8 a.m. lesson time slots, I began to ride twice a week then eventually 4-5 days a week in early mornings. Asia invited me to bring Pursha to an adult riders camp where she was teaching in September of 2021. This camp was both mine and Pursha’s first time going and schooling cross-country altogether. After our schooling adventure going cross-country, it became very clear that this was absolutely a sport I wanted to pursue and during that weekend, my bond with Pursha blossomed. That winter, I was honored to accept Asia Thayer’s offer to lease Pursha and show the next season. Pursha and I have grown together, in our trust, partnership, and confidence. I adore this little mare and how she puts her ears forward and rises to each challenge with excitement and grace!”
What better way to cap off your first-ever season eventing than by winning your Area Championships? McRae and Pursha took the early lead in their division on a dressage score of 20.3, a score that would remain unharmed all throughout the weekend.
“I set a goal in June for a dressage score under 30,” McRae commented. “Asia opened the door for us to grow and improve. Some of these rides were very hard, yet at the base of it, I knew she was helping us grow. I had to keep reminding myself not to be discouraged by the fact that I didn’t quite yet know how to achieve this connection. This mindset helped me to strive further, work harder, dig deeper and connect by remembering to breathe with my horse. Our goal for next year is to compete at the Novice level. At each level, I want to make sure that both she and I are performing from a state of joy before moving on to the next level. With trust, partnership, and excellent coaching at our foundation, I cannot wait to see where we go together!”
Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered! Check out the USEA’s Weekend Quick Links for links to information including the prize list, ride times, live scores, and more for all the events running this weekend.
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