Lexington, Ky.—August 30— All four Training championship divisions completed their dressage tests for the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena Feeds on Wednesday, with the massive fields split between the Claiborne and Walnut Arenas.
USEA Training Amateur Championship
A giant USEA Training Amateur Championship division saw 45 horses come forward to be judged between the white boards Wednesday and at the end of the day it was Tennessee rider Stephanie Letarte who would finish on top of the leaderboard on her own GarryNDruig Albie (VDL Arkansas x Diamond Abbey), a 19-year-old Dutch Warmblood-Irish Sport Horse cross on a score of 25.5. This is Stephanie’s first trip to the AEC, and so far she’s loving it, “There’s such a good atmosphere here, it just feels like a big event!”
"Albie" as he’s fondly known (Letarte admits she’s not even sure how to pronounce his formal name) has competed up through the three-star level previously with a couple of Young Riders, “He’s awesome!” Letarte said, “He’s just mega, like, so cool!”
Letarte, who is a small animal vet, started leasing Albie about a year and a half ago and decided to buy him after just six months; she’s had a little experience with an ex-racehorse, but admits fondly that Albie is her first "proper" horse and the first one she’s been able to do dressage on. “It’s fun to ride a test on a horse who knows what he’s doing!”
The pair spent some of the winter last year in Ocala with their trainer Alexandra Green Kirby to prepare for the season and moved up to Training there. She knew early on that she wanted to try to aim for this year’s championships. “It’s always been a goal, and it felt very far away, but when he came out this season he felt so good, and we felt so confident. We’ve had some good runs, and so I thought, ‘Well, why not give it a shot?’”
Letarte and Albie will go forward to cross-country Thursday with a comfortable lead over Amanda Smith on her own 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Tug of War (Majestic Warrior x Gaslight Gossip), who put a score of 28.9 on the board for overnight second place. Hailing from Crestville, Kentucky, they didn’t have too far to travel this weekend.
Rounding out the top three in this phase is Lisa Hickey and her own 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Blackjack who came down from Saint Charles, Illinois, to compete here; they’ll finish the day on Smith’s heels with a score of 29.
Two former Kentucky five-star competitors Bendigo, previously ridden by Ema Klugman, and Joe Meyer’s former ride Clip Clop are also in this division, and although they’re currently lying in the middle of the pack, you can expect them to move up the leaderboard after the cross-country phase.
USEA Training Rider Championship
Sierra Lesny and Edith Rameika’s Sebastian topped an equally mammoth USEA Training Rider Championship division after the first phase was completed with a score of 24.2. Sebastian is a 17-year-old New Zealand Thoroughbred and Lesny started riding him last January. Although Sebastian has experience up to the three-star level with former rider Sara Kozumplik, it’s a whole new ballgame for Lesny who made the switch from the hunter/jumper world to eventing relatively recently thanks to the Strides for Equality Equestrian (SEE) Ever So Sweet Scholarship.
“He’s absolutely incredible and he’s taught me so much about dressage,” Lesny confirmed proudly after her test, “dressage is somewhat new to me and he’s showing me the ropes.” In fact, Lesny has only done ten USEA-recognized horse trials ever, all on Sebastian, and she moved up to Training this year.
The SEE Scholarship enabled Lesny to spend a winter training in Ocala with Kozumplik, and she loved it so much that she ended up going back to work for her full-time. Kozumplik was originally going to be here at the AEC with Lesny, but a fall in the show jumping at Fair Hill (Elkton, Maryland) put a hold on those plans.
Instead, Lesny had a dressage lesson with her via FaceTime yesterday and spent a lot of time talking through her plans for warmup with her on the phone before her test on Wednesday afternoon. Lesny’s grandmother and grandfather are here at the Kentucky Horse Park as proud supporters.
“How can you not be proud?” Krista, Lesny’s grandmother beamed. It was in Krista’s hunter/jumper program where Lesny originally got her start. “It’s interesting because you can see how it carries over,” she mused. “This has been a lot of fun.”
Lesny was working for Kozumplik when she competed at the five-star here last year and was wearing the cap to prove it; she said she didn’t even know that you could compete here in other events, but now that she’s here, and leading her division no less, she may have to bring an AEC cap home for her coach!
Susan Gallagher (Millwood, Virginia) held the lead for most of the day on her own HH Rockstar (Chacco-Blue x Cherly Z), a 10-year-old German Sport Horse, but in the end, had to settle for overnight second place going into cross-country on a score of 25. Just .7 penalties behind them is Kelly Stalter (Charlottesville, Virginia) riding Plain Dealing Farm’s Donna Del Lago (Damsey x Wishing), a Warmblood Hanoverian mare, also 10 years old.
USEA Training Junior Championship
Marina Cassou made her second trip (so far!) to the AEC count by nailing the first phase and taking the dressage lead in the USEA Training Junior Championship division on her mother Beatrice’s 14-year-old Connemara gelding, Castleturvin Mungo.
“Actually I was really happy”, Cassou beamed afterward, “because last time we didn’t do a great test but this time he was just really good. I was like, ‘I’m nailing it down the center line!’” Two years ago this partnership competed in the USEA Novice Junior Championship, and they’ve had this year’s championships in their crosshairs ever since. “It’s been my goal since the beginning of the year, I love it here!” Cassou said.
She's had the ride on "Mungo" for four years since they bought him from Courtney Cooper; their partnership is a classic example of the third time being the charm, as Mungo was returned by his two previous buyers. One of the reasons was his anxiety around other horses, especially in warmup rings and Cassou admits this can still sometimes be a problem “but not today!”
Cassou usually trains with Lillian Heard at her home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but in Heard’s absence this weekend, Cassou and Mungo hitched a ride with fellow competitor and Pennsylvania-native Fylicia Barr, and they persuaded Barr to train them for the weekend too.
