Nov 13, 2020

USEA Adult Riders: What the ATC Virtual Challenge Means to Me

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Nikki Lloyd and Wil'ya Dance competing in the Modified-Training Challenge at Galway Downs. MGO Photography Photo courtesy of Nikki Lloyd.

The USEA Adult Team Championships (ATC) is a goal that Adult Riders across the country spend their whole year working towards, training hard and competing alongside their fellow Adult Riders for the chance to represent their Area on the national stage at the ATC, held in conjunction with the USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds (AEC). Following the unfortunate cancellation of the AEC and the ATC along with it earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Adult Rider Coordinators came together to develop an opportunity for their peers.

This year, a special Virtual Challenge is being held, giving Adult Riders the chance to form teams and compete against other riders from all over the country. Between August 1, 2020 and November 22, 2020, riders who had previously qualified to compete at the 2020 USEA AEC were eligible to compete virtually on a team with other Adult Riders at the Beginner Novice, Novice, Training, Modified, and Preliminary levels. Scores will be tallied from events that each team designates, and while the riders must have been qualified to compete on a team at the 2020 ATC, the virtual challenge scores may be tallied from any Rider, Amateur, or Open division.

We asked Adult Riders participating in the 2020 USEA ATC Virtual Challenge to share why they are so excited to participate in a year that has been fraught with disappointment for many.

Nikki and Wil'ya Dance two years ago at the 2018 USEA American Eventing Championships at the Beginner Novice level. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

Nikki Lloyd resides in Northern California and competes all over Area VI with her two horses, Mighty Smart and Wil'ya Dance. "I love the sport of eventing and I am thrilled that I have been part of the eventing community as a child, a young adult, and a . . . well . . . not-so-young adult!" she said. "It has taught me to not squander joy and to feel gratitude for the little things. I mention this because, like all riders, I have experienced the ups and downs of the sport and often remind myself that working with horses is a process. Depending on the day, I enjoy successes or setbacks and hopefully, I have the fortitude and strength of character to learn from both. The year 2020 has brought many ups and downs and certainly did not roll out as any of us expected. Learning I qualified and was selected for the Virtual Challenge with friends and fellow competitors has added unexpected joy and fun to wrap up the season!"

Lloyd said her participation in the Virtual Challenge has been made even sweeter by the fact that her horse, Wil'ya Dance, is a horse that she bred, raised, started, and brought up the levels. "My 8-year-old chestnut mare (yes, she possesses ALL of the stereotypical red mare characteristics!) Wil’ya Dance was born three weeks early, resembling a horse skeleton," Lloyd recalled. "Fortunately, she thrived immediately and matured into her 16.1-hand opinionated red self! As she grew and matured, I wondered, 'Will she be the right horse for me? Will we work out the quirks and become a team?' There were trials and tribulations, and at times I struggled to remember that it is a 'process' and to find joy in the challenges!"

"This year, despite canceled events and schooling opportunities due to COVID-19 and bad air quality, our partnership matured. In July, we traveled from our home in Northern California to Montana to compete at Rebecca Farm where we finished first in our Training level division. In November, we competed at Galway Downs and finished fourth as the highest placed amateur, in the 49-competitor strong Modified-Training Challenge division. During the victory gallop at Galway, I looked through her familiar forward pricked ears (until she flattened them when another horse came too close) and I remembered the foal, the weanling, the challenging middle years, and my heart burst with pride for sticking with the process and joy of for the moment of the work coming together. I looked at my fellow equestrians and felt gratitude for their support and camaraderie throughout the ups and downs. To those who have been on the 'backside' with me, you know who you are, you have shared my tears of joy and tears of defeat - Thank you! To my future eventing friends, I look forward to getting to know you and sharing the highs, the lows, most importantly, the process. Let the Virtual Challenge begin! As Henry J.M. Nouwen said, 'Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.'"

Angie Francart and "Toby" of Area II showing off their red ribbon from Seneca Valley Pony Club. Photo courtesy of Angie Francart.

Area II Adult Rider Angie Francart is participating in the Virtual Challenge with her horse, Toby the Coal Man aka "Toby," who she bought in April of 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. "As an adult amateur and working as a full-time nursing administrator on the front lines during COVID-19, it is often challenging to keep up on the training," she observed. "My days are very long, which include running my own Thoroughbred rescue as well as eventing and competing. Our Thoroughbred sanctuary currently has 12 off-the-track Thoroughbreds living and loving permanent retirement at our farm. Thus, organizing the barn, family, and still finding the time to train is a huge challenge . . . In addition to my full-time job, I am a mother, wife, farm owner, and proud USEA member competing now for many years. I was so excited to learn I actually qualified for the AEC again only to have them canceled. My heart sunk, but I knew it was the right thing seeing first-hand the impact of COVID-19."

