Aug 31, 2023

That's a Wrap on the Bates USEA Preliminary Championships at the AEC

By Meagan DeLisle - USEA Staff
Bates USEA Preliminary Amateur Champions Kelly Beaver and Excel Star Pluto. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photo

Lexington, Ky.—August 31— It was an exciting end to a championship week for competitors in the Bates USEA Preliminary Championship divisions at the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds. Three out of the four divisions saw new leaders rise through the rankings, while one horse and rider pair clinched tightly to their overnight lead to bring home the blue ribbon.

Bates USEA Preliminary Amateur Championship

Getting to ride with your close friend is always special, but getting to stand next to one another as Champion and Reserve Champion of your division at the AEC is on a whole other level. Bates USEA Preliminary Amateur champion Kelly Beaver (Elverson, Pennsylvania) got to do just that with her friend and division reserve champion Kathleen Bertuna (Athens, Ohio).

“The sport is so tough,” said Beaver. “It's an individual sport, you're really just competing against yourself, you know, and so to be able to have someone that understands it, and then to be able to share it with each other is really special.”

In the earlier part of the championship week, Bertuna actually sat one spot ahead of Beaver with her 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Excel Star Harry (Luidam x Moysella Cool Diamond), in third and fourth respectively. But after cross-country, both riders moved up the scoreboard with their horses with Beaver moving up to first with her 8-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding Excel Star Pluto and Bertuna in second. Knowing they were going to have to battle it out for first between each other brought a whole new sense of friendship and humor into the equation.

“She was hot on my heels,” shared Beaver. “I knew her horse had like an anaphylactic reaction to rails; you have to make this horse have a rail so I knew I did not have any chance of her having a rail.”

While Beaver did add .4 time penalties to her score after show jumping, she still held onto her lead and finished with a score of 34.3. Bertuna and Excel Star Harry concluded their weekend in second on 35.7.

Another thing that Beaver and Bertuna share together is the camaraderie of motherhood while still pursuing their equestrian goals.

Beaver, Champion, and Bertuna, Reserve Champion.

“It takes a village,” shared Bertuna, “and it's not always your immediate village. I live in an eventing desert in Southeast Ohio. I travel six-and-a-half hours for cross-country coaching. In the summer, and in the winter seven and a half. I travel two hours for dressage coaching and two hours to do a local schooling for stadium, but it does it just takes a village and so much support. I mean from the spouses at home to your kids understanding and cheering you on.”

Beaver agreed: “I feel you just have to figure out the schedule. You have to figure out where you can give, and where are the sacrifices. You know, get up at 5:00 a.m., and you do a ride before work. You move your schedule around. I'm fortunate I have a supportive colleague group too. No one else understands it at work, but they understand it enough. So it just takes tons and tons of support. And some days you just don't feel like doing it because you've got a million things, but I'll tell you what, I've never regretted riding.”

Citigirl and Rory Frangos.

Making an impressive move up from 13th after dressage to third at the end of the final phase was Rory Frangos (Ocala, Florida) riding RAF Eventing LLC’s 9-year-old Thoroughbred mare Citigirl. Frangos is a senior in high school, which she shares adds a little complexity to her riding life.

“I do online [school] luckily,” she said, “so I usually am at the barn doing school on my computer, and then I'll run out have a lesson. Thankfully, my trainer Buck [Davidson] is straight across the street, so I zip over there, have a lesson, come back, get on the other horse, go back over, so it's a lot of back and forth. But it's always worth it.”

Frangos purchased Citigirl from Buck two years ago, and it took some time for her to adjust to riding a more sensitive horse than she is used to, which makes this weekend’s result even more sweet.

“So we got here and Citigirl was very excited. She was bucking and rearing and excited, but she just gets into the big atmospheres and settles straight. She tries so hard. She went in and she did an awesome [dressage] test. And then on the cross-country, she basically just held my hand, and I just told her where to go. She's so good.”

Bates USEA Preliminary Horse Championship

Sharon White and Jaguar Duande.

A new leader emerged in the Bates USEA Preliminary Horse Championship as Sharon White (Arlington, Virginia) piloted her 7-year-old Westphalian mare Jaguar Duende (Jaguar Mail x Latina) through a double-clear show jumping round.

“Jag is what we call her,” shared White, “and I always say I'm taking the Jag out when I get on her because she's really beautiful and fun. She's a competitor. She wants to win. She digs deep and wants it in all three phases, which is really cool.”

