Aug 30, 2023

Two New Modified Leaders Emerge at AEC

By Chelsea Lyn Agro - USEA | Press Release
Carlin Keefe and Point Nemo. USEA/Meagan DeLisle photos

Lexington, Ky.—August 30— There were several leaderboard changes as the Modified championship divisions at the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds took to Jay Hambly’s cross-country track today at the Kentucky Horse Park.

USEA Modified Rider Championship

Carlin Keefe (Sandy Spring, Maryland) was tied for fourth coming out of dressage yesterday with a score of 28.8 aboard the 10-year-old Thoroughbred bay gelding Point Nemo (Songandaprayer x Wood Not), but a successful cross-country trip bumped the pair right up to a first-place standing with zero time penalties.

“When I go into cross-country, I think of how I want to perform rather than how I hope I move up,” said Keefe. “I don’t think about placing until I’ve already gone, so I wasn’t really expecting that big of a bump up but he does love cross-country. I was so easily under time. I wasn’t pushing—it’s just his natural Thoroughbred gallop, and he still just springs up over every fence with so much expression and happiness. He’s a really nice horse to take around a course.”

And the Keefe family is no stranger to the Thoroughbred mentality or athletic potential. Keefe’s father, Tim Keefe, owner of “Nemo,” trains race horses and she’s known the gelding since he was a weanling.

“He just didn’t like the track—he wasn’t a very good racehorse. He was more interested in talking to the horses he was galloping next to rather than actually beating them,” said Carlin with a laugh. “And then my mom trained him and took him up through Training, and after that, she handed the reins off to my sister who took him to two-star.”

Once Carlin had her chance in the saddle, an obvious and instantaneous partnership was born. “He’s definitely a horse that took me some time to figure out. I’ve had a lot of school masters before him so he’s the first where I’ve kind of helped develop him a little bit.”

Carlin admits that they work so well together because they are so alike, but the other side of the coin is that those similarities can work against them, too. “Because on course, when I first started riding him, I just got so nervous—my adrenaline is up when I’m on course—so when we’re both so high on adrenaline it just gave us trouble,” said Carlin. She described how those nerves would translate into refusals on cross-country. “But with the help of all my trainers and everyone I’ve worked for—I worked for the Laws this summer—with the help from them, I created a confident horse while creating a confident rider and now I couldn’t imagine going around cross-country on any other horse.”

With show jumping on the horizon, Carlin’s main focus is just helping Nemo be present in the arena.

“He’s really good about having a mental change. He knows when he’s on cross-country and he knows when he’s in show jumping,” she shared. “So I’ll just go out there with hopes of giving him the best ride and giving him the most confident ride.”

Maggie Proffitt (Maidens, Virginia) held onto her second-place standing from dressage with her 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Remington Steele, just adding 1.2-time penalties to their score to sit on a 29.4 going into the final phase of the championship. Jumping up the leaderboard from tenth to third after a double clear performance on cross-country was Sylvia Byars (Wayne, Illinois) and Nicole Byars’ 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding CSF Dassett Decoy (Flipper D’elle x CSF Doorn Cruise).

USEA Open Modified Championship

Chelsey Sawtell and Toto's Weather Tamer.

Toto’s Weather Tamer (Totilas x Baquette), owned by Deb Warner, was the dark bay stallion with the wind in his long mane as he entered the start box on Thursday morning. The 7-year-old German Warmblood doesn’t sport short locks because his rider, Chelsey Sawtell (Kingston Springs, Tennessee), has broken all of her fingers throughout the years, and braiding a short mane isn’t easy. “Seventeen minutes,” said Sawtell, making a sweeping motion up his thick dark neck. That’s exactly how long it takes her to braid him while he’s being tacked and polished up.

But today, “Jakes” let his hair down and had fun with Sawtell aboard. Before the moody morning gave way to blue sky bliss, the pair made an impressive move up on the leaderboard from fifth to first, retaining their dressage score of 31.7 after what Sawtell described as a fun cross-country trip. After all, Jakes loves to jump.

Referring back to his days as a 4-year-old, Sawtell said, “I took him out on cross-country—literally was just going to trot, walk and use him like a couch when I was coaching, and he was taking me to them. From the beginning, he was taking me to the jumps.”

Sawtell remembered being at his stallion licensing inspection. “He broke out of the jump chute and jumped out of the arena in entirety and took himself back to the barn. And his owner looked at me and laughed and goes, ‘I think he wants to jump!’” So a happy horse is what they pursued, and that makes Sawtell pretty happy, too—especially on cross-country day when she gets to enjoy a good showing of his big heart.

“I don’t gallop faster. I gallop shorter distances, so the best part of that for me was finding every single tight inside line that no one else takes, and he’s a sports car so I can land, go one stride, and make a 45-degree turn, and then be gone,” said Sawtell with a laugh. Sawtell’s efforts paid off as she and Jakes were the only pair to go double-clear in their division.

In regards to show jumping, Sawtell switched the focus to herself as a rider. “This is hard because now there’s pressure,” she said. With Jakes being on the smaller side, she knows that he’s usually a half-stride when it comes to distances. “I meditate and I ride with Bill Hoos,” said Sawtell, whom she credits for helping Jakes to be balanced going to jumps. “But at the end of the day, he is bred to do dressage…but he’s got the work ethic and he has the heart and he has the scope.”

Two more leaders also moved up the leaderboard to complete the top three in the USEA Open Modified Championship today. Just adding two time penalties to their dressage score to move from third to second with a score of 32.1 was Liz Lund (Independence, Minnesota) and her own 6-year-old Hanoverian gelding Franklin Delano CF (First Dance x Rhine Maiden). A score of 34.2 would move Lothian, Maryland native Tracey Bienemann and her 7-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Venezuelan River (Mucho Macho Man x Shehaseyesforyou) from fourth to third.

Show jumping for the USEA Modified Championship divisions begins at 9:00 a.m.

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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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