"With my new horse, Toby, I have already gained so much more new valuable information. When I think of what the Virtual Challenge means to me, I think it is a massive accomplishment of which I’m proud! Thank you for giving me this amazing opportunity to be considered a champion. All the long days and nights, blood, sweat, tears, and fears. I will keep trying even as the years creep up on me and push harder as I chase my life long dreams, one by one."

Annie Desmond and Little Elf strutting their stuff. Photo courtesy of Annie Desmond.

Annie Desmond is an Area VI eventer who has spent most of her life training dogs; from guide dogs for the blind, to search and rescue dogs for FEMA disaster teams. She didn't become an eventer until later in life, in her 40s, and is now partnered with her third horse, a German Riding Pony named “Little Elf”. "My diminutive buckskin mare is a much-adored member of the Desmond family and a brave jumper!" Desmond shared. "We ride with David Adamo Eventing in Sonoma County and enjoy our off time trail-riding with friends in the Northern California hills and at the beach. I especially relish going to Adult Rider Camps and hanging out with my friends at shows and cheering them on."

“It’s a really, really nice group of adult amateurs and I adore them; I am honored and excited to be on this team! Huge thanks to the sponsors and organizers for giving us something fun to look forward to in 2020.”

Erin Weil and Patriot Games. Photo courtesy of Erin Weil.

Erin Weil resides in Area II and has competed her horse, Patriot Games, at the Novice level this year. "This year started out rough for me," Weil admitted. "In January, I had a fall and ended up with a double 90-percent tear in my right rotator cuff and required surgery to fix it. This took me out of commission for over three months. I have never been very good at listening to the doctors, and they recommended 6 months. Once I was back in the saddle, my little, 16-hand-on-a-good-day (but don't tell him, he thinks he is 17 hands) off-the-track Thoroughbred and I started off slowly but began to build steam mid-summer. The show right before what would have been AEC, we came out and laid down a good dressage test, clear stadium, and even got over our bogey fence, the trakehner, to finish in second and earned the T.I.P. award. This would be our last Novice as we have moved up to Training. This Virtual Challenge gives me a chance to continue our quest to keep improving and end my year on a fun event surrounded by some of the best people that I have ever competed with. The Adult Riders of Area II rock!"

Kari Lyman and Jagger. MGO Photography Photo courtesy of Kari Lyman.

Kari Lyman and her horse, Jagger, are on an Area VI Beginner Novice team entitled "A Bucking Good Time" with Desmond, Pia Tucker, and Maguy Palluel. "I have never been to the AEC, but have always looked forward to the Area ATC every year!" she shared. "The prizes are always awesome and any excuse to be on a TEAM! Plus, how or where else is it possible for us to win a NECK RIBBON?! We are lucky to have Dawn Robbins in our Area as she coordinates so many great Adult Rider activities. I look at this as a virtual warm-up for hopefully 2021 at Rebecca! I hope Jagger and I can be there bopping around in red breeches and a helmet Pompom."

Stephanie Jackson competing at the GMHA Horse Trials. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Jackson.

Stephanie Jackson is on one of the Area I Training level teams with her horse, Drumloman Lad. "I bought my horse in the spring of 2019 and wanted more than anything to qualify for the 2020 AEC," Jackson shared. "After taking seven months to get to know him and build our partnership I entered him in our first event, after four events we were qualified for the AEC at Novice. My first Training, I placed second which then put qualifying at Training in my sights. I had a second qualifying ride before COVID-19 put a hold on competitions."

"When it came time to enter the AEC, I was qualified for Novice so entered as such. The GMHA Festival of Eventing was still within the qualifying time frame, but after I entered the AEC. If I finished with a clean cross-country, I would be qualified for Training and could then decide which to ride at - I wanted nothing more than to have the choice! The picture above is of me crossing the finish line at GMHA after a clean ride. Not soon thereafter the AEC were canceled. Although unfortunate, I was still beyond elated I had been able to qualify for both Novice and Training within six rides on my new horse. Now we have been offered this opportunity - to still compete with fellow competitors in this Virtual Challenge. It may not be in Lexington, Kentucky, but this is a pretty good alternative if you ask me, considering the times! So, good luck to our team and our fellow competitors in the ATC Virtual Challenge!"

The Virtual Challenge will wrap up on November 22, 2020, and the winning teams will be announced soon after that. SmartPak will also be awarding a "Team Spirit Award" to the team that submits the best photos showing their team apparel, spirit, and camaraderie. Photos may be submitted to [email protected] and the winning team will win additional SmartPak gift certificates.

The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, SmartPak, Nutrena, and The Chronicle of the Horse for supporting the 2020 USEA ATC Virtual Challenge. Click here to learn more about the Adult Team Championships.

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