White purchased Jag as a three-year-old but she stayed in Germany for a bit before coming to the States as a 4-year-old. Bringing the mare along from the ground up has been extremely rewarding and White has big dreams for her.

“The plan is all of the things,” White said. “I would love for this to be the start of many blues in Kentucky.”

Liz Halliday and Maybach.

Overnight leader Maybach (Millenium x Hillary), the 7-year-old German Sport Horse gelding owned by Deborah Palmer, and Liz Halliday (Lexington, Kentucky) added just one rail to their score to conclude their weekend in second on a 29.8.

“He's a lovely horse,” said Halliday who has had Maybach in the barn since he was five. “He only started eventing last year and was very, very green. So he's come a long way. And he hasn't actually had a run since he did the long-format at Virginia in May. So this is his first run back.”

Halliday, who is one of the busiest riders at this year’s AEC and a Lexington native, has had to perfect the art of balancing everything at the show and at home as she hauls her horses to and from the show each day.

“It's been a busy, busy week," she said. "It's our home event, so I rode some horses at home today as well. Yesterday was a little crazy trying to walk three courses and ride the five and all of that. But it's not anything we don't do that often; usually the weekends are pretty busy. So it's fine; it keeps me out of trouble.”

Hannah Sue Hollberg and "J".

Rounding out the top three was Christa Schmidt’s 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding “J” (Farfan M x Fairway), ridden by Hannah Sue Hollberg (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania). “J” started his week in third with a dressage score of 28.2 and only added 1.6 time penalties in cross-country to that score to finish in the same position as he started with a score of 29.8.

“He is a cute little horse,” said Hollberg. “I've had him for a of couple years now, and he's really just now coming into his own and figuring out all three phases are different and he has to do different things. We call him Homer, for Homer J. Simpson. He has a friend called Bart at home so it works out really well. He’s a real character, and he's really sweet. I think he wants to be a male model more than really working that much, but he's starting to get really good at cross-country. He really dug in yesterday, I had a blast on him, and he's definitely a good jumper so today was fun as well.”

Bates USEA Preliminary Rider Championship

Susan Moessner and Satin Art.

Susan Moessner (Ann Arbor, Michigan) started the weekend out in the lead aboard her homebred Warmblood gelding Satin Art (Indian Art x Epic Satin) with a dressage score of 25.7 but was bumped down to second after adding 7.6 time penalties to their score on cross-country. Going into show jumping today Moessner had just one goal:

“My plan was to stay out of his way because he's a lovely jumper. I basically just get him in a rhythm, get him into balance, and try to stay out of his way," she said.

Moessner noted that she backed the 19-year-old gelding off a bit on cross-country resulting in the time faults, but that “Artie” jumped wonderfully and answered all the questions the way she would have wanted.

“He's just such a wonderful horse, and it's so special that he finally gets the recognition,” Moessner said of her fourth-generation homebred. “He started out competing up through Intermediate, and I hoped he would be my next big Advanced horse, but he had the injury. And we had that repaired, but I just felt like eventing would be more likely to re-injure it, so he just did dressage for several years. Then I started to take him out when I was teaching some students and thought, 'Oh, we'll pop over one or two'. He was locking on to everything. So then I thought 'Well, maybe we'll go jump some fences.' And so for the past couple of years, I've taken him out once or twice in the season and qualified to bring him here. He could probably go Intermediate again, but I just feel Preliminary is a safer place for him.”

At 19 years young, Moessner has a new goal for her beloved stallion: Grand Prix dressage. She has three of Satin Art’s daughters at home that she intends to bring up through the levels. Her hope is to produce those in her home base of Area VIII so she can support keeping the upper-level divisions at her local shows.

Sarah Ross and Fernhill Heart Throb.

EA21 Rider Sarah Ross and her own and Peta Ross’ 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Fernhill Heart Throb (by Heartbreaker) moved their way up from third place to first after a double-clear show jumping performance. Ross just made the move from California to Florida and has been adjusting to life and competition on the East Coast.

“We've just been working hard all season at the Preliminary level, and we're getting more confident at the Preliminary and two-star [level], and starting to think about an Intermediate move up. So this was kind of a cool solidification that we're ready," she said.

Ross has aspirations of continuing to climb the ladder with Fernhill Heart Throb.