Cassou is looking forward to cross-country Thursday, and she and Mungo will take a score of 29.6, the only sub-30 one in their division, forward to the second phase of the competition. She is less excited about the final phase as she says this is when her mother says Mungo behaves like a “bad boyfriend because he likes to knock rails for no reason!”
Avery Grantham and her own Watch Maker C (Watermill Rolex x Lilli Marleen), an 11-year-old Thoroughbred/Hanoverian cross gelding are less than one penalty behind Cassou and Castleturvin Mungo, in second place after dressage on a score of 30.5. Tessa Geven rode Kathleen Amos’ 6-year-old Irish Sport Horse Caheradoo Jack (Jack’s Delight x Caheradoo Echo) into third place after this phase on a score of 30.8.
USEA Training Horse Championship
Jane Jennings loved SF Vancouver 2 (Validation S x Nanna), aka Teddy, from the moment she first tried him in Germany in 2021. After he came to the U.S., she began showing the 8-year-old German Sport Horse gelding with great success. Their partnership led to many top-three placings. But that all changed in the fall of 2022 when the horse developed an unexplained illness that almost resulted in Jennings losing her new partner that she adored so much.
"He's been off for eight months," recalled Jennings, "and he almost didn't make it, so I am proud of him. He is such a trooper."
Months and months of digging and testing by the veterinarian team at New Bolton finally led to a diagnosis: a very rare inner ear infection.
"I'm just so grateful for all the vets involved," she said. "We got him on the right kind of antibiotics and slowly brought him back. It was amazing. This is kind of like his little comeback, his redemption."
The duo won their first event back just last month at the WindRidge Summer Horse Trials, setting them up for a positive outing at this year's AEC. Jennings admitted she was secretly happy that she was the last to go in her division, as Teddy can be a hair horse shy and having the quieter warmup played to their advantage.
"Today was really great. The fact that he could go to the ring and focus is just awesome. You know with the atmosphere, there was a lot to look at. But he just paid attention and he just was very good the whole time. And at the end, I was just thrilled. I just felt so proud of him."
Despite Teddy getting a bit distracted and not giving the "wow factor" in the lengthened trot that Jennings knows he is capable of, the horse still rose to the top of the field in the USEA Training Horse Championship with a score of 26. Now, Jennings can turn her sights to cross-country tomorrow with her beloved partner.
Just narrowly behind Jennings is Andrew McConnon with Jeanne Shigo's 6-year-old Zangersheide gelding Connery Cooper Z (Cornado II Z x Zindyloma) who go into tomorrow's cross-country on a score of 27.1. Eric Dierks rounds out the top three with the 9-year-old German Sport Horse gelding Quintano (Quaterback x Bellevue) owned by Laura Wilson.
Follow the USEA event coverage on social media!
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.
The USEA would like to thank Presenting Sponsor: Nutrena Feeds; Advanced Final Title Sponsor: Adequan; Platinum Level Sponsor: Bates Saddles; Gold Level Sponsors: Capital Square, Horse & Country, Parker Equine Insurance, Smartpak, Standlee; Silver Level Sponsors: Auburn Labs, Ecogold, Kerrits, The Jockey Club; Bronze Level Sponsors: 70 Degrees, Athletux, Black Petticoat, The Chronicle of the Horse, Devoucoux, D.G. Stackhouse and Ellis, Dubarry of Ireland, Equestrian Team Apparel, Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, Horseware Ireland, Majyk Equipe, Retired Racehorse Project, Ride EquiSafe; Contributing Level Sponsor: CrossCountry App, Georgetown – Scott County Tourism, Lexmark, L.V. Harkness, Mountain Horse, Mrs. Pastures Cookies, #WeRideTogether; Prize Level Sponsors: Coach Daniel Stewart, EquiFit, Equilab, Equiluxe Tack, Equine Essentials, Equine Pulse Performance, FarmVet, Achieve Equine/FLAIR Equine Nasal Strips, Horses 4 Your Consideration, Hound & Hare, I Love My Horse Eventing Boutique, Jack’s Favorites, Jane Heart Jewelry, Kinetic Equine Services, LeMieux, Levade Kentucky, Mare Modern Goods, OneTouch Fly Spray, Parkmore Supplements, Practical Horseman, Sidelines Magazine, Spy Coast Farm, Strides for Equality Equestrians, and VTO Saddlery.
As Tropical Storm Ophelia brought soaking rains to the region today, the Plantation Field International continued its four days of competition with CCI3*-S and CCI4*-S show jumping and cross-country for CCI1*-S, CCII2*-S, and CCI3*-S divisions.
The USEA Area IX Championships took place during two different horse trials this summer, with the Modified Championships as part of the The Event at Archer (Cheyenne, Wymoming) in August and the Preliminary, Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice Championships taking place during The Event at Skyline (Mount Pleasant, Utah) in September. In addition, Area IX offered additional championship tests at the Starter and Tadpole levels at Skyline.
The CCI4*-S division at the 2023 Plantation Field International Horse Trials kicked off today with 39 horses headed down centerline. Local rider Boyd Martin of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, topped the leaderboard riding Luke 140, owned by the Luke 140 Syndicate, and is also tied for third (28.8) with the Annie Goodwin Syndicate’s Fedarman B. Martin is also placed 23rd with Contessa, owned by the Turner family.
The United States Eventing Association, Inc. (USEA) is humbled to announce the return of long-time partner The Dutta Corporation as the “Title Sponsor of the 2023 USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) Championships,” which include the East Coast Championships at the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill in Elkton, Maryland, on Oct. 19-20 and the West Coast Championships at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California, on Oct. 27-28.