The Summer Coconino Horse Trials took place in Flagstaff, Arizona on July 8-10, 2022, and featured two USEA Classic Series divisions held at the Beginner Novice and Novice levels. It was the trainer/student duo of Brittany Caflisch and Jaeli Uselding of Amarillo, Texas who brought home the win in their respective divisions, making their USEA Classic Series experience even more special.
Caflisch, who won the Novice Three-Day division with her own 6-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Balance Due (Redding Colliery x Stage Five Clinger), has tried her best to bring eventing to her hometown of Amarillo over the years after falling in love with the sport by chance while in college at Texas A&M University.
“I had a horse that I just couldn’t find what she loved and started eventing and I could tell on the way to that startbox the second time that I had finally found what that horse wanted to do,” Caflisch reflected. And she has been hooked ever since.
Currently, Caflisch and her students have to make quite the trek to compete or school off property. The closest facilities to them range from four-and-a-half to six hours away, but that didn’t stop her from making the classic long format event at Coconino a goal for her and her students. With the help of USEA Instructor’s Certification Program (ICP) instructor Mary D’arcy, Caflisch decided to use the Novice Three-Day as an opportunity to evaluate her horse’s readiness for a move up to Training level.
“For me personally for what I was looking for in the Novice, it was the most perfect course,” she shared of the course at Coconino. “They asked really appropriate questions - we had a table three strides to a down bank and then to a bending line which was awesome because you start seeing more technical combinations in Training. It was great to practice at a smaller height. It was a really fun course for where 'Lance' is at in his training.
It was a start-to-finish win for Caflisch and Balance Due who finished adding no faults to their dressage score of 27.9. Looking back on the weekend as a whole, Caflisch felt that in addition to the thrill of steeplechase, the horse inspections created a special opportunity for riders of all levels to experience.
“That was really special,” she said of the horse inspection process. “Most of the riders dressed up, which was fun because that’s something that every person dreams of, getting to do a real jog and dressing up for it. Even though we were just Beginner Novice and Novice, they made you feel like it was a real FEI jog.”
But for Caflisch, one of the best parts of the weekend was winning alongside her student, Uselding, who won the Beginner Novice Three-Day at Coconino.
“This student, she has worked super hard,” commented Caflisch. “She rides a Thoroughbred and he is super spicy and she’s a heck of a rider for a 13-year-old. With the long format, there’s a lot to do with your watch and watches have not always been her friend. Watching her leave for her endurance phase, I was just hoping she would figure it out. She had three watches on her arm and she’s a smart kid, but when you’re out there with the adrenaline you just never know. But she did great and she was so excited when she came back and had the time right! It was just fun that it worked out how you dream of it working out for both of us. So that was really fun.”
Caflisch’s partnership with Uselding has been long-standing. Uselding first began riding with Caflisch when she was just seven years old. The young rider got her start in the hunter jumper classes, but would soon become just as passionate about eventing as her trainer.
“I went to school cross-country for the first time and I was just hooked on it,” Uselding said. “I loved it so much and then I went on to do my first recognized Horse Trial when I was nine.”
Competing in a long format has been a goal of Uselding’s for quite some time now. She had hoped to compete in one last year but didn’t feel as if she and the horse she was riding at the time were quite prepared. When the opportunity to ride the now 6-year-old Thoroughbred gelding My Fair Prince (Congrats x Black Oak) came up last year, Uselding jumped on it.
“I started riding ‘Prince’ in July and the more I rode him, the more I realized how special he was. We just clicked instantly. He is a bit spicy and opinionated, but he is very fun to ride. We ended up purchasing him in January of this year and went to Florida to compete for a month in February and that is when we really started to form a good partnership.”
Going to Florida was a smart move for the pair as they took home first place in their first two USEA recognized competitions together in their Beginner Novice divisions. As their season continued, Uselding realized she might just have the horse to give her first long-format a go with. With Prince being just six years old, she saw the value in what the long format could offer him as he continued to mature as an event horse and decided to use the opportunity to help them continue to grow as a partnership.
“Our dressage has been a learning experience,” Uselding shared. “Prince still gets a little excited going into the dressage ring, so the past few shows we have been focused on just getting him calm going into the test. I was very happy with how our dressage test at Coconino went, he was very calm and collected.”
The pair sat in third following the first phase on their dressage score of 31.8. With the help of her trainer, Caflisch's mom Robin, her mom, and her sister, Uselding and Prince tackled the jumping phases in top form and came out of the vet box each time happy and ready to keep on trucking.
“The endurance phase really helped him with his confidence,” she shared as she looked back on their experience at Coconino. “He is very brave but can get a little scared sometimes and all the different phases helped him get even more comfortable as he went forward. The steeplechase was my favorite part. He is off the track so he was very excited to be back on a track-like environment again. He gave me his all and I loved being able to gallop around the track.”
Uselding’s efforts to prepare Prince properly for the event both physically and mentally paid off as they went double-clear across the remainder of the phases, moving up from third to first to bring home the win.
“I learned so much from this event and I think my horse learned a lot too,” she said. “It was so fun being able to compete with my trainer and I was so happy that we both won!”
For her friends and fellow eventers who are aiming to do a USEA Classic Series event in the future, Uselding has one piece of advice: “Take time to enjoy the experience and have fun. It can be kind of confusing at first thinking about doing all the different phases, but if you just tackle them one at a time, it is way easier!”
Kate Boggan describes her younger self as your typical horse-crazy kid. “As soon as I saw a horse, I was obsessed,” the born and raised Texan recalled. “It was the most expensive mistake my parents ever made taking me to my first rodeo as a toddler.”
As most eventers know, the key to success in the show ring often lies in the preparation done beforehand. For the cross-country phase, memorizing your course and having a plan is a given, but another key factor to consider is choosing the appropriate studs for your horse. If you're new to the sport, the concept of studs might seem a little overwhelming, but former USEA President and current co-chair of the USEA Grooms Committee Max Corcoran broke down all of the basics that you need to know when putting together your stud kit for the first time or before packing up for your first show of the 2024 season.
The USEA is saddened to report that Canadian eventer Holly Jacks-Smither's five-star horse More Inspiration died on Feb. 19. He was 18. Bred in Canada by Display Farm, the Thoroughbred gelding (Inspired Prospect x Gentle Buck) started 28 times at the track and had four wins.
We might be a few months into the new year, but there is still so much to come in the 2024 U.S. eventing season. USEA Podcast Host Nicole Brown sits down with USEA CEO Rob Burk, USEA President Lou Leslie, and EquiRatings' Managing Director and Co-Founder Diarm Byrne to make predictions, dive into team selections, and just share what they are most looking forward to this year in this week's episode of the USEA Podcast.