“I would love to take him up," she said. "I think he will go to the top of the sport. I'm aiming for Young Riders this year, and I think he will be my horse for that. I'll be able to go a lot further with him.”

Ashton Hays and A Boy Named Rozy.

Finishing in third was Nicholasville, Kentucky, native Ashton Hays and her A Boy Named Rozy. She and the 11-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Distorted Reality x Rozys Account) were sitting in the lead after cross-country, but one rail in the final phase dropped them down to third with a final score of 35.9

Hays has spent the last year-and-a-half focusing on straight dressage and just recently got back to eventing with her partner of seven years.

“We were kind of picking and fighting with each other,” she shared regarding their time spent focusing on dressage, “so we haven't even been eventing a year yet together again. I actually haven't brought him out since Terra Nova, where he ran his first intermediate, because I had a back injury. So the whole weekend was just kind of like go in and just remind him that this is his job. And he did that very successfully and just kept me on my toes, and was good throughout the whole weekend.”

Bates USEA Preliminary Junior/Young Rider Championship

Annabelle Sprague and Da Vinci Code.

Annabelle Sprague (Brookfield, Vermont) was feeling the pressure going into show jumping today in the lead with Kylie Lyman’s 16-year-old Irish Sport Horse Da Vinci Code (Master Imp x Clovers Appollo). One rail would result in losing their lead, so Sprague kept the plan today short and simple.

“The game plan was just to get a good canter and pretend like it's any other day,” she shared. “It's a big relief [to be Champion]. It was very nerve-wracking.”

Sprague started her championship performance in third place and is concluding the week on the same score she started with; quite a feat in a championship setting.

“In dressage, he was really good. We've done the test a bit, so he anticipated the halt, but besides that, I thought he was really good," she said. "And then in the cross-country, he was just amazing. I couldn't have asked for any better.”

She has had the ride on “Da Vinci” off and on for three years now and feels like they have really formed a solid partnership. “I feel like we know each other really well, and that helped us out today," she said.

Chloe Johnson and Chilli Bean.

After a dressage score of 33.1 slotted Dallas, Texas, based rider Chloe Johnson and her own 8-year-old New Zealand Sport Horse mare Chilli Bean (Chilli Morning x Curtain Call) in fifth place, the duo made a big leap up to second following their double-clear cross-country effort. They added one rail to their score to end the week with the honors of Reserve Champion on a score of 29.2

Looking back at her week as a whole, Johnson was thrilled with her partner. Especially since she entered very last minute as what she referred to as her “Plan C.”

“In dressage, I was a little less prepared than I would like to normally be, but other than that, it was very consistent," she said. "On cross-country, she's always amazing, and she just absolutely ate it up and loved every second of it. Stadium is definitely our weakest phase, but I've been working a lot on that, and it's gotten a lot better. She felt great today.”

Today’s win was extra special, as Johnson fights against a degenerative connective tissue disorder that leaves the future a little unclear. Despite her diagnosis, she is still setting goals for herself and intends on pushing on in true eventing fashion.

“My body is slowly giving out, and I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to ride, but I'd love to run the three-star long at Fair Hill next fall. That's my biggest goal right now.

Breanna Robinette and The Dark Mark.

Breanna Robinette (Rock Spring, Georgia) and Jennifer Smith’s 17-year-old Thoroughbred gelding The Dark Mark climbed their way up the leaderboard after each phase. They sat tied for seventh after dressage with a score of 34.3 but moved up to fourth after adding just 4 time penalties to their score on cross-country. A double-clear performance today inched them up one more place to bring home third place.

“He gave me a fantastic feeling throughout the week,” she shared. “He was really good for me in dressage, and carried the energy, and that was one of his better tests. And then on cross-country, he was definitely feeling the cooler weather. We didn't have many brakes for the first three minutes, or turning for that matter, but then he settled in and picked right on. That's his favorite phase. He loves it. Show jumping is always nerve-racking. He's so hard to show jump, but he ended up being not too bad today. And he felt amazing because he was actually using his back a little bit. He's got the biggest heart and tries for me all the time. He's a worker. He wants to go out and do it every day.”

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About the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC)

The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC), presented by Nutrena Feeds, is the pinnacle of the sport at 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 combinations 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. In fact, the 2021 AEC garnered over 1,000 entries and now stands as the largest eventing competition in North American history. The 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds will be held Aug. 29—Sept. 3 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